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College of Arts and Sciences

Milstein students learn from World According to Sound producers

By: Chloe Kanders,  Milstein Program in Humanities and Technology
November 13, 2019

Producers Chris Hoff ‘02 and Sam Harnett have made a career out of recording and digitally editing naturally occurring sounds that evoke human emotions and transport listeners. Both are artists-in-residence this semester as a part of Cornell’s Media Studies Initiative. As part of their work on campus, Hoff and Harnett led a two-part “Sound Editing Masterclass” for students in the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, to introduce them to sound technology and podcast recording techniques. 

Hoff graduated with a degree in classics and now works as a freelance sound engineer. In addition to working for KALW New Crosscurrent, he has also been a researcher, writer, sound recorder and translator. Harnett graduated from Middlebury College in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in English; he also worked as a reporter at KALW along with Hoff. 

Their podcast, “The World According to Sound,” explores the effects of isolating everyday sounds. After playing the sound by itself for about 10-30 seconds, the two then provide a brief history of the sound and an analysis of its effect on listeners. Hoff and Harnett shared a little about the creative process behind their work. For example, Hoff recorded himself walking through a vineyard, stepping on grapes and squishing them. He explained that this was one of his favorite recordings because it was so unexpected yet resulted in an intriguing and "cathartic" sound. 

In the Oct. 23 and Nov. 7 workshops, Milstein students created a short podcast centered around the theme “5 Things that Scare Me” and learned to properly use audio recorders and the audio-editing software Audacity. 

In preparation for the second workshop, students recorded or found different sounds to integrate into their final short podcast following the “World According to Sound” model. After gathering all of the resources needed for their podcasts, including their recorded interviews and other recordings used as background noise, the students digitally manipulated these sounds into a short podcast. Topics included fear of riding a rollercoaster and the effects of anxiety.

The Milstein students enjoyed learning how to use the audio-recorders and software to create short podcasts. Andrew Gao ‘22 said that his favorite part of the workshop was seeing a demo and explanation of a real podcast that aired on KQED about a blind beekeeper

“It was cool to see behind-the-scenes of how podcasts are produced. Working with our own podcasts gave me an appreciation for how much work goes into this,” he said. 

A longer version of this story appears on the Milstein program's website.