Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Tone

Hertz

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Dog with Tilted Head

I know people who can’t take a tone above about 4000 cycles per second, or hertz.  That’s about the frequency of the standard 1950’s plastic whistle.  Spending so much time in TV and radio, you get used to hearing test tones, squeals, hums and buzzes as you wander through a station and past various studios, editing bays and engineering benches.  But you assume they are temporary; the equipment is warming up, somebody is checking gear, whatever.

But tonight I heard something in an NPR story by Tom Bowman that I’m sure couldn’t have made him happy.  While he reported on a story, I heard a tone at about 12,000 hertz.  At that frequency, the sound is like a teeny, needle sized drill going into the side of your head.  And I know how it happened.

Sometimes, when you’re working in a studio, something isn’t quite right.  There is a mismatch somewhere, a loose cable, a bad circuit, a bleedthrough, an open pot – something.  And you think you’re hearing it but you’re just not sure.  So you record your narration and you edit the soundbyte and the piece is finished.  But then, you hear it later and you hear that thing you hoped wasn’t there, but clearly now; 12,000 hertz that isn’t in the soundbyte.  And you know what that means … it was you.  Not the field gear, not the phone, you.

And to the audience, they might think they’re hearing something else coming from somewhere else; it’s the refrigerator, or the TV or the computer.  Maybe it’s the Android.  But for Bowman and every newsie or producer/editor who spends their day hunched in front of Audacity or Adobe Audition, they know it’s not that.  They know the audience isn’t imagining things.  They’re hearing something that shouldn’t be there, they just aren’t sure what it is.

But we know, and man, that sucks.

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Written by Interviewer

December 2, 2015 at 11:24

Measure Twice, Cut Once

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This is a quickie.

Listening to an interview with an interviewee that speaks nervously requires a drilling down on that interviewee with increasing focus to be able to edit the speech of that interviewee and accurately convey the message they are trying to share.  When you’re listening to an interviewee talk, you should listen first, in a general way.  What is the flow of how and what they are saying?

Then, start listening to exactly what they are saying and asking yourself, it is contextual?  Is it logical?  In other words, does it make sense?  Is the answer answering the question?

Then pay attention to things like tone, pitch, volume and frequency.  When you edit, you want to match these things if possible.  You can’t attach a word ending with a high pitch to a word beginning with a low pitch.  Or a word spoken quickly to a word spoken slowly.  This can be jarring and unnatural.

And finally, listen for personal quirks of speech, such as stuttering or run on sentences for example.  These are part of the person’s character.  You want them to sound good, because a poor speaker can be distracting.  But, you don’t want to sacrifice who they are because of a desire to sanitize their speech patterns.  It’s a balance.   One other thing about that.

Sometimes, it is hard to find a place to cut.  What you’re looking for is a complete thought; what’s called a natural break.  They may talk for five minutes about something, but they make the point in the first :45 seconds.  The problem is because they may ramble, it’s hard to find that natural break.  That breath where, in a conversation, someone listening might think, “OK, new thought.”  So, you may have to go forward a little ways past where you want to stop or backwards a little ways before you wanted to stop to find that natural break.  Just make sure you’re keeping all of the other elements in mind so that when you make the cut, it sounds like you hit the natural break exactly.

When it’s time to start editing, keep all of those elements in your mind like a juggler keeps balls in the air.  They are acoustical differences that can make it physically difficult to cut or move words, syllables or phones.  Challenges to retrieving a complete thought in the editing process while trying to not let an edit sound like an edit, can be like drawing a picture in the dark.  It takes patience, attention to detail and an appreciation of language and the human voice that might be likened to that of a music critic.

Written by Interviewer

April 28, 2014 at 13:46