Me, Myself and MRI

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Despite living in a world that is dominated by our visual sense and where much of the information we consume is from visual media, there is still a clear and important role for sound in our lives.  Sound and our hearing can often deliver much more information to us than that which we receive from our eyes. It is sound that warns us of danger when we can't see a car approaching; it tells us a friend or loved one is calling to us; and it helps us get up in the morning when the alarm clock goes off.  Despite the domination of television and internet video, many people still derive considerable enjoyment from just listening to the radio - and not just for music - but also for news, conversation and debate, spoken word, drama, documentary...  One of the key components for the Me, Myself and MRI Exhibition is the soundtrack - or audio portrait - for each of our participants. Each audio portrait consists of different aspects including:

  • the edited interview that we did with each participant that tells us directly about themselves prompted by the questions our school group came up with;
  • edited sounds from the MRI scanner. As all of our participants underwent this process, this provided a common theme and helped to build rhythm and atmosphere while also being a direct request from the brief our school group gave us;
  • a short simple melody, based on the 'musical key' of the MRI machine's various noises, which was then adapted slightly for each individual so that it became a unique representation for that person.

Each audio portrait also had to be designed to fulfill three different complementary roles:
  • Firstly, as they would be playing all the time they had to be long enough, varied enough and interesting enough so that when repeated over and over (as they would be in a gallery all day) these repeated elements would not be so obvious for the exhibition visitor.   
  • Secondly, there needed to be a distinction between the background, introductory audio portrait and what is heard when someone is close to the portrait stand.  
  • Thirdly, as each of the six audio portraits is different, they all have to fit and 'work together' when the visitor first walks into the exhibition. The result should be a bit like walking into a crowded room full of conversation - you can make out words and ideas but without perhaps getting the full meaning of what all these people are talking about. Only when you walk up to one person and engage them in direct conversation does all of the background chatter die away so that you can focus on this one individual - this is actually a well known perceptual phenomenon called the Cocktail Party Effect.
So how might you go about using audio in your own projects?  First of all, this is not supposed to be a guide to recording and mixing - there are many good websites, articles and books that can help with this and some are listed in the FURTHER INFORMATION SECTION - but it will describe the process we have gone through in preparing each of the audio portraits and how these ideas might be transferred to your own work.  This also reflects the workshop we did on audio recording with our group of young people (a description of this session can be found on the project blog) and all of this is captured in the following pages that explain in more detail how we recorded and edited the audio recordings used in the exhibition portraits. Follow the links at the bottom of this page to find out more about the recording and editing processes and how the final portraits were created.

Hopefully this resource will give you an insight as to how aspects of this project have been pulled together and perhaps some hints and tips as to how sound might be used in your own projects. Some useful links and additional resources are given that might be of interest or worth further investigation. A lesson plan is also included with a possible sound project for groups to work on, given appropriate digital recorders and some editing software. Hopefully this will provide some inspiration or a starting point for developing sound projects of your own.