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Ann Kroeber’s sound effects library

Ann Kroeber, sound effects wizard and pioneering woman in audio, made a big impression at last year's The Sound of Story symposium

The Sound of Story, billed as an exploration of sound and music in film and programme making, was staged in Brighton last year for the third year running. The now three-day event included workshops on Foley and sound design and talks by sound designer Paul Davies and composer Matthew Herbert. Both the main symposium and the new Women in Sound forum featured sound effects doyenne Ann Kroeber, who spoke about her work and experiences as a woman in a still male dominated business.

Introducing this year’s symposium, Emily Kyriakides, senior producer with the organiser, culture agency Lighthouse, said in three years The Sound of Story had grown not only within the UK but also internationally through an event in The Hague. She described the Women in Sound programme as “a great addition”, with support from Creative Skillset and AMPS. “During the selection process we were both impressed and encouraged by the excellent work being done by women across the country,” Kyriakides commented. “It’s clear there is plenty of talent, drive and passion out there.”

In addition to Ann Kroeber the line-up featured supervising sound editor Catherine Hodgson, whose credits include The King’s Speech and Atonement; sound editor/ADR mixer Jo Jackson (Long Walk to Freedom, Suffragette); and sound recordist Judi Lee-Headman, whose varied 20-year career includes TV productions such as Holby City and The Bible.

Speaking to PSNEurope after her symposium presentation, Ann Kroeber said she enjoyed being part of the Women in Sound forum: “It was really great to be with all those technical women. I was amazed at Judi Lee-Headman, from what I hear she’s one of the great production recordists and she’s such a strong person. I have incredible respect for that.” Kroeber admits she has had some “painful” episodes in the US as a woman in the sound industry but says her experiences have been much more positive in Europe.

Kroeber started out in film at the United Nations in New York. After her boss suggested she tried being a sound recordist, she discovered an intuitive aptitude with audio. “I was given this Nagra and as soon as I put on the headphones this world just opened up,” she said during her presentation.

The move into feature films came when Alan Splet offered her a job on The Black Stallion (1979). Splet had established his reputation as a sound editor working with David Lynch on Eraserhead; he and Kroeber quickly formed a working relationship that, six months after meeting, led to marriage. “We worked together like two kids in a sand box,” she said. “It was exciting – we had a kind of chemistry in our sound sensitivity that was exciting and funny.”

Both Kroeber and Splet recognised the importance of sound effects and the need to record and mix sounds in ways different to what was offered by the stock libraries. Over the years the couple built up a collection of effects, from Splet’s work with Lynch on Eraserhead to joint projects such as Dead Poets Society, The Elephant Man, The Mosquito Coast and Blue Velvet to Kroeber’s own contributions to many other films, including The Horse Whisperer. These form the basis of the Splet-Kroeber Library, much of which has been digitised, with nearly 2TB of sounds.

A feature of Kroeber’s effects work is her use of contact mics, particularly the FRAP (Flat Response Acoustic Pickup), which she saw demonstrated on a BBC programme she saw while filming The Elephant Man. “I thought I could use it to record sound effects,” she said. Her presentation included examples of such work, including a recording of a Slinky that sounded like a laser gun and an iron recorded with both a FRAP and a Schoeps stereo mic.

“There’s so much you can do with sound effects,” Kroeber observed, illustrating this with clips from Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The English Patient. “You can hear the same sound and it can be so useful for something so different, depending on what you’re going to use it for.”

Kroeber is recognised for her skill in recording animals, while Splet’s speciality was winds. “That was Alan’s fascination,” she said. “I think winds are lovely too and I love using them in movies. They can be so evocative, the depth of the wind, the way it’s blowing. It can really affect the mood of a scene. Alan was fascinated by winds and he was a master at recording them. They’re hard to record but he perfected it.” One hundred of these recordings will feature on a forthcoming CD release by Pro Sound Effects. “I’m really happy to make it available to people so they can try to use them,” Kroeber commented.

As well as her own scheduled contributions to the programme, Kroeber attended the other presentations and asked questions or made observations during most of them. A report on these sessions will feature in next month’s PSNEurope.