Sounds Of Silence

Good quiet is getting hard to find. I’d not discounted the reports by people attempting to capture wilderness soundscapes- everywhere was contaminated by noise. It just hadn’t been personalized to me sitting on a rock on the coast of Maine, attempting to capture 45 seconds of uncontaminated waves lapping on the shore. The video was lovely, the audio, contaminated by the sounds of powerboats that were not even in sight. I eventually came back at about eight pm and reshot just for the audio. I planned to use the video track from the day with the sound from the evening. Of course, it was decided not to use the sequence, and the effort went for naught.
When I taught media, I would always remind my students to take the time to listen for the little audio contaminants that your mind edits out of your mental soundtrack, but which will be incredibly hard to eliminate in post-production.

That summer, I spent three weeks in production along the coast of Maine. The audio was the primary issue time and again: Chainsaws, the wind blowing right through my blimp ( a cigar-shaped device for eliminating wind sounds), or a bunch of seagulls fighting in the middle of interviews.

The worst, however, was an interview shot in a tranquil book-filled room. How could that be an issue? Rooms are not silent. The silence of a place is conditional. There is this thing called room tone. It’s the background environmental sound of the room before anything else gets added. Where I was shooting the interview had a very funky room tone, probably because the books and fabrics absorbed everything but the voice. I recorded the voice on a separate microphone, and audio channel than ambient sound. Thankfully. On playback that evening, I realized that the room tone was dead. I took a recording device to an office that had a warm room tone (utterly subjective on my part) and recorded background audio that I liked and added it behind the interview. Problem solved.

The next evening I was off. After dinner, I headed out sans camera, microphone, or tripod for a quiet walk over to one of the island’s marinas. There I sat peacefully watching the tide change and sunset. Then I heard it. The barely audible sound that the clams make as they clear their siphons. More a soft spitting sound, but called along the coast the sound of clams whistling. And me with no recording device.

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