Playing with podcasts: constructing The Uncommon Engineer

One of my favorite aspects of my job as the Web Manager for the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech is the exploration and experimentation I get to do on tangential and complementary areas. One area which I have been exploring heavily lately is podcasting, which allows me to explore the audio production aspects and facets. I serve as the de facto technical lead and point-of-contact for an educational podcast featuring the Dean of my college, which we named The Uncommon Engineer.

I have always been fascinated by plunderphonics – or the creation of new audio from existing audio recordings. The first band I ever became enamored with was The Avalanches, inspired by the eclectic and spastic single Frontier Psychiatrist off of their debut album Since I Left You.

Plundering into podcasting

The layering, warping, and reviving of obscure and off-the-wall samples and beats to produce overarching soundscapes such as Extra Kings and Etoh floored me. I discovered the album through 99X’s Sunday night eclectic sampling show, Sunday School, and have been hooked ever since.

Beyond current areas-of-expertise like the creation of The Uncommon Engineer website and researching workflow, delivery, and syndication efforts, I also was tasked with constructing the final audio episodes themselves – taking raw audio and slicing and dicing into a completed product.

And here is my process.

Reuse, recycle

Before we recorded a single interview, I first explored our local campus and university system for historical audio – what can the past give us for the present? I explored Georgia Tech Alumni’s Association, Georgia Tech’s Library and Communications, as well as what is stored in collections at neighboring institutions. While there wasn’t much to find from these sources, I procured historical audio of past Deans in interviews and speeches.

I am also fascinated by historical vinyl records. In many ways, this music was lost in the transition to digital and cloud services like Spotify, and so many of these artists and tunes are stuck on wax. I have spent a non-trivial amount of time digitizing my record collection, procured from many Goodwill of North Georgia hauls, which includes gems such as:

Aerobic Celebration: Aerobic Exercise to Contemporary Christian Music
A tribute to Mother. 

With all this archival and historical audio, what can I do with this to plunderphonic something new?

An ‘Uncommon’ introduction

The introduction to the podcast is a mixture of historical artifacts. I began with a clip of the Georgia Tech Whistle from a Institute video clip, coupled with atmospheric audience noise from the 1964 Authentic Sound Effects Vol 5 — Sound Effects (Bullfight Sequence clip) that opens into applause snatched from the beginning of Kraft’s 75 Anniversary Special, followed by a rendition of Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech (track A6) from WAGA’s This Land and Its Music, finally culminating in a snippet of an introduction of George G. Griffin to a Georgia Tech event. This combination steers from the obscure, the local, and the recent – to bring a uniquely Georgia Tech feel to our podcast.

The outro, keeping more simple and succinct, rehashes the rendition of Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech (track A6) from WAGA’s This Land and Its Music but focused on the closure audio.

Content bells and literal whistles

For the content of our episodes, each episode is sprinkled with local and obscure flair.

Take the end of our ‘Travel Behavior with Pat Mokhtarian’ episode – the conclusion snippet is a combination of the 1980s/1990s vocal synthesizer used at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and unused Track 0x0A from video game Super Bonk from the 1990s Super Nintendo video game console.

The episode Cyber Security with Brendan Saltaformaggio allowed for more opportunity for experimentation. The case study portion of the episode couples the Ramblin’ Wreck horn with an idle car noise audio sample, samples the Netflix application open sound effect, then plays a scene from 1950s film Plan 9 from Outer Space at 25 minutes that encapsulates the historical stereotypes of male superhero and damsel-in-distress, finally ending in a clip from American Dad’s Season 3 Episode 15: Stanny Slickers II: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold at a car crash early in the episode.

The Cyber Security episode even pays homage to the heroes of plunderphonics, repurposing a sample from 1986 movie Club Med that The Avalanches repurposed for their title track from their debut album.

Atmosphere in motion

Background music in each episode is supplied by 1950s era jazz and classical instrumental records, toned down both in volume and speed to provide a backing track and clear up any editing issues.

Looking Forward

As I continue to work with the podcast, I am always looking for new ways of exploring and extending the audio experience for our users into new areas and connect the discussion points and areas-of-research to topical, logical, and culturally-significant samples. As campus’ videography expands and extends across research, students, and events, more opportunities exist for giving the local feel without campus audio templates.

Want to discuss this more? Contact me!

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