Audio Story: Kudzu and other Invasives in Thurmond, WV

One of the main reasons I chose Invasive Plants as my topic for WSU’s Introductory course: Multimedia Content Creation, is the Eco-Voluntourism trip we had scheduled in early June. Matthew and I agreed that would be an excellent venue for an audio story to explain why invasive plant removal was important, and the final story could be shared with the Smithsonian and National Park Service (NPS) for use with future grant applications and calls for volunteers.

The weekend event brought together 10 volunteers from the area around West Virginia, to work with NPS Biologists learning invasive plant identification and removal, and historic importance of our site: the small railroad town of Thurmond, WV. After two days of “arduous labor” (we had to sign a release), NPS took us on a rafting trip down the Upper New River on Monday. Sooooo worth it.

Due to some poor planning on my part, I used my Samsung Galaxy phone for all of the audio & photo work that week, eek! Recording with my phone put me way out of my comfort zone. I used the Voice Recorder app in Interview mode and used my phone exactly as I would a shotgun microphone, placing it as close to my sound source as possible.

I knew the event would be about a day and a half of manual plant removal, during which I would need to take my breaks for field recording. And breaks were exactly what I needed. I enjoyed walking around Thurmond recording plants crunching under my feet, as well as getting my phone dangerously close to Matthew using a machete and to my own self while spraying herbicides.

As there were no indoor structures for us to use, I recorded both interviews outside, as far away from everyone else as I could get. The other tricky thing in this old railroad town was to wait until just after a train had gone by for the best chance that another train would not ruin my audio mid-interview. (Got some cool train audio that I didn’t end up using though.)

My interviews were short, six minutes each, but that was about all the talking we could stand in the heat during our brief lunch break. Even so, I knew I’d probably trash 90% of each interview in the final project. I find that telling interviewees this up front makes them much less nervous about saying something incorrectly.

When editing, I decided to open with nat sound to allow the interviewer a sense of curiosity, before briefly explaining the event and the exact details of the sounds being heard (machete, herbicide). In Audition, I used two tracks for ambient sound because I wanted to employ long fades and have multiple natural sounds play at once. Ashley & Matthew’s interviews both sat on the top track so I could crossfade between them. Both of my interviewees were somewhat frustrating to edit, as they both pause in the middle of sentences but not between sentences, so I really had to zoom in with the razor tool and cut frame by frame to craft my story. After the meat of the interview concludes with what Ashley & Matthew each find rewarding, I ended with more nat sound to let the story come full circle and fade out into nature.

After finishing with my story arc in Audition, I sat down with the Audio Engineer at work and we took the track into Pro Tools (Audition is a no-no in our office) and his gorgeous speaker set-up. Together we cut out some of the subharmonic frequencies in the interview recordings, and clipped more of the lower frequencies in all of the audio to make the sound overall more bright.

I hope that my audience will learn a little bit about invasive plants, the power of volunteering, and get a sense that they were briefly transported into arduous labor in the bright June heat.