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The man who hears everything (“That’s a good beep, Lar”) – modern arts and crafts

Seen first in The Week, I’ve extracted this from Jordan Kisner‘s piece in The Guardian, Audio version is here.


Skip Lievsay, an unassuming-looking guy in his mid-60s with highly trained ears, stood before the stacks of speakers and giant movie screen in his office, fussing quietly. Lievsay is one of the preeminent sound designers working in film today, and whatever he does – whether it’s fussing or making jokes or padding down the hall of his New York offices to murmur instructions to employees – he does it quietly, as if his personal volume dial operates in inverse correlation to the often noisy task at hand.

On this midwinter afternoon, he was meeting with one of his effects editors, a similarly soft-spoken young man named Larry Zipf, about a film they had been hired to work on: Miles Ahead, a forthcoming Miles Davis biopic directed by and starring Don Cheadle.

The two men stood with their arms crossed and heads cocked at the same angle, reviewing a scene in which a sound cue they had designed had gone awry. The sound, originally of vintage tape decks turning, had ended up evoking a sci-fi odyssey rather than a jazz biopic. One of the problems, it was agreed, is that to the untrained ear, 1970s tape decks sound a bit like lasers.

On screen, Cheadle entered an elevator and pushed the button for the lobby. The button emitted a soft, innocuous beep. “That’s a good beep, Lar,” Lievsay muttered. “Good beep.”

As he said so, Cheadle-as-Miles leaned against the wood-panelled elevator wall, eyes closed. Suddenly, the elevator swung open to reveal a dark room of Miles’s imagination, filled only with a piano, a horn, and a spotlight. The moment was intended to feel surreal, as though you were entering Miles’s mind, but as the door began to swing, a deep rumble erupted into a volley of zings and swishes – those troublesome tape decks – as if the scene had plunged into a battle in outer space.

Lievsay hit pause and turned to Larry, shaking his head. No good.

For research, Lievsay had spent a few months reading biographies and listening through all the recordings in the Miles Davis estate: Miles interviews, Miles in the studio, Miles in concert, Miles on the street. He briefly tried to compile a timeline of every recording Miles ever made, then gave up. The film is set in the 1970s, “which is Bitches Brew Miles”, Lievsay explained, a period when Miles favoured improvisational rhythms and electric instruments over traditional jazz. The research had led to the idea of experimenting with recording equipment of the sort that Miles would have used. Lievsay thought that they might fit moments that called for more abstract sound design, such as when Cheadle wanted to evoke Miles’s agitated mental state. “He was a creature of the studio,” Lievsay explained, taking off thin-rimmed glasses and rubbing one eye. “The sounds of his mental landscape would probably have been the sounds you’d hear in a recording studio, like tape decks or the click of instruments.”

They had got their hands on some vintage tape decks and spent an afternoon recording the sound of them playing forward and backward, clicking and scrubbing. But when Zipf edited the sounds and played them underneath scenes from the movie, the result sounded like Battlestar Galactica, not old-fashioned music equipment. Lievsay sighed. “Probably because sound editors used to use tape decks when they needed space sounds. Bet you Battlestar Galactica was tape decks.” He threw the noises out and started over.

It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It’s partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear. Continue reading

Aim Higher and Breakfast, Dallas Clayton is RAD



Bonus ‘Lily The Unicorn’


The Old Man And The Sea (animated, paint on glass, by hand, by golly and by gosh)

“It is silly not to hope, he thought.”

This was the first animated film to be released in IMAX. A 1999 paint-on-glass-animated short film directed by Aleksandr Petrov, based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway. The film won many awards, including the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

Work on the film took place in Montreal over a period of two and a half years and was funded by an assortment of Canadian, Russian and Japanese companies. French and English-language soundtracks to the film were released concurrently.

I like the bit around here.

(Spotted on B3TA)

Happy brains and a year of ping pong

What’s an enigmatologist? It’s Will Shortz, puzzle editor of The New York Times since 1993. He’s the only academically accredited one in the world, having designed his own major program at Indiana University, which in 1974 led to his one-of-a-kind degree in enigmatology.

Mr. Shortz also received a law degree from the University of Virginia. When he entered law school, he said, “my plan was to practice law for 10 years, make a lot of money, and then retire to do what I really wanted — create puzzles.” However, law was not creative enough for him, and after graduating, he skipped the bar exam and began his career in puzzles immediately.

He challenged himself to play table tennis every day for a year — and Supermarché NYC challenged him to film it. As Will says “If you’re gonna set a goal for yourself then follow the goal.”

Antarctica. And it’s a kind of paradise.

Do yourself a favour and full-screen this beauty. I grew up on stories of the Antarctic. My distant uncle (great great?) was one of Shackleton’s furthest south crew, my Dad went a few times, writing stories, making documentaries and lecturing on tourist ships. Some of the footage here is achingly beautiful. A different flavour of armchair tourism compared to the up-close Attenborough documentaries. Really lovely.

Director Kalle Ljung says: “This movie was shot during our 20 days trip to Antarctica in December 2014 to January 2015. We started from Ushuaia in Argentina and went to Port Williams in Chile, rounded Cape Horn and crossed the Drake Passage towards the Melchior Islands in Antarctica. We spent 16 days in the Antarctic and got to experience the most amazing scenery and wildlife before we returned back to Ushuaia.”

An Object At Rest – the life of a stone

Seth Boyden created an amazing animation as his final thesis at CalArts. A very gentle edge of Belleville to it, “An Object At Rest” follows the course of a stone over millennia. Enjoy.



“When I was done dying” – beautiful, swooping animation to sound


Saw this on the amazing BOOOOOOM, where founder Jeff Hamada writes:

“Animators Jake Fried, Chad Vangaalen, Dimitri Stankowicz, Colin White, Taras Hrabowsky, Anthony Schepperd, Masanobu Hiraoka, KOKOFreakbean and Caleb Woodwere recently tapped to create a special episode of Adult Swim’s Off The Air. The piece seamlessly weaves its way through different interpretations of the afterlife, set to the tune of Dan Deacon’s “When I Was Done Dying”.

The still (above) comes from Masanobu Hiraoka’s section of the film because he’s my favourite and his work is next level (proof).”

From the Vimeo page:

“Tapping nine unique and talented animators (whose work had all appeared previously on the show) to create a beautiful and seamless journey through the afterlife to the great song “When I Was Done Dying” by Dan Deacon.

“Short interviews with Dan and the animators can be found here:

“And please check out other episodes of Off The Air here:
Or stream it here:

“Animators in order of appearance:
Jake Fried, Chad Vangaalen, Dimitri Stankowicz, Colin White, Taras Hrabowsky, Anthony Schepperd, Masanobu Hiraoka, Caleb Wood, KOKOFreakbean”