Friday, May 7, 2010

Power of Ambient Sound: Sizzling Fries & School Bells

Do you ever hear an old song on the radio that immediately takes you back to your past? Maybe that wonderful summer after graduating high school, driving the back country roads of rural Idaho with your arm around Gloria, the girlfriend soon to be left behind on the way to college in the fall ?

I’m not a psychologist and can’t explain why music imprints into our brains, but I do know that sounds tap a deep emotional response in me. Just like that summer song triggering an old story, when I hear croaking frogs, I feel a rain forest in my head. When I hear wailing sirens, I’m surrounded by oppressive big city traffic. The Tibetan monk’s cymbal reverberating in my headphones, I smell yak butter tea.

Recording ambient sound is one of my favorite parts of multimedia, and for the second audio slide show I produced for Archbishop Curley Notre Dame High School’s “There’s A School For That” campaign, I had a lot of fun with sound.

What better way to trigger those high school emotions than recording the clanging class change bell and hallway voices. I lead the show with about seven seconds of only ambient hallway sound, then duck under her interview, leaving levels high enough to still hear the banging lockers and squeaking sneakers.

Here the ambient sound first catches your attention and draws you into the story, and before Silvia’s interview begins, hopefully you’re hooked. Then the sound bed drives the narrative along. Between Silvia’s thoughts, ambient sound levels rise, taking over the story telling, like at the basketball game where you hear the coach and players huddle, and the referee’s whistle.

Just like real life, our brains don’t concentrate on that sound bed, but we feel the sound, we see the the sweaty players, we know we’re in the high school gym.

As the show winds up, the sound of frying french fries comes in strong before Silvia  beings her story of her older sister asking if Curley still serves the fries she loved. The bubbling of the cafeteria deep fryer catches and holds your attention, and as the sound bed ducks under, I can taste those same fries that she is talking about. ( Good fries, BTW, I tried and liked them, though maybe the accompanying cheese burger clouded my judgment ...)

I love the complex layers of  interview voice blending and threading around and over and behind the background sounds of life in a vibrant high school. I decided to run a sound bed under the entire length of each of the “There’s A School For That”  multimedia shows because, well, I love ambient sound. It tells me stories, triggers my emotions and just like that old song on the radio, makes my life a whole lot richer.

Here's a link to more ambient sound blended with multimedia photography.

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