Presented as a class project to
Prof. Erin Gee, MFA, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Intent & Statement
The initial « idea » moment was when sharing a beer with my dad around a meal he had prepared. He cooked madras beef or something of the sorts. One of the spicy African meals he gives his special twist to, that we all love.
It sparked a conversation about his trip to Afrika. I had never asked where or when he went. I just knew it was when he was young and free.
After discussing it, we talked about the slides he still had with the projector for them, somewhere, hidden. And we agreed to look at them soon.
Towards the end of the 80’s, he moved to France for some months with his then girlfriend. While in Europe they also visited Spain. Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso followed. He just had this craving for adventure and to discover and cross the Saharan desert. My older sister, that he had with his then girlfriend, has the name Sarah from the place of her conceiving – the Saharan desert.
Reliving this visual experience, through sound, while conveying the “bon vivant” and “Quebecer” sides of my father’s personality were important. The gap between visual stimuli and aurality had to be bridged by something. This something was imagination.
If I could, instead of having him describe in accurate detail every slide, simply have him tell me about his trip and comment on the slides, I could let the listener be transported by his or her own imagination. Focusing only on my father’s personality. Relying on his musical taste and lexicon to draw their own image in their minds.
A fan of French classics like Brel, Aznavour, Ferra, Gainsbourg etc, it made sense to pick a song I listened to extensively on road trips with my dad and have it transposed to his own travels. I too, have music that I listened to when landing in a country or sharing a moment with a special someone halfway across the world. He told me Aznavour was one of his favorites, and “Emmenez-moi” (“take me away”) made immediate sense. The warm Tenor words of Aznavour evoking travel, world wonders and adventure with the equally warm sound of its older recording fit perfectly with my father’s first destination being France and his “easy going” or “bon enfant” attitude.
The words in this portrait are there merely as tokens or memories of my father’s travels meant to jog our own imagination. The warm tones set the mood as do the clicking of the slides switching and the humming of the near antique projector. My dad’s recollection of his adventures 30 years ago, backpacking across the desert and West Afrika, meeting all sorts of people and making fun at the expense of occasional, more “well off”, French travellers try to further convey meaning to his character. The listener is a stranger to my dad, and the point of this piece is to put a smile on my dad’s face, remembering specific images, and for other listeners to make their own images about said travels and my father.
The piece is meant to be simple and focus on the clicking of the projector, Aznavour’s music and the “older, classical” aural identity they imprint on my dad’s words, which are sometimes crude, unfiltered but nonetheless said while smiling. A smile I tried to convey in the piece.
The main technical and creative challenge being the editing and selection of 3 minutes on a total of over 90 minutes of recorded content. The snipping and cutting creating over 100 individual clips just for my father’s words, keeping the spirit and natural feeling of him reminiscing while sharing his slides with me. Using reduced listening in quieter parts of the campus to “empty” my brain of the repeated exposure to the same sounds during the long cutting sessions proved a very effective addition to my workflow.
The piece was originally intended to feature a part of my relationship with my parents, including sharp ambient sounds such as the sizzling of the burger patties on the grill, sound of wine being poured, my mom’s laughter at my dad’s sometimes crude expressions. The limit of 3 minutes required me focusing on a less ambitious project after a few hours of work. The work was kept as a separate file to try and possibly reproduce a less musical piece in the future.
Technical log
Aside from the sheer amount of cutting, fading, merging and masking with other sounds, which I was much faster with this time, very little in the way of effects were added. Sound volume automation was paramount in order to increase the presence of Aznavour’s music at key moments while the anecdotal parts of my dad needed more presence at other times. Working with the clicking of the slides was instrumental not only in adding character to the piece but also to help set the tone for the following clip and the very fast paced change of subjects as the slides go by. Using different samples of the clicking sounds and some already present in the main “verbal” track proved to be hard but an appropriate challenge. As was the recording itself, to keep my dad speaking as naturally and truthfully as he would do in a normal context with me. The gain was set to medium to preserve some of the ambient sounds such as the slide projector’s humming. The recorder was perched on a monopod to be able to position it accordingly and without too much trouble since I was not using an external microphone. A tripod would have felt less natural as the “spacial” aspect of the sound would have remained constantly identical, and with the recorder on a monopod, I could easily direct the microphone to me, or my father, all while remaining seated and preserving the mood of our slide viewing experience, and thus the authenticity of the recording.
The impossibility in time and authenticity to re-record was daunting, but, with 90 minutes of content, was a second thought once we were done doing the recording.
The use of automation and clipping, then remerging and noise removal were central to removing unwanted noises that ruined the atmosphere, like the dog having a barking fit or the doorbell ringing.
In terms of effects, the EQ, fine tuned per track and a bitcruncher applied to Aznavour’s song were the only tools necessary.
Final words and conclusion
All in all, this project was not only fun to record but fun to work on as it allowed for creative expression while working on something “concrete” that had a starting point and a story to tell, or many micro stories in this case. It was easier to find direction than simply being asked to “sit there and create”. Having a relation to my father’s travels that was constructed only through a few anecdotes here and there also allowed me to take in as much of the mood I was in while watching the slides with my dad and use this as inspiration to make a piece that would be an accurate portrait of who he is today and how he sees the adventures of his youth. Not much of a backpacker anymore, it was also interesting to feel this relationship between my own desire to drop everything and leave and the same feeling my dad once had, only his took him through the desert and into countries I knew nothing about. I believe the interview or portrait is a very interesting way of working and creating through sound that opens a world of possibilities to a less musically inclined person. Perhaps in the future I will try to incorporate sound recording to my own travels for future use. . .
 Chion, Michel. (2012). Three Modes of Listening. In Jonathan Sterne (Ed.) The Sound Studies Reader (pp: 48-53). New York: Routledge.
Aznavour, Charles. (1967) Emmenez-moi. Entre deux rêves [CD Version of original Gramophone record] Paris, France : Barclay Records (Les Disques Barclay).
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