Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Posts tagged “Sound

Dubious Claims To Fame 27: Alison Brie

This is probably my most dubious claim to fame yet, in this series of tenuous links to celebrity, owing to the fact that I have nearly no memory of it and am relying on documentary evidence to know that it happened.

I have recently been clearing out old paperwork, a task long overdue, as became obvious when I uncovered my first ever (and now twenty-year-old) P45. Most of my degree coursework has also headed into the recycling bin, but I have kept a few pieces relating to my current interests, and a handful of souvenirs. One of these is a small collection of theatrical programes listing me in the production credits – I started backstage in amateur dramatics at the age of thirteen, began paid work at seventeen, and studied the subject for three years in my early twenties.

Above: My annotated copy of the script shows preparation and cues for audiovisual playback.

I have looked through this paperwork several times in the past few years, never quite committing to ridding myself of it, partly out of nostalgia and partly because the coursework might yet prove useful for reference. One of the programmes is for a student performance of Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea, a small and low-budget version undertaken at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, my alma mater. While shows for the main stage and the studio theatre were allocated funds and staff to realise lavish set designs, shows in the AGOS (Alexander Gibson Opera Suite) were necessarily minimal in scope. Primarily a venue for recitals, the highly polished wooden floor and complete absence of space backstage meant that scenery could not be used, and it was relatively rare for drama to be staged there.

My role was sound designer and operator, although I also focused lights for the senior student who oversaw that element. We had meetings with the director – and I was sad to learn of his passing, when he died in 2014 – at whose behest, and to help achieve his vision, I recorded the lead actress unleashing primal screams for playback during the show. I might also have recorded the lead actor too, but that is gone from memory now. I still have the minidisc which once contained the finished result, but since replaced it with a different noise, the musical output of my one-time solo electronic project – aptly named AudioTwat.

Above: Still bearing the number of my college pigeonhole, this short-lived but useful media format now contains my electro compositions – which, if you feel particularly masochistic or curious, you can find on Soundcloud.

Reading the programme the other day, the list of names takes me back – although on two separate courses, the technicians and actors were constantly moving in the same circles, with a combined intake of only 50 or 60 people per year. We knew each other at least by sight, usually by name, spent a lot of time together or in the same vicinity, and – in at least one instance – two of my peers who met on the respective courses married and had a child.

I knew a few of the actors to chat to, was acquainted with others, but some were unknown to me – as has become obvious on my re-reading of this programme. One name stuck out this time, a lead played by Alison Brie, whose name I recognised from Twitter in its sharing of her response to the Me Too hashtag and allegations against her brother-in-law, James Franco. Was this the same person? A quick internet search revealed that, yes, it is.

I am largely unfamiliar with her body of work – of it all, I have seen just The Lego Movie, in which only her voice appeared, although Community is a favourite with friends and has long been on my list of things to watch (when the DVD boxset is available for less than £70. I buy DVDs, rarely download things, and never stream them.) Her face seems distantly familiar to me, clouded with time, and igniting a vague recollection of an American called Alison in the Medea cast. It was one of the few shows I did where there was a wider gap between cast and crew.

As sound designer and op, I had no requirement to attend rehearsals and only scheduled to meet with the actors I needed to record. Although I was present at both tech and dress rehearsals, and all public performances, I was located front-of-house – in a soundproof box, high above the seating bank and behind a thick window and a bank of equipment. I know I passed through the cast a few times, and would have said a courteous hello as I went, but – even if there had been wing-space to congregate in, I would have had no reason to be there mingling. In short, maybe I spoke to Alison Brie and maybe I did not, but we definitely shared the same air for a while.

Above: My name is on the same line as Alison Brie’s, by coincidence rather than by design, and that is as close as we have ever been. You can tell I didn’t write this, my middle initials have been omitted – a lifelong bone of contention.

Until this came to light, my chief recollection of that period is that it was the first time in my life that I ever worked alongside another Jordan – “Actor Jordan” as my technician friends knew him – and the new and resultant name confusion made me appreciate how lucky I had been to last so long without a duplicate in the room – unlike the Daves, Andys, Chris’s and Jims of this world.

As regards Ms. Brie, I remember having a few communal discussions over which acting peers we thought would break out and make it big – following alumni such as David Tennant, James McAvoy, Alan Cumming – and the talent of some of my contemporaries impressed me. It is either the unpredictability of these things, or a complete lack of good judgement, that led me to overlook one of the most successful to emerge from that era. I am going to rest my defence on our apparent collaboration occupying just five days of a three-year degree.

Finally, given all of the above, and as my professional worth is dependent on remaining inconspicuous and unnoticed (to which end, I suspect I am probably undermining myself by publishing these blogs, despite my efforts to separate public and private), I sincerely doubt that Ms. Brie has any memory of me. The article below indicates that she does, however, fondly remember the show.

Above: Medea namechecked in an interview published by The Scotsman newspaper last year.


The Hydro Is A Damp Squib.

On Monday evening, I paid my first visit to Glasgow’s newest music venue. When I say I paid, I mean it – tickets were about fifty quid with booking fees. With a capacity of 13,000, the bands playing there are able to variously charge between thirty and ninety pounds for entry. It is not a cheap night out.

I have seen Depeche Mode before, and this was my fourth time. They were best – and the atmosphere the most enjoyable – in Manchester, where I saw them in 2006. I also saw them at Wembley Arena that year, and in Glasgow’s SECC in 2009. The first Scottish show they had played in two decades, that gig was comparatively disappointing. With the promise of a new venue, and with people I know going to see them for the first time, I had high hopes for this year’s show. Well, up to a point.


Some of my family had already experienced the Hydro, subjected to sound quality so poor that they complained on the night and were contentedly relocated for the second half of whichever concert they attended. I studied sound design as part of my degree and, although it was a while ago and not my area of expertise, I know that live sound varies considerably. It is affected by the shape of the hall, the positioning of microphones and speakers, the number of people in attendance, and whatever other physical factors I have since forgotten. Perhaps by the time of my gig they would have addressed these possible teething issues, or have better acoustics due to the different audience dynamic.

I had no such luck. Whether it is the sound bouncing, or a mistimed delay, every drumbeat seemed to echo. The sound would have been brilliant, possibly the best and clearest I have heard at any concert, but for the immediate split-second repetition of each beat or note. While easy to ignore during certain raucous choruses, there were times – too many times – when the effect was painfully and irritatingly noticeable. The friend I was with, standing a foot and two inches shorter than me, did not perceive the same issue so perhaps it is a height thing. I am tall enough that I tend to hold my head above the crowd, and not within it. Whatever the reason for it, it detracted from what was otherwise the second best of the four DM gigs I have been to.

hydro tell us

Days later, the Hydro were kind enough to ask what I thought of my visit to their premises, and I was looking forward to telling them. Unfortunately, the “Visitor Experience Survey” was not interested in my perception of the gig. Instead it focuses on “the standard of facilities available” and “level of service received” – what can you really say, apart from: average?

Average, because every mainstream arena these days has identical facilities – an overpriced bar or two, someone to rip the ticket stub, a tour merchandise stall, and some toilets that look like they have been visited that evening by several hundred gig-goers in varying states of sobriety. It is nothing to write home about. Similarly, when asked about the purchase of my tickets, I had phoned up, ordered and paid for some tickets, and received them. It is a simple transaction and not prone to enthusing me any more than when I buy a pint of beer or give the conductor my fare. I am not sure what the Hydro expect me to tell them, or what they think they are doing so very differently in that regard.

associated brands

Asking about my view of the gig, but not about how it sounded, the survey then continues by asking if I was aware of the corporations sponsoring the venue. I was not. I had no idea that any of those organisations listed were involved. Then again, I absolutely do not care which international soft drink, beer, or fancy crisp maker ploughed money into this endeavour. When I go to a gig, I want to see the band. Sometimes I meet up with friends, sometimes I go alone. The reason I go alone to certain shows is to see a band I love, not because my local notoriously-bad travel company has invested in the infrastructure.

brand attitude

Did I check their website to see if food and drink would be available? No, as a neighbour to the SECC, it was more than obvious that it would have the same basic amenities, and similarly-priced consumables. The questionnaire then diverts into the completely irrelevant minutiae of whatever food or drink I might have ordered. It appears not to matter that the band sounded worse than they should have, as long as the dessert was lovely.


Equally, being told the names of ten corporations who have poured money into this building has no effect on me. I loathe advertising, and do my best to avoid seeing (far less succumbing to) those insidious, psychologically-geared messages. It has no bearing on the gig which of these companies I do or do not give my custom, and the survey purportedly about my Hydro experience had become more concerned with the effectiveness of their own marketing. That is not too surprising, of course, but they might have at least thought to ask if I enjoyed the show while enquiring how positively or negatively I feel about the two brands I admit to using. One is the biggest drinks manufacturer in the world, I suspect, and the other is a train company who would have trouble running a bath let alone a reliable means of public transport. I have no intention of recommending either to anybody “within the next twelve months.”

Other arenas are mentioned, as the Hydro would like to know which comparable sites I have been to. For some unknown reason, Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands is on the list, alongside the arenas in all of the UK’s major cities. I love the Barrowlands, and saw Iron Maiden there in 1998 when – at the age of seventeen – I went to my first ever music gig. In the early 2000s I also went there to see Slayer, System Of A Down, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Queens Of The Stone Age, HIM, Tool, and what became Pantera’s final Scottish gig. In 2010 the Underworld gig there was an absolute highlight in my (now) fifteen years of gig-going experience. However, at no point can the Barras be classed as an arena, with a capacity numbering about 1,900. So that is a bit of a misnomer.

As for how I left the venue after the show…:


I finished the survey and submitted it, and sent some tweets to their Twitter account. I do not expect to hear much back from them, but then everything I have heard in the Hydro so far has done nothing to convince me to ever return there. If they invest in some sound-deadening to kill the bounce then I might consider it. Until then, unbelievably, the nearby aircraft hangar of the SECC is a better venue, as it lacks this irksome detail.