Q&A: Erin Kahoa
First off, congratulations on a hell of a season!
Hey! You too!
So you pretty much design all of the audio for the show, with a little help from some wonderful people at WBEZ. Can you walk us through the process of creating an episode in terms of the sound?
It usually starts with River Rising. We give them the outline of the episodes, then they write the music. Then, after we’ve recorded and cut the actor’s audio, I slap the music down and see where best it fits. After that, it becomes a question of what is needed to best translate the scene. Sometimes it’s foley, sometimes it’s ambience, but we always let the scene lead us to the final design.
What about the audio style of PleasureTown? Between River Rising’s jaw-dropping contributions, the sound effects, and your scene scoring, you’ve created this eerie, contemplative, suspenseful sound that’s become synonymous with the dusty and forgotten roads of PleasureTown. How did this become the sound of the show? What was the process?
Well… at first it was jumping into the deep end and making myself swim. I really hadn’t done audio editing before PleasureTown, but with the guidance of Joe DeCeault and a lot of trial and error and error and error, the “feel of the show” started to emerge.
Our writers and actors do most of the heavy lifting in in terms of the scoring. The decisions they make on what to include in the story, or how the line is read, are signposts that I follow to the end product. Then, to be completely honest, I play with stuff till is sounds right. At the risk of sounding… however this is gonna make me sound, I believe that sculpting and audio design are one in the same. The statue is hiding somewhere in the marble, you just gotta chisel until you find it.
This season there was a lot of interesting experimentation with perspective, where the sound is heard from a fixed point – such as a single character or even an object, like the Cintimani Stone. How do you decide on perspective, and how do you think it contributes to the storytelling?
There are limitations in audio. You can’t just let the camera roll on a stoic face to convey resolve, nor can you pan left to show a killer waiting behind the door. But, us PT’ers have always believed there are strengths hidden in these limitations. There are switches you can flip to shift how the audience approaches the story. WIth 211, not only was Adrianne the connection between the two pieces, but her physical distance from first Bulger, then Alvin, were parallel to her emotional distance from them. Thus, we decided to metaphorically tape the microphone to her chest and distance all the other sounds in the scene accordingly. Which led to a (in my humble opinion) chilling end: Alvin storming out of the room, leaving his daughter, and in turn the listener, behind.
In 212, we took that approach a step further and metaphorically put the mic with the cintamani stone, which was in a coat pocket. We knew it was a gamble to start off the episode with muffled audio. At first, it just sounds as if we messed up and used the wrong effect. But once Bulger takes the stone out, we hoped the intent would become clear. The main reason behind this choice was to convey the feeling of “Waiting.” The listener has to wait to be drawn close to Bulger and Rudd, just as Warren has been waiting for Alvin, and Alvin has been waiting for the stone.
You also play the voice one of PleasureTown’s visionary leaders, Cyrus G. Hobbes, who is a kind of combination of Socrates and Droopy Dog. How did Cyrus come to be? Was there another version of Cyrus before the one that we know and love came to life?
Yes. Me. I am Cyrus with certain aspects of my personality turned up to 11. If you take away my ADHD, then have 18 year old me join a monastery, I’m not sure you could tell me and ol Cy apart.
There were so many incredible scenes this season: the train heist, the talent show, the death (and afterlife!) of Warren Featherbone III, and let’s not forget the climactic confrontation between Bulger and his father, Alvin Pilfer! Mudd’s gun to your head, what was your favorite scene from this season?
Honestly, it was Goldie by the river. Mainly because I had the honor of recording Kelsie for that scene, and as soon as she launched into it, the scene was clear in my head, equal parts tragic and beauty.
What about a favorite moment in producing the show?
“Degrassi is awesome” – Joe Courtney.
Those close to you know that you are both an avid fan and master of the Easter Egg. Any chance you can hint at any that may have been laid this past season?
Oh, there are a few. But my favorite is something that’s been in my mind since we first sketched out the season. If you go back and listen to season 2, the cold open of episode one might seem out of place. As you follow the season, however, there are breadcrumbs that fill in more of that story. Small breadcrumbs, mind you, but my hope is that someone will pick them up and drop some crumbs of their own.
And finally, our favorite question, what would your occupation of past-time be if you lived in PleasureTown?
I… sigh…I’d probably end up as a janitor. Whole lot of reasons behind that, but they’ll have to wait. Perhaps we can share a drink someday.