My aims for this module were:
To experience recording sound on location as part of a film crew and work with the director/editor on the post-production
To expand my knowledge of microphones for field recording and explore how this can develop my sound art projects
Recording on location for film
As part of this module we were encouraged to work with the Northern Film School as the sound department. This was a completely new territory as I had never used recording equipment to capture dialogue or worked on a film set.
After receiving the script, I took notes of one-to-one dialogues in a couple of films I watched. In the opening scenes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Joel and Clementine meet for the first time on a train going to Rockville Center. The carriage is near to empty allowing Clementine to converse with Joel from the seat in front of him. Most of scene involves close-ups of them meaning we’d expect to hear the equivalent perspective sonically.
Still frame of the train scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Staring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet
A mix of radio and boom recorded audio with increased low frequencies gives this proximity effect. When the visual pans out those frequencies lessen to keep this intimate standpoint even though the image is further away. It is a convincing interaction given that it was captured in a noisy environment apart from when Clementine says “well, you don’t know me so, you don’t know, do you?”. Here her voice sounds too clean and in front of the existing soundscape which suggests ADR was needed to fix or pick up that line.
From this scene I gathered the importance of capturing dialogue as evenly levelled in volume as possible, that background sound can affect what the dialogue and to match the audio distancing with the image.
Hence, I really valued the taught session with lecturer Laura Taylor where we looked at the equipment we’d be using and where to positioning ourselves on set. It gave me more confidence when working on the set knowing which positioning would provide clear communication between me (boom operator), the sound mixer and camera operator. Planning, preparation and organisation was also key to smoothly carrying out both aims. To understand this further I looked at Field Recording from Research To Wrap by Paul Virostek. This step-by-step guide proved useful in planning shoot requirements, capturing good sound and being aware of any challenges that could occur whilst recording.
Tutorial with Laura Taylor An image showing the team on set
Using City Locations as Field Recording Inspiration
Placing the audience in immersive environments which they pass through daily is key to my work because Western culture now promotes private acoustic space through headphone or earbud listening. In doing so a “sound wall [is created] … to screen out acoustic interference” (Schaffer R,. 1993. Tuning of the World. p. 95. Destiny Books). However a consequence of using this method is a lack of skill in recognising the impacts those sounds have on our mood and emotions.
As Pauline Oliveros states throughout her work “the ear hears, the brain listens and the body senses vibrations” (TEDx The difference between hearing and listening 2015), meaning sound is a constant sensory element which cannot be switched off.
Before the Industrial Revolution our aural environments sat within the hi-fi soundscape where “discrete [passive and active] sounds [could] be heard more clearly because of the low ambient noise level” (Schaffer R., 1993, Tuning of the World. p. 43. Destiny Books).
This can be experienced still today whenever you visit the countryside or vast open spaces where modern day living hasn’t expanded. However during this modernization cities grew with the prospect of jobs from factories, causing narrower streets and an increase in acoustic information triggering the birth of the Lo-Fi soundscape. In this aural environment there is a constant overlap of sounds obscuring natural and human acoustics as the “signal-to-noise level ratio [became] one-to-one” (Schaffer R., 1993, Tuning of the World. p. 71. Destiny Books).
Now add in Electronic age where pink noise from computers, extractor fans, electric lights, overhead power supplies and more permeate our every waking hour. These omnipresent sounds cross-over all acoustic channels making it harder to hear the most ordinary resonances, however through amplification or auditory spatial awareness we can retrain our ears to perceive these nuances.
An artist which draws attention to this heightened auditory perception is Hilegard Westerkamp. Her piece Kits Beach Soundwalk inspired me to experiment with editing the EQ of recordings to highlight sounds that are going unnoticed.
The piece begins with a balanced soundscape of city and waves on the beach. Westerkamp’s voice enters the aural space focusing our attention on the recording. By narrating on top of the sounds she “[places the listener] inside the recording context [and] their own listening” (Lane, C. 2013. In the Field: The Art of Field Recording.pg 113). It is a meditative and relaxing experience whilst transporting the listener to a frequently unobserved sonic world.
Westerkamp reveals “the tiny sounds of barnacles” (Kits Beach Soundwalk, (date)) by emphasising high frequencies and allowing them to dominate the soundscape through removing other levels. In exaggerating “the recording/listening experience… [she gives these minuscule resonances] a new voice that takes on its own importance [within] the piece” (Lane, C. 2013. In the Field: The Art of Field Recording.pg 116). Like Janet Cardiff, Westerkamp uses binaural format to immerse the listener in this unusual world. It also allows her to place sounds around our internal head-space in unexpected ways and sustain our listening engagement to the end before bringing us back to reality via the re-entry of the cityscape.