Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day for celebrating (and blogging about) women in science and technology. I missed this last year, but ended up reading a lot of interesting articles on the inimitable Delia Derbyshire – previously I’d only known her as one of the legends of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop in the 60s, but last year’s reading providing me with a crash course on just how ground breaking her work really had been.
So I wanted to write about someone influential in my field. As a young sound designer, I am sometimes painfully aware of how male dominated my field is, how rare it is to look at the awards categories for sound editing at the Baftas or the Oscars and see any female names. One name that comes up a lot if you know where to look, is Ann Kroeber: sound designer, sound editor, sound effects editor, sound mixer are just a few of the roles she’s played in a career that’s lasted over thirty years. Her name may not be familiar but you’ve almost certainly heard her work. Arguably best known for her work with her late husband Alan Splet on David Lynch films, since then, alongside maintaining the Splet-Kroeber archive of sound effects collected by them over the years, she has worked on a variety of films from blockbusters such as the first Star Wars prequel and Return of the King, to continuing to collaborate with David Lynch on Lost Highway.
The first time I heard of Ann Kroeber was in 2007 when she was talking about her work as part of the School of Sound (I hope that if they ever get round to producing another School of Sound book they include her in it, as my notes from her talk are a tad sparse and cryptic) in London. It was a good day for women in sound actually as she was on after Marina Warner – more notes, even more cryptic ones which I’m sure made sense at the time. A lot of speakers waxed lyrical on issues of creativity and art, but Kroeber’s talk was full of odd technical details and anecdotes about the unusual history of a particular sound effect.
Before that talk, if you’d suggested I might build my own microphone I would either have looked at you as though you’d grown an extra head or asked if you taught beginners electronics – when it comes to wiring up the sound desk, I’m more likely to be the one tacking/taping down the wires and making sure all the connectors are in securely than the one with the soldering iron repairing where a connection has come free. Yet a couple of months later I would be sitting in my mate’s kitchen with a bunch of instructions we’d found on the internet building our own contact microphones.
The world of sound effects never sounds quite the same after you’ve heard it through a contact microphone. A world where mundane sounds are transformed into things that might be unnerving or beautiful – its an almost Lynchian world and a lesson in how much of that film world is in fact an aural experience – every time you press the microphone to a new surface is a practical lesson in how sound waves travel and distort through different surfaces and substances. It’s a fascinating world that can steal hours and days of your life away without you noticing but one that I will always be grateful to Anne Kroeber for introducing me to.