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Posted by on Aug 15, 2013 | 0 comments

Noise, Storytelling with Sound, and Visuals on the Radio with Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad

Jad Abumrad at PopTech 2010 - Camden, Maine (Kris Krüg/PopTech via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License)

Jad Abumrad at PopTech 2010 – Camden, Maine (Kris Krüg/PopTech via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License)

I recently had the chance to chat with Jad Abumrad, creator and co-host of WNYC’s Radiolab. Each episode of Radiolab explores ideas in science, technology, and the universe at large through a seamless blend of expert interviews, sound design, and music. Together with co-host Robert Krulwich, the show has covered topics such as sleep, colors, cities, and loops, just to name a few. Recently, Radiolab has taken to the stage, touring around the United States and adding a visual element to the show’s already imagery-rich storytelling. Jad and I talked about noise, sound’s ability to create powerful mental images, and how all of that translates into a live show.

Designing Sound: I’ll start off by asking you about noise. When I say the word “noise”, what does that make you think? What does it mean to you?

Jad Abumrad: Honestly, the first thing I think is a particular style of experimental music which is loud and abusive and cacophonous and hurtful, but which I very sparingly employ in scoring the show. I’m thinking Merzbow and the whole “musical pain posse” that sort of tumbled out of him. I always like the idea that those stabs and bursts of noise could kind of catch someone off guard, almost like an idea that sort of hits you in the face before you’re ready for it. ­There’s something about the storytelling we do where I want those ideas to have that kind of impact. So I think about that kind of music.

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Posted by on Feb 26, 2012 | 0 comments

Ren Klyce Interview

With the Academy Awards just days away, we’ve started working on our Oscar pools and that got us to thinking: what is sound design, really? We know that sound is so integral to film. It creates emotion, fills empty space, and adds context and texture to the picture. The problem, of course, is that, like editing, good sound design is almost indiscernible to the uninitiated. And it’s one of those categories that yield a best-guess vote in Oscar-night polls.

So we decided to get the skinny on sound by consulting one of the field’s leading artists, Ren Klyce of Mit Out Sound. Klyce is nominated for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing Oscars for his work on Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and is one of David Fincher’s longtime collaborators. His other film credits include Fincher films The Social NetworkThe Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonFight Club, and Se7en, plus Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich.


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Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 | 1 comment

Inside Look at the Creation of Movie Sound Effects

New article of Mix Magazine dedicated to sound effects, featuring sound editors Harry Cohen, Christopher Assells and Jon Title.

From the clang of a sword to the roar of a monster to the rev of a car engine, Hollywood directors depend on sound designers and sound effects editors to craft the sonic elements that help add impact and interest, set the mood or ratchet up the terror of a scene. Working with Foley artists, re-recording mixers, composers and others, the creators of film sound effects have challenging jobs that require imagination, creativity and technical abilities, not to mention a great ear.

There are two primary job titles for those who create and edit effects—sound designer and sound effects editor—though the differences between the two job descriptions have become blurred over time, and both are essentially involved in effects creation.

To learn more about the techniques used to create effects for films, Mix spoke with three pros at Soundelux (Hollywood), all with sound designer and sound effects editor credits to their name. Harry Cohen has worked on such titles as Inglourious BasterdsStar TrekRobin HoodThe Green Lantern and The Perfect Storm. Chris Assells has credits on films like Fright NightThe Green HornetWall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Gladiator. Jon Title’s filmography includes Final Destination 5RedBlood Diamond and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Continue reading…

Vía musicofsound

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Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 | 17 comments

Tim Nielsen Special: On the Art of Economy

[Written by Tim Nielsen]

I want to write a series of relatively small ‘thought for the day’ type articles on a variety of topics. In the first, I want to expand on something that came up in the introductory interview, when I said that my main advice to people entering into their careers should learn when to stop.

One of the things that I love and admire, not only in sound, but in filmmaking and art in general, is economy. And I do not economics. but by economy, I mean simply:

“To achieve the maximum effect for the minimum effort.”

My favorite example of that statement is found in the movie Harold and Maude. I’m going to spoil something, so if you haven’t seen the film, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph. There is a shot in that movie, I haven’t counted the frames, but I’d be shocked if it was longer than 20 or 30 frames total, that is the best example I’ve ever found. Harold and Maude are sitting near a garbage dump, and she’s describing how glorious seagulls are. There is an insert shot, so short that most people miss it, to Maude’s arm, where you can make out what appears to be a tattoo. A number. And when you realize what the shot is, a concentration camp tattoo, and you understand that Maude survived the concentration camps, the entire movie changes. What was a wacky story of an eccentric old weirdo becomes something a whole lot more powerful. Suddenly Maude makes sense. In one shot, she goes from crazy old lady to concentration camp survivor, and her actions, her very being, suddenly explained.

But for something so powerful, something so important, Hal Ashby made the decision to keep the shot on frame for such a short duration that many people miss it. I can’t think of a director today who would have taken one of the most important pieces of information for truly understanding the film, and letting most viewers miss it. Hal Ashby was an editor before he became a director. And he must have somehow known the exact length of the insert that a percentage of the people would get it, and a percentage wouldn’t. Regardless, the insert itself is such a great reminder in general of how much can be done with so little. One little shot, a second or so in length, can change your entire experience watching this film. I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times. It’s certainly in my top ten of favorite films, and Hal Ashby one of my favorite directors.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Seemingly a children’s book written by an adult, it’s really a book written by a child for adults who have lost their way. I had never read it as a child, a good friend gave me a copy while at USC film school, along with the Graham Greene novel The Power and the Glory, and Graham Greene was also a master of economy, and quickly became one of my favorite authors. But Saint-Exupéry also wrote one of the most beautiful books every written, Wind Sand and Stars, about his time spent in the desert after his plane crashed. And in addition to those two brilliant books, he’s also the author of one of my favorite quotes, and really the idea behind this post:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

I wish I had found that quote, and understood it, long ago in my career. So to all of you starting out, memorize those words.

In sound, what I’ve found after years of editing, is that after I’ve completely cut a scene, after I believe I’ve added everything that’s needed, I’m able now to go back and delete about half of what I’ve cut. In every case, the result is a much more defined track.

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