Create Sound not Noise

There is a lot of depth to the sound bits in any RadioLab episodes, as can be heard in this compilation. Behind dialogue, there are many sound effects that set the stage. They are more than simply ambient sounds, these are purposeful nudges from the creators that steer you towards creating a mental image that matches the one they hoped youd see. The dialogue itself is so much more than a two way conversation, often times Jad speaks as if he is talking solely to the listener, other moments he is in debate with Robert and yet in other moments he has side conversations with the scientists and guests he interviews. These multidimensional conversations always being with and return to the anecdote while constantly building on the original story with ongoing questioning.
Robert Krulwhich is an interesting counterpart to Abumrad, he often disagrees with Jad or guests of the show, whether he is simply playng devil’s advocate or not remains in question. But his role is essential, with perfect agreement the discussion would always stop short. But his contesting leads the story onward and in new directions, but they never fail to return to their original thoughts. This show likes to do more than just conversation and background noise, they aren’t even necessarily attempting to create an artificial visual experience. They’re trying to create something new and different, one of their most impressive uses of audio to tell story is in their episode called Emergence (listen from 46:30-56:00). This is an episode that discusses the phenomenon in neuroscience whereby organized, coordinated outcomes arise from chaos without any obvious director or leader. They used a choir bursting into harmony after a suffocating cacophony as a demonstration of this process, bringing understanding of an extremely complex topic to the general public.
In the”dissection” of the interview with a papermaker, I feel as if I got a better understanding of why my podcasts have not been very successful yet. I have yet to find a way to create the broken narrative that Rob Rosenthal describes. This was definitely a component of radio storytelling that I have been subjected to before without being fully conscious of it. As frustrating as it is for me to realize so late something that is really somewhat obvious, I am excited about how this will impact my future attempts at storytelling. I know now that my approach to interviews has been wrong all along. Rather than proposing a strategy and schedule to seek out stories and interviews, I have been recording spontaneously whenever I find myself in the midst of something intriguing. These interviews are, at least, not contrived but their utter lack of structure makes them kind of useless in storytelling. I need to plan and approach people in advance so that I can interview them in their true habitat. To create the broken narrative, I’ll need to collect content that includes the sound of their work with and without descriptive dialogue, as well as discussions that extend into other aspects of their life and are unhindered by background noise.
It is completely possible to tell an audio story without the addition of any sounds from external sources, in the story on the papermaker, that is precisely the style of the interview. I’ve always found these types of interviews particularly pleasing, they’re far more authentic and give the impression that you’re simply sitting in on a conversation. But the power of storytelling truly reaches an apex with editing, you can imply certain emotions with background music or sound effects as can be heard in this TED Talk intro. At the beginning of the clip, the music is jovial and the mood of the story matches the music. When the music suddenly stops, the mood shifts completely. There is a sense of sadness and desperation in the speaker’s voice that went completely unnoticed before. It is tempting to believe that something about the woman’s tone of voice changed, but if you listen closely that is not the case. The woman speaks with the same intonation throughout the entire clip, only the mood of the music changes, influencing your interpretation of the clip.
Sound editing such as the one heard in the TED Talk clip is subtle and serves a metaphoric purpose, but foley artists are much more deliberate in the sounds they create:

This is an outdated method of sound production, but it is no doubt an art form, and it would be quite an interesting task to attempt. The foley artists have to be extremely intentional with each noise they produce, they don’t merely step up and down to create the sound of footsteps. As the man in the final sequence stumbles away from the fight, the foley artist steps up and down, mimicking the exhausted and injured gait of the man in the clip. But just like the other types of sound editing, these have very nuanced effects. To create a fully encompassing audio experience, sounds editing in storytelling must be well thought out without being over-produced. There can absolutely be too much going on in the background. This is the art of creating sound, not making noise.

4 Replies to “Create Sound not Noise”

  1. The video you posted about the Foley artists was super cool! I had no idea that was a thing. The amount of precision that must be needed to recreated the sounds so close is unbelievable. Overall, great post!

    1. I love that video, it’s so impressive and it made me realize that the Hollywood productions we love are more edited than we think. Seeing this video has heightened my awareness of the element of sound in movies and TV shows for sure.

  2. It’s easy to tell you put a lot of thought into this. You’re descriptive with the explanation of the story through sounds. Great job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *