[We turn to the western United States to our latest interviewee, Ellen Juhlin. With a love for sound design and a discomfort with stock animals sounds, Ellen describes her journey into audio, her productive practices and uses her voice to imitate her interest in sound. Additional video and sound is available at the original source, creatingsound.com]
Ellen Juhlin's Website | Ellen on Twitter
BIOGRAPHY IN FIVES
1) Please describe five things about yourself that help frame your journey into sound design.
- I have very sensitive hearing, like my dad, but for him it means waking up in the middle of the night saying, “What was that? Did you hear that dog barking?”
- I’ve been musically inclined since I was young, taking piano lessons at the age of 5, and using “Practica Musica” to learn music theory.
- I discovered recently that I also have a mild kind of synesthesia, which I think helps in some ways to translate situational/emotional context into sound.
- In high school, I was teaching myself the various tech gear around the theater, except this one guy said that I couldn’t possibly learn how to use the audio gear because it was too complicated. So, naturally, this only increased my motivation, and I dug out the manuals, followed the cables, etc, and taught myself anyway, just in a slightly more antagonistic environment.
- Shortly after that, I discovered that real people in the real world did sound design as a real job, and even sometimes majored in it in college, and then I got accepted into CMU to do just that.
2) Five words to summarize that journey are...
Challenge people who prevent improvement.
3) Five sounds that represent that journey are...
- The sound of my recorded "Hello" being played at ridiculously different pitches on my first Casio keyboard.
- "O Superman" by Laurie Anderson.
- The Cyan Worlds intro sequence.
HABITS IN FOURS
1) What four elements need to be in place in order for you to be productive?
- Not needing to be anywhere else for a while.
- Having something else that I should probably be working on instead (structured procrastination?)
- A relatively clean or uncluttered workspace, even if it means shoving everything off the table into a box.
- Some sort of visually-interesting thing to look at while thinking, like a fire in the fireplace, or a window overlooking a street.
2) In an ideal work flow, what would you like to accomplish in four hours?
First pass/sketch of an approximately 30-60 second cue of some complexity, including gathering sounds and general timing/flow.
3) If you had four hours to listen to music/sound design, what would you choose?
I think I would actually prefer to listen to things that help inform good sound design:
- One hour for nature, ideally far from traffic and other human sounds.
- One hour for classical instruments, or an entire orchestra, performing pretty much anything.
- One hour of silence (not anechoic creepy silence, just, you know, normal silence), in a comfortable spot.
- One hour of whatever totally new-to-me album Joe Pino would recommend - he teaches sound design at CMU, and has seemingly endless energy for finding really interesting, quality artists, obscure or otherwise, moreso than anyone else I know.
LIFE LESSONS IN THREES
1) What three sound design lessons could your younger self learn from your present self?
- Sound design is not just choosing the right song to go with a scene - all songs, especially popular ones, have different meanings and connotations for everyone, and they probably don’t match what you are trying to convey.
- You don’t have to be an expert in every detail of something, in order to be a working professional... people who know every single thing about a topic have probably gotten bored and moved on to something else.
- You probably should have just taken the time to learn Logic back in 2002 for that one homework assignment.
2) What three library sounds have become cliched for you?
I think these would be animal sounds, namely:
Even within a completely natural setting, one loon sounds much like another, and within recordings that are easily accessible, there seems to very little variation. So, while I often like the idea of using these kinds of sounds, in reality, they require a lot of manipulation in order to be compelling. Please, please prove me wrong by sending me a new loon sound.
3) What three foods or beverages lead to great sound design work?
Coffee, fruit snacks, and (cheese & crackers).
TOOLS OF THE TRADE IN TWOS
1) What two sound design tools do you use on a consistent basis?
Most of my editing time is spent with Adobe Audition. The noise cancellation function can seem almost magical at times, and the interface is optimized to just get out of my way and let me work quickly.
Also, I’m not really sure that this counts as a tool, but one of the things that is most valuable to me in terms of bringing about improvements is taking a break from whatever I’m working on, even for 10-15 minutes, enough time to clear the expectations out of my head, so that the next time I hear it, I can instantly hear the flaws that I spent the previous hour getting used to. I know that if something keeps catching my attention (in a bad way) when I hear it “fresh”, then I need to go back and fix it before I can really be happy with it. Pretending that I am playing it for someone else can have the same flaw-revealing effect.
2) You have a choice of two hardware devices - what would they be?
I have a pair of HD-1s in my living room. If I ever need to replace them, it will be a very sad day.
3) Record two of your favorite sounds that you can make using only your mouth/voice and describe them.
Mouth Sound 1 - "Doot.wav" - The running joke I have is that whenever I tell someone I'm working on sound effects, and they ask me what kind, I make this sound.
Mouth Sound 2 - "Screech-caws.wav" - I somehow discovered how to make this sound when I was young, and I think it sounds vaguely eagle-like. It's a bit unique because it only works when I do it on an inhale, not an exhale. I wonder if that's how birds do it, too...http://soundcloud.com/creatingsound/ellen-juhlin-mouth-sound-2
SECRET WISHES IN ONES
1) If you could collaborate with any person on a single creative project, with whom would it be and what would be your project?
It’s always tricky to say that you want to work with someone that you’ve never met, but I will venture to say that I would be interested in working on a game with Jonathan Blow, or something that is like a game in that it would be delivered via traditional gaming platforms, but hopefully unique in ways that nobody else has attempted yet, while still being compelling to the general game-playing public.
2) What outstanding quality would that project have?
The story it tells, whatever that story may be, would be the point of the game, and the reason for its existence. "Interactive narrative" is the phrase that comes to mind, but that often seems to imply a click-through movie, and there is a lot of space in between traditional video games and interactive narratives that is still waiting to be explored.
3) If you had one opportunity to present it, how would you choose to do so?
Humans enjoy stories, especially good stories, because they tell us about people like ourselves, and people not like ourselves, and how these people react in different situations. "Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge monster appeared in front of him!" "What did he do next?" These stories are kind of like vaccines, but for experiences, and by using all of these immersive storytelling tools that the game industry has created, we have the power to magnify this effect a hundred-fold: you are in the story! You get to pick how you react! And if you pick wrong, you get to go back and do it again! This may sound naively simple, but in my opinion, there aren't enough games that are created to help people learn more about themselves, and I would like to change that.