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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 Aug 5, 2013 | 4 comments

inSPIRE, The Distance Music Experiment: Acoustic Explorations in Composition

Guest Contribution by Keith Lay

A special thank you to Keith Lay for this contribution which explores acoustics from the unique perspective of a musical composition and performance. Keith is a composer, producer, and educator based in Central Florida.

On October 20, 2012, musicians placed on rooftops, steeples, and lake boats in downtown Orlando, Florida performed “inSPIRE for 22 Brass, Carillons, C Bell and Distance” – the first experiment in “Distance Music”. The Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs department supported the project as a part of National Arts and Humanities month.

Distance Music Concepts

As sound travels to a specific location, it is delayed by the distance in which it must travel to reach the target location or specific site. Distance Music accounts for these delays by having musicians farther from the audience play earlier, so as to make up for the time required for the sound to travel the distance.

A Distance Music piece is intended to be performed at a particular location, such that a listener cannot hear it correctly at any other place unless the distance, altitude, and terrain between the listener and music groups at that place are the same as those at the original environment. For example, inSPIRE cannot be performed in any other city than Orlando, or from any other rooftops, steeples, etc., than those for which I wrote it. Furthermore, the audience can only perceive the composer’s intentions in balance and counterpoint from a premeditated site (what is referred to as the “sweet spot” in this article).

A map of Downtown Orlando, the venue for inSPIRE.  This map indicates the musicians' locations within the city and each location's distance from the listening "sweet spot".

A map of Downtown Orlando, the venue for inSPIRE. This map indicates the musicians’ locations within the city and each location’s distance from the listening “sweet spot”.

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Posted by on Aug 1, 2013 | 0 comments

Alternative Reality Sound: Acoustic Remodeling of a City

Guest contribution by Tom deMajo

A special thanks to co-founder Tom deMajo of the game studio Quartic Llama. Tom is an artist and sound designer who currently resides in Dundee.

Earlier this year, Quartic Llama was approached by the National Theatre of Scotland to make a game as part of a city-wide trans-media project called other, supporting the theatrical debut of “Let The Right One In”- a contemporary vampire story. They were keen to see if it was possible to make a game which could incorporate the work of local writers, musicians and artists, and for it to take place in the city. They were interested in finding ways that theatre and digital art/games could work together, and were very proactive, supportive and open to new ideas. We agreed that this would be an amazing opportunity for an experimental, location- based horror sound game, and in a unique partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland, we developed other.

Our project, other, takes place in the city of Dundee. We sourced this atmospheric old map from the Dundee archives (they kindly gave us permission to use it for the game and associated content).

other takes place in the city of Dundee. This atmospheric old map comes from the Dundee archives (used with their kind permission for the game and associated content).

other is quite difficult to define, but we ended up calling it an “alternate reality sound game”. This highlights the relationship the game has with traditional ARG’s which take place in the real world, and is a good description of the experience; other uses sound, interaction and your location to distort the world around you, and blurs the distinction between reality and fiction, and between game and theatre.

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Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 | 3 comments

Nathan Johnson on creating a sound-based score for Looper

Nathan Johnson, composer for Looper

I caught up with Looper’s composer Nathan Johnson to talk about the dynamics between his sound-based score, the sound design of the film and between himself and director Rian Johnson. What follows is part of the transcription of our Skype conversation. 

Can you talk about the dynamics between your sound-intensive soundtrack and the sound design of the film?

For any movie, I come on board mainly with the predominant thought to serve the director’s vision. I think that everyone involved in the movie is hopefully following that same approach. Rian (Johnson, director on Looper) has such a clear direction and such a clear idea of where everything is going…but he’s really open to collaboration as well. I think that’s probably a testament to Rian because he’s the ‘master in the middle’ pulling everything together and bringing all these disparate elements to the same park to play nicely together.

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Posted by on Apr 22, 2013 | 7 comments

3 Deaf Mice: A sound-music game

David Sonnenschein, the author of Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema and founder of, has a new project. 3 Deaf Mice is an audio-music discovery game (initially targeted for PCs and Macs) where the mice need help in designing their next hit song. It aims to enhance listening skills and creativity with sonic treasure hunts and puzzles. Thanks to Aurelien Folie for this interview with David about the game and the sounds that make it.

3 Deaf Mice just launched as a Kickstarter project. Show your support by checking it out!

3DM KS head130225-2 copy

What is 3 Deaf Mice?

3 Deaf Mice is a game aimed toward our sound design community and beyond, where you discover the root of listening and how we create through sound. We do it through the story of the 3 Deaf Mice, who have been playing loud music for too long and have lost their hearing, so the player has to help them make their next hit song. To do this, the player has to perfect their abilities to listen to the world in different ways.  By solving sonic treasure hunts and audio puzzles, they’ll be able to piece together a song called “Cheatin’ the Trap”, which consists of 10 verses, 10 tracks, and 10 game play levels. Once the player has made it all the way through the game, unlocking all 10 tracks and 10 verses, they’ll be able to create their own remix by manipulating all the elements of the song. We’ll also expand this into contests for the community to interact with one another.

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