Chris Postill is a kindred creative spirit and sound designer who recently stumbled across my blog. His Sounds Like An Earful podcast focuses on using sound to experience everyday life in new ways. I was intrigued by his artistic point of view and thought you might be, too.
MAL: How does a sound designer keep the equivalent of a writer’s journal or artist’s sketch pad when out-and-about during the day?
CP: It’s tough! I have a handheld unit (the Zoom H4N) that I love and have on me whenever I can. Sometimes I’ll be walking somewhere, something will catch my ear and I’ll stop dead in my tracks, capture it and bring it home. When I don’t have my unit on hand (or I really want the best fidelity) I’ll just write myself a note to come back to that spot later. Every once in a blue moon I’ll force myself out of bed at 4am (when there isn’t a lot of activity on the street to muddy up my recordings) and do a walk around to catch all the things I’ve noted. I have a hard drive full of folders of sounds, sorted by date. I need more hard drives…
MAL: Can you talk about the intersection between sounds (a knock on a wooden door, for example) and music, and how you work with this?
CP: In my ideal world, ‘sounds’ and ‘music’ would collide a lot more often. I love music that uses unconventional instruments and samples. If you listen to some of the music I make (The Conduits, The Flood of 1924 soundtrack) and the music I love (Tom Waits, Califone, Tune Yards, etc.) they all have a lot of clanging, banging, tapping, stretching, etc. sounds at the forefront. I’ve developed a taste for that.
MAL: Can you recall any favorite childhood activities that offered an early reveal to your current work with sound? What were they? Are they still a part of your life in any way?
CP: I used to love the sound of the furnace humming through the floor. I don’t know why. I don’t think that had any part in me finding interest in music a little later on in life, that was mostly due to my father… But now that sound is part of what I do everyday, I often think about how bizarre it is that, as a kid, I’d relentlessly lay down with my ear to the floor whenever the furnace would come on.
MAL: I was fascinated with the shift in emotional impact that occurred with the sound track you created for an old-time cartoon. Can you remember if you were hearing bits and pieces of this the first time you watched that cartoon?
CP: The scene I worked with was originally meant to be a joke about what women went through for beauty in those days, but when you took away the fun music, it entirely changed what you saw. That was the point, to demonstrate that your ears are incredibly good at informing your other senses without you really being conscious of it.
MAL: Do you ever crave true silence? Please talk about your personal relationship with sound and silence.
CP: Often. I am bad at multi-tasking. I lose my focus very easily. I’ve also consciously tried to train myself to listen for interesting things in the world, so there are a lot of distractions. Go through today trying to consciously listen to everything you hear. It is brilliant, but exhausting. I’m not sure ‘true silence’ is even possible, but in the infamous words of Rob from High Fidelity, “Barry, sometimes I just want something I can ignore!”.
MAL: Borrowing from the world of literature, what genre would best describe your sound design style?
CP: What I am doing now with Sounds Like An Earful would probably be best described as creative nonfiction with some satire and maybe even a little romanticism thrown in. I’ve never been one for taking anything too seriously, but I really do hope I can make podcasts that are entertaining, funny sometimes, touching others… tongue & cheek but honest.
MAL: How did your family of origin influence your interest in sound?
CP: My father has always been into music, he always inspired me to explore that a lot. My mum never played, but always encouraged me as well; enrolling me in piano lessons and putting up with all the noise I made growing up.
MAL: Talk about the creative exploration behind the project where you add a sound/music score to someone talking about themselves. (Your friend who has recently moved to India, for example.)
CP: My goal was simply to try and convey a little bit more of my friend Neha’s personality through music.
MAL: Last but not least, anything else you would like to tell us about yourself and your creative life? Like, do you hang out with a lot of other sound-oriented creatives?
CP: A lot
of my friends are musicians, others are visual artists, some are programmers, some love food, etc. I think everyone likes to be around people who have ideas. I get to call myself a mess because I get really excited about any good idea, whether it is sound or otherwise. So yes, my best friends are the people I collaborate with. I try to feature them on mywebsite and my twitter as best I can.