Sound mixer Tom Miskin’s measure of success has always been to "disappear" into the production. "With sound, my job is to say 'what’s the most I can do here, what’s the least, and how does that enhance or strengthen the client's vision?'"
Miskin was born in 1970 in Porirua. He has "no real memory" of his primary school days. His parents were both teachers, and the family moved a lot. Miskin does, however, remember the first time music affected him deeply. When he was five, friends of the family brought over French composer Jean-Michel Jarre’s electronic music album Oxygène. "It was like laser beams straight into me."
Miskin took piano lessons but was impatient, wanting to know the notes to a song right away. He ditched piano when he was 16 and began inventing tunes on a synthesiser and drum machine. Like many Gen X-ers, he learned about the power of film and storytelling via the biggest of 1970s hits, Star Wars. "I remember watching the credits scroll up at the end and thinking, 'I want my name to be on a credit roll'."
As a teenager Miskin only went to school to skateboard in the breaks. His skateboard skills even won him a sponsorship. Skateboarding was "something I could control; it was my release, it was on my terms." After high school, Miskin drifted. "I had no idea." He worked in various roles in retail before his life swerved in a new direction in 1996.
Miskin’s sister Jessica was working in a cafe in Rotorua, and amongst its staff was the drummer for The Chills. Band leader Martin Phillipps rang through with news; their keyboard player wasn't able to make a United States and European tour. Jessica jolted her brother into action. Miskin was installed as the new keyboard player and had two weeks to learn 30+ songs from The Chills back catalogue. At yet another radio station performance somewhere in middle America, Miskin had "an epiphany". "I was playing my keyboard but kept staring at what the guy behind the glass with all the faders [controls on a sound recording desk] was doing."
Back in Auckland, Miskin signed up for a diploma at the School of Audio Engineering (SAE Institute). His first job after studying was a recording engineer for The Lab in Auckland. He went on to become the studio manager, and after a few years in this role, Miskin was approached to freelance in the TV and film industry. One of his first big TV gigs was being the assistant sound editor, foley artist (sound effects) and sound mixer on sci-fi series Cleopatra 2525 (2000-2001). The sound mixer's job is to combine audio recorded on-set with effects, music and foley, then re-record it into one track.
An early film credit was doing foley on Christine Jeff’s moody drama Rain (2001). Around the same time, he did foley for shorts Cow and Watermark. "...there was this great effect we [Cow sound designer Chris Burt] got with liquid detergent and a rubber glove..."
In 2003 he moved to Images & Sound, an Auckland post-production studio. That same year, Miskin worked as dialogue editor, sound effects editor and foley for acclaimed series Mercy Peak and comedy show Serial Killers. One job quickly followed another.
The year 2005 proved busy for Miskin. He performed multiple roles on kids series P.E.T Detectives and UK/Kiwi co-production Kidnapped, before finally sitting behind the faders he had been so attracted to, for bogan drama series Outrageous Fortune. "I worked on the first series, which was great. It reaffirmed that a 'conducting' role was really what made my wheels turn. With mixing, it’s all in the detail and understanding when elements need pushing, and when they need pulling back; always with respect to the story playing out on screen. I’ve got Danish blood; I like detail." That same year, Miskin was dialogue editor for gritty police series Interrogation. "That was tricky; it was a very localised set, claustrophobic, even. There were multiple directors, each with a different style. It was one of those Kiwi series when you have no time, a small budget and you just go for it."
Miskin relished the expansive landscapes and big budgets of two Discovery Channel documentaries he worked on in 2007, as sound mixer and dialogue editor for National Parks: Fiordland and National Parks Australia: Kakadu.
A long-term collaboration with producer/director Chris Bailey started in 2007, with action series Orange Roughies. Over the next 10 years Miskin worked as a sound mixer on a list of high rating drama series produced by Bailey, including Go Girls, Nothing Trivial, comedy/drama Step Dave and small town murder mystery The Brokenwood Mysteries.
From 2007 to 2009 Miskin was a sound mixer for kids adventure comedy The Amazing Extraordinary Friends. In 2009 he was nominated for an NZ TV Award for Best Sound Design for his work on the series. Miskin won Best Sound Design the next year for another kids programme, fantasy Kaitangata Twitch.
TV movies Spies and Lies and the Fiona Samuel-penned Piece of My Heart gave Miskin the chance to break out of dramas set in the present-day. Both telefilms were set wholly or partly in other eras and gave Miskin the job of readjusting his ears to the soundscapes of 1940s and 1960s New Zealand.
Drama series This is Not My Life (2010) put Miskin’s mixing skills to the test, imagining the atmosphere and sounds of a mysterious Auckland suburb of the future. “We had to make the everyday New Zealand they were shooting in completely disappear. We had to try and get rid of a contemporary aural story and replace it."
Miskin worked with This is Not My Life director Peter Burger again on another period piece, 2015 miniseries When We Go to War. A year later he explored WWll-era New Zealand and Nepal as sound mixer for Hillary.
In 2017 Miskin was sound mixer on two documentaries that couldn’t be more different, sound-wise; My Year With Helen observed Helen Clark vying for the top job at the United Nations, and McLaren was Roger Donaldson’s portrait of race-car legend Bruce McLaren. While Helen took place in air-conditioned offices of power, McLaren was down amongst the roar of the engines. That same year, Miskin added the high rating Australian/Kiwi co-production 800 Words to his list of TV credits.
After earlier working with Hamish Bennett on his 2014 dairy farming short Ross and Beth, the pair reunited in 2019 for the feature version, Bellbird. In the same period Miskin worked as a sound mixer on Justin Pemberton’s sweeping documentary Capital in the 21st Century, TV movie Runaway Millionaires, rugby miniseries Jonah and murder mystery series One Lane Bridge (2020).
Miskin still keeps a hand in the music industry, recording and mixing albums for artists, such as Don McGlashan and Sola Rosa.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell; published on 29 July 2020