2020年5月1日 星期五

The Daily: Transcending Space and Time Through Tape

Audio gems that bring a moment into focus.

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President Nixon on television in 1972.Tyrone Dukes/The New York Times

Tape, we like to say, can do a lot of work.

There are typically four kinds of audio played on the show: the host, the guest, the music and the tape. By tape, we mean an elected official holding a news conference or, say, a lawmaker speaking from the Senate floor.

Tape, at its best, accomplishes what neither the host nor a guest can. It seamlessly transports you to a different time and place, allowing you to hear what something actually sounded like when and where it happened.

This week’s episodes relied on several memorable pieces of tape. On Thursday’s show, Asthaa Chaturvedi, a producer, combed through audio of Joe Biden’s live video chats with voters to find a moment that brought to life what our guest, Alex Burns, described as the “super weird” state of his candidacy.

In this excerpt, Biden is holding a “virtual” rope line campaign event and trying, unsuccessfully, to speak with a voter named Maureen:

EMCEE: We’re going to take a question now from Maureen Jenkins. Maureen, um, you are unmuted.
[Silence]
BIDEN: Maureen, are you there?
[Silence]

Another voter, Marie Perkins, then goes on to ask Biden, memorably, a few questions about animal rights:

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MARIE: And will you prohibit animals from being hunted and brought into this country for trophies?
BIDEN: Yes and yes.
MARIE: Oh I love you.

Here, the raw tape from Biden’s interaction with a voter brings to life his political predicament — campaigning for president from home — in a visceral, tangible and charming way.

Landing the perfect tape to convey the main ideas of our shows often takes hours of work. For every clip that makes it into an episode, our producers dig up dozens of dusty audio gems that don’t get used.

For example, on Monday’s show about the oil industry, the producers Michael Simon Johnson and Alexandra Leigh Young envisioned a tape-rich historical dive into the 1970s fuel shortage, an era described by our guest, Cliff Krauss, as a national trauma. Stella Tan, another Times producer, recalled that that idea sent her “on a six-hour hunt through the warm color tones and careful enunciation of 1970s video footage.”

Stella said she still is clinging to a piece of tape from that era that didn’t make it into the episode: a clip of President Nixon pleading with Americans to lower their heat thermostats. “It will be essential for all of us to live and work in lower temperatures. We must ask everyone to lower the thermostat in your home by at least 6 degrees, so that we can achieve a national daytime average of 68 degrees,” Nixon said in a presidential address. “Incidentally, my doctor tells me that in a temperature of 66 to 68 degrees, you are really more healthy than when it is 75 to 78, if that is any comfort.”

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For each show, producers uncover universes of sound. But sometimes, it only takes one bit of tape to get the job done.

Talk to Michael on Twitter: @mikiebarb.

The sound design of Rabbit Hole

This Saturday on The Daily, you’ll hear the third episode of Rabbit Hole, our new narrative series about the internet. Our producer Andy Mills and our audio engineer Dan Powell explain how they created the show’s immersive soundscapes:

Andy: While imagining a sonic world for Rabbit Hole, I looked to the movies “Requiem For a Dream,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Enter the Void” for inspiration. These movies draw the viewer into the reality-bending experiences of their characters (who are blasted out of their minds on drugs), and I hoped we could use audio techniques similarly to recreate the reality-bending experiences our characters were having on the internet.

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If you listen closely to this excerpt, you can hear the careful way we’ve layered voices, dipped and peaked volumes, twirled the panning from your left ear to your right — all in an effort to recreate the way time and space can buckle under the hypnotic spell cast by the artificial intelligences operating on sites like Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

When we started investigating the journey of Caleb — the subject of our first three episodes — we spent hundreds of hours going through his YouTube history, trying to detect what he found so compelling about the videos, and what kept him obsessed for five years. When we began to draft episodes, the producer Julia Longoria used the technique of speeding up videos to create the illusion of two or three hours passing in an instant.

Wanting to go even deeper with techniques beyond our expertise, we turned to our most experimental in-house audiophile, Dan Powell, to realize fully our dreams for the show’s sound.

Dan: Andy frequently used the phrase “getting sucked into the internet” when discussing his vision for Rabbit Hole’s sound. My challenge as a sound designer was to find a way to express that feeling wordlessly. After some early experiments, we found that one helpful tool in creating that effect was to have a library of glitchy, whoosh-like transition effects. You can hear these frequently throughout the series, often as a sort of punctuation mark at the beginning or end of a tape montage. They’re a crucial piece of connective tissue that helps the listener feel immersed in the rhythms of Caleb’s initial descent into YouTube obsession.

Here are a few examples of glitches: Glitch 1, Glitch 2 and Glitch 3.

If you’re a sound designer today, there’s no shortage of tools to help you create otherworldly sound effects. But much like cooking, sound design just feels better when you make things from scratch. Since I was fortunate enough to start working on this long before the launch, I had time to sculpt each of these sounds with intent, in a way that felt true to the narrative.

Each glitch I produced was a composite of several different sounds playing at once. For the base “whoosh” layer, I played a few notes or chords on a synthesizer, added a big trailing reverb effect, then had all of that play in reverse. At the final moment when the reversed sound reached its climax, I used a special plugin called Cryogen (created by a company fittingly named Glitchmachines) to dramatically make the audio sound more warped and glitchy. The cool thing about this tool is that it degrades audio in a way that is similar to how sound glitches on a video chat or low-quality video stream. The sound becomes altered in a way that feels inherently “internet-y.”

Glitchmachines

For other glitches, I used actual snippets of YouTube clips as the initial building blocks. These snippets would be heavily warped and processed with tools to make them sound a little noisier and less intelligible, then layered with some other sounds to give them more depth and shape. Here’s an example of a processed clip of a CNN interview (made to sound a little robotic), which then was layered with synthesizers, reverb and Cryogen to reach its final form.

And finally, some of them were just a simple, good old-fashioned note from an analog synthesizer. These were handy for the moments when the glitches needed to be more understated, like with this example.

New episodes of “Rabbit Hole” drop on Thursdays. Look out for them on the “Rabbit Hole” podcast feed or at nytimes.com/rabbithole. They’ll also be featured as Saturday episodes on “The Daily.”

On The Daily this week

Monday: Nobody wants the oil.” Cliff Krauss explains why the demand for oil has plunged and what that means for the U.S. economy.

Tuesday: Katie Thomas on the development and rollout of antibody tests in the U.S.: “It’s really become almost like a ‘Wild Wild West’ of testing.”

Wednesday: “I don’t want the company I helped build for 10 years to just collapse.” We hear from a protester in Michigan who thinks Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown orders are too extreme. And then, we hear from the governor herself.

Thursday: Joe Biden is cobbling together a campaign with a podcast, virtual town hall-style meetings and television appearances. We ask our political correspondent Alexander Burns: Is it actually an advantage to be campaigning in isolation?

Friday: I just kind of feel like sadness is, like, just an ocean filled with nothing.” We hear from a 12-year-old who lost her grandfather to the coronavirus.

That’s it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.

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