The Smithsonian at 8 Gets Remixed with New Spins on Archival Sounds

By Punch Correspondent Melinda Contreras 

The last instrument I played was the flutophone. (Yes, my elementary school had flutophones, not recorders). The first time I edited sound was two weeks ago, when I told my boss I would edit our 2 hour video down to a few video clips, even though I have never edited video before. My music and sound editing skills (or lack thereof) meant I was super excited for the latest edition of the Smithsonian at 8 series and was eager to learn as much about sound editing as I could over the course of the 3 hour event.

My guest and I arrived around 8:30 pm, so we did a quick survey of the event before settling in to the “Behind the Sound Effects” lecture that was scheduled to begin at 9.


In one room, DJ Trayze of Beat Refinery led a hands on lesson in mixing and scratching.

Mixing Sounds

In the main hall, multiple computers were set up for guests to mix audio files using the Smithsonian’s library of sounds.

Dancing to the music
Dancing to the music

You can’t throw an after hours event without dancing and drinks. In between mixing their own tunes on SoundCloud, guests danced to the tracks of DJ John Bowen.

After enjoying a few drinks and desserts in the VIP Lounge, my guest and I took our seats in the second row of the lecture room. I had some initial hesitations about spending an hour of my night in a lecture room. There’s a reason I haven’t applied to grad school…However, my hesitation was erased within minutes. As Shaun began his presentation, all I could think was “Damn. I could have taken more classes like this if I had just went to USC like my parents wanted me to. Electives in the USC School of Cinematic Arts sure would have been fun.” Since I can’t redo my undergrad years (and still have no plans to go to grad school) I was ready to soak in the lecture I wish I had during my undergrad years. After a brief explanation of sound molecules and sound waves, sound editor Shaun Farley caught everyone’s attention when he introduced the concept of psychoacoustics by revealing that a sound that was similar to the hum of an air conditioner, a sound everyone though was part of the “natural” environment, was actually a sound recording coming from his laptop. He further wowed the audience with an example of the McGurck effect, where the same recording sounded different depending on what image was attached to the sound (in our case, whether or not an image was attached to the sound at all) .

After learning about these illusions in sounds, our lesson with sound effects began with a fun video montage from that showcased how the same Wilhelm scream has been used in all types of movie genres for over 50 years. After explaining that the key to creating good sound is not to replicate reality, but to create a new reality, Shaun Farley helped us create our own reality that included a dinosaur coming to life at the Natural History Museum.

Breaking Cinderblock
Breaking Cinderblock

The sound of the dinosaur breaking free came from audience members breaking, dropping, and dragging cinderblocks. Another audience member volunteered to provide a blood curdling scream to add to the audio file. Last, and definitely not least, the dinosaur roar came from layering sounds of a walrus, leopard, lion, elephant, and pig . The final product was quite good for the brief time Shaun spent recording and editing the sounds, though he explained in professional production, it may take a full week’s work to perfect sound in 15 minutes of video. I think I’ll stick to the two click approach on iMovie for my own videos. My job has other responsibilities too…

The Smithsonian at 8 series will return on February 13th at the National Postal Museum. Save the Date!

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