Mosquito Ringtone – test your hearing

November 30, 2009

The mosquito ringtone is a really high-pitched whine that most people past their mid 20s can’t hear any more due to natural progressive hearing loss. Some malls broadcast it outside the building to keep teens from hanging out around the shops- the sound annoys the teens but the average adult shopper can’t hear it. Teens got the last laugh on those old adults by using the sound as a celphone ringtone so they could hear incoming text messages in class and outwit their older teachers.

I’m no teen, but I can still hear the mosquito tone. I perceive it more as an awareness of an unpleasant feeling than an actual sound, though, if that makes any sense. Kind of like when people at work leave televisions on and the buzzing CTR monitor noise makes me go insane. You can test your own hearing here. The mosquito tone is at 17hz. This should be ok to do at work- it’s just a high, electronic sustained beep that’s not very loud, and if any of your coworkers notice it, they won’t be mad for long when you tell them they basically have the eardrums of a pre-teen.


10 tips for doing cartoon voices

July 21, 2008
//kennethjunior.blogspot.com/">scott hepburn</a>.

Cartoon me; Illustration by Scott Hepburn.

Today I took a voiceover workshop. I’ve done a bit of voice work before, but recently, I recorded scenes opposite two really experienced animation performers, and observed this thing they both had, which I’ve chosen to call “technique”. I thought I’d try riding that-there bus myownself.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the things I’ve learned about voice work- some from the workshop today and others just from using my looking.

1. If you observe yourself, you’ll fix most of your problems yourself.
I always say this to anyone who will listen (seriously, like on busses and stuff, it confuses people). But it bears saying again: it’s really useful to record yourself. I put myself on tape at home to prep most on-camera auditions, and I’m gonna start putting myself on cassette for voice auditions, too. Common sense and observation are highly underrated teachers. This also applies to many types of dating faux pas, and also to unzipped jeans.

2. I verb, you verb, it verbs, we verb.
That thing we learned in theatre school, about verbing everything? I never do that. Too bad, because today I learned that it really helps. This afternoon I was rehearsing my scene in front of the mirror in a warm washroom that someone had just made warmer (such is my dedication to my craft), coffee on the floor outside so it wouldn’t get poo-taminated, and I figured out a couple good line reads that I wanted to keep.

So I tried to notate what I’d done. On Line One, I used a cryptic series of wiggly lines and carefully-drawn emoticons; and on Line Two, I used a single, active and meaningful verb: “reassure”. When I got in the booth a scant three minutes later, the wiggly lines meant absolutely nothing, they might as well have been in Klingon (no, I do not speak Klingon, what you must think of me). So Line One was pretty much a lost cause. But Line Two? Let me reassure you that Line Two was exceptionally reassuring, and sounded just like it was supposed to, ie, reassuring. Moral of the story: Use verbs. Choose a nice, uncomplicated, active verb for each mini-beat, and write it in the left margin so you scan it naturally as you read the sides.

3. Gesticulate like a madwoman.
I’m talking, like, arms up, over your head. Wave those suckers. This is really hard to do, because all voice work is recorded in a glass-walled booth- and on the other side of the glass wall sits a sound engineer. Invariably, he is a cool, salt-of-the-earth hockey guy, and you just know he would NEVER humiliate himself like you’re about to do. But he also doesn’t get to play a talking cheese wheel in a cartoon that takes place in a refrigerator, so who’s laughing now? He is. Arms up.

4. Bring room-temperature water.
Because cold water freezes your voice, and the astringency of tea or coffee makes your mouth sound pasty. I like to bring a lollypop, too- I’m very neurotic about spit-smacks and mouth-noise (because I believe they make you sound like Heath Ledger). And so sometimes you need to swish water to kind of wash away the pasty spit; and sometimes you need something tangy to encourage your poor nervous salivary glands to make more spit. It’s a delicate balance, but do you wanna be famous or not?

Okay, so you get the script. You pick your verbs. Your next burning question:

5. What happens in a session?

First of all, every line in the script is numbered. The director will break the script into little beats- generally trying to find tidy little self-contained chunks of the story. You’ll record all your lines within each chunk as a “pass”. The director will say, “This first pass we’ll do lines 1-6″– and out of that pass, you might have lines 1, 4, and 6 (with other characters owning lines 2, 3, and 5). Most likely the other actors won’t be there, so nobody reads with you. It’s lonely; be strong.

It's not like this.

Basically, you have to quickly scan the line before yours so you know what your character is responding to- you can even whisper it aloud to help yourself out. Then you take a little pause before cleanly delivering your line. Pause, quickly read ahead in the script, then deliver your next line. If you mess up, just take a quick pause and re-start the line. They can & will edit out your mistakes, it’s no big deal. So don’t even bother apologizing, because nobody cares and it just makes more edit work for them anyway.

And now some basic microphone technique tips, or MicTekTipz, as we* like to say in the biz.
* NOTE: by “we”, I mean “douchebags”.

6. Face the mic at all times.
Don’t turn your head to the side, even if you ‘re speaking to a different character.

7. Soften the harsh sounds.
Lean slightly back or dip your chin slightly on plosive consonants like Puh and Buh, so your air doesn’t make a popping sound on the mic. Duh. (You see what I did there?) Also, if you’re gonna get loud (yelling, squealing, etc), lean or step back in proportion to the loudness so you don’t overload the mic.

8. Avoid “dirty audio”
Dirty audio is any noise that interferes with, or overlaps, a scripted line: this means shuffly noise from your script pages or clothing, noisy gestures like clapping or slapping your thighs, and overlapping other actors’ lines if they’re in the booth with you. Don’t worry about pacing at all- deliver every line between a couple seconds of neutral silence. The secret to comedTIMING- but the secret to audio recording is

pausing.

9. Project, and keep all sounds on-voice.
Even if you’re delivering a quiet line, always keep a solid stream of sound & energy moving forward out of your face. If laughing, it’s probably better to do it with a fully verbal noise rather than a wheeze, for instance. If you need to whisper, do a “voicey” whisper.

10. Don’t tinkle in the booth.
Don’t wear tinkly clothing- I always take off my earrings so they don’t hit the headphones. You might not wanna wear your chainmail vest.

11. Bonus tip: Look at your shoes.
Try to wear shoes that your character might wear. If you’re reading for a 5-year-old, don’t wear heels- they change your alignment and make it harder for you to act young. Likewise, auditioning to play a 50s housewife while wearing Chuck Taylors is just trashy, fellas. The right shoes- or at least the right height of shoes- will instantly make you feel more like the character.

I learned a lot of other cool stuff, but I don’t wanna give away all the teacher’s secrets, because she deserves to be paid for her expertise, yo. She’s a solid teacher, gave thoughtful & specific feedback to each person, and gives easy-to-understand, very practical notes. I noticed that she was especially good at helping people create character voices on the cute-and-energetic end of the spectrum, although that’s by no means all she does. She also had great tips for stuff like getting into character quickly, what kinds of questions to ask in auditions, how to create young characters, and how to develop a roster of characters. All in all, I’d say the class was a solid investment. And voice work pays really well, so you’ll be able to afford a lot of weiner cakes.

How is this relevant, you ask?  I'm not going to tell you.

How is this relevant, you ask? I'm not going to tell you.


What’s that movie with the man who’s a bat?

July 19, 2008
Dude needs a hug.  And some chapstick.

Ledger's Joker: Dude needs a hug. And some chapstick.

(No spoilers.) Batman: Dark Knight is great; exciting and well-constructed. Here’s a trailer, but frankly it’s good to go into this one cold.

I’m on board with all the buzz that Heath Ledger will likely get a posthumous Oscar nomination for his deeply disturbed Joker, and probably even win. His sardonic, unpredictable performance is at once terrifying and endearing, and couldn’t be more different than his also excellent work in Brokeback Mountain. He was insanely talented, and the fact that we’ll never see what else he had in him makes me sad.

I spent all day today in an audio studio, so watching B:DK tonight, I noticed something that ordinarily probably wouldn’t have stood out to me. Usually the sounds of breathing and mouth noises (spit smacks) are de-emphasized or removed in post-audio; the volume of actual words are raised, and the volume of breaths and biological mouth noise are signifigcantly lowered. Plus, in a movie (as opposed, to, say, an animation studio), the microphones are usually either hidden in the performers’ shirts, around their chest area- or boomed from above (a boom is a big microphone on a stick). In either case, the mic isn’t usually that close to the actor’s mouth on-set, so you don’t hear their mouth noise.

But in B:DK, Ledger’s spit-smacks and breathing are really prominent- I’d say even accentuated- and that’s part of what makes him so scary. There’s an intimacy to his voice that makes him feel as though his chapped lips are brushing right up against your individual ear.

Oscar-worthy, right?

Oscar-worthy, right?

Actually, now that I think about it, there are many Oscar-nominated performances where the actor badly needed a chapstick. Charlize Theron in Monster, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie, Tom Hanks in Castaway. Forget the Stanislavsky method, just dry your lips with some paper towel and then use your fingers to stretch them til they bleed. You can thank me from the podium.


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