New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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

“It’s the Hum”: The Sound Design of ‘Nikita’

In which the title character pauses to note the room tone

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the time during which I am writing this has become transfixed by the concept of spoilers, which have become something akin to a moral panic in recent years. It’s not unforeseeable that down the road the word will likely have asterisks permanently affixed to it. As I note when necessary over on I promise that below I don’t “spoil” anything that would have bothered me had I known about it in advance. That said, I cannot think of anything I have read or watched that would have been spoiled had I known the plot-advancing facts beforehand. (Not that it applies here specifically, but my firm belief is that the only real way to “spoil” something is to detail any serious flaws in logic, to the extent that you then can’t get them out of your head as you consume the work.)

The CW series Nikita is at its heart science fiction. Nikita doesn’t have aliens, or sentient computers, or superpowered characters, but it takes place just enough technological moments ahead in the future that it exists apart from the everyday reality of its viewers. And like much science fiction, Nikita has at its heart a spaceship. The key difference is that its spaceship is underground. The spaceship is called Division. It’s an off-the-books government agency that has gone rogue; that rogue status is unbeknownst to most of its members. Division isn’t a spaceship, of course. It’s a paramilitary compound built of concrete, glass, and steel — and decorated with the Design Within Reach catalog.

Like many basic-cable television series, Nikita has a limited budget. And like the more inventive of these series, Nikita makes the most of what it has, especially in terms of its sets. As far as locales are concerned, the show for much of its initial two seasons maintained opposing poles: the desolate if stylish loft where the title character (played by Maggie Q) hid out, and this subterranean organization called Division that is the focus of her vengeful ire. As season two progressed, Nikita’s hideout was abandoned, and as the season came to an end, as it did a week ago, it looked like Division would soon follow.

Having long ago escaped Division and sought to destroy it from outside, Nikita ventures, during the show’s two-part season finale, back into the mothership (the season-ending episode was titled “Homecoming,” with a lack of subtlety that is a trademark of the series). The Nikita viewer has spent much of the show deep inside Division, following the camera’s gaze as it wandered down concrete hallways, hovered over computer banks, and lingered in the offices of the enjoyably malevolent senior management. But Nikita, we come to recognize, hasn’t herself been in Division in a very long time. Brief flashbacks taunt her as she finally re-enters the complex and makes her way toward her target: the scenery-chewing sociopath, played with relish by Xander Berkeley, who runs the place.

Midway through the episode, Nikita pauses while descending an air shaft (pictured above) and says,

“I finally realized what I hate about this place. It’s the hum.”
The hum, clearly, isn’t what she hates about Division. She hates that it carries off routine assassinations, that it puts kill chips in its employees, that it has hijacked American democracy, and that it has stolen the youth of its recruits, herself included. Her comment about the hum is a deadpan joke before a storm of gunfire. And it brings to mind the YouTube videos of another, actual science-fiction starship: the ones showing nothing but the low-level rumble of various generations of the Star Trek Enterprise (see below). These hums are the room tones of fictional places. They are the breath that brings sets to life, that makes the set decorator’s faux concrete seem to reflect sounds like concrete, that makes an ordinary studio feel like it is situated deep below ground.

The look on Nikita’s face at this moment is perfect because it interrupts the illusion cast by the sound design’s hum. She hasn’t just infiltrated the heavily protected edifice; she’s broken the fourth wall as well.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tag: / Comments: 4 ]


  1. all n4tural
    [ Posted June 3, 2012, at 11:35 am ]

    there’s another Nikita now? that’s, what, the fifth incarnation?

    nice hums.

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted June 3, 2012, at 8:23 pm ]

      Yeah, another one. Second season just ended. I never got into the first television incarnation. I think this one is the fourth. There was the original Luc Besson film, then the film with Bridget Fonda (Point of No Return, directed by John Badhamn), and then the TV series with Peta Wilson. Maybe I’m forgetting one in there somewhere.

      • all n4tural
        [ Posted June 4, 2012, at 6:39 am ]

        ah, my brain was counting Alias, it was pretty much the same setup (if memory serves). we named our daughter after the Besson character, so these things do matter.

  2. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted June 4, 2012, at 10:23 pm ]

    Man, you named your daughter for the film. That is something.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe

  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly ( at Gray Area (
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.
    0543 / Technique Check / The Assignment: Share a tip from your method toolbox.
    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
    0541 / 10BPM Techno / The Assignment: Make some snail-paced beats.
    0540 / 5ive 4our / The Assignment: Take back 5/4 for Jedi time masters Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 544 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts