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Across the Dock

So. The museums are open, the company has gone bust, the staff are scattered. Reckon it’s probably safe to talk about what I was doing from last Spring until this Summer?

Last February I found myself interning part-time at a production company in Glasgow called 55 degrees. In April that year I became a researcher two days a week dealing with copyright clearance by the time my contract ended at the end of this May – and the company went into liquidation a fortnight later – I was full time and I’d done a bit of pretty much everything going in all departments.

During my time there I worked on a variety of projects from adding sound effects and removing background noise from short films, to freezing under a boom on Glasgow Green and up the Rest and Be Thankful and wrestling with massive archive spreadsheets for the Riverside Museum, to sweet talking copyright holders and discovering that my pet sound project was actually a big sound exhibit for the new Museum of Liverpool. And that’s not even counting subtitling, troubleshooting time-lapse cameras, talking to the Gaelic Arts Agency in Gaelic and spending more time than is entirely wise in costume departments, second hand furniture shops and the biggest vintage clothes shop you’ve ever imagined.

The new Museum of Liverpool is easiest to talk about in sound terms because while I got to do quite a bit of sound work on both Museums the way of these things is that not everything opens at once so not everything is in place yet. As with much sound design work, most of the time if you’re doing it right no one notices you were even there. However, for a couple of the exhibits in the gallery we worked on, sound got to play a starring role. (Please note that exhibit names generally refer to working titles and the actual installed exhibits may not have that name).

Myth and Magic
Wonderous Place
This one was, I must confess, my baby. It’s probably the one single exhibit in the entire museum that I worked the most on and as such I got quite protective of it. It’s made up of around twenty minutes of assorted oral histories recorded for the Liverpool 800 project. Liverpudlians (and those who have chosen to make Liverpool their home) both famous and ordinary contributed their thoughts, feelings and memories of the city, its culture and what the place meant to them. Interestingly although some people are clearly au fait with talking into microphones and other clearly nervous of them, this wasn’t always a guarantee of the sort of recording you would get to work with. People were recorded in all sorts of places depending on where was available or where the interviewee was comfortable. Acoustics varied hugely, interviewees talked over each other and their interviewer, media professionals got over-excited and banged the table in the middle of a good quote and generally I felt sorry for whoever had to transcribe them all before I even got hold of the recordings. It was certainly a challenge to make them sound like they were all in the vaguely the same place, to make sure they could all be understood, to make sure that I didn’t get so focused on getting rid of the background sound that I distorted people’s voices. It was challenging and frustrating and my perfectionist streak was never satisfied, but it was an education in sound editing and I’ve probably got an utterly skewed view of salvageable audio now. (I learned a lot about Soundtrack Pro doing this project, lots of tips and tricks, though mostly I learned to dislike the software and its tendency to insert random clicks into tracks…) They spoke about their city with love and regret and anger and frustration. With honesty that was sometimes sentimentally affectionate and others brutally unsentimental. They talked about class and race, culture and art, politics and change. I could quote chunks of it off by heart, and was sick of the sound of their voices by the end, but I stood under it and listened to their stories and voices when I visited, and watched people come and go below it, sometimes stopping only for a moment sometime sitting for the whole twenty minutes. It’s still my favourite bit, even if the graphics aren’t up yet.

View Through Time/Mersey View
View Through Time
Is a fun little interactive in one of the museum’s truly giant windows, which provides information on the buildings and landmarks visible from the window. There is information about and images of all of them and some of them have accompanying oral histories. A river swimmer, a cardinal, a politician and a couple of men who works on the river are among the voices you hear. I got to edit them into bite sized relevant chunks.

Tales of the Riverbank
Tales of the Riverbank
This one is a bit of an odd one for me. The only real involvement we had with this one was providing sound effects for the stories (there’s a Shetland Seagull in there) so I was looking forward to seeing the finished exhibit. I never entirely did or work out how it worked, but as I wandered around that part of the museum I heard the familiar honk of the ferry horn and squawk of the seagull I remembered so clearly other people did…

Talking about the sound side of my involvement with Riverside Museum is harder because there are less things I can physically point at and say they’re mine.  Which is strange given that I spent far more time working on that museum than on Liverpool. I recorded a lot of voice-overs that you’ll hear in inter-actives and in the shops themselves. I’ve written previously about building an impromptu sound booth in the edit suite, out of cladding, plastic coat hooks, an upturned sofa and the considerable patience of my colleagues. I’ve amused the locals recording the sound of the Clockwork Orange (and timing it besides) and worked in languages other than English (sound editing in German; voice-over recording in Gaelic).

It’s odd to walk around the finished (or as near as makes no difference) museums and think, this was a year of my life and its over, but I helped make two museums and as the second paid professional item on my CV, it’s none too shabby.

Riverside Museum