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Chicago musical sound designer Rick Clarke remembered

Creative behind audio for Guys & Dolls, The Hired Man and more loses battle with cancer

Rick Clarke passed away on 10 July after a prolonged period of complications from cancer, writes Chris Headlam of Orbital Sound

Rick Clarke will be sorely missed. He was one of a rare breed of people – a truly gentle man with a spirit that soared, a mind that enquired and an ear that was golden. One of the most modest of men, he nevertheless made a mark on musical theatre that leaves an incredible legacy.

In the late 1960s, Rick was sound man and roadie for legendary rock band The Grateful Dead, no doubt enjoying the ’60s atmosphere while gaining a broad view of life that finally evolved into intricate theatre sound design. Along the way, he formed The Sound Department, a highly progressive sales and rental company that broke so many new barriers.

In 1980, Rick took up the job of head of sound at the Royal National Theatre, working there for four years before leaving as an independent sound designer. One of the iconic musicals he was designed was Guys & Dolls – a production that was hugely important for both The National and the West End, as it legitimised musicals in theatre. He went on to design countless other landmark classics: The Hired Man, Me & My Girl, West Side Story spring to mind immediately; 42 West End Shows in fact; and then, later on, Chicago, beginning an association that lasted for over 15 years, across international boarders, yet so sadly curtailed. Rick’s name is quite simply synonymous with Chicago, and Chicago with ‘quality’. The three go hand-in-hand.

Above all, Rick was someone prepared to try something new and to teach; to take risks in terms of advancing sound quality, and adopting new technology. He never tired of getting behind a new idea, testing it out until he was satisfied that it provided something uniquely new and interesting. That is a rare quality in our industry – particularly from such an unassuming yet totally adventurous player. He relied on his ears, not statistics or figures; Rick was always vocal that the best measurement devices in the world were given to us for free – and the great news is we were given two!

Rick had so much experience. Experience he never kept to his chest – experience he enthused in passing on to others. The list of names who “are where they are” and “he gave me my first job” is so long: he supported and touched so many engineers lives in a way that is rare and priceless.

Our deepest condolences go to his wife Jenny, daughter Emelia and son Ben.

We will miss you terribly; we will miss your golden ears.

“Never trust someone whose television is bigger than their bookcase” (Rick Clarke, January 2016)

+ Composer Howard Goodall tweeted on 17 Jul: ‘Original WE [West End] casts of The Hired Man & Girlfriends will be as shocked & saddened as I am at the death of brilliant sound designer Rick Clarke’.