All posts by Mark Mendell

The Performance

Kaalen Kirrene, Kabir Manthra, Mark Mendell

Story

The main concept for the story was to portray the frustrations that come with learning a new instrument. Kaalen and Kabir were both playing “Heart and Soul” on instruments they had no experience with apart from learning how to make basic sound. We also wanted to play with the audience’s expectations and make it ambiguous whether missteps in the performance were intentional or not. For this, we took inspiration from a Mr. Show sketch called The Audition. The only unplanned misstep was the buffering of the videos which interfered with the pacing of the ending. Our general timeline was that Kaalen and Kabir would get an awkward start interrupted by feedback; this would make Kaalen and then Kabir look up a YouTube tutorial while Mark fixed the feedback; they would then sound like a good performance of Heart and Soul until it was revealed to be a lipsync, at which point their true sour notes would cut through; from here towards the end, things got more chaotic: the sour note looped, more and more effects were applied to the instruments, and a malevolent YouTube tutorial started criticizing their playing.

Audio Processing

For the live processing, Mark used a Max patch with some basic granular synthesis, reverb, and a looper. The gain on the french horn was turned up at the beginning to cause feedback. The looper was turned on right when the lipsync finished so that the true sour note would play over and over. Granular synthesis and reverb made the instruments sound strange as things went crazy.

Kaalen created the “haywire insults” part ie. he did all of the effects on the audio when the YouTube tutorials where yelling at them. He did all of it in audacity. We started off by ordering the insults to have increased intensity as time went on. We wanted them to shift from insults about their playing to insults that focused more on their character. After we had them organized Kaalen started playing around with different effects by copying the original tracks and adding effects to those. He wanted the intensity of the effects to mirror the intensity of the insults so in the beginning he just used pitch shifting as it sounded creepy but it wasn’t overwhelming. From then he mostly did different combinations of pitch shifting and sliding pitch shifting. For the parts where there was an echo he would copy the sound and then pitch shift it and play it slightly later than the original sound giving it that creepy ascending echo. He added some preverb and reverb to have that ghostly sound. At the end he pitch shifted Brooke’s (the girl’s) voice up really high and then took smaller and smaller cuts of her sound until it became that annoying ringing sound. For Christian at the end Kaalen wanted a lower sound to contrast the high pitched ringing so he didn’t pitch shift him, he just took cuts of his voice. The final effect he added was a sinusoid with a frequency of 250 hz which (according to the internet) is a pitch that causes nausea and headaches that increased in volume just to add to the tension of the insults. For that he took inspiration from Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible where the entire begging sequence has a similar pitch to cause discomfort in the audience.

Video

The video component of our project was the part closest to the heart of our concept. Since the rise of YouTube, videos have become one of the most ubiquitous forms of media. One could also say that they are one of the most democratic, since almost everyone (in the US) has at least one video camera and anyone can upload to YouTube. This perceived democratization leads to a greater trust in the authenticity of the content, which is why tutorial videos work in the first place: “if they can do it, so can I”. But this isn’t necessarily the case, as we’ve seen countless times. Many everyday, ‘authentic’ vloggers turn out to be professional setups to trap audiences (this has become a problem on Instagram as well). Our videos explore the almost surreal extent to which video media, and YouTube in particular, can control our self perception as well as the standards we compare ourselves to.

The actual process for making the videos happened in 2 stages. The first was shooting the videos with our actors in front of a green screen. We did this in 4 different takes. One for each of the instructional videos at the start, one for the second instructional video, and one just containing criticism. The script was fairly loose. We planned out the start and end of each video as well as major cues, such as when Brooke reacts to Kabir playing a note. The rest of it was improvised.
The second stage was the video editing. The instructional videos were the easiest, Kabir just needed to find believable locations for them to be set in. The aesthetic he was going for was believable but slightly fake, foreshadowing the chaos that’s about to ensue. For the second video, the effect we were going for was more uncontrolled and surreal; the video gets a life of its own and our tools end up controlling us.

Performance

Recording

PS1 Startup

It hit me a couple of years ago that this is a sound design piece someone was paid by Sony to make specifically for the start of the console. I always thought it must have been from something else, like another game, and they threw it on because it sounded cool. Reminds me of how Brian Eno was hired to make the Windows 95 startup sound. What a cool job!