Sound Masterclasses with Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett

By: Chloe Kanders, 
Wed, 11/13/2019

Through the use of technology, sound can be recorded to tell powerful narratives, as well as communicate important information. Producers Chris Hoff ‘02 and Sam Harnett have made a career out of recording and digitally editing naturally occurring sounds which evoke human emotions and transport listeners. Both are artists-in-residence this semester as a part of Cornell’s Media Studies Initiative. As part of their work on campus, Hoff and Harnett led a two-part “Sound Editing Masterclass” for Milstein students, to introduce them to sound technology and podcast recording techniques. These skills will be useful during the summers on the Cornell Tech campus when Milstein Program students may work on an aural history project. 

Chris Hoff is a Freelance Sound Engineer who graduated from Cornell in 2002 with a B.A. in Classics. In addition to working as an engineer for KALW New Crosscurrent, he has also been a researcher, writer, sound recorder, and translator. He is currently pursuing new opportunities in the world of audio production through his podcast with Harnett. Harnett graduated from Middlebury College in 2006 with a B.A. in English; he also worked as a reporter at KALW along with Hoff. Their podcast, “The World According to Sound,” explores the effects of isolating everyday sounds. After playing the sound by itself for about 10-30 seconds, the two then provide a brief history of the sound and an analysis of its effect on listeners.

In the workshops on October 23rd and November 7th, students created a short podcast centered around the theme “5 things that scare me” and learned to properly use audio recorders and audio-editing software Audacity over the course of the two workshops. In preparation for the first workshop, students brainstormed ideas to talk about in their podcasts and listened to several 90-second “The World According to Sound” podcasts. 

Hoff and Harnett also shared a little about the creative process behind their work. How do they draw inspiration from naturally occurring, everyday sounds to enhance a story or report? For example, Hoff recorded himself walking through a vineyard, stepping on grapes and squishing them. He explained that this was one of his favorite recordings because it was so unexpected yet resulted in an intriguing and "cathartic" sound. With this inspiration in mind, the students then broke out into two-person teams to record their conversations about their biggest fears.

In preparation for the second workshop, students recorded or found different sounds to integrate into their final short podcast in a similar style used by Hoff and Harnett for their podcast “The World According to Sound.” After gathering all of the resources needed for their podcasts, including their recorded interviews and other recordings used as background noise, the students digitally manipulated these sounds into a short podcast. At the end of the second workshop, some groups volunteered to share their recordings with the entire group. Topics ranged from one’s fear of riding a rollercoaster to the effects of anxiety.

The Milstein students enjoyed learning how to use the audio-recorders and software to create short podcasts. Through the workshops, they were able to gain important  sound editing skills as well as learn about the world of audio production from Hoff and Harnett. Andrew Gao ‘22 said that his favorite part of the workshop was seeing a demo and explanation of a real podcast that aired on KQED about a blind beekeeper. He said, “it was cool to see behind-the-scenes of how podcasts are produced. Working with our own podcasts gave me an appreciation for how much work goes into this.” These skills will be particularly useful to the Milstein students as they spend their summers at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island where they may use sound recording and editing when working on projects with community-partners on the island. Jasper Weed ‘22 said that the workshop was “simply marvelous!” and that he is excited to continue building upon these skills and work more with audio production in the future.

Listen to a couple of the short podcasts students made using the "5 things that scare me" prompt.

Tavo's 5 Things
Hoff and Hartnett demonstrating good interviewing technique