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Audiobook DJ
Saturday
Apr072012

Flood in the Backwater or Going to the Big City?

The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price     

 As an independent audio theater producer I sometimes think back on what first attracted me to radio drama.  I’d like to say I was immediately drawn to the little things one could do with nuanced sound and language, the subtleties, the poetry.  That’s what I’d like to say, but of course, what got me first about radio theater was the BIG stuff—the closet falls, the cherries dropping into Lake Michigan, the space ships exploding—BOOM, BLAM, SPLATT.

Then, of course, what totally sucked me into radio theater as a “lifer” was that one could happily produce a lot this wonderful noise oneself.  With the wonders of 4-track cassette recorders, pot and pans, and scratchy sound-effects records we could blow up planets, stage barroom brawls, and hold bowling tournaments in the jungle. 

At first it bothered me that not everybody in the world, especially the United States, wanted to hear my first wacky productions.  That included the neighbors, my parents and most of the radio stations in North America.  It used to bother me that not everybody was interested in 25-voice, full-bore, multi-tracked, throw-everything-into-the-mix audio theater.  I wanted my worlds to be saturated with sound.  I figures the nay-listeners would come around.

A group that really never came around was book-on-tape publishers.   They liked one voice, one book, one tone.  But something has happened in the last couple of years. 

Here’s the good news:  More than ever before many more audiobooks are being produced by big publishers that include multiple readers, staged scenes, sound effects and music.

Here’s the bad news:  Some of this material really sounds amateurish:  Weird audio levels, dull acting that’s not in the moment, sounds drawn from 40 year old LP record collections.

What’s going on?  Well, the audiobook publishers have finally found that audiences sometimes like theatrical performances of books, and are hitting a mean learning curve on multi-voice productions.  Good audio theater ain’t as easy as it looks (or sounds).  And over the years audiobook publishers haven’t been paying attention, listening to or practicing audio theater (except maybe for children’s books).

So far, audiobook publishers have been going to their usual sources to produce audio theater:  Commercial voice-over studios, Industrial/educational studios or the publishers themselves.  Frankly, the results are really mixed.  These people aren’t audio theater people.  They haven’t been listening and producing audio theater for years.

My prediction is that at some point pretty soon the audiobook publishers are going to get feedback from their listeners that there’s a whole ‘nother world of audio theater out there.  It’s on community radio.  It’s podcast.  It’s handed back and forth on the Internet.  It’s sounding better and better all the time. 

The publishers are going to realize that they want, they need that sound—the sound of well producer modern audio theater.  They’re going to send people back in the swamps of community radio and the Internet looking for it, looking for our kind.  They’re going to be wearing suits.  They’re going to have weird accents.  They’re going to scare the kids and the dog.

They’ll be looking for the one thing audio theater producers do well—tell stories in sound.  They’ll be looking to deal.  They’ll smile a lot.  Be prepared.  They’ll be asking Audio Theater to do something it hasn’t done in a long time.  Go to the big city. 

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


Saturday
Feb042012

What Do You Call What Yuri Was Doing?

The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price         

 Award-winning audiobook and audio theater producer, Yuri Rasovsky, passed away last week, January 18th, in Hollywood at the age of 67.  He was one of the best-known, hardest working and more successful artists in the odd little niche of multi-cast audio drama in the past 40 years.  He crossed the aural landscape from radio broadcast to reel-to-reel tape to cassettes to NEA Humanities grants to digital audiobook downloads.     

He liked the classics.  He liked quality.  He liked good acting.  He pursued them.  I think that’s probably what took Yuri out west to Hollywood.  I mean look at the last few shows he produced.  SAINT JOAN with Amy Irving.  THE MALTESE FALCON with Sandra Oh and Edward Herrmann.  And the Grammy nominated MASK OF ZORRO with Ruth Livier and Val Kilmer.  Val Kilmer for crying out loud.  Yuri worked with a lot of good people telling a lot of good stories.  

Yuri had opinions.  He liked having opinions.  He did not suffer fools or bad audio-production values gladly.  So how best to honor a man who fondly called himself the curmudgeonly, El Fiendo?

Start an argument, of course.  So, here’s the question—why can’t anybody using one short phrase or less, decide, once and for all, what to call audio/radio/multi-cast/full-cast/spoken word/theatre/theater/drama/ear movies/on-tape/unabridged/fully-realized/down-loadable stuff that we sometimes listen to?

When you say you’re going to the movies, people know where you’re going.  If you say you’re going to read a book, people have a pretty good idea of what that means.  Of course, there are myriad subsets under books and films, but with one word we get the idea.  Not so easy when one is talking about audio theater. 

The other day I was sitting in a high school hall listening to a two-voice unabridged audiobook on an old MP3 player while waiting for my daughter to get out of a practice.  A parent came up to me and asked me what I was listening to and then what I did for a living.  It took me a half hour to explain.

I usually try to start out by saying I produce books-on-tape.  The books-on-tape part usually sends the explainee into a fairly safe direction.  If you lead with anything mentioning radio you get a split in age:  The older ones say, gosh that Jack Benny sure was a funny guy, and the younger ones ask, what’s a radio?  If you mention theater the explainee will usually explain how they almost got the lead in their local community’s production of BYE BYE BIRDIE and how the world would’ve been a better place if their lifetime dream would’ve come true.   

Words are important.  Labeling is important, and a major part of the labeling challenge for audiobooks is that there ARE separate and distinct products that sound different, present material differently and are aimed at different audiences.  On the other hand an exciting part of the labeling challenge is that the acceptance by book publishers of more-than-one-voice productions is growing quickly and has out distanced any easy, friendly description.  

It remains that a single-voice read is a very different animal than a fullcast adaptation of the same book.  It also remains that the two products sound very different from each other and are strongly reacted to differently by listeners. 

I honestly don’t believe the average listener knows or cares about all the industry terminology.  For instance, the parent from above liked audiobooks, but had no idea what fullcast, audio drama or enhanced meant.  Why should they?  The audience wants to listen to a story and the story should be in a form of how they want to listen to it.  Got that?

Here are a few one-word descriptions that do work:  Unabridged – that means long.  BBC – this means that there are lots of Cockney and Scottish “accents” and that the product should be good for you.  “Independent” producer – this means that when the story was being produced the producer was on drugs.   

So, how did Yuri handle this “explaining what you do” problem?  He called his company THE HOLLYWOOD THEATER OF THE EAR.  This ends up being a fairly informative and very eloquent way to say Yuri valued and was using the best talent he could get ahold of from “Hollywood,” he had a dramatic background but wasn’t going to be purposely stuffy about it, hence the Midwestern “er” in theater; and that the entertainment being offered was solely presented in sound—EAR which sounds like AIR which harkens back to radio airplay which wraps the whole idea of Yuri’s art into a nice little package. 

Yuri was a smart guy and produced smart work.  That’s something to aspire to no matter what you call it.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


 

 
Sunday
Nov132011

Illustrating Words 

The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price          

“Two voices, a saxophone, a cello, an occasional banjo, a slide guitar, and a couple of drums—that’s all it takes for The Bee-Loud Glade Living Anthology of Irish Poetry and Crazy Dog Audio Theatre to create a sense of grace, openness and wonder that is the essence of the best in poetry.”  That’s pretty my opening line in a 125-word review I’ve written for AudioFile Magazine.  And I mean it. 

To paraphrase that old adage about death being easy, comedy is hard.  Well, comedy may be hard, but in audio publishing there is probably nothing harder than poetry. 

The reading and performance of poetry out loud is such a stylized business.  There are the singsong rhythms of the classics.  The faded jazz emotions of the Beats.  And the nasal monotones of the academics.

Often these approaches seem to have a tough time matching with any kind of music or voice that doesn’t stumble over the meaning of the poem.  Something usually has to give.  Something gets underwhelmed or overwhelmed.

 That’s what makes this Bee-Loud Glade (the line “Bee-Loud Glade” is from a poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats --  “And I live alone in the bee-loud glade, and I shall have some peace there…”) collection so amazing.  Every musical note seems in the right place and every vowel and consonant shimmer and bristle with clarity and meaning.  The poems themselves span such themes as loss, lullabies, terrorism and lust.  And you get them.  They are right out front. 

 Roger Gregg and Crazy Dog do the hardest most necessary thing for artists working in audio publishing to do—they serve the writing.  They don’t get out ahead.  The musicians and vocalists don’t try to outdo the words themselves.

That these pieces were recorded live in various venues around Dublin makes this accomplishment seem even more amazing.  The recording is crisp and balanced.  The quality, tone and emotion of the voices and instruments are talking, whispering in your ear.     

 “Oh sweet rainbow, break me.” (From Dear Mr. Psychiatrist by Leland Bardwell).  That’s one of my favorite lines from this collection.  And there are a lot of good insightful, well-turned lines.  Besides being well presented poems, these are good poems.  Contemporary Irish poets have lost none of zest for language and life.

Oh well, this blog has become an ad for this wonderful CD.  I liked it.  It’s one of the most enjoyable and listenable poetry collections I’ve ever heard.  Buy for Christmas.  Buy it for somebody you love.  Buy it for yourself.  Do it for the arts.  Do it for humanity.  Do it for your dog.  The collection is available at www.dedaluspress.com.  It’ll sooth your soul, which isn’t a bad thing.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com
 

Sunday
Sep112011

Thinking Big

The Echo of One Hand Clapping - Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price

For the past twenty or twenty-five years or more, non-profit arts organizations have been under the gun.  Reeling from 10-20% budget cuts year after year after year after year, their boards are constantly battling among themselves about who to serve, how best to do it with what little is left, and who to ignore.  The stories of tough times are similar for community radio, tiny theater companies, hometown arts councils and local museums.

And so it has been for the National Audio Theatre Festivals.  Their budgets are half of what they were in the 1990s.  Their staff is paid half as much or not at all.  Still, NATF holds their annual Audio Theatre Workshop in West Plains, Missouri year after year and continues to introduce and train new converts to the wonders of live audio theater. 

I’d come to the conclusion that they were nuts.  In the last ten years all the signs of cheaper digital equipment and Internet distribution have pointed audio theater producers in the direction of podcasting and recording original productions (or parts of plays) remotely, e.g., one actor records their lines in Texas and another records in Australia and they email MP3s of their parts to the producer/editor in Canada.  Small inspired groups working hard. 

So, why bother with big live theater productions?  Well, I got my answer when I was invited by NATF to be a guest director at last June’s Workshop.  In a five-day week a two-hour live audio theater show was produced including 3 original plays that totaled 60-70 acting roles and who knows how many hundreds of sound effect cues. 

In the play I directed, TransMarsTango by Elaine Lee, we had eleven actors on stage playing 25 separate roles.  We had 5 live foley (sound effects) artists on stage with a three-piece band plus an actor/engineer running sampled sound effects from a laptop.  There were like six guys out in the engineering truck recording all this.  Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre and recent Audie Award winner, Robin Miles, were in the cast.  We shot missiles, played the Conga and most likely broke the space/time continuum.  It was BIG.  It was in the tradition of BIG.  It shouldn’t have even been attempted on stage.  And it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

I think the National Audio Theatre Festivals has always seen its main mission as upholding the tradition of the BIG BIG RADIO SHOW.  Back in the golden age the likes of Norman Corwin and Orson Welles had full orchestras and full time production staffs at their disposal.  They did big productions about big themes.  Even in the late 1980s producers like Yuri Rasovsky and David Ossman were receiving grants of a $100,000 to $150,000 to do big shows like the 50th Anniversary of War of the Worlds.  Nobody could possibly even consider asking for that kind of money nowadays.

But the show and idea of BIG goes on.  That’s a good thing.  Bringing together a large group of people every now and then and producing something you couldn’t possibly produce on your own is expanding, liberating.  It’s ridiculous.  I still think they’re all crazy at NATF, but that’s ok, maybe I am, too. 

I’d strongly urge all you podcasters to go and see and participate in a big unwieldy workshop—just to dream BIG BIG BIG.  That ‘s what the imagination and audio theater are for. 

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


 
Saturday
Jul232011

The Coming Out Party

The Echo of One Hand Clapping: Notes on Audio Publishing and Production By Brian Price

The best in audio theater is seldom produced by the big publishers.  We know that.  We’ve known that for years. 

The big publishers don’t create new audio theater.  They don’t broadcast it.  They don’t understand it.  They don’t like it and they’d probably prefer that it didn’t exist. 

Most likely, those are also huge reasons why small independent audio producers love multi-cast audio theater so much--just because the genre is ignored by the big boys.  For as long as I can remember there’s been a loyal crazed crowd out there collecting old-time Jack Benny, The Shadow, and X Minus One shows and listening to classic recorded comedy and science fiction shows from the likes of the Firesign Theatre and Douglas Adams.  And all along this crowd has been trying to emulate these favorite shows, writing and producing their own original shows.  Learning.  Like everything; some were good, some were not so good.

 Then along came the Internet and podcasting and these small-time producers found ways around the big publisher gatekeepers and found audiences on the Internet.  Most importantly, these small-time producers started cranking out more and more shows.  They were practicing.

Over the years there’s always been exceptional programs to listen to, but not a whole bunch, not enough to get libraries and distributors really interested.  Well, I’ve returned from the Mark Time Science Fiction Audio Awards in Minneapolis and I’m pleased to announce that suddenly there’s a LOT of great listening available out there.

The small independent producers have been writing and working, and they’ve gotten GOOD.

I think 2011’s Mark Time Awards will be seen as a kind of coming out party for independent multi-cast audio fiction simply because they came out.  Six out of the eight award winners showed up on June 30th personally to accept their Mark Time (science fiction) or Ogle (fantasy/horror) plaques.  They traveled from near and far.

Domien de Groot and Eline Hoskens flew in from Belgium to collect their Ogle Honorable Mention for the great acting and exquisite soundscape of The Witch Hunters Chronicles (http://whchronicles.wordpress.com).  Jack Ward of the Sonic Society arrived from Bedford, Nova Scotia to accept an Honorable Mention for his TwilightZoneesque with-a-twist Soul Survivor (http://www.evicuma.com).  Cayenne Chris Conroy walked across his native Minneapolis to get to Bloomington to accept the Gold Ogle for his intensely silly one-man tour de force, Whoever Wishes (http://www.tekdiff.com).  The only group unable to make it was Ogle Silver winner Zombiepodcast’s film-like We’re Alive, Chapter 17:  There Might Be Others (http://www.zombiepodcast.com) from California.

For the Mark Time Awards Jonathan Mitchell came from New York, NY to collect his Gold for the amazing The Truth: Moon Graffiti based on an actual alternate speech written by William Safire for President Nixon in 1969 in case Apollo 11 crashed landed on the moon--riveting.  Fred Greenhalgh showed up from Alfred, Maine to take his Silver for a wild, recorded on location dystopia, The Cleansed:  Pilot Episode (http://www.finalrune.com).  Samantha Mason and Matthew Boudreau came from Buffalo, NY to receive their Honor Mention for 1918 (http://www.1918show.com) asings the question, what if the Red Baron were an alien?  Only South Africa’s Protophonic and Honorable Mention Brad Lansky and the Anti-Starc couldn’t make the party, because they’d already been to the U.S. once this year.   

So, all I’m saying is that there was a sizeable gathering (not the size of the ALA, but something) of audio theatre producers in Minneapolis.  They are producing exceptional material.  They are saying, “Suddenly there's people all over the world producing good stuff.  Here we are.”

All these shows are well worth listening to and their CDs and weblinks are well worth making available in library, institution, and distribution collections.  And the really good news is that, as far as I can see, lots much good listening is on its way.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front Row: Kris Markman (judge), Brian Price (judge), Eline Hoskens (Witch Hunter Chronicles), Scott Hickey (The Grist Mill), Samantha Mason (director, 1918), Matthew Boudrean (sound design, 1918).

Second Row: Jerry Stearns (judge), Domien de Groot (Witch Hunter Chronicles), Fred Greenhalgh (FinalRune, The Cleansed), Cayenne Chris Conroy (Whoever Wishes, TekDiff).

Back Row: Jack Ward (Sonic Society, Soul Survivor), Jeffrey Adams (Icebox Radio Theater), Jonathan Mitchell (The Truth: Moon Graffiti), Sue Grandys (spouse of C. Conroy).

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


Sunday
Jun052011

Close a Window, Open a Whole Bunch of Doors

The Echo of One Hand Clapping: Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price 

I wrote last time that the waiting is the hardest part, but sometimes it’s worth the wait.  The phone finally rang.  It rang a bunch of times.  Never had it rung so many times.  So, this June I can proudly announced that I’m wrapped up in 4 separate audio productions all in the same month. 

First off, on Sunday June 5th WFHB-FM Bloomington, Indiana will be presenting another installment of their FIRE HOUSE FOLLIES—a two-hour live broadcast of good-time music and radio theatre produced by good old veteran actor/voice talent, Richard Fish.  I wrote a couple sketches especially for Rich and the show, and I’m looking forward to driving down to Bloomington and taking in a little non-corporate entertainment.  WFHB is one of those few wonderful between-the-cracks community radio stations left in the United States where regular people volunteer to program their own radio shows and play whatever they like over the air.  Visit them at: 

http://www.wfhb.org

Next, I’m headed out on June 19th, to West Plains, Missouri to direct a transgender science fiction adventure called TRANSMARS TANGO by comic book legend, Elaine Lee, for the National Audio Theatre Festivals.  Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre, actress Melinda Peterson, and my favorite musician/philosopher, the Rev. Dwight Frizzell will all be there.  I practically grew up with NATF and its earlier inception, the Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop, and have worn about every theater hat imaginable for them over the years—from gofer to SFX guy to producer.  It’s neat to be invited back to direct.

http://natf.org/

After a week in Missouri I’ll come back to Indianapolis for a couple days and then turn north to Minnesota to help produce and direct the annual live MARK TIME AWARDS RADIO HOUR.  Every year since 1996 Jerry Stearns and I have giggled our way through producing an original science fiction satire for the CONVergence Science Fiction convention.  The Mark Time Awards are the only awards solely dedicated to recognizing the best in science fiction/horror/fantasy full cast audio theater.  This year six out of the eight award recipients are coming from as far away as Belgium and Canada to accept their plaques in person.  Our show is called, SPANK MY DIRIGIBLE OR DO YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT and will be performed before an audience of close to a thousand people.  It's one the events I look forward to most every year.

 http://www.convergence-con.org

Finally, I just signed on to produce and edit a new audiobook for Good Old Boat Magazine’s Audio Sea Stories series.  This knowledgeable and entertaining crew has always been a pleasure to work with, and the book, VOYAGES IN DESPERATE TIMES by Jule Miller, about the Coast Guard’s “Hooligan Navy” in WWII, should be fun (and educational) to record.

http://audioseastories.com

Thanks for taking the time to read this bit of shameless self-promotion.  Sometimes when it rains, it pours.  And I feel like a happy duck splashing around in a mud puddle.  I’ll let you know how it all comes out.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


Wednesday
Apr272011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The Echo of One Hand Clapping: Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price

I haven’t written in a while.  I’m supposed to have news.  I’ve been waiting for late breaking big news…and I’m still waiting.

We’ve been working on starting up an audiobook production company since last Fall.  More people than ever before are listening to audiobooks.  More print book companies are interested.  More authors are interested in having their books adapted to audio.  Seems like the right time.

There have been cold calls to publishers and then warmer ones.  Then meetings.  Then mild interest.  Then a demo, which is close to real “work” in one’s chosen field.

The author loved what we did.  We got the job.  We got a shot.  We nailed it.

Now the author is on vacation.

So, we’re waiting—for final approval, final retakes, final instructions, final descriptions for the website, finally getting started.

I don’t like waiting.  I’m not good at it, and yet some days it’s all I do.

I know who won some of this year’s Audies, but I can’t say anything.  It’s a secret until the May press releases come out.

I have made my Mark Time Science Fiction Audio Awards picks for the year, but it’s a secret until the June press releases come out.

I’m waiting to find out what I need to know, and what I do know I have to wait to tell anybody.  It’s no fair.

I’m waiting for phone calls and emails to tell me that I can go ahead with my life.  I’ve waiting to see who wins the first round of the NBA playoffs.  I’m waiting for Spring.  And worst of all today the kitchen drain is stopped up and I’m waiting for the plumber, which brings up the thought that maybe the only thing worse than waiting is getting the bill afterwards.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


Sunday
Feb272011

Cultural Memory, Part 4: Danger!

Railroad crossing.  Sirens.  Blue Jays. 

There’s danger out there and there are a million sounds specially made to let us know about it.  Many of these sounds are some of the most recognizable and penetrating noises our ears will ever come up against.  I guess it’s for our own good.

And I also guess I’m not quite done with my blog trilogy on sound effects and how they affect us and our culture – so here’s the fourth installment of Our SFX Blog Trilogy.

I live about a mile away from the Plainfield-Guilford Township Municipal Fire Station, and my dog, Nicco, always lets us know when a fire truck or an ambulance is rolling by, getting ready to commence to roll by or has just finished the act of rolling by, by howling his crazy head off.  Here we get at least two age-old warning systems screeching and barking at us for the price of one emergency.  We know there’s something going on! 

Fire trucks, ambulances, police cars:  We’ve known these unique sounds practically from birth.  We mimic them.  We obey them.  We get flustered by them. 

There are two social intents going on at the same time when these alarms go off:  The first is to call people to the emergency, and the second is to scare or warn people away from the emergency. 

Sirens have gotten increasingly loud and sophisticated over the years including those darn wobbly European police sirens, but basically there are three ways to make loud, piercing, obnoxious warning noises:

One:  Pneumatic sirens force air through a spinning disk with holes in it creating “compressed and rarefied” (I got that from Wikipedia) air pressure making really loud sounds.  If you make the holes different sizes you can get that high/low warbling effect.  These sirens are basically giant whistles.

Two:  Electronic sirens.  The sirens use electronic circuits like oscillators to create noise and then send the signal through a loud speaker.  Police cars often use the interval of a tritone (got that from Wikipedia, too) to make their attention gathering sound.

Three:  Bells, gongs, etc.  Bells as an alarm system go back thousands of years.  Humans have always loved to smack things and if it made a useful noise—all the better. 

How do these effects plug into audio theater—telling a story through sound?  Well, you almost always know where you are when you hear one of these emblematic sirens or horns or bells.  You know you’re in trouble, or at least, somebody is.  So, setting a scene is with an alarm is an extremely useful way to set a tone and a mood for a listener.

With World War II style air-raid sirens one’s ears are taken to a whole gray war-torn panorama.  A few car horns, you’re in city traffic.  A far off lone siren, you’re in the city at night.  Sirens arriving close up, you’re the detective and you’ve already beaten the cops to crime scene.

Most warning signals have a single thing in common.  The noise they make is supposed to cut through the din of conversation and background sounds.  A car alarm makes you turn your head.  The “flat-line” monitor sound in a hospital means nothing but trouble.  An alarm clock makes you want to smack it with a hammer.  You’re supposed to react to them.

I find that a producer has to be judicious in using alarm sounds in plays.  They are upsetting and distracting.  If they are begging for a reaction, then they might take the listener out of the story. 

So, even if a tornado siren would “in a real emercency” be screaming for hours, a producer might have to just establish the sound and then mix it under until the siren makes that winding-down sound that’s such a relief.

For some reason we can tolerate hearing natural warning sounds for longer periods.  Like thunder.  Thunder tells you to get in out of the rain, but it can almost seem friendly.  And the wilds are so full of birds, squirrels, and insects sounding their alarms that we sometimes ignore warning signs.

There are some sounds in the woods that you should still pay attention to, though.  A number of years ago I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail.  I was waltzing along humming to myself not paying any attention.  I heard a sound that went up my spine and sent me back about 500 million years.  I’d come face to face (well actually, shoe to face) with a Timber Rattlesnake.  That rattle was truly one most frightening and primeval sounds I’ve ever heard. 

The message was loud and clear.  Step back and keep your ears sharp.  There’s danger ahead.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com




Monday
Feb072011

Cultural Memory, Part 3: Home Is Where the Quiet Is; or Who's Flying That Jet So Loud

Home Is Where the Quiet Is; or Who’s Flying That Jet So Loud?

The distant but not so distant din of interstate traffic.  The constant whine of any number of electric motors, power lines and generators.  The ubiquitous drone of airplane flyovers. 

These are the noises that are part of our daily landscape.  They’re not sounds.  They’re noise.  They don’t represent much in detail or memory, but I can’t think of more than two or three places in the United States where one won’t always hear at least one of those noises constantly.

Noise pollution.  This was the one the biggest topics mentioned in my quick survey of audio producers in late December.  People who work in audio are always listening for meaning in the world.  What are sounds telling us? 

Well, you can’t tell what a specific sound is telling you, if you can’t hear it because of the constant racket that the modern world makes.

The twenty-first century is a very loud place.  Much of the noise comes from transportation and energy being done bigger, faster, screechier than ever before.  Entire floors of urban chrome and glass buildings are dedicated to air-conditioning units.  Florescent lights buzz and whine away in every workplace.  Machines pound away.  Every computer hums—until you don’t hear it anymore.

Not to say there isn’t a natural din out there. The world has always been a noisy place.  Volcanoes make noise.  Ice makes noise.  Birds!  Birds make lots of noise.  I read one time that 150 years ago before Iowa was plowed under and made safe for agriculture one couldn’t hear oneself think for all the millions of songbirds that were singing away.  Lest we forget elephants, crickets and those rattling Aspen leaves.

Yeah, there’s always been noise.  Try talking over Niagara Falls.  But there’s something different about noise pollution.  Like a layer of soot or an extra dose of lead in our water, noise takes something away from us.

Constant noise erodes our health.  Labs, factories, and even offices have noticeable high-decibel dins that eventually erase or notch out some of our hearing.  After awhile our ears and brains create filters that simply stop listening to certain sounds and frequencies on both a physical and psychological level.  You don’t hear the noise, but you’ll also most likely miss information and sounds in a certain hearing range.

Noise confuses and degrades communication.  “Hey, watch out.”  “What?”  “Watch out, a bus is coming.”  “Huh, I can’t hear you over the traffic.”  “Get out of the way.”  “Yes, you have a nice day.”  Splat.

Noise diminishes memory.  The squeak of a child’s tricycle.  The quiet of a neighborhood bookstore.  Your mother humming in the kitchen.  These sounds evoke memories, specific images.  The sounds of your childhood may still be out there.  You just can’t quite hear them over the din.  

There is no one government agency like the EPA that regulates noise pollution.  Sometimes it’s the local police answering a nuisance call (because noise isn’t really a problem—it’s just a bother), sometimes it’s OSHA and sometimes it’s the Department of Agriculture (Try standing next to grain dryer sometime, it’s like standing next to a jet airplane).

So, what can the audio engineer and the hunter of realistic sound effects do?  Here are a few things you can do personally to lower the din.  1.  Use less energy.  The wheels of industry with squeak less if you ask less of them.  2.  Oil the squeaky wheel.  Proper maintenance is always a good thing.  3.  Turn it down.  You’ll be saving your ears as well as others.  4.  Turn it off.  Give your ears a break.

There are so many important and interesting sounds out there that are worthwhile hearing that it’s worth our while to have a world where we can find them.  I for one, would hate to miss a single one.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


Thursday
Jan202011

Cultural Memory, Part 2: Audio Archaeology -Telephones, Typewriters, and Trucks 

Audio Archaeology: Telephones, Typewriters, and Trucks

Here we are—entering the second part of my three-part (possibly four part) blog trilogy.  We’ve been talking about sounds in the world that have been lost and sounds that have changed.  Sounds that may seem meaningless and sounds that may not be used in the real world too often anymore, but still tell us something about where we are and, more importantly when we are—what era the story is in.

When I asked my audio producer and sound designer friends and colleagues which sounds have changed many of them pointed out three large overall categories:  Telephones, typewriters, and transportation.

These are all sounds that have changed over the years, but have, by no means, disappeared.  You have to look and listen for them.  You have to dig for the sounds.  You have to pay attention to the context.  We have to become audio archaeologists, because like any archaeologist, when you find something, an artifact, you hope it will tell you something about its times and maybe even something about yourself.

Like geologic specimens, sounds are layered in time.  There’s an assumed march of progress to bells and whistles, buzzers and horns.  Culturally, we seem to always assume that the march is for the better.  Whatever—sounds have changed over the years.   

Let’s start with a loose audio archaeology of telephones:  Telephones create important and very complex sounds, because they take human interaction to create the sounds.  Humans put the machines in motion or if the phone rings, the machines put people into action. 

The dial:  Tapping the cradle to get a connection, rotary dial, touchtone, touch screen.

The ring:  Wooden wall phone with metal bell and clapper, 1930s double ring, 1960s ring (still uses mechanics), warbling 1980s office ring, ring tones.

The message/interaction:  “Mr. Watson, come here.  I want to see you.” 

“Sarah, get me the drugstore.”  “Can you hear me now?”

The Sound quality:  Sounds like you’re in a box at the bottom of a well, sounds like you’re holding your nose at the bottom of a well, don’t know what a well is but you’re at the bottom of one. 

On to typewriters, printers and presses.  Once again these sounds are full of communication, actions and human interactions:

Ink to Paper:  Scratch of quill pen, typewriter keys hitting paper, electric typewriter keys hitting paper, tabs of various computer keys.

Paper continued:  The snap of a single sheet of parchment, the bell return and roll of a typewriter carriage, the same for an electric typewriter.

Computer printers and copiers:  Dot matrix, ink jet, scanners.

Various presses: Old wooden movable type, newspaper linotype, offset press, addressograph, mimeograph.

Transportation.  The context, the surface of the road, has so much to do with where and what era your ears put your mind in when you hear a horse or a diesel truck.

Talking steps:  A person walking, a horse, a horse and buggy, a Ford Model T, a 1952 Pontiac, a Dodge Daytona muscle car, a Toyota Prius Hybrid.

Surfaces:  Sand, gravel, cobblestone, asphalt, rails, air.

Warnings:  Horsewhip, Buggy horn, Model T horn, mid-sixties horn, diesel air horn.

Trains:  Early Tom Thumb engine, big 1880s steam locomotive, Diesel engine, high-speed electric rail.

Planes:  Single engine bi-plane, WWII Spitfire, Fighter jet, 747.

What keeps coming around about all these sounds are that not only do they tell the listener what they are (a plane or a phone), but they are pretty specific about when they are.  Some sounds aren’t heard much in real life, but a sound like the typewriter is so representative of action and communication in newsrooms, for instance, that one often hears typewriters in the background sound design of modern films.  I don’t think there’s an old style typewriter in a newsroom today, but nothing says newsroom like a typewriter.  They go together.

With today’s digital recordings things get more complicated.  I was in a store the other day and I heard a dead ringer (get it, ringer) for an old MaBell phone just like we used to have at home when I was kid, but it turned out to be somebody’s cell phone ring tone.  It fooled me.  I thought my mother was calling.

In the end what I heard unanimously from every audio producer and sound designer was that they are all hopeless and inveterate sound collectors.  Some collect recordings.  Some collect the things that make the sounds.  Many do both.  But you’ll never hear of a sound effects geek ever willingly give up a princess phone if he’s got one.  You never know when you might need one.

NEXT:  What Sound Doesn't Let You Hear 

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com


Thursday
Jan062011

Cultural Memory: Remembering What Technology Forgets

The Echo of One Hand Clapping: Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price

This year I thought I’d start off the year with a Blog Trilogy.  There are lots of fantasy and suspense trilogies out there, but I’m not sure how many blog trilogies there are.  I won’t say there aren’t any, because I might be wrong.  There might be a lot of blog trilogists tweeting and slaving away out there, and now I’m one of them.

But I’m writing a blog trilogy for a good reason.  I’ve actually got something to say.  I’ve got facts and opinions to report.

The week before Christmas I sent out a happy holidays message to a number audio theater and production friends and colleagues.  This is what I said: "Got a question for you.  For my next blog I want to do a piece ringing out the old sound effects and ringing in the new.  In other words, I have a 1980s SFX record with a computer punch card reader noise on it--ring it out, nobody knows what a punch card is anymore.  On the other hand, what will an electric car sound like going by--ring it in.  So, I'm soliciting examples, either way.  I'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject."

I received a number of thoughtful examples and I’ll list some of them below, but first I’ve got to make an admission.  I didn’t quite know what I was asking.  I thought I was asking about little things, about small changes.  Instead I was asking about big things.  I was asking about cultural memory.  I was asking about what can be replaced and forgotten in our lives and, maybe more importantly, in our perceptions. 

My friends happily answered my question.  But, in the flip wording of my question I was also asking my friends to do something they couldn’t do.  I was asking them to forget, to lay something aside.  People who use sound, who collect sounds, can’t do that. 

So here are a dozen examples of sounds that have been lost or replaced:

(1) Good old cash register – cha ching.  (2) Telephone rotary dial – now what does a swipe across an iPhone sound like?  (3) A typewriter return carriage bell – ding.  (4) VHS tape loading and ejection – remember tapes?  (5) Television test pattern sound – remember TVs?  (6) Movie projector – remember film?  (7) Jukebox with 45-rpm record changer.  (8) Dot matrix printers.  (9) Fax modem squelch.  (10) Mechanical freight elevator.  (11) Pigs in the yard.  (12) Chickens in the yard.

All the sounds in this list have one wonderful thing in common.  They paint pictures in your mind.  The typewriter ding creates a room, a clock on the wall, light coming through the window, a desk, somebody sitting at the desk, somebody actively doing something (maybe thinking) as they slam the carriage.  The chickens in the yard create dust, corn on the ground, maybe a child sitting on a wooden step, clouds, a car coming up a gravel road.

In those two cases the specific sounds still have meaning, they still tell you something, a lot.  It is just that we don’t hear those sounds, those cues, much in everyday life anymore.  Two major, gradual changes occurred in the 20th century to change what we hear in the environment around us: 

1.  The mechanical has been replaced by the electrical, the digital.  A clock doesn’t tick.  It hums.  A jukebox doesn’t drop a record onto a turntable with a swinging tone arm.  It selects a file.

2. The sound of energy has replaced the sound of food.  I asked a friend out in Indian Country what he hears and doesn’t hear near the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  He hears the wind in the power lines and he doesn’t hear nearly as many animals anymore.  So, the sound of a chest freezer on the porch has replaced chickens scratching and clucking in the yard.  Being separated from the sounds of our food has been very gradual.  My mother grew up with barnyard sounds in the 1930s and 40s twenty-five miles outside New York City.  Now, you can hardly hear a privately owned chicken 1,500 miles away in the very rural Midwest.

Now, this is no place to make value judgments.  I live in suburban Indianapolis and I’m not sure it would be a good idea for my neighbors to have chickens in their yards.  They have a hard enough time with their garden gnomes. 

All I’m saying here is that sounds in our world have changed.  When sound changes that changes how we think, how we remember, and how we communicate.  That’s a big, amazing deal.

NEXT WEEK:  Tracking the elusive Bell Labs Princess Phone:  Audio Archaeology 

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com

Wednesday
Dec082010

Conversing With the Beatles

When I'm 64 - The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, 1969The Echo of One Hand Clapping: Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price

The Beatles are back.  That’s not surprising.  Although I don’t know that they ever left.  They’re on my computer screen right now.  They’re on iTunes.  They’re digital.  You can hear them on the radio and in the malls, as a group and individually.  John and Yoko singing Happy Xmas, War Is Over and meaning it still, and it still having meaning, after all these years.  Never sounding stale.  Sounding like they are right next to you. 

The Beatles were always a conversation.  That’s how they sang and how they engaged the world.  The songs were often in second person—you.  She Love You, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. They talked directly to us, or at least you thought they were (well, actually, I thought they were just talking to me—we all did). 

They were talking among themselves.  They were talking about what was important or interesting or silly to themselves.  They were working things out.  We were part of the conversation.

And the greatest conversationalist of all was John.  John Lennon told you about his loves, his family, his fantasies, his fears.  He communicated with us in his songs and interviews with such knowing ease and such a familiar personal voice that I just figured he wanted to hear about my life, that some day he was going to stop by and have breakfast with me. 

John would’ve turned 70 years old on October 9th.  He died almost 30 years ago to the day.  What he sang, what he said, and how he said it remains a dialogue with us all. 

So, what does this have to do with books-on-tape?  What is reading a book except a dialogue?  You, the audience, may be silent most of the time, but you’re always at the other end of the conversation. 

The Beatles were audio artists.  They lived in and presented a world of distinct song, of distinct voice and distinct sound.  Besides the theater of live performances John, Paul, George and Ringo used two of the most intimate ways to reach an audience—radio and recordings.  Both mediums are so close and immediate. 

You are often by yourself when you’re listening to a CD.  You may often have buds in your ears.  You’re alone.  You’re thinking your thoughts.  And that’s when the Beatles always had their best conversations with you.  When it was just you and them.

I won’t go into details here.  Why the Liverpool accents of the Beatles sounded so exotic and familiar at the same time.  How they became some of the most recognizable voices on the planet.  Or wondering what kind of strange burden it must be to have 100,000,000 closest friends.

All I can say is thanks for all the conversations.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com

Thursday
Nov112010

Fair Competition

The Echo of One Hand Clapping: Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price

For the past few weeks it has been the end of the marching band season here in Indiana:  Quarter finals, semi finals, final finals.  My daughter came home despondent.  Her band, the Fighting Quakers of Plainfield, had come in number eleven out of 21.  Only ten bands make it to state.

“The judges didn’t know what they were talking about,” she said. 

And I thought.  I’ve been a judge in a lot of artistic competitions and I think she is probably right.  We don’t know what we’re talking about.  After all – it’s art.

I’ve just received a list of judging criteria from the next round of competitions I’m judging for.  They use words like merit, professional, positive, appropriate, and, my favorite—applicable.  All these words are very happy and helpful words except when it comes to actually listening to a pile of audiobooks that were written by different writers, read by different readers and, most importantly, most likely the books were produced with very different audiences, goals and intents in mind.

The problem with artistic competitions is that they’re not races or games.  Nobody lines the runners up in a row, shoots off a starting gun and cheers for the audiobook who gets across the line first. 

I sometimes wish there were compulsories for audio listening like in Olympic ice-skating.  The narrator would be required to perform certain feats during his or her reading: Correctly pronouncing the word mirror in a Southern accent, cracking one’s knuckles between chapters and doing a triple axle spin while performing a prepositional phrase.

Of course, a major difference between audiobooks and a lot of performing arts is that the whole idea of audiobooks is subtly, that if the producer and narrator do their jobs perfectly the listener might not even notice, being outstanding by not standing out.  

Audiobooks practice the high arts of synthesis and collaboration.

Not that certain artists don’t stand out.  Like the New York Yankees, like Martina Natratilova, like Stephen King narrators like Jim Dale, Scott Brick and Barbara Rosenblat work at such a high level so much of the time and on so many projects that they are always being handed awards.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d listen to Barbara Rosenblat read the phone book, but I can’t imagine what the inside of her house must look like—plaques hanging on the walls, trophies on mantle piece, boxes of Audies and Earphone awards in the corners.  What can she possible do with them all? 

I like being a judge for audio awards.  I appreciate hearing a vast array of titles I wouldn’t hear otherwise.  I try to be conscientious.  I try to be balanced.  I try to be critical and fair.  But in the end, awards, especially awards in the arts are just some people’s opinions.  They’re not fair.   Art isn’t fair.  Art is about life. 

Life isn’t fair.  Ask my daughter.  That’s the reason when it comes to how well her marching band did in the finals—they always come in first in my book.

Brian Price
920 Creekside Lane
Plainfield, IN  46168
317/203-5044
check out:  http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com