When does an elephant become a dinosaur?

Issue date: 15 January 2013

UWE Music Technology students make sounds for Natural History Museum podcasts

The podcasts are all live on the Natural History web pages – view them here and listen to the sounds by UWE students.

Music Technology students from UWE Bristol have been working in collaboration with the Natural History Museum on a series of six podcasts to highlight some of the exhibits in the Treasures Gallery at the museum. The team worked with podcast producer John Ruthven and Museum editor, Vicky Paterson.

Martyn Harries UWE's BAFTA award winning lecturer on the Music Technology course enthuses, “This was a fantastic opportunity for the students who rose to the challenge in spades. We worked with the producer and editor to record the voice over and mix the podcasts, having artistic input into music and sound effects as well as responsibility for the technical standards.

“We try to ensure that students get to work on live projects so that when they graduate they can offer up evidence of their ability as well as a degree certificate. This was an exceptional opportunity. The work will now be showcased by the Natural History Museum and the students can use this experience to bolster their CVs when they graduate.”

Dale Hudson, third year Music Technology student, said, “This was an amazing project to work on. The podcasts that the Treasures Gallery had put together were done using editing software that was not designed for audio so we had bring it all together by editing, mixing and re-mastering the sound. We included back ground ambient sound impressions which really helped to provide the listener with a sense of perspective and a coherent impression of the various locations in which the interviews took place.

“One of the pieces I worked on was about the Iguanodon dinosaur, we processed distant elephant and stampede sounds to present an impression of what dinosaurs could have sounded like. I also worked on a podcast about the Blashka brothers who made fascinating intricate glass work models of marine animals.

“It is completely different working under pressure to deadlines with a producer looking over your shoulder than working on a project for a university assignment. I have had some experience of this before as a runner for Bristol based film post production company 'films at 59' – but the podcast opportunity has given a real insight into working realities like deadlines, working in a team and striving for perfection.”

Drew Nicoll, also a third year Music Technology student said, “I worked on the podcast about Guy the Gorilla who grew up in London Zoo and became a national treasure, eventually preserved at the NHM when he died. I also worked on a podcast about the Apollo Moon mission with Sam Leworthy, who was the fourth member of the team, that focuses on the moon rock exhibits. It's incredibly interesting for me to work on something professional that is going to be seen by public, to be trusted to deliver a high standard of work and to have an end product to showcase what we can do.

“Our lecturer Martyn Harries is amazing, we got this opportunity through his contacts and he had faith in us and took a back seat. He has a very conversational style of teaching, saying things like– 'let's try it like this – can you hear the difference' – he guides us using his experience – he said he was surprised at how little he had to do.

“We were given a rough edit by the producer – we had to make the music work and cut it up to make it fit the narrative. For the Apollo podcast we had a driving orchestra piece that we cut up and mixed into an epic start to the podcast – the challenge is to involve the listener.”

Niall Newport, also in his third year at UWE Bristol says, “It was to feel that the team at the NHU had confidence in us. Martyn Harries stuck his neck on the line for us with his contacts at the Museum. It was a real test of creativity and knowledge to get the music to fit just right, making edits to shorten and lengthen the songs so that they could fit between or under dialogue. Making the music edits undetectable was a very satisfying task, as well as the opportunity to have input into music choices.

“We used Logic Pro, a very intuitive Apple based editing software – we have all been using this software for some time, making it a quick and efficient workflow for us. We were able to use the software to apply audio processing by altering different parameters of the recordings to improve quality and add real value to the finished products.”

Vicky Paterson from the Natural History Museum said, “The idea of working with the students was suggested by their lecturer Martyn Harries, who had worked with the Museum previously on an interactive film.

“At our first meeting it was clear Niall, Sam, Drew and Dale would bring a fresh energy to the project, they asked lots of questions and were really enthusiastic. They really wanted to do a good job. During the following weeks they were meticulous in making sure all my feedback was implemented, even ironing out music links that sounded fine to me but which to them were not quite perfect enough. The podcast we produced was a first for the Museum, so we were all learning together. I learnt a lot from them, about the time it takes to get the sound right on narration, music and interviews and for it all to sync together. I hope they also learnt what it's like working with a real-life client, who has specific demands and a deadline. From my experiences with them I think their energy, upbeat natures and keen ear would be an asset to any studio. It was a pleasure working with them.”

To find out more about Music Technology at UWE Bristol see http://courses.uwe.ac.uk/WJ39/2013

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