Rhetorical Answer

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A response to the question never asked

The Sound of Spring

Hello! I’m back from Spring Break, and I’m ready to finish up the final month of Sound Design. For the rest of the course, I’ll be creating the soundtrack for a short film in ProTools using the audio recordings previously gathered in Washington Square Park.

As an extra twist, the instructor is having each of the original groups use a different group’s recordings during the editing process. When he announced this at the start of class this week, there was a collective furtive glance around the room as we all realized that all of our painstaking slating and meticulous recording would benefit another lucky party. But, as he rightly pointed out, the people doing the sound editing are often not the same people doing the recording. Sneaky, though, how he didn’t tell us until after we finished recording…

On the bright side, I am starting to get more comfortable using ProTools. I’m finding that syncing footsteps to picture is much less frustrating than cutting marching band music clips together and, believe it or not, oddly relaxing. Perhaps I should market a sleep-aid sound effects CD featuring the regular clop-clop-clop of shoes on asphalt in lieu of the more typical ocean waves.

Filed under: Education, Film, New York

Pro(foundlyAmateur)Tools

Armed with a collection of freshly recorded sounds from the previous week’s recording adventures in Washington Square Park, I entered this week’s Sound Design class ready to dive into a real ProTools sound editing session. Of all the things covered in the course, I figured the part involving computers would fall right into my comfort zone. What I neglected to consider, however, was the fact that ProTools is a software program intended for professionals in the sound industry – in short, professional listeners – and the most my job demands of my ears is to register the occasional application alert beep.

For the in-class assignment, we were supposed to assemble a collection of music clips so that the final edited version sounded like a reference recording of a marching band. The instructor first demonstrated how to scrub regions of audio and listen to the resulting sound output to find the best edit point. He dragged the cursor back and forth across one section of a track, and out of the computer’s speakers, I heard the equivalent of a bunch of bolts rolling around in a metal trash can. He paused for a microsecond. “That’s a lot of trombone, not so easy to find a good edit spot. Keep looking.” He did the same thing to another section that sounded exactly the same. “Ah, there’s the beginning of the cymbals! Cut there!” I had the uneasy feeling that I was missing something but hoped everything would crystallize once I tried it myself.

At my own workstation, I cranked up the volume on my headphones and dutifully alternated between playing the track at normal speed and scrubbing, looking for strong beats on which to edit. All I heard through the headphones was a low growl, as though ProTools was a dog at the veterinarian’s office and could sense that it was my first time administering an exam. It clearly didn’t trust me, and I didn’t blame it. Realizing at last that I may as well be deaf for all the help my ears were going to be to me, I resorted to lining up the reference and editing tracks and comparing the waveforms visually so that I could at least edit at points where they looked the same. It was a painstaking process and not really the way we were supposed to do the exercise, but I am still mystified at how the whole scrubbing thing is supposed to work. I ran out of time at the end of class, but next time I will try to ask the instructor to explain it again. The only worry I have is that he’ll do the same demonstration for me as he did at the start of class and say, “See, they sound completely different!” My amateur ears just don’t get it.

Filed under: Education, New York, , ,

Fun with Foley

Again, Sound Design eclipses The Art of Editing! Plagued by audio/visual issues, my editing class this week limped along with snowy footage and unintentionally silent clips from Law and Order and Fatal Attraction. We did examine an interesting planned sequence from Doctor Zhivago involving an exterior crane shot following the action inside a building through a series of windows, but as the instructor noted, such shots involve equipment and expense typically beyond the means of independent filmmakers. I would be happy just to have a lighting kit!

In contrast, this week’s Sound Design class featured a practical, hands-on, and relatively low-budget activity: recording sounds for Foley in Washington Square Park. We ventured into the darkness in groups of 3-4, each group armed with a Sennheiser shotgun, windsock, field recorder, headphones, and flashlight. By the end of the 3-hour class, our noses were runny, our toes were numb, our batteries were dead… oh yes, and we had some great sound recordings, including several takes of a total stranger (who had approached us to ask what we were doing) exclaiming, “Boy, that’s great ginger ale!” That little gem, in case you were wondering, will be used for ADR (automated dialog replacement aka dubbing) in post-production.

We also recorded footsteps on asphalt, dirt, and brick; some chains rattling on a metal fence; a squeaky gate; a security barrier scraping across the ground; fizzing soda; mouth swishing; soda swallowing; paper bag crinkles; and a pen dragging across a metal mesh fence. I was fortunate to have group mates who were friendly, funny, and organized, so even though we nearly froze out there, we all had a good time, and I’m fairly confident that we got all the material we will need for our upcoming ProTools session next week.

Incidentally, if you’ve never walked around a public park listening through headphones to sounds picked by by a shotgun microphone, I highly recommend it. Through the power of technology, it’s like you have super hearing; every pebble roll, every leaf shudder, every far-off conversation in the mic’s line is magnified and amazingly distinct. I kept getting the urge to stop, stare off into space for a moment, say “Someone’s in trouble!” and leap into the sky.

Filed under: Education, Film, , ,

Stage and screen…and ProTools

I had to get up at 5:00 AM this morning, and I’m feeling a bit sick, so apologies in advance for what probably reads as a rambling post.

First off, some good news: My sketch group performed in Sketchubator NYC at the PIT on Saturday to all-around positive reviews. *joy* The audience seemed to dig our faux New York accents, mastered by watching My Cousin Vinny the night before, and they reacted quite audibly to the material – always an encouraging sign. Being early in the show’s lineup, we got to do our thing on stage and then sit in the house and enjoy the rest as audience members. There was a party right after the show, too, so I got to chat with a lot of the audience and cast members over beers. A most memorable and fun time was had. Special thanks goes out to Party Central USA for hosting with hilarity.

In this past week’s editing class, I learned about editing workflow, from getting the dailies (raw footage for each scene, including the master shot plus coverage) to producing the final cut. I also learned that it costs, at a minimum, tens of thousands of dollars to produce a fairly basic live-action commercial. It takes a script writer, a storyboard artist, a producer, a director, lighting and sound experts, a script supervisor, actors, props, costumes, music and sound effects, a location and set dressing, cameras, microphones, cables, stands, lights, computers, editing and sound software, and food to feed all those union workers! I’ve seen a lot of commercials in my life, and yet it never occurred to me how many varied and specialized skill sets are involved in their production. If I still had a television set, I might now feel a twinge of guilt pressing the mute button.

On the sound design front, the highly anticipated field trip to Washington Square Park last Wednesday to record sounds for Foley got postponed due to bitterly cold weather. It was freezing all over the city, but for some reason, the area around Washington Square Park always feels ten degrees colder than anywhere else. Instead, the class got a little taste of ProTools. We learned a few keyboard shortcuts and how to set up a session but nothing to sink our teeth into yet. This week is forecast to be in the balmy 40s, so we will try again this Wednesday to do some recording in the field. I am keeping my gloved fingers crossed the weather is more accomodating this time.

Filed under: Education, Film, Stage,

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