Drive: Part One

by Brian Simpson

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Track Notes:

The Story:

The idea for the story came about a couple of years ago. I was driving late one evening and saw a Texaco station where the neon “E” was burned out. I looked at it, and wondered, “What if seeing that sign was a remarkable, unusual break from routine for a particular person? Something he would really enjoy seeing. What would that person be like? What would his world be like?”

Over the span of a couple of weeks, the story pretty much wrote itself in little increments. (The idea of the Texaco sign wasn’t used in the story at all, except as the title: “T xaco.”)

The Plan:

When the “Anything But Music” comp was announced, I was interested by the artistic challenge (as I am by most audio projects) and gave my intention to contribute. I started playing with various ideas, not really making any satisfactory progress with any of them, until the idea of using “T xaco” occurred to me late one night. (Most of my ideas manifest themselves late at night.) Advantages: It was already written, was mostly narration, and wouldn’t require a lot of establishing dialogue or description. So I printed a copy and went through it line by line, eliminating what text could be replaced by sound effects and blocking it into sections.


The Production:

I started by doing a reading of the story in rough draft format, doing all the voices in one take. I immediately saw I wasn’t going to squeeze into the 9-minute requirement, but pressed on anyway. Using my Akai S950 sampler, I recorded most of the sound effects I’d need (car sounds, footsteps, key noises, wind). Since I was too lazy to drag the VS down to my car to record car noises, most of those sounds were made by other means. I then started recording the dialogue, using a new “song” on the VS for each section. The sections were divided into single voice scenes (narration) and dialogue scenes. I recorded all the narration scenes first, figuring it was the least taxing of my skills as a director. In most cases, I recorded the dialogue first, with appropriate pauses for the effects; I tried the reverse as well. In both cases it was necessary to hold the flow of the story mentally, so I could plan the length of either talk or effects (which I am sure is old hat to folks who do this often but it was new to me.)

Seeing as I dislike my voice, it took a while to get these scenes recorded, but once done I turned my attention to the two-character scenes. (To ensure that I didn’t run out of disk space, I used a second Zip disk for these scenes.) Pam North also works at the Grove Park Inn, but since this was budget preparation time I was only able to get her for a short while. I typed out her lines of dialogue and had her read them three times. I then selected the best takes and copied them to another track. Once they were assembled together, I used the Insert and Cut functions in track editing to put what I thought would be proper pauses between her lines; needless to say, this was pretty inaccurate but I got to a point where I could ignore the timing, speak my lines, and line them up later. I used the same process for the sound effects in the dialogue scenes.

Richard Mankowitz has less of a schedule problem (insert smiley), but his lines were also recorded by themselves, with me coming in later and adding my parts.

The sound effects took a surprising number of tracks. I usually ended up recording several tracks, then bouncing them together on an unused track, erasing the originals and adding more. (The first scene with the leaves in the parking lot, for example, used effects for footsteps, insects, wind, leaves in the wind and a door, some of which had to be continuous to the end of the scene, along with the narration. The final scene used not only those, but gravel footsteps, key noises, car sounds and more.) A number of the sound effects were simply live recordings — I put my mike stand out on the porch and recorded insect noises for the appropriate duration, and to do the coffee noises in the diner I poured water from one cup into another and slid it across my desk. Others, as mentioned were samples I created from other sources, but in all cases no “canned” sound effects were used.


The Completion:

Once I had the scenes recorded and mixed to my satisfaction I tried to make a master CD copy by mixing the scenes, in order, to my CD burner. This meant swapping Zip disks in and out, and because of these delays I couldn’t remember the proper volume from scene to scene. (Choosing a single volume level wouldn’t work, as some of the scenes differed wildly in volume level.) Thus, the volume levels were all over the place. So I recorded the scenes from one Zip disk, then moved to the next so I could keep volume constant. (As a result, the master CD has all the scenes out of order, but there are instructions on how to assemble the show written on the CD case.) I then made an “assembled” version to submit for “Anything But Music. “Since I never know how my work is going to be received, I always try to create an interesting CD sleeve to go with it. In this case, I built a scene using Caligari trueSpace, lowered the lights, and had a decent looking “noir” scene that (I thought) captured the quiet loneliness of the audio work. (The artwork received a bit of postproduction work with Micrografx Picture Publisher.)


The End: As with all these projects, as the work proceeds my thoughts go somewhat like this: This could be interesting; This is pretty good; [two-thirds mark] This is the best thing I’ve ever done; [day later] Hm, this is kind of lame; Wow, this is pretty bad; [final stretch] This is not only bad, it’s embarrassing; [at the end] Well, good or bad, at least it’s DONE.


Brian I. Simpson

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