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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: brands of sounds

I’m Talking About Sound + Film at the Disposable Film Festival

That's April 8 in San Francisco at the Bay Area Video Coalition

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“Eyes are forgiving, ears less so. Eyes want to be seduced. Ears are sensitive to incongruity, discontinuity, artifice. How can sound reinforce narrative? How can sound be narrative? How can sound design serve as score? We’ll explore the past and the technologically enabled promise of film sound.”

That’s the opening of — and abstract for — a talk I’ve been invited to give at the Disposable Film Festival this coming April 8 in San Francisco from 4pm to 5:30pm. The title of the talk is “Sound + Vision: A Master Class with Marc Weidenbaum.” It’ll be at Bay Area Video Coalition, whose address is 2727 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.

I’ll be talking about usefully adventurous examples of creative employment of sound in film and about new technologically mediated opportunities. The audience is likely to include a higher than average percentage of people interested in making films, so I’ll also be outlining a variety of creative prompts to spur original sonic experimentation in the service of narrative.

As examples I’ll be drawing on work I’ve done in music supervision and sound design on the new science fiction film Youth, directed by Brett Marty, and on the documentary The Children Next Door, directed by Doug Block.

You can register to attend the talk here: attendease.com.

The full festival lineup is here: disposablefilm.com.

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Sound Course, Week 2 of 15

A Brief History of Listening

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Each week I summarize the lecture and discussion from my course on the role of sound in the media landscape. In cases where I’ve already documented the discussion fairly thoroughly, as with week two, I’ll link to the full summary, and do a more concise one here.

The second week of sound class is the first full lecture, the first week of sound class having been a combination of an extensive overview of the syllabus and a compacted run through the use of music in the work of JJ Abrams, from the “un-theme” of Lost’s opening credits to the highly “originalist” (“ur-theme”) adherence to John Williams’ modus operandi in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The second week’s lecture takes a long view. Titled A Brief History of Listening, it covers in less than three hours about 200,000 some odd years of human development, physiologically (the development of hearing and speech), technologically (from homing pigeons to moveable type to recorded sound), and culturally. The latter bit, the cultural facet, focuses on two subjects. The first discussion is about how Socrates’s anxiety regarding the move from oral to written culture can be mapped to contemporary concerns about transitioning into a digital world. The second discussion is on John Cage’s 4’33”, about the work’s conception and reception, about the idea of an anechoic chamber, and about the way Cage connects, in his book Silence, the ideas inherent in 4’33” beyond music to architecture and sculpture.

As I state occasionally in the early weeks of this course, I’m not trying to convert students to work in sound full time. I don’t need a single student ever to decide to go into sound design or sound engineering to feel that I’ve accomplished something. Quite the contrary, I’m trying to develop sleeper agents who will bring a creative conscientiousness in regard to sound to whatever field they choose to pursue — art direction, design, and so forth.

The big challenge early on in the course is shepherding the students’ off-site work, specifically in the sound journals they’re required to maintain, four days a week, for the full length of the course. For the first entries I ask that they simply list the sounds around them. Inevitably these come back not as sounds but as sources of sounds: door, not door creaking; fan, not fan whirring; baby, not baby cooing. Moving from source to sound, from sound to description, from description to meaning is where we’re headed. It can be painstaking, but learning about sound is like learning a language or achieving a significant improvement in an athletic pursuit. It’s all about dedication and persistence. It’s about practice.

Today’s class (week 3, more on which in next week’s This Week in Sound newsletter) narrowed the scope: last week was 200,000 years; this week was just about 100 years, as the subject was the role of sound in film and television. The timing of today’s class may have been fairly timely, because I was just approached by an organization to give a talk about the past and future of sound in film, and I’m now piecing together an approach for the talk. Here’s a first-draft summary:

Eyes are forgiving, ears less so. Eyes want to be seduced. Ears are sensitive to incongruity, discontinuity, artifice. How can sound reinforce narrative? How can sound be narrative? How can sound design serve as score? We’ll explore the past and the technologically enabled promise of film sound.

And, yeah, when I say “promise” I’m using alliteration as a way to get out of saying “future.” More on this as it comes together.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 17, 2016 (it went out a day late), edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Sound Course, Week 1 (of 15)

Listening to media

February 3 was the first class meeting for the new semester of the course I’ve been teaching for several years now about the role of sound in the media landscape. Taking off last semester turned out to be unfortunate timing, due to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. See, my opening lecture each semester has focused in some detail on the role of music in the films and television of J.J. Abrams, from the various tweaks on Fringe‘s theme, to the virtual non-theme of Lost’s opening credits, to his decision to employ a new theme for Star Trek, to his teasing extenuation of the Mission: Impossible theme in the film in that franchise he directed.

Abrams is so prolific in his directing and his producing that there has, each semester, been a new project to tag onto the sequence, sometimes to even include as homework viewing. After Abrams was announced as the head of the new, Disney-era Star Wars films, my lectures began to speculate what Abrams’ take on John Williams’ score would be. We now know, of course, that like the film itself, he has opted for an originalist scenario, going back to the first trilogy (that is, the “Luke trilogy” not the “Anakin trilogy”) and building on that framework.

There’s some notable sound design in the new film. The intense daymare experienced by Rey in the forest on Takodana has gotten a lot of attention for how, among other things, it manages to include the late Alec Guinness saying the character’s name by snipping a syllable from another word — all the more potently, the word “Rey” was culled from is “afraid,” very much Rey’s state of mind in that sequence. More impressive, or at least less fleeting, was the audible breath of Darth Vader heard when the camera shows that his grandson, Kylo Ren, maintains a shrine of Vader’s melted mask.

The class will proceed weekly through May 18, aside from spring break on March 23. I won’t be summing up all the early lectures each week, because I’ve already documented them fairly well, but I’ll link to the previous summaries here (week one), and make note of any new developments. I have been lining up some great guests, including a technology lead from a major streaming service and a curator at a major art institution.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 9, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Teaching Sound / Spring 2016

I'll be doing my sound course in San Francisco for 15 weeks starting February 3.

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I’ll be teaching my course on “the role of sound in the media landscape” — aka “Sounds of Brands / Brands of Sounds” — again this coming spring 2016 at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco.

The semester runs from February 1, 2016, through May 21, 2016. The class meets on Wednesdays from noon to 2:50pm, which means the first class meeting is February 3 and the final class meeting will be on May 18. There’s no class on March 23, which is spring break, for which I’ll probably assign a close-listening analysis of Cliff Martinez’s work on the score to Spring Breakers. Just kidding. Well, maybe not kidding.

Last semester we had one of the heads of the Mutek festival (Patti Schmidt) address the class, as well as someone from the software developer Cycling ’74 and someone from Facebook’s virtual-reality team, among others. The previous semester we had someone from BitTorrent and someone from SoundCloud, and we took a field trip to an anechoic chamber at the local research lab of an audio company. The guest speakers aren’t generally lecturers; I usually interview them in front of the students, who also ask questions. The semester prior both the sound artist Robin Rimbaud (Scanner) and the voice actor Phil LaMarr (Samurai Jack, Static Shock) visited via Skype.

Here’s the course outline from last year:

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I teach the course to a mix of MFA and BA students. This is the seventh semester that I’ve taught the course, after taking off last semester with the intention of teaching it once a year rather than twice a year, to leave room for loads of other projects.

You can read summaries and documentation from past semesters using the “brands of sounds” and “sounds of brands” tags here at Disquiet.com.

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Two More Listeners

A recording engineer and a sound artist discuss making listening heard.

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Earlier this week I posted responses I’d made to a series of questions about listening posed by Steve Ashby, who teaches music at Virginia Commonwealth University. Two more people have replied to Ashby’s questions, and I wanted to share segments of their thoughts here, both of them responding to the fourth, and core, question in Ashby’s survey: “How does one make their listening listened to?”

This is Bryan Walthall, a recording and mastering engineer who runs Stereo Image in Richmond, Virginia:

my perception of the way music sounds has changed greatly over the past 15 years. my favorite records when i was a kid (hendrix, nirvana) sound completely different! sometimes it breaks my heart because they don’t have the exact same magic they did when i was younger. its as if my “suspension of reality” has been diminished because I’ve seen the sausage being made for 15 years. for the most part they still evoke the same emotional response, but it has been diminished. i hear things completely different now, because i know how they were achieved. thats good for me making records, but the kid in me gets a little bummed sometimes that i can’t just listen to the song, i have to “hear the drums” or “know thats a plate and not a spring” or that “thats obviously a vocal double.”

This is the sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Up top is an image of visitors to one of his sound installations:

I mostly hope to achieve this in installation environments. Setting lighting in a space, comfortable seating, establishing a volume level and a speaker system that works well with the material are all important. Also, removing or minimizing visual distractions is vital – so that it is clear that in the work I’m presenting, sound is primary and not secondary to any sort of visual content. As I re-read these responses, it seems I’m hoping to create a space for the installations that goes back to what I used to create for myself when listening to a new record for the first time.

Ashby is archiving the responses at his ashbysounds.com website, and on his syllabus page at VCU’s rampages.us site.

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