Working with Field Voices and Tape
Let's talk about working with field voices and tape from the field. We know that field tape takes us places, it helps us create scenes. Often the best material that we get is the product of this idea of, hey, we're just gonna be rolling, recording the whole time. Digital storage is cheap, embrace it. Hellos, first impressions can really be used to kind of set tone, give listeners a way in to this character and subject. They're human beings first, they're not victims of lead poisoning. We wanna engage with them on the human level and we try to give them a chance to present themselves as humans with agency, with the same day-to-day feelings and cares that we all have. Generous recordings of ambience and room tone keep us in the scene. They can really be used to help you out when you've got a little bit of voice over, but I don't want to leave the banks of the river, I wanna stay there, so if I've got some room tone I can cut that in and keep it there, or not room tone, not a room by the ...
bank of the river, but ambience. I always just recommend that people get more than two minutes. If you get less, for one, there's always the noise of somebody breathing or something like that, that kind of makes room tone unusable for a little bit of time, or somebody talking in the background. There's also, excuse me, drink of water. There's also the danger, if you have too little of it, that it becomes this little bit of it that is usable that you can loop, and then you start to identify, oh, there's a little mouth click every six seconds there, there's a, you know whatever, car passing by, the same car over and over and over again. I mean, it's lame, it's boring, podcasting, boring radio and you can do better and it's two minutes of your time, right? Field tape can also be problematic, everybody's heard the sound of wind noise on a mic, rumble from traffic, mic handling noise, those kinds of things, and sometimes mic handling noise is just the cost of doing business, of being in action, in an action sequence, but more often than not, it's the product of something that could have been gotten right the first time and wasn't, or you were so focused on capturing the moment but weren't listening on headphones, that kind of stuff. People speaking on top of one another. Just play as dumb as possible, oh I didn't get that. Could you tell that to me again? Or somebody rambled to get to some point that they had, I identify strongly with that, but you can ask them, hey can you just explain that to me in like 30 seconds or like I'm a toddler? (laughs) You can often get better tape out of it that way, but you really wanna err on the side of an intelligible message and look out for what are the possible intrusions on that. Editing this tape, it is your chance to tighten up the storytelling, to, you know, maybe let script handle some things that tape takes a longer time to unfold. Can you collapse certain moments to get to the good stuff? Certainly, removing ums and ahs, are especially a diversion in a sentence, those kinds of things can be good to get rid of, to tighten up, but they can also be really illustrative, too, right? If somebody's just been asked a really difficult question, I wanna hear them pausing and stewing, or maybe that question implicates me in something, and I'm tryin' to think very carefully about how I respond to it. So if I have that moment on tape, geez, use it. It can be such an asset in the storytelling and you kind of let the person do some of the storytelling for you or tell the listener about some of what's difficult about this story. So if you're hearing someone thinking on the fly or they're stammering to avoid a probing question, that can be useful. We do want to be aware of cuts that will truncate natural reverb of a room in the recording. This is super important, it's this kind of stuff that's, oh, that's an edit. And if your listener is saying, oh, that's an edit or that sounded weird, that is a moment where they are not thinking about your story, so you wanna avoid those cuts, leave plenty of nice pauses after somebody says something. It's such an impulse when you're in conversation with someone to jump in and, oh I'm excited about this, I wanna respond, I wanna hear what else you have to say. But it can be really helpful to just avoid that tendency. So let's do a little live demo of some field tape in Pro Tools. We wanna look at some editing later of voice material. We'll come back to that, some voice editing tips. But let's look at this. One of the other awesome things about markers in Pro Tools is that you can them to change the view in the session or change what's present for you, so I'm relying on the memory locations window to shape that. Made sure carefully ahead of time that none of this stuff was all on top of one another. So let's just play, this is a good example of some immersive field tape. We looked at this tape a little bit in, or looked at the story a little bit, rather, in the post production work flows course, but this one, I wanna kind of let this moment unfold a little bit more.
Someone burned it down after the flood, which happened to a lot of the houses that were left out here after everyone moved away. Arsonists came out here, they stripped 'em of copper and they burned the houses down, they stripped it of everything that was valuable. (slow acoustic guitar)
After their town was obliterated, people had to figure things out for themselves. Deborah, the mayor, says they got less help because they lived inside a floodway. So, they scattered. Some people stayed with family, some moved away entirely. But they still consider themselves a community.
Always good to come on back home.
Yeah, no place like home (laughs).
Still in the same place.
Ain't much to see, but we standin' on the ground (chuckles).
This is Memorial Day weekend, but out here, it's Pinhook Day, the annual Homecoming. Dozens people of who used to live in Pinhook or who spent their summers here as kids are coming back. People drive up, park next to the field, unload their coolers.
What' up, bro?
Burt Robinson, he's the son of Jim and Aretha Robinson, is frying catfish and chicken in big pots of oil. (sizzling)
Yeah, it's alright. (chattering) Our mama, my mama makes the best fish serving you ever tasted.
One guy takes kids for a tour on a four wheeler, telling them about how things used to be. And there's a small crowd gathering around a poster with photos of the flood.
Oh, look at that wa--
So we're never leaving that ambient space once it's introduced. We're also meeting characters before Patrick introduces them, too, just a little bit through the audio. This was field tape from a really meaningful moment in time. These people had their entire town washed away by practices, from people building levees that ultimately led to the entire town's destruction. Writ large, this is an environmental racism story that I'm trying to serve up to people in a way that doesn't turn it. That kind of story can be difficult for people to take. There's are certain kinds of audiences who will write it off. We're inviting them to meet these people from this town, celebrating the fact that they were, that they had this town together, all the festive aspect of it, but I could also make some music choices here that would make this sound too happy, too. We're thinking really hard about what can we do to let these people speak for themselves? What can we do to not cast them straight up as victims and see what was lost? What's at stake here with these kinds of levee building practices? We are invited on this journey to meet these people. So I am just gonna to solo these two tracks that I have here.
But we standin' on the ground (chuckles). (chattering)
So you can see that that ambience is running under Patrick's voice over here. It's not loud, but on headphones, probably a little more present than in this room. So those of you who are listening at home will certainly get the full benefit of that. (chattering) You also see everything is pretty gently faded into. I try to not alarm anybody with a quick fade or something like that, unless I've got a reason to. I've also relying on two different tracks of this ambience, so this is the more, like, we call wall or background noise. This is more, okay, we're hearing a sonic event here, so that one is,
Yeah, it's alright. (people chatting) Our ma--
Oh, look at that wa--
Oh, sorry. (chattering)
Our mama, my mama makes the best fish--
So hearing that sizzling is just like, especially something in headphones like that. I mean this isn't, like, highest fidelity recording of all time but it really captures something that we would not have if we were just trying to tell the story through some narration or maybe little bits of like, oh, so what happened when your town washed away, right? We ease people into this story in a much more interesting way, I think. So being judicious about when does something pop up. This is not in my plan, but what the hell, this is a pretty awesome function. One way that we get here, I do a lot of intense listening to this kind of tape, and like, what's a key moment that's awesome that I want to pop up. So one thing that you can do in Pro Tools that's great, I talked about nudging in the last class, being able to move a audio clip a couple frames or a couple, my standard beat is two tenths of a second. If something needs a beat, that's a great place to start. And then within that nudge command there's also a tool here I do, it's just supplemental to it, and you can nudge the start time or where in that audio you are.
What' up, bro?
We got what's up, bro there.
That's great. What' up, bro?
So I'll be doing some nudging, I'm basically nudging within this so that this is appearing where it's later in the track, and we've got some more information that's gonna be added to that little segment there. I'm not actually moving the track anywhere itself, I'm just moving what's in that's space or what's in that container. It's such a great tool and that little bit of extra attention to the timing can just be huge.