• Gabriella Garcia

Comm Lab Video & Sound [week 1, pt 1]

Updated: Sep 12, 2018


I'm coming to the class with some previous sound & video experience, so what I'm really hoping to get out of these next seven weeks is: 1) A clearer idea on how to create and edit with a narrative arc in mind, and 2) experience producing collaboratively.

Prior to this class, my sound work has either been strictly for documentation (interviewing subjects for articles) or experimental soundtracking for videos I've made. I've experimented with GarageBand and have a general feel for mixing; Adobe Audition, however, is a whole new beast that I'm a tad bit wary of as I've had some fatal computer issues caused by Adobe products in the past. (Does anyone sympathize with that fear here?)

I've been really interested in podcast production and the sort of aural "landscaping" that carries a podcast story forward. I love the sort of "walk-and-talk" recording that is used in a lot of NPR radio shows and podcasts (This American Life is a pretty quintessential example) that add the sound of the interviews and their environments under the narrative voice over added during production, making the listener feel as though we're in the field alongside the reporters/subjects. I'm also totally drawn in by more "soundtrack-ish" experience of shows like Love + Radio which add other sound effects, vocal effects, music, and other recordings to the interview to create an atmosphere around the content that didn't exist before.


Here are the sounds I've collected thus far: https://soundcloud.com/user-456104717/sets/elevator-sounds

I'm working with Aileen and Rachel for the audio project and we've decided to make a textural sound story featuring the elevator. We thought it would be a nice audio cross-section of 721 Broadway as passengers change in both size and focus over the course of 12 floors (and basement). We still haven't quite figured out the story being told, but met on Saturday to make a list of general moments and ambiance we could capture on our own to bring to class on Wednesday.

We are motivated by how much the environment of the elevator changes depending on time of day, the day of the week, and the floor that people are planning to exit on (Are they drama students? Film students? ITPers? They all can have different attitudes.) We were also struck by thoughts of how strangers vs. known peers interact, what activities happen in the elevator (phone calls, music leakage from earbuds, bags being opened/closed, etc) and how much noise the elevator itself makes. Perhaps we'll find some serendipity in our recordings...


I loved this first exercise. After shop safety class on Saturday, I headed toward the Greenpoint side of the Pulaski Bridge to follow the Field Guide to the Dark Ecologies of Newtown Creek sound walk, which really brought me to another world. For context, I am a native New Yorker who has done more than a fair share of traipsing and urban spelunking, but all I really knew about Newtown Creek was that it's probably the most toxic site in NYC (turns out it's one of the most contaminated locations in the United States), and that I've biked across it via the bridge countless times. I was actually stunned by what I found there, and am so glad that the sound walk compelled me in that direction.

Joined by my partner, Patrick, for a stroll along the quite-smelly Newtown Creek

The soundwalk starts you off at a boulder—transported to by glacier from the Adirondacks to Greenpoint 17,000 years ago, it turns out—on the corner of Provost St & Paidge Ave, right at an industrial quadrangle that was fairly deserted as it was a Saturday afternoon. From there, we were led by the narrator down a path into a waterfront greenway designed by environmental sculptor George Trakas in 2007. The nature walk is half promenade, half sculpture, featuring flora native to NYC and an arguably scenic view of the City's junkyards and largest waste treatment plant superimposing the skyline (upon later investigation I found out that the reason behind funding the nature walk is to comply with NYC's Percent for Art ) . It feels like honesty, bringing awareness to just how much filth the city generates.

The sound walk describes the sculpture as "post-natural" noting that everything was curated to be there—a path to follow, trees planted as though they can distract from the massive glowing eggs of the waste management plant, the cement benches and picnic tables designed, the narrator muses hopefully, to be used the industrial workforce that occupies the Creek. Mixing facetious observation, poetically-presented fact, and soundscaping, the audio tour totally engaged me with the space in a way I truly didn't expect. The timing was really well-synced, with the narration pointing out sights just as they were coming into my own vantage point. It felt like an uncanny but beckoning presence just steps ahead of me.

Entrance to George Trakas' Newtown Creek Nature Walk

George Trakas' Newtown Creek Nature Walk entrance (left) and view (above)

I've never done a sound walk before, so I didn't quite know what to expect, and certainly wasn't expecting a thoroughly entertaining study of the Anthropocene, juxtaposing toxic humanity with the natural world strong enough to withstand the contamination. I wonder how successful the project is in engaging those who are not already interested in studying urban ecology or development, and if this type of medium is successful in creating the public interest it hopes to stir up. How do people discover these sorts of activities, and why have I not heard of this—both the sound walk and the public park itself—before?

"Post-natural" landscaping featuring native plants and resilient organisms

The sound walk ends with some fantasizing about what Newtown Creek could look like if we took responsibility for the contamination and created future solutions that would clean up the "shit stew" as the narrator calls it. We rounded out the tour around 7, at which point we found ourselves actually locked into the park and jumping the fence to get out. My guess is that the Parks Department got sick of taking the final check along the waterfront just to find no one there, day after day, figuring that no one actually even uses the park. What does this say about the City's ability to engage its citizens in public works? How could this "1% for Art" better serve the local communities in which these pieces are built? How can I better my research and information inputs so I'm more aware? I suppose these questions aren't really about the sound walk, but they are spawned nonetheless from an experience I only discovered due to the assignment.