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'Sounds of IU': Telecommunication students collaborate with IU alums to produce sound design projects

Dec. 19, 2013

The blaring sound of an alarm clock at 7 a.m.

The creak of an old Ballantine Hall door opening on the first day of class.

The Student Building clock tower, chiming in the Old Crescent district every 15 minutes.

The IU Marching Hundred performing the “Indiana Fight Song.”

To an IU student, employee, faculty member or alum, these sounds are memories, new or old. These were also the kinds of sounds that Norbert Herber, a faculty member at IU’s Department of Telecommunications in the College of Arts and Sciences, wanted students in the sound design class he’s been teaching for six years to capture.

Elijah Bammann and Zach Cannon

Zach Cannon, left and Elijah Bammann, both IU seniors majoring in telecommunications, used Avid Pro Tools software to edit their "Sounds of IU" project for the "Everything Sounds" podcast. | Photo By Jaclyn Lansbery

The project objective was simple: Record the sounds of IU, in about two minutes and 30 seconds or less, and collectively tell a story about the university to an international audience on "Everything Sounds," a podcast produced by IU alums Craig Shank and George Drake Jr.

The “Sounds of IU” projects will premiere Thursday, Dec. 19, on EverythingSounds.org, the day the students take their final exam.

Herber, who studied jazz at the IU Jacobs School of Music as an undergraduate student, said the students faced the challenge of telling a story mostly through sound, with minimal narration.   

“There’s a great balance of aesthetic and technical issues that the students had to confront to succeed,” Herber said. “The element of storytelling goes beyond how they think about pacing and audiences, knowing there’s no image to balance it out -- how can they take an audience who has never been to IU and make it come to life?”

Drake, who graduated from IU in 2009, was once a student in the same sound design class with Herber. After Shank and Drake made little progress collaborating with other universities, Drake contacted his old professor, who gladly switched the syllabus around to accomodate the collaboration.

Herber said giving the students -- most of whom are upperclassmen -- the opportunity to publish their work gives them a taste of what it’s like to engineer sound in the real world.

“The biggest thing the students are running up against is time,” he said. “What you want to do and what you’re required to do isn’t always the same thing.”

Drake and Shank both worked with the student groups individually over Skype sessions. Half of the students worked in pairs while the other half worked individually. Although sound plays a primary role, students were allowed to use some narration for the project, which starts and ends with about 10 to 15 seconds of ambient sound. The "Everything Sounds" episode itself will be about 15 to 25 minutes long.

With a recording device in hand, students ventured into basements to record the sounds of bands, bars, Ballantine Hall, campus food courts and IU athletic events. “These are the sounds that conceivably students will remember after they graduate -- things they’ll hear day in and day out, or things they’ll remember as alumni,” Herber said. “This project is a matter of trying to capture those unique things, and which students will probably be nostalgic about when they’ve graduated.”

Craig Shank and George Drake, Jr.

IU alums Craig Shank, left, and George Drake, Jr. aired the first "Everything Sounds" episode in October 2012. | Photo By Chelsea Jones

For Drake and Shank, the project gave them a chance to commemorate their time at IU -- and also give current students an opportunity the two would have loved during their own undergaduate days.   

After graduation, Drake studied abroad in London to get his master’s degree, while Shank worked in radio in Charlottesville, Va. Then one night a little over a year ago, Shank wrote a lengthy email about wanting to start and operate a podcast with Drake.

“I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Drake said. “So I said, ‘How about this: We call it 'Everything Sounds' and focus mainly on things that make sound in science and art and culture?’ So it just kind of evolved from there.”

The podcast is played internationally and on 17 different radio statoins in U.S. towns.

“We feel like we’ve got a lot of loyal listeners and great feedback,” Drake said. “Since we both listen to a lot of podcasts in our own time, we know what being in the listener position is like, and to know that people are in our position is just fun.”

IU senior Zach Cannon, a telecommunications major, collaborated with a fellow student to produce a project that summarizes the typical day of an IU student. To gather the sounds, he visited the Wells Library and Kirkwood restaurants, and he recorded sounds from his classes and an IU football game.

“Originally I wanted to include everything -- I wanted the Bobby Knight clip of him throwing the chair, I wanted the Christian Watford shot and the clock tower, all the small things,” Cannon said. “But when it got down to the wire, we essentially made it about the things you’re going to take for granted here at IU.”

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