Star Wars

In one of my first Blog posts I discussed the Sound Designer Ben Burrt and his work for the Star Wars films. Now on the 16th of April a teaser trailer for the new Star Wars film was released. Now you know I love all things sound so that is what I am going to talk to you about. So firstly, I am sure you have seen it but here is the trailer so it is fresh in your minds.

So let’s get down to business. Just before we come out of a blank screen we get the opening melody of the Ben Kenobi Death/Tie Fighter attack. It is a very soft melody, and along with its intensity our memories are awakening, we are taken to a crashed ship and the deep breathing of Darth Vader is heard. Yes, this is all within a minute of the trailer. We have a voice- from Luke Skywalker talking about the Force and his family and at this point we have a low level of music and the voice is guiding us. The voice is setting the mood, taking us back. Once he says “You have it too” we are back into the Ben Kenobi Death/Tie Fighter attack music and get to see and hear everything you could possibly expect from a Star Wars trailer – flying ships, Lightsabers, explosions and battles. Now you must have been living under a rock if you didn’t know Harrison Ford was returning as Han Solo, but what makes this trailer so good for me is its sound. Again we are ending on a blank screen, and hear a voice we all know, and we love, “Chewie” and then we see the much loved and missed Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Well my thoughts on the trailer – well I love it. It is actually rather simple, doesn’t give that much away. You get to see much loved characters and there is just a familiarity and nostalgic mood that it creates. I think, regarding the sound, I really appreciate and respect the fact that it isn’t the Star Wars theme tune that we hear soft music which creates a juxtaposition to the elements on screen. I personally can’t wait until Christmas.

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Jurassic World

It’s hard to believe that it was 22 years ago that we first met John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and went on one hell of an adventure around Jurassic Park. Now, when I first found out about Jurassic World I was rather sceptacle because I felt that it wasn’t going to be as good as the original. You only have to look at the second film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and think maybe it is not a good idea to make another. Yes, the third of the films, Jurassic Park III (2001), definitely saved the legacy but by no means was as amazing or special as the first. Key word there being “Special”. I remember the first film being so special and amazing and opened all our eyes to a new and amazing world. You ask most kids who grew up in the 90’s what their favourite film was and I guarantee it will be Jurassic Park. That and theme tune is pretty epic! (Bet you’re humming it now). So let’s get back to the fourth of the series, Jurassic World. I was just going to avoid seeing it, but I saw loads of people my age making statements about it being as good as the first and feeling like a child again. So I went…….. How wrong I was.

So we have Gray (Ty Simpkins) who is obsessed with dinosaurs and going with grumpy teenage brother Zack (Nick Robinson) to visit their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallos Howard) who works at the Jurassic World. So yes, of course something is going to go wrong, which is okay because we have Owen (Chris Pratt) who works with the dinosaurs and can save the day. So as far as characters and actors go there is a brilliant dynamic. First we have a bit of a love story going on between Claire and Owen which develops during the film, and then we get to see Gray and Zack grow closer and really be there for one another. Also Claire, power to you for all that running in heels.

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Characters aside, there is something else that makes this film special which is the reference and homage to the past. Now we all know the scene from the first film where they first see the dinosaurs and they get out of their cars and the theme music builds. Possibly one of the most iconic film scenes. So how could it be topped? Instead of seeing the dinosaurs through adult eyes, it is the character Gray we see him running around from enclosure to enclosure until he runs up a hill and overlooks everything. We have a brilliant panning wide shot of the island. It is truly amazing. It feels a bit like watching yourself as a child seeing that scene from the first film where they get out of their cars. Oh, and of course they have that epic music. Another particular favourite part is when Gray and Zack are lost and trapped and end up in the old park area. This is where the banner falls on the Trex at the end of the first film. This scene is full of references to the first film and you just can’t help smiling as you remember.

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So there you have it, a small review of Jurassic World and if you’re not feeling at least a tiny bit nostalgic for your favourite childhood film then this might do the trick….

Alexander McQueen

“London’s where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.”
– Alexander McQueen, January 2000

As well as Sound and Doctor Who, fashion is one of my oldest loves. I know there is a hot debate where some think that fashion is just about clothes and doesn’t mean very much. Well I challenge you to say that after seeing Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the V&A Museum.

Indeed this seems a bit of a strange topic for a media blog but I want to discuss the sound which was designed by John Gosling and used to enhance the exhibition. I must admit when I went I was expecting just his clothes to be showcased along with stereotypical music and a little bit about the man behind the clothes. I was very much mistaken. Through visuals such as clothes, installations and quotes I could see how he used fashion to express himself. At times this was incredibly emotional and you could see his tortured soul, but if he expressed himself through clothes then the sound was used to take you on a journey inside his mind. That does sound like a strange statement to make so let’s go into a bit more detail.

The 4th room was a jungle theme and was all about his clothes inspired by African tribes and animals, along with an Installation of a model under water and banging on glass. At times this room was extremely claustrophobic and this was partly due to the sound which was a constant and fast paced drum beat, very much like a tribal-type drum. The mixture of a narrow room, the installation and drums created the feeling of being trapped but you couldn’t take your eyes off the clothes.

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Now the 5th room was to do with the pride of Scottish heritage and it was filled with Scottish tartans. Part of the beauty of this room was the regal music. The music gave a sense of grace and importance. You very clearly understood how important his heritage was to him and how he felt history should not be forgotten. The music and the clothes were the voice to convey this message.

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The 6th room was the largest of the rooms and had the most going on. With so much happening you don’t know where to start. I describe this and see this as a child just entering the world. All you do is look up, confused by your huge surroundings. The music was a mix of Jewelry box music and classical music. You begin to walk around and learn more about the man, seeing footage of his clothes and the way the models walked. His shows were an experience, not just a viewing and very much like this exhibition.

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One of the most beautiful rooms was an installation of Kate Moss from one of his shows where she wore a white flowing dress and seemingly floated across stage. Part of why this was one of the most emotional rooms was due to the choice of music which was the theme music from the film Schlinder’s List. This seems an interesting choice. The mix of the music and image is peaceful and calming. I suppose the main thing that makes it so emotional is that up to now the music has been so powerful and strong and this is a chance to reflect. After seeing powerful quotes from the man himself along with very heavy and mental clothes, you see a man calm and at peace and you take that thought with you when you leave, rather than remembering the darkness.

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Again the final room is very much about peace.   It was about his love of nature and how he used it in his work. The sound was of nature, mainly of birds, birds signify peace and flying away.

I would lie if I said this wasn’t an emotional experience but it was certainly worth it and provided a clear insight into his mind.

Boom Operating

So I briefly discussed in my catch-up blog how I have been doing some exciting work in the last few months. I have been very lucky in seeing and being part of a full budgeted production as well as a budget production. I got to see the differences in their working styles and I also learned the important and valid lesson that you need to get on with your job quietly.

The first piece of work was for a low budget film for the Television Workshop and an adaptation of the play Othello and my role was in sound. I learned a number of lessons on this 5 day shoot and editing process. Well first of all because it was a low budget production I had to use University equipment. So here are the lessons for working on a budget film.

Lesson 1

DON’T TRUST THE EQUIPMENT.

Unfortunately everyone, and that includes first year students who can be a bit clueless, get to handle the equipment. Fortunately I am a massive paranoid freak and over-booked, however even with my over-booking things still went wrong, especially on a cold night shoot on a beach. Yes, sand and cold air do not mix well with audio equipment. You learn that you have to think quickly. I came prepared with massive amounts of batteries and spare zoom H1 as emergency back-up.

Lesson 2

YOU’RE A SMALL PART OF A BIG MACHINE.

Yes, a key lesson when you study something like audio and all your roles are in audio you get told a lot how important audio is. Speak up if something is wrong and something needs doing again because there was a band during that line. Actually I learned fairly quickly that while my role was important the Director and Producer on this shoot cared more about lights and camera which is fair enough with it being their film. So I kept quiet, got as close as I could and most importantly kept out the way. Of course when there were big issues I spoke up and things were redone but for the smaller things I just kept quiet.

Lesson 3

YOUR SCHEDULE DOESN’T MATTER.

Yes, this one is key. You will receive very last minute calls regarding instructions and notes for an edit you asked for about a week ago, and it needs to be handed over the next day. My advice? Coffee and a deep breath. People are busy and take time to get back to you and are consumed by their film. Also a series of jobs have to be done before they get to yours, so just be prepared for the last minute editing calls.

So, next is a full budgeted production. I got to work as a runner on a BBC R&D production as well as helping on their sound design. People like the BBC get students to work on films knowing they are not paying them. so they like to have a few perks. They had already asked for my help in the sound post so knew my passion for sound and allowed me to work with the Boom Op and Sound Recordist on the shoot. You learn very quickly that you’re playing with the big boys now and everything you have done before can hardly compare. However, you see the same things as on a low budget – equipment breaking or something going wrong, sound being rushed to get a job done quickly and again your schedule doesn’t mean that much.

Both experiences have taught me a lot. I guess that is why they call it work experience – you learn on the job and you quickly work it out. It’s not like Uni or school where you can email the tutor and say something went wrong. It is real life.

Catch up

So a little catch up…….. When starting the new University term in February my first week back was the usual – lots of talk about what the new term has in store. I had spent my whole Christmas holidays reading up on the subjects and was excited to get started. I was speaking to my friend on the sister-course to mine and she told me they were working with clients and making a film for them, as well as doing a post-piece. I thought long and hard after a tutor on my course told me they had no contacts available for work experience. I was finding it difficult to gain any contacts on my own, and I began to realise I was going to leave my course with 4 essays and one Audio post-piece and little real world experience. After speaking to my tutor I made the move to the course Visual and Audio Social Technologies. Yeah, a long name. I still get to specialise and focus my studies on Audio but I now come out of University with 3 pieces of work of which I am proud as well as the experience of working with a client and some very exciting work experience.

A major benefit of changing courses was that they have more connections outside the University. As a result I have worked on three truly exciting pieces of work during this year. I will go into these in more detail in a future blog.

 I guess the main thing I have learned is for a while I closed myself off, I was on a Audio path and learning very little else. Yes, I have still come out of this still wanting to do Audio even more, but I have learned more skills. I am Avid certified, I know how to work with cameras and lights. I know how to edit on other programs as well as making my own graphics. I also learned how to work with clients and how to present myself in a professional way when working. I also got to see the not so nice or pleasant side of the business.

The Radio and Community

Something I have discussed in the past is how I became involved in hospital radio and how this really kick-started my passion for sound. Hospital radio is also something which I am about to become involved in again. It really is an important thing to do for your community, and personally it helped me gain more confidence. I am naturally a quiet and reserved person, but talking to complete strangers during an evening and asking them what they would like to hear on the radio soon changed that. What I soon began to realise was that most of the patients were not bothered about listening to the radio, and what they actually needed was someone to talk to. It was a complete eye-opener and I completely understood the importance of this.

During my third year at University Lincoln I was part of a project which involved going into schools and teaching students about radio. After a couple of months the students then went to the local community radio station, Siren Radio, to produce their own live shows. My group were given 8 years olds, and yes, there was quite a lot of consternation about allowing 8 year olds in a professional studio, but we soon got past that. Of course we went into this thinking they were going to do everything and learn everything about radio, and that it was all about the radio. It soon became apparent it wasn’t. What this project taught me was the personal growth of the students as well as us. I saw the shyest 8 year olds suddenly become little stars. I think for us it became less about the final grade   and more about wanting to see them do a good job.

The point of this post is the importance of community radio in any form. I personally feel it is something a lot more people should get involved in even if Radio isn’t their thing. So I urge you go to your local Youth Centres or Hospitals and help out. It really is rewarding and fun.

Dame Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie

Before the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, Dame Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie wasn’t a name I had really heard of, and the fact she was a drummer who was profoundly deaf was incredibly interesting but didn’t make me want to research her further. As a person studying ‘sound’ this is shocking. It wasn’t until recently when I rewatched the ceremony that I began to think about this. In fact it was only when she started playing that I thought, well surely she would feel the vibrations from the whole place, not just from her drums. Well of course I immediately realised that she was standing on a separate platform, therefore she could only physically feel the vibrations from her drums and the other drummers. But it is a truly fascinating area and I would love to educate myself more on the use of vibration in music. I can only assume that it is to do with the building itself and how it has been constructed. The construction helps the vibrations to travel in much the same way as sound travels, creating the vibrations into musical notes. I will research the subject further and there will be a post with my findings in a few weeks’ time. But for now here is some of Dame Evelyn Elizabeth Ann Glennie’s music.