It’s January, that time of the year in which we are encouraged to stop and reflect on the year ahead of us. A time of the year in which things ‘to do’ pile up as everyone comes back energised from the holiday with new plans and ideas on how to change the world…
…Or maybe not…
As this is my first column, I thought I’d use it to reflect on my wishes for the year ahead and also take this opportunity to introduce myself and give you a taste for the sort of things I’ll be writing about. My name is Mariana Lopez, I’m a senior lecturer in Sound Production and Post Production at the University of York. My research and creative interests are mostly focused on the use of sound design to create accessible film and television productions for visually impaired audiences – a topic that allows me to combine my passion for sound design with my interest in equality of access. I’m often found exploring ways in which to use sound effects to clarify what’s in the visual-channel of a production, while also working with spatial audio to break mixing conventions that free up the format to provide accessible experiences. Some people say it’s niche…I think it isn’t…The number of people with sight loss is estimated to rise to 2.7 million in the UK by 2030 (RNIB). This is a significant audience for film and television, one we must consider when working on audio-visual projects.
It is ideas and actions (yes, actions are important, just talking about issues isn’t enough) on diversity, equality and accessibility that first come to mind when reflecting on my hopes for 2020. I hope that 2020 sees the audio industry embrace diversity more widely. In the last few years there’s been an increasing interest in the representation of women in audio, and it’s been great to see calls for action on this front. Please keep them coming! I hope 2020 makes these efforts wider and, what’s more, makes sure to include non-binary colleagues as well. When I write about gender minorities in audio I make a point of referring to ‘non-male’, rather than female, to make sure I’m including non-binary friends and colleagues. But equality and diversity in audio isn’t only about gender, and I’m hoping that 2020 brings a far greater acknowledgement of other minority groups working in the industry.
A commitment to diversity and equality has benefits for everyone’s wellbeing. A more inclusive industry that opens doors to people based on their skills—instead of other characteristics that are irrelevant to their craft—creates a more welcoming environment in which work-life balance is acknowledged, mental health is considered as important as physical health and collective effort (regardless of the people’s roles) is championed.
As an educator, I often find myself reflecting on the interconnections between the courses I teach, the lectures I deliver, the opportunities offered to students, and their value to the audio industries. Constant reflection on different approaches to teaching audio is crucial to preparing students to incorporate themselves (if they so wish) into the audio industries, training them to be knowledgeable in their subject area, but also inviting them to be humble and respond positively to feedback, while at the same time questioning current practices, hierarchies and terminology. Thus, an exploration of how audio education is more than just about gaining appropriate subject knowledge is something I’d welcome from 2020.
On a different note, I’m also looking forward to the emergence of bolder and more innovative sound design practices in television drama. I was immensely impressed by the wonderful work done by the sound department in Sally Wainwright’s recent drama Gentleman Jack (BBC One, HBO). The use of sound to break the fourth wall was exciting and brought us even closer to Anne Lister, who was played magnificently by Suranne Jones. Can’t wait for Season Two. I was also thrilled by the work of the sound team and music composer Hildur Guðnadóttir on the mini-series Chernobyl (HBO, Sky UK). The mesh between musical and sound effects plus the use of low frequencies and spatialisation to envelop audiences was breathtaking. I was incredibly tense throughout every episode.
These creative examples bring me to one final interest of mine for 2020: creativity over tech. Although I enjoy learning about new tools and equipment, I actually get more excited learning how these can be used to facilitate innovative creative work, as well as provide new experiences to listeners. I am particularly interested in the field of spatial audio, a field in which there is often a lot of excitement regarding new technologies and formats (more loudspeakers!) but there’s less of a discourse on reflecting on what listeners want. Let’s start 2020 with a deeper reflection on audiences.
Wishing you all a magnificent 2020!