Episode 11 - The Sound Designer - Eloise Whitmore
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Nic - Hello!
Leah - Hello!
N Welcome to this week's plogcast… are we still calling it a plogcast?
L Well I don't know if I’ve ever called it a plogcast.
L That's a whole new thing. Welcome to… it's not even every week either… oh we've started very poorly. Welcome to the VO Social North podcast which has occasionally been known as a plog.
N Yes, welcome to that.
L Yes, hello. We have got a very exciting series of things to tell you about…
N This is such an exciting episode!
L It might be the most exciting one! There's just lots of things to say so we're gonna kick right off by telling you that we have a very exciting announcement which… we know you guys, and we know what you like, and we're gonna tell you something that you are going to like a lot… at the end of this.
N Yeah and there's literally no obligation for you guys
L No right! Sometimes it’s like “oh it’s a really exciting announcement and you’re going have to give us money” but no no no no nothing like that, no.
N It's just something that will literally benefit everyone who comes to the next social. Just get there early! Little hint…
L And so also we're going to talk about all the nice things that’ve been happening to us lately. We thought we’d tell you about the most fun thing we've done of late and then…
N VO related. Not just “we had a cocktail for breakfast yesterday”
L Although that is true
N Yes true! Moving on…
L Yes, so my one - my most exciting one - is that by the time you actually hear this… I think it'll be okay to say… but you know how the BBC are doing a whole series; “Civilizations”… it's like massive, major, epic, beautiful drone footage you know - that's coming out at the beginning of March and alongside that is this really amazing app where it's like an augmented reality app and essentially what you can do is you can get the Rosetta Stone so it looks like in Pokemon like where you look through the phone and you can see a thing that’s not there in real life! You'll be able to get the Rosetta Stone and just like stick it on your mantelpiece or like, lay it on your bed or do what you want with it, and there's about 80 or 100 museums that have all put forward an artefact and so you can have all of them in your house!
N Why is that exciting for you though Leah?
L Oh yes! That’s a really good point!
N I mean, well done to technology, but..
L So the other thing about that is that around and about on the screen on your phone they'll be – like - hotspots and you can tap on a hot spot! And if you tap on it you will hear ME telling you about the thing!
N So did you provide the voiceover for this app, is that what you’re saying?
L Yes! And there’s loads, because there's all these different artefacts and they’ve all got like three or four or five different things about them so if you want to listen to me talking about museum things all day for quite a lot of days… you can!
N I just can't imagine a better way to spend my day!
L No! Except for if… you wanted to do another thing…
N Oh yes! If you happen to be doing your GCSEs in geography then you'll hear me now! I got also a couple of nice BBC related jobs this month which was doing some voiceovers for a couple of study videos for BBC bite-sized. So, one of them was about something about geography and the other one was also about something about geography…
N Wow - you learned SO much.
N They didn't pick me for my knowledge… they picked me for my epic Northern Irish voice, and I got to do lots of silly variations of Northern Irish characters, so that was cool.
L Brilliant. But you didn't learn awful lot
N No - I know how to spell geography now…
L Oh great!
N So that was very exciting, so we've both been BBCing it up to the max this month, which is fun.
N Well, talking of which, this week's “Plog Meets…” recipient – if that’s the right word - is an ex-BBC, now independent sound designer of wonderful, amazing ability and wondrous beauty… yep…
N That was a really good segue!
L Thank you very much. She's called Eloise Whitmore, she's based in Manchester, she's worked on radio drama, animation, everything, all the things, for decades and is so brilliant, SO brilliant, and I went to go and meet her!
N That’s exciting. Were you this cool about it though, when you met her?
L No nooooo! I was less cool! Also, I had a terrible cold of all the things to have, so just sort of turned up a bit streamy and a bit snotty. Oh it was very embarrassing. But, but hopefully you won't be able to hear that because I'm not really in any of the clips I'm going to play to you, Nicola.
L Okay, the first thing I asked her to tell me about was one of her most memorable jobs. Because I thought; everybody's heard the words sound and designer, and sometimes even together, but haven't necessarily figured out exactly what it is that means in radio drama, so that would be a good way of finding out what a sound designer does
L Yeah. I'm gonna play it to you.
Eloise - I was making a play about a drowning man, and we didn't have any sounds that - sort of - sounded like a man drowning. So, I managed to persuade someone I worked with to be my guinea pig, and I put them in a wetsuit, and I mic-d them up with a very, very old microphone, it has to be said… Made it as waterproof as I can… you might want to cut this bit… or maybe not! I did that by using condoms on the end of it [laughter] and gaffer taping them all on, and taped the microphone to her. And I got her to run along the bank of Trafford waterpark and jump as high as she could into the water, and then I said; "stay down there as long as possible before you can't breathe - and then obviously come back up". And what you get from this recording is - you hear a jump, you hear a whoosh of air, you hear the body slam into the water, you hear bubble bubble bubble bubble as the body goes down, you hear the body land on the silt - the play was called Silt - and then you hear the movement; gentle movement of the body on the silt just moving backwards and forwards. And then on the actual tape you hear her coming up going [huge inhalation] and that’s not in the play! [laughter] and there was no other way to recreate that sound than actually do it, so that was one of our most memorable – I made that scene… when the drowning actually happened I made it sound as real as possible.
N That's amazing and - I feel like - the start of a horror film?
L Yes, terrifying.
N Like, maybe she goes a little bit too far next time… Isn't there a film like that out already? Toby Jones.. anyway, carry on. That's amazing! What an interesting job, and how exciting to get to experiment with sound like that.
L Yes, and it was really interesting to interview her because I was thinking about all the people that we’re making this for and actually she has a really interesting perspective on what it means to be a good radio drama actor… because she's working with those voices as part of the soundscape. So anyway, as a result of that I thought I'd find out from her what she thinks makes a good one.
E Someone who is open to my requests, because I have some very strange requests... Lots of it with radio drama is about presence on mic - so, radio drama tends to go narration - which is mono and close in the head - to a scene which is recorded in stereo and sort of moves to your ears for a bigger world. So those big, long sections of narration - if there is narration - are more real if you hear the action taking place underneath. So, I'll use the series with Maxine Peake as an example. It was called Craven, and her narration was all “we found out this clue” and “we're going to this place” - because she's a detective – “and then we're gonna do this”… so there's lots of her walking through hallways and getting in the car and putting the siren on. So what I needed from her is that movement and that presence on mic. So she’s very used to me saying can you do excited breathing, can you do slowed down breathing, can you do you've-just-discovered-a-body breathing… and she knows exactly what I need and she'll do that and she's great. So as an actor it's great to be able to say that, and they know exactly what you mean. So it's about a presence on mic with no words, that I can put under narration - and that's a good actor to me. What we often find is actors who've been on stage for a long time come to radio – and they have to learn to pull it back. They automatically project too much and if they've been on stage for a while; they've been in a long show, that's a habit that's just in there then. Especially - sometimes we transfer stage to radio, and if we've used the same actors they will play it in radio completely differently to how they play it on stage, and some things are very scenic on the stage, so we have to make that work in radio. And they often say they find something different in the text by doing it for radio, and it's more intimate than they do on the stage. From an acting point of view it's really good that they - the actors - can have a really intimate delivery for narration, and they really bring it down and they pretend… it's like you're speaking someone just in front of you or you're speaking in someone's ear and it's a bit like this, very intimate… it's a style. And then in the scene they can act the scene as they normally would - and a good radio actor knows the difference between those two things. Some actors have voices that you just - just really warm to – James - who's the lead in “McMafia” at the moment? Norton! I worked with probably about five or six years ago now on “Goodbye To Berlin”, and we went out to Berlin to record it - and I think he's got an incredibly listenable - his voice is just very, very warm and I really like working with his voice:
CLIP FROM MCMAFIA TRAILER
E We made Oedipus for Radio 3 – Oedipus the King - and it was Don Warrington's voice which is just so rich and it sort of drips chocolate [laughter] It's amazing – he’s got a voice that just… it can just stay with you for a long, long time and it's got… he can have such authority with it but he can also be so gentle, and I really like working with his voice.
CLIP OF DON WARRINGTON’S VOICEOVER REEL
Christine Bottomley's got a really interesting voice - I really like her voice. She can sound - I mean it's her acting as well - but she can sound so fragile and so vulnerable, and then she can sound so strong, and I think I really like working with her voice.
CLIP OF CHRISTINE BOTTOMLEY IN TV SHOW
Another actor up here who’s got a brilliant voice is David Fleeshman…
CLIP OF DAVID FLEESHMAN IN TV SHOW
E - …and I think his voice is getting richer as he gets older. So I've known him now for 19 years because I've known him since I came here, and I think his voice is getting richer as he gets older which is really nice.
N I'm just speechless as to how interesting that is to listen to! There's so many lovely little things in there, and the fact that she says “I like working with his voice” not “I like working with the actor” I think it's quite an interesting way of putting it.
L Mmm… I actually got in touch with David Fleeshman because she mentioned that she thinks his voice has changed over the 20 or so years that she's known him and he pointed me in the direction of “The Boys From The Black Stuff” which - by the way - is amazing… it's an amazing thing. Have you ever…?
N I’ve heard of it but I’ve not seen it.
L Like - working men in Liverpool 20 years ago doing these really brilliant performances. Anyway, so… remember that this is David Fleeshman now:
SHORTER CLIP OF PREVIOUS TV SHOW (“Of course she’ll be bloody - her whole life has been death”)
L … So that's now… and this is 1982 coming up right now:
CLIP OF BOYS FROM THE BLACK STUFF ("Mr. Dean. You must realise that nothing can be gained from treating our inquiries in this manner. It quite obviously helps neither you nor I and furthermore - you're hardly original in your approach. Quite frankly, it's been some years now since I found even the slightest glimmer of amusement in antics of this nature”)
N Wow, BIG difference there!
L Well, as a voice expert… what do you hear?
N Well, I think it's - it's the… probably the muscularity of the
vocal folds changing the vibration and thus changing the resonance placement. Because the pitch - for me - is quite different, and the resonant quality. So something like that - I think, as a voice gets older you often get a bit of – like - calcification around the laryngeal structures and things and that can affect the movement in there… so I mean, this is a very, very off the top of my head reason… but it could be something to do with that - changing the freedom of the vocal folds, how they can move… which would thus change the vibratory pattern… which would thus affect the resonance and therefore the vocal quality.
L (Big pause) …Right!
L I expect you’re probably right!
N I think!
L Sounds right.
N I bet he'd love to hear that as well
L Yeh, we’ll send him the, er… this.
L So I should also say that I did actually get in touch with all the people that she mentioned - their agents - and actually… um… well… Christine Bottomley's agent said “no” to using her demo which is what I'd asked… about… so that was just a tiny bit from a scene that she didn't use in her demo. It was just on youtube. (muttering) Hopefully it’ll be alright…
N Ah I’m sure it’ll be fine.
L I mean, I think they said… I don't know why… I don't really understand why they said no, but I did read back over the email that I sent and I did accidentally… possibly… call her Christine Bottomless…
N Oh god!
L (Muffled through laughing) So I don’t know… if that’s why!
N I am sure that's not the first time that's happened though…
L It was autocorrect, I didn't actually type out bottomless
N How often do you write “bottomless” that autocorrect goes there would be my question Leah?
L Well, I mean – never again, is all I’m going to say about that.
N I have a couple of times recently had an autocorrect go from “shut” to…
L The other that sounds a bit like that?
L Oh no! And sent it?
L Oh that's awful, I'm so sorry
N Anyway, never mind!
L Yes never mind! The last thing then that I'm going to play to you shows that… Eloise knows the future!
N Don't. Even.
L No she does!
L Yes! Because we're like all “ooh immersive listening, ooh binaural la dah dah”, and actually, she's known all about that stuff for years and years now, and it's only now we're hearing about it. So I asked her what the future was gonna sound like… and she KNEW.
N (Gasps in astonishment)
E Binaural audio has been around since the seventies, and it's all about the platform that things are listened to on. So - in the eighties when big - you know – it was your big ghettoblasters, binaural goes out the window because it needs to be on headphones, and now so many people listen to content on their headphones it's got a real place again. Binaural is moving into 3D sound… so static binaural doesn't move; it sounds binaural but the minute you open your eyes and you move your head and the sound doesn't move with you, your brain goes “hang on there's something wrong”. So they're moving more into a moving, immersive… which is more complex to record and more complex to edit, but works really well with a VR world - so the gaming industry is really running with it. The thing that I'm most excited about… there's something to do with how we listen in the home… and at the minute this research project looks at how it uses all the speakers in your home to give you the best listening experience. So you might have a laptop in your living room and the TV speakers and maybe a stereo and maybe a few little USB speakers and maybe a phone speaker… and it's about the content being distributed to all those speakers at the same time. You know, when it happens and if they make it work, it means that nobody needs a 5.1 setup anymore, or a 9.1 setup – you’re just making use of the speakers in your house and it is incredible. It's called the S3A project because it's three universities and BBC R&D; at Southampton Salford and Surrey. I was blown away by the demo; I walked into the room and went “there's no way this could be any good. Look at that speaker, that speaker’s probably 20 quid… look at that speaker, that speaker was probably 10 pounds”… and when it all works together it's incredible. So that's the future - that's the next big thing… and also the future’s podcasting.
N That's amazing and also terrifying! Like, imagine you accidentally left that on and your phone rang and it rang on like 19 different speakers, around the living room.
L No – I suspect…
N … it’s not gonna work like that?
L It's maybe not… what… the point of it is.
N Not… what she was getting at?
L No. It sounds so very complicated – like, the levels involved! All those levels! Of sound!
N Yes. I think she's great!
L Yes, very great.
N And she's predicting the future, and I asked the person that I interviewed that you'll hear in the NEXT podcast if he could predict the future in HIS industry…
L And could he?
N Ohhh yes.
N Or, well, what he would like anyway.
L Yeah! Well, he's a player - he's a major player
N A mage plage!
L So he probably knows and can probably swing things that way
N Yeah exactly. Exactly. Wow, that was really interesting! There's some good nuggets in there for anyone who's interested in radio drama for sure… or actors hoping to cross over, as it were… not the realm of death and life I mean, because…
L I mean… there were no tips for that.
N No tips! Although she did almost kill someone to get a drowning sound.
N That's really interesting, thanks for doing that Leah! And what a lovely woman.
L What a lovely woman. So, shall we tell everybody the thing?
N Yeh! Are we gonna attempt in unison? Or… It’s a bad idea.
L I think it’s a terrible idea… we can see what happens!
Both (Sort of) We have been given some money to put behind the bar!
N Two pounds fifty.
N For some pork scratchings.
L Ha! Yeh. And they’re for us, sorry. Actually what's happening is Vox - the people that do the conference and the awards – are buying everybody a drink so that is nice isn't it - and also what this means is that instead of everyone having to traipse downstairs and queue – like…
N With the plebs
L The PLEBS… we can now have our own bartender!
N So we're gonna have a bar upstairs…
L Yeh, in our special room
N And there's gonna be money behind the bar to buy everyone a drink! Which is super-flippin-duper-tastic. So get there early, cause I ain’t gonna lie, I ain’t sippin’ if it ain’t Crystal, and that’s going to eat into the budget quite heftily…
L Yeh, speedily and heftily. So, 2 o Clock,
Both (almost - but not quite - simultaneously) 2 o clock, March the 10th, upstairs at the Ape and Apple on John Dalton Street
N This is stereo! We’re doing that live thing she was talking about on different speakers
L Oh yes! Except badly. Speakers that are set to different time zones
N … iffrent time zones… This could go on for a while.
L This could go on for a while… I was trying to do it then! I didn’t do it as well.
N It’s all about timing
L So actually - that's gonna be good!
N So thank you very much to Vox…
L Yes! Woop woop!
N …with the conference and the awards and whatnot, we will enjoy those and raise a toast to you… um… is that it?
L I can't think of any other thing
N Well should we say goodbye?
L Okay, you go first this time.
N Okay uh I've been… I was gonna say I’ve been Leah Marks!
L Oh no! Because I always go first! I was just thinking you were going to say that!
N I’ve been Leah Marks
L And I’ve been Nic Redman!
Both – And we are VO Social North
N And I'm going to have a gin…