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What's a Good Mix When a Film Purposely Breaks All the Rules?

Every re-recording mixer knows what a good mix is when it comes to industry standards for dialog in film, and each audio professional in the production chain works hard to make sure it's just that: full-range, clean and well articulated.

Internet sound on the other hand is its own thing. Some of it is pretty good by consumer standards - like a decent mp3. Some is low-fi and glitchy but that's the nature of the medium. Browsing the web is like walking through an audio street market filled with colors and smells. That variability gives the online experience a richness and democracy. The same applies to streaming video. It can be Hollywood HD smooth or Skype inconsistent.

The surfer's brain makes it all the same and all good. Not so when it comes to viewer (or Network) expectations for the same material included in a production intended to be experienced through broadcast or cinema. The exact same thing would cause a channel change after a few minutes.

So what do you do when a film is about the very nature and meaning of the web and is made only from sound and picture originating there? - That's the question I faced in working out an approach to mixing INTERNET RISING.

All the interviews in the film where screen captured from Skype, recorded through different computer mics with wildly different types of noise from web bandwidth conditions. In the cleanup and noise reduction phase of dialog editing it became clear that there was no natural good middle ground to aim at for consistency in the sound.  - and by the way, no lockable lip sync for the same reason.

After experimenting for a couple of days thinking there was no way around this. Over and over watching the tumbling, ever-changing imagery of director Andrew Martin, eventually I stopped hearing the voices as interviews and began feeling them as singers of ideas. Thought melodies floating over related moving face images... because a video chat is private, one-to-one. This is where INTERNET RISING breaks the mold.

These aren't a bunch of experts talking to vast audiences. This is a very informed friend talking just to you, The viewer becomes the other person in the one-to-one chat and in that familiar chat experience the technical quality is secondary to the communication as long as it doesn't prevent it. So really there was likely more sensory tolerance in viewers for extremes as long as I didn't reach a point where the noise would turn them off.  

If the standard technical rules were impossible then I needed to make new ones and stick to those.

I opted for a radical but consistent sound resulting from the noise reduction process itself. After all, it can produce digital artifacts same as web audio. The new rule was to make it pleasing, musical and listenable over as much of the duration of the film as possible.

Aiming at something sounding like a much better version of Skype's own extreme noise cancelling sound got me into the ballpark. Adding an undetectable short delay to the dialog bus made the voices smooth out, pop away from their noisy setting and feel as though they emerge from the same "space". Now the dialog began to sound a tiny bit like the treatment of a voice in a rap tune. This really matched the musical quality of the pictures.

What started as a technical problem had become an effective artistic device. Now the viewer could spend most of the film in an acceptable dialog zone and leave the less fixable extremes speak for themselves and really mean something in the overall dynamic and depiction of internet sound.


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