Wednesday, November 26, 2014

UCI Students Looking Good!

The Annual Report by USITT has come out, and the Sound Lab, which Prof. Mike Hooker helped to organize, features prominently in the publication. But when I was thumbing through the document this morning, Mike wasn't the only UCI person to make an impact in the document.  On page 13, wearing headphones and standing to legendary mix engineer Buford Jones' right, is Mark Caspary '15. Mark was part of a series of mixing intensives run by Jones and Jim VanBergen to mentor young designers and engineers in mix techniques. 

And I may be wrong, but on the cover of the report, that profile, hat, and stance look an awfully lot like Matt Glenn '14. 

Looking good, gents!

Sunday, October 19, 2014


It turns out that ocean waves are a pretty common through line in many of our shows this year... Metamorphoses, even without real water on stage, has movement that just begs for stormy waves; the directing students are doing Shakespeare's Tempest; and Mark's designs for The Liquid Plain (his thesis!) and The Odyssey (which he will be designing in Italy this winter!) both take place near (or on) the ocean.  It's so fortunate that we live so close to the local talent.

(Or maybe we secretly wanted an reason to go to the beach)

Mark monitors the sounds of the ocean
Honestly, who could resist the ability to record a wide multitrack of the Pacific?  I gave the California State Parks department a call, and asked for their permission and their thoughts on a quiet time we might be able to record. As it turns out, we found Corona Del Mar after sunset, and Huntington Beach around midday, both fairly empty (but for a group of UCI undergrad students who very kindly agreed to pause their conversations until we finished our recording -- thanks for your patience and help!).  Listening back, there were some great results, and we are both very excited to layer the recordings into our shows.


The strip of beach we had to ourselves at Huntington must have been close to a young seagull nest.  Probably a dozen baby seagulls, just barely able to flap their wings, were running in and out of the water.  In a few seconds worth of the recordings, you can hear the sound of their feet running on the wet sand, and a quiet squeak when the water comes a little too close.

Completely unedited ocean waves below, or come see Metamorphoses and The Liquid Plain to hear it in context! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Los Angeles Ovation Nominations

Every year, the LA Ovation Awards celebrate the best of LA-area theatre. This year's nominations are out, and for the first time, one of our own alumni is among the nominees! Noelle Hoffman MFA '11 was nominated for her co-design of Wicked Lit 2013, produced by Unbound Productions. Congratulations Noelle!

The rest of the Sound Design nominees include a number of familiar faces to the UCI Sound Design program. Drew Dalzell was Noelle's co-designer for Wicked Lit; Drew is a frequent guest critic for thesis productions (most recently last spring), guest artist in class, and has been a great supporter of our program in general. John Gottlieb teaches at CalArts, way up the road, but he also has been a thesis critic at UCI. Cricket Myers has also sat in the critic's chair.  John Zalewski (who has two nominations, which is actually chump change compared to last year's FIVE) has been both a thesis critic and a guest artist in our classrooms.

Congratulations to all of the nominations, but of course, I hope Noelle & Drew win!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Your bag of chips may betray you...

Laser microphones have actually been around for decades.  Point a coherent light source at the outside of a window and the vibrations from inside will deflect that beam proportionally.  Looks like the folks at MIT have come up with a truly novel way of capturing sound using only high speed video pointed at objects sympathetically vibrating in a sound field:

From "Conversation Heard in Potato Chip Bag Vibrations"

I really loved that Shazam was able to determine the DNA of the song from one of these video sound captures!  The audio interpolated from the 60FPS video really intrigues me, too -- I'm still trying to wrap my head around the physics.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Don't Break the Circle

UCI Sound MFA student Matthew Eckstein and Honors in Sound Design undergrad Karli Blalock recently sound designed a project called Elysian Roux. This excitingly unusual piece of theatre was meant to be the first mounting of an immersive theatre piece conceived by Vincent Olivieri and Mike Floyd. We spent two weeks working intensely on the project, and the results were pretty outstanding. Elysian Roux took place on UCI’s campus, all around the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. This presented some obvious challenges for the sound team, especially considering we had no budget. After gathering every extra speaker and amp available in the shop, we were left with 7 passive speakers, 5 amps, and hundreds of feet of Speakon cable. What we hoped to achieve with the design was establishing the location, creating a rather hellish mood, and acting as a device to help the actors know where the rest of the cast was so that each scene would sync up.  All of these functions, of course, had to fit in a fluid and consistent bed of sound. With such a large playing space and so few speakers, this presented quite a challenge!

We found ways to use the space to reflect the sound in the most effective ways. For instance, we placed one speaker in the amphitheatre, playing a neutral loop, and because of the acoustics in the amphitheatre, this one speaker filled in the silence of an area of about 300 ft of pathway. Most centrally, we had an alcove that played a 27 minute long loop of unearthly ambience; within the alcove, we placed 2 Ramsa A-80s – one in a corner, facing the opposite wall, and the other in the center facing towards the mouth of the ‘cave.’ Pointing a speaker towards a wall!?! In this case, the reflections and natural reverberations within the cement alcove were exactly what we needed to create the ominous and cavernous sound we were aiming for.

We also placed a RH speaker in a tunnel, which we called Hell’s mouth. This loop was triggered as the spirits began to emerge from the underworld and continued to reverberate throughout the space until the end of the show.

Hell's Mouth Ambience track embedded here:

Of course we couldn’t keep all our equipment laying out every night, so we had to strike after every rehearsal and performance. Vinnie let us keep all of our equipment in his office, along with all the props and set dressings. The entire team’s Tetris skills finally paid off!
Overall this project was a fun challenge and very rewarding. Audience members called it “delicious and disturbing” and “a unique interactive experience.”  As this project (and backstory) continue to grow, we are all hoping to see future productions of Elysian Roux.  But remember… don’t break the circle.

Hellaciously yours,
Karli and Matt

Monday, March 31, 2014

Yehaw!! UCI Sound goes to USITT SoundLab, Fort Worth.

This past week, five UCI Sound MFA students and our fabulous faculty took a trip south to Fort Worth for the annual USITT convention.  This year, thanks to a whole host of its sponsors including our friends at Meyer Sound, d&b audiotechnik, Yamaha, and Shure to name a few, USITT put on it's second version of SoundLab! SoundLab was a wonderful way for us to get our hands on some new gear, and have some time to explore it and hear it.

The adventures started on Sunday and Monday, as a whole group of us sound students from across the country loaded in the first PA system - one of their new J-series array systems.  Once the arrays were in the air, SoundLab kicked off. One of the coolest parts of the week for me was having the opportunity to mix 4 live bands, with Jim van Bergen (JVB) and Buford Jones looking over our shoulders.  It's really not every day you get to mix music with incredible minds like those two gentlemen giving you tips and tricks.  A special thanks to Erik Alberg, Eileen Smitheimer, and our own Mike Hooker and Vinnie Olivieri for putting these opportunities together.

Josh and Buford Jones working on their mix

For the second half of the week, we packed up the d&b rig, and flew the brand new Meyer Lyon arrays.  WOW!  All of us agreed that it was a contender for the best speaker we've ever heard - flat frequency and phase response, and almost no distortion or breakup, even well above 100dB!
Lyon going up

The whole week was filled with other awesome sound stuff, including a memorable slideshow to celebrate Bob McCarthy's distinguished achievement award, JVB's microphone dressing clinic, and the opportunity to learn about some things we've never really gotten an opportunity to dig into before... like Out Board UK's TiMax!!  Duncan and Dave were especially gracious in showing us the ropes of their machine and chatting about some of their experiences installing it!

Of course, while you're in Texas, you can't pass up the barbecue, TexMex, Cajun food, the Stockyards, and the Dallas Theater Center (we were able to see DTC's production of The Fortress of Solitude - absolutely wonderful show!).  Thanks to everyone who made UCI Sound's journey to Fort Worth so educational, and a whole lot of fun!

Angels in America

Early this year, I had the pleasure of designing Angels in America Part I: Millenium Approaches in the Robert Cohen Theater at UC Irvine. The show represented a portion of my thesis for my MFA degree. The sound team for the show consisted of Mark Caspary (MFA 2) as the composer and Kelsi Halverson (MFA 1) as our assistant. The show was directed by Gavin Cameron-Webb. For those unfamiliar with Tony Kushner’s play, Angels is a fantastical portrayal of the lives of a diverse group of people living in New York City at the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s. The play slips fluidly in and out of real time and the real world as the characters interact with ghosts, invisible voices, hallucinations of each other, and, of course, the Angel herself. This style presents the design team with ample opportunities to change perspective and direct the audience’s focus.

The production took place in the Robert Cohen Theater, configured in a three-quarter-thrust configuration. With only three rows of seats in each audience section (a total of about 85 seats per show), the experience was both intimate and different for every seat. It became immediately clear during initial talks that the show would be extremely music and sound cue-heavy, so I knew I wanted to design a simple sound delivery system. The main speaker positions consisted of Meyer Ultra-series loudspeakers, with a UMS-1P subwoofer. The team also agreed early on upon the use of small wireless speakers throughout the props and set pieces to localize certain sound cues or to create the effect of a radio on-stage. For this setup, we purchased four Altec-Lansing IM237 battery-powered speakers to combine with UCI’s Shure PSM-900 In-Ear Montor system. The content played back through Qlab 3 and into a Yamaha LS9-32, allowing me to route a couple of sends from Qlab to some of the console’s built-in reverb effects. I also decided, in conjunction with lighting designer Stacie Marie O’Hara, to trigger certain light cues with Qlab via a MIDI connection.

Those interested can peruse my system paperwork HERE.

In initial discussions, we decided as a team to create a build of tension and anticipation throughout the show that culminated in the reveal of the angel at the very end. Mark and I decided early on to root the earliest sound and music cues in reality and to slowly expand the soundscape into a more and more otherworldly and non-diagetic style throughout the show. The shape of the space, in combination with my speaker placements, helped facilitate this illusion. Having positions in front, above, and behind the audience, as well as upstage and in the on-stage practical speakers, meant that I could easily define a space and source for the sound and music based on the scene—from a focused point (e.g., Harper’s radio) to a nebulous, reverberant, cerebral space (e.g., Harper/Prior’s shared dream).

The process of discovery and creation on this show began in early October and continued full-force until opening night. I consider it incredibly fortunate that composer Mark Caspary and I have collaborated together before, as we have already developed a language and an understanding of each other’s working styles. Despite our respective titles in the program, Mark and I produced most of the sound elements and music together. This took advantage of the power of two brains over one, but also ensured that we were always up to speed with one another’s progress and creative decisions.

With such an enormous show, it was imperative that the design team stays on top of all changes to the designs. I communicated significantly with Stacie to make sure that lighting and sound gestures worked harmoniously, and to program Qlab’s MIDI light cues with accuracy. David Phillips (scenic) and I kept in touch to track locations of props and furniture in which I hid a wireless micro-speaker. Leanna Moore (costumes) and I made sure that Hayley Palmer, the actress playing the Angel and Emily the nurse was comfortable wearing a body mic during two key scenes in Act III. Our collective designs went through many drafts, with each design undergoing at least one major revamp along the way.

Angels was an immense undertaking for all and I’m very proud of the work that was done. Team sound worked seamlessly well together (including Tariq Malik and Gabriel Barriga on audio crew). Congratulations to all on a fantastic run!

To hear sound clips from the show, please visit my web-based portfolio.

Matt Glenn
Sound Designer
MFA Class of 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Honors in Sound Design: Karli Blalock

The Design faculty at UCI is delighted to announced that Karli Blalock has been granted Honors in Sound Design!  Karli has only been studying sound for a year and half, but she made up for lost time with meteoric growth. Her design and technical skills have developed quickly, and recently created an excellent sound design for a workshop of The 39 Steps (if you know the show, you know how big that design is).

Karli has taken a number of sound design classes with the MFA students, and she's worked alongside them in production and crew work.  She's assisted on some large shows and designed a bunch of smaller projects.  She is tireless and always up for a new challenge. Mike and I are disappointed that she's graduating this spring, but we know that wherever she ends up, she'll make great work and do great things!

Congratulations Karli!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

UCI Sound's class of '17

All of us who are part of the UCI Sound Design Program are excited to announce our two incoming students next fall. Here they are, the Class of 2017:

Andrea Allmond is currently working on staff at Dallas Theatre Center.  She's a Texan through and through, which is terrific for us, since our current resident Texan is graduating this spring. Andrea did a lot of conceptual sound design work in her undergraduate training, and she's filled out her technical chops at DTC working on the sound crew. Also, she boxes (!)

Ben Scheff will be moving all the way across the country from Boston (my favorite East Coast City).  Like Andrea, he's been out of school for a few years.  He is currently the Sound Engineer at Boston Conservatory and the TD at Circus Smirkus.  When not working those gigs, he also freelances around the New England area.

Mike and I are delighted to have Andrea and Ben join us next year.  We had a number of terrific applicants, and we're really looking forward to our new additions.  

Onward and upwards!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

We're looking for a few good designers...

TWO in fact!

It's January, which means that soon it will be LATE January, which means that soon Prof. Mike Hooker and I will start looking for two exceptional sound designers to join us at UCI for their graduate studies.  That could be you!

Are you ready for graduate school in sound design?  Well, go ahead and check us out at our official home on the web. We've got a dandy site there with information about faculty, staff, student, curriculum, and facilities.  If you've got any questions, you can always email Prof Hooker or I for more details.  We're both happy to answer any questions.

Choosing a graduate program is not easy. When choosing the right program for you, you'll need to consider curriculum, faculty, student colleagues, facilities, geography, design opportunities, and cost! Everyone considers these issues differently, and how they weight these factors can dramatically affect their choice of graduate programs. Prof Hooker and I are both happy to answer any questions you may have about our program here at UCI.  We want you to make the best decision for you!

One common concern that I often encounter when talking with potential design students is cost. There is a common belief that grad school is expensive. It can be, but at UCI, we have a generous financial package. It's too early to talk details, but if you are concerned about paying for graduate school, email me, and I'll be happy to explain things in more detail.

If you are interested in UCI's Sound Design MFA program, then there are two avenues available to you for an interview:

  • On 31 January, Prof Hooker will be at the URTA interviews in Chicago.  If you're going, he'd love to meet with you.
  • If you are not registered with URTA, then you can apply directly to UCI through this link.

Prof Hooker and I are both very proud of the Sound Design program we have built at UCI. It's among the best in the country, and our students are all talented in many different ways.  But two will be graduating this spring, and we're going to be looking for two more to take their place.  That could be YOU!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Final Project: Film clips!

In last term's Trends in Modern Sound Design class, the MFA Sound Design students tackled a huge project.  I paired them off and gave each group two two-minute video clips. Their assignment was to completely replace the audio.  They had to conceptualize (I asked them to be true to the original movie, and not, for example, replace footsteps with bell rings).  They had to write or pull new music. They had to record/pull and edit sound effects. They had to cast, manage, and direct voice talent. They had to pull all of their elements into a ProTools session, keeping things organized and flexible for edits.  They had to bring all of these elements into alignment, blending them into one aural image.

I tried to give each pair of students two contrasting videos.  One was more sound effect-y, and one was more dialogue-y.

I was fairly blown away by the results. There's some exquisite work here, and in some places, I think the students' final projects were better than the source audio.  But, why don't you be the judge?

Thanks also to all of the vocal talent that ended up in these projects, including some MFA Acting students. The cast for all six included: Mark Caspary, Matt Glenn, Matt Eckstein, Leslie Lank, Matt Koenig, Blake Morris, Josh Odess-Rubin, and Jade Payton.

(I should be clear here that since these projects were done in a university setting and for academic credit, I did not secure rights to any of the video or music content. If you are a rightsholder for any of the content here and want me to remove it, please email me and I will gladly do so.)