07 October 2012

On informal learning and being nerdy

I've just been watching Evan Davis' Built in Britain on BBC2, and getting increasingly irritated about things probably no-one else has noticed. But I've just realised that I've acquired my sensitivity to them without ever having been taught them--purely from problem-solving experience.

Sync.I linked to the actual programme on iPlayer, because you need to see some of the speech-to-camera shots to get this. The sound/vision synchronisation is out, probably by only one frame (in old money), and in real-time I can't tell in which direction--but it bugs me!

My first efforts at movie-making were around 1960, and for amateurs the addition of sound (even as a mood musical accompaniment) was a considerable technical challenge, involving ingenious devices such as the Synchrodek.) I had --indeed still have--a Eumig P8 phonomatic projector which used a rheostat system to allow a reel-to-reel tape recorder to control the projection speed and achieve (after a fiddly cueing set-up) synchronisation to within half a second over a 200ft. reel  (about 15 minutes). "Lip-sync"--matching speech-sound to lip movement (effectively better than 0.06s)--was merely an aspiration...

I became hyper-sensitive to sync. Nowadays it should not be an issue. Video records video and sound together, and editing packages treat them as locked together by default. I can synchronise and mix a multi-camera setup using domestic/recreational standard kit on the basis of a simple loud clap, or a flash. (OK, there are more complicated scenarios, I admit.)

But it really gets my goat when I watch a TV documentary (such as an expose of funeral directors which I also watched in the past couple of weeks) where there are simple, straightforward interviews, and somehow they have managed to get the sync. a frame or two out. A few years ago, there was an ad campaign for a men's hair dye called "Grecian 2000" which was probably dubbed, but I felt the lack of attention to synchronisation said something about the advertiser's lack of respect for its audience. (Good grief--it's still being sold--Google turned up 1,830,000 hits for it.)

I sometimes think I am the only person who notices. I put that down to my heightened sensitivity from dealing with the challenge for 45 years (off and on)--but apart from occasional conversations at Altrincham Cine Club  (now apparently Altrincham Video Society) in the early '70s, I've never been "taught" that perspective.

I've gone on longer than I planned. But---the programme this evening also suffered from a problem (to my ears) with sound perspective. The interviews and the to-camera pieces were, to my ears, too uniformly "dead". Beautifully clear--but no ambience. And don't get me started on aspect ratios (particularly with still inserts--there were no problems before Ken Morse retired)...

OK--rant over! It's not the content which matters, so much as the way I (and I am in no way special) learned it. Alan Tough's thinking about adults' learning projects (1971) is rarely referred to nowadays, but fits exactly my acquisition of my (admittedly half-baked) knowledge and skills about movie- and video-making. And although I had previously thought of this as a matter of hints and tips, and the product of practice--important though that is--I'm coming to realise that without ever setting out to do so, that learning has changed my perception and what I pay attention to. It is not a matter of choice--I am unable to ignore these trivial but--to me--profoundly irritating faults. And of course it is a distraction from the content.

But--would I rather be able to ignore this stuff? Hmmm...

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