Play it by ear: Jen Ralston Interview

In a unit that’s specifically focused on audio work and storytelling, it’s a privilege to be able to hear and learn from a professional in the field. It’s even more of a gift when that person turns out to have worked on The Wire. The interview with Jen Ralston taught me lots of fascinating behind the scenes work of TV shows that I had never known about before.

One of the most fascinating things for me to learn about was how positioning of the camera can affect how the audio of the scenes played out. I never would’ve thought that one solution to fix a noisy scene would be to add more noise to balance everything out since the mic might not pick up everything. Any great work of performance art will have a sense of balance. Audio specifically seems to be a category where balance is especially crucial. It’s amazing how much of a difference simple sound mixing can make. A relevant criticism of mine would be of the latest episodes of Doctor Who. There are certain scenes in the latest episode where the sound mixers don’t seem to know whether they should put emphasis on the great score done by Murray Gold, the sound effects, or the dialogue. This often leads to scenes where while I can hear the amazing ambiance in the background, it completely drowns out the dialogue of the actors and I don’t know a single thing they said. Ralston seems to understand that balance and knows how to approach it to make it work for the scene specifically. There are very few times, if any, that I can recall not being able to understand dialogue from The Wire due to poor mixing. I liked her point of conveying a quieter scene; you don’t necessarily drop the audio and make everything quiet, you emphasize details that we the audience couldn’t really hear before. I would never have thought of that. That’s something I’ll keep in mind next time I work on a major audio project.


I’d like to extend my own thanks to Jen Ralston for this incredibly insightful look into how audio can tell it’s own story in the visual world that is television. It adds just another substantial layer onto and already well developed series.