the McGurk Effect and Sound Design

 

This is not a phenomenon that effects the entire population, but being as interested in sound as I am, it presents a unique insight into the audio-visual link. I have always said that the most important part of sound design is making sure the listener links what they see to what they hear. If a convention isn’t established in that way, then the Sound Designer has failed his job. Expect more on this in the future.


Greek Jokes Aren’t Funny (Excerpt)

Larry: (pounding back a shot) well shit.

 

(Arlus walks up, Larry is poured shot after shot after shot of something clear, Arlus approached Barkeep)

 

Arlus: (worried) what’s he drinking?

 

Keep: Water

 

Arlus: …you keep water in a vodka bottle?

 

Keep: keeps the underage happy and paying

 

Arlus: (nods, then to larry) Larry, what happened? Wife leave you for a white bull again? Pregnant with a monster, is she?

 

Larry: nope (prepares for shot, takes it)

 

Arlus: Did Daddy cause another earthquake in Sparta?

 

Larry: Nope

 

Arlus: Hade’s steal your daughter away to the underworld and… something with a pomegranite?

 

Larry: (grunts)

 

Arlus: Did…

 

Larry: Nope

 

Arlus: I didn’t even finish!

 

Larry: already knew the answer

 

Arlus: well what was I going to…

 

Larry: Dionysus visited me today

 

Arlus: … hm?

 

Larry: Dionysus-

 

Arlus: no, I heard you, that one wasn’t all that funny

 

Larry: I wasn’t kidding

 

Arlus: yeah

 

Larry: he honestly did

 

Arlus: (pause) so why water?

 

Larry: just popped into my-

 

Arlus: seems a little weak for-

 

Larry: and just whipped it out-

 

Arlus: I mean, I know you can’t hold-

 

Larry: and it was just gigantic, then he-

 

Arlus: showed you how to take them, just-

 

Larry: told me to get up, started yelling-

 

Arlus: and the whipped cream makes it even better-

 

Larry: Told me to PROduce a play!

Arlus: and that’s how you take a shot!

 

Both: Wait… What?

 

Larry: you told me to take a straw and drink through my nose

 

Arlus: Dionysus told you what?

 

SILENCE

 

Arlus: I may have been drunk at the time

 

Larry: He, uh, told me to PROduce a play

 

Arlus: that’s not how you pronounce-

 

Larry: I don’t care

 

Arlus: yeah

 

SILENCE

 

Larry: so what does that even mean?

 

Arlus: Fresh vegetables for sale at a market

 

Larry: no, the-

 

Arlus: yeah, you pronounced it wrong

 

Larry: Don’t Care

 

Arlus: Figures. Hm… I think its when an asshole shows up and tells the director what to do.

 

Larry: well that doesn’t sound very helpful

 

Arlus: I could be wrong

 

Larry: yeah, that doesn’t sound right.

 

Silence

 

Arlus: does it mean…? Yeah, I’m out

 

Larry: me too.

 

Arlus: well, we could just go around and ask people what producing is, this is Athens, after all, someone should know.

 

Larry: Oh yes, that sounds like a fantastic idea. We could go to Lickus, the street lecher, and ask him, “do you know what a producer does?” and he flashes us and we say, “not that kind of producer, what a Theatrickal producer does” and he tells us he doesn’t know, but would sure as hell like to find out. So he follows us when we go to ask Scandalus, the politician, Acrylica, the beautician, Little Pintus, head of the league of orphans and the president of the competitive drinking league. We can ask flicus and Bickus, and kalamazoo! And then go and ask mr. floppity roo! And then we’ll take this great big mob of people up to mt. Olympus, stand in front of Dionysus, and say, “Listen here, you schmuck, none of THESE people know what the hell a producer does, why the hell should I?”

 

Arlus: You’re drunk… ( pause, picks up shot glass of water sniffs it, looks at Larry, who continues line)

 

Larry: (dawn of realization) Oh god Damnit! (leaves)

 

Arlus: yeah he probably has (moment, follows)

 

(Dionysus walks on, hands jug to Keep, asks for a gallon, Keep looks confused)

 

Dio: (to Keep) Think I was too hard on the fellow? He was pounding the drink pretty hard

 

Keep: (stunned) it was water

 

Dio: (looks angrily at Keep, grabs back his jug, starts to leave, glares back, and struts out)

 

Keep: Bye?

 


The Story in the Story

Every story humanity has ever told, and ever will tell, all come from the same myths, the same basic narratives. Boy finds friend, they find trouble; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they die or live happily ever after. Every that is going to be told has already been told. So how do you tell a story that is worth being heard again?

It is tempting for me at this point to write a list of what makes a story memorable; but the truth is, there are no specific methods. The key, however, seems to be resonance. A story, as should be obvious, needs to have some sort of relation to the person reading it. This can come in the form of an Active Relation, something someone wants to get out of the story, and a Passive Relation, something in a story that, for one reason or another, evokes an emotional reaction.

As always, the line between an Active and a Passive relation is larger and more blurred than “The Greatest CENSORED Hits of Ron Jeremy”. This is also true for how much of each element any one story may contain. Novels that are usually focused more on an Active than a Passive relation are what we have come to refer to as Crime or Detective novels. These are books that we read to try and figure out a mystery, and are actively involved in trying to decipher the plot. A Passive Relation can best be found in almost any comedic novel, where the entire point of which is to create the humorous and unexpected, and therefore inspire a passive relation (i.e. trying to make the reader laugh)

As always, the best road seems to lie in the middle. Well, at least according to my limited world-view. To illustrate why, you need only take the one piece of literature we have probably almost all heard read in monotone by an English teacher; Hamlet. This is a story that creates both an active relation, forcing the audience to determine if Claudio really did kill Hamlet sr., but also is a story, in its most basic form, about a boy losing his father, creating a Passive relation.

But Hamlet is a story we have all heard before, isn’t it, along with most of the stories we are so fond of telling. So how do we get an audience to listen to them? First, you give them something new, a new take on it, and a new perspective. Anything to pique their interest. But failing that, every good story, every story worth listening to, has to be both felt by the audience, and interpreted by them. The perfect moment is when the audience is halfway between slight confusion and emotional devastation when the plot finally resolves. If done right, its enough to leave most people speechless


Oh What a Rogue and Peasent Slave Are You (For Not Understanding “High Art”)

Screw. You. Shakespeare

This isn’t an open letter to good old Bill, mind you, I hold, and have always held, a deep love for all (Most) of the Bard’s works. Even still, screw you, Shakespeare, for ruining shakespeare for me in high school. Its not the words I hate, its not the writer, its not the content, its the way that people read them.

Nothing in the world can possibly be more sexually deadening to me than a perfectly enunciated Romeo and Juliette said in a perfectly iambic metronome. Its something akin to imagining the sweaty effort your parents made that earned your little white tadpole a seat on the 9-month egg express.

The joy of acting isn’t found in the words, its found in how they are said. I am of the firm belief that anyone can be inspired by Henry V’s “St. Crispin’s Day” Monologue, or that anyone can know pain by hearing Titus lament the destruction of his daughter. The power of those words isn’t as much in what they say, its how people say them. That seems obvious, doesn’t it, that the power of the Bard’s words are in how they are said. But we have a habit of taking ourselves out of the equation when it comes to Shakespeare’s works.

The joy in seeing one of Shakespeare’s works isn’t watching a perfectly rendered period reproduction with original accents, its in seeing an actor take words we have heard thousands of times, and saying them so we listen like its the first time. Like that first time that we actually heard the words spoken with emotion, not from a high school teacher, not from a monotone reading, the first time we heard someone actually MEAN those words.


It Wasn’t Just “English” Pt 1

English itself, as a language, is made up of two component languages; how it is Written and how it is Spoken. We tend to see these two as a pair, believing them inextricably linked. But they aren’t. As anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language can attest, proficiency in reading is not necessarily matched by proficiency in speaking, and vice versa.

Written language is almost universally a system whose purpose is to contain and store the phonetic syllables that make up a language. It is interesting to note that those languages that aren’t written to hold phonetic data (Say, for instance, binary or hexadecimal) are much more efficient at holding data, but nearly impossible to learn how to speak fluently.

Now take for instance, your average English peasant in the 14th century. Here is a person who works, accomplishes complex tasks, knows more about nature than most of our current generation ever will, but he cannot read. Not knowing how to read does not in any way inhibit his ability to communicate, or does it demonstrate anything about his intelligence. The only difference is that he just hasn’t learned the Written Language. All told, this metaphorical peasant knows his spoken language as well as you or I, his lack of knowledge surrounding the written portion does not stand in his way of that.

But, could you try to imagine someone just learning the written language, without the spoken portion? Take a hypothetical world where suddenly no one may speak, but they are forced to learn to write. It seems weird, doesn’t it. This is because spoken language is at the core of our language, spoken language is why our language exists. Learning how to read the letters that represent the syllables without learning how to say the actual syllables seems a little inefficient, doesn’t it. It seems in this way that learning a language requires first the form of its sounds, then the forms of its letters. Here is why.

In addition to the two languages we have learnt once we are free of grade school (being written and spoken English) we learn a third language, and we learn it from birth. There is a reason why a fight is a fight in any language, or why smiles don’t require you to learn Swahili just so you can see if they are smiling. The third language is that Universal Language that most everyone on this earth understands; Emotion.

It seems bloody obvious when I say it, doesn’t it. But of course it’s always the obvious factor that we miss. This human language is the most essential language we ever learn. Imagine not being able to tell someone’s emotion, not being able to pick up on subtle body language, and everything else we don’t even notice anymore. There are some forms of autism, brain disorders, and psychological problems that can prevent someone from learning to “speak human” as it were, and the handicap they suffer is as great as any paraplegic’s.

We don’t notice how ingrained emotional language is in our culture, nor do we have any great need to. But it is helpful when looking at any social interaction to realize the depth that such an interaction contains. Looking at a transcript is not the same as hearing a recording, which pales in comparison to being able to actually See the social interaction. Body language is just as important (if not more) to diplomacy as good rhetoric is.

I know this seems like a bit of a non sequitur, and I can freely admit that it started as such, but the significance of this is not to be downplayed. Part 2 will cover how this effects performance.