Amy Altadonna teaches students to use sound for storytelling across media
By Anna-Maria Goossens | Tuesday, August 20, 2019
By Anna-Maria Goossens
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
When she came to UMass Amherst, Sound Design Lecturer Amy Altadonna planned to teach her students about her medium by tackling sound design for theater — she is a faculty member of the Department of Theater, after all.
Things didn’t quite turn out that way. Altadonna’s Sound Design II course attracts students from a diverse set of majors, not to mention a wide range of experience.
Some of Altadonna’s students come from a theater background, yes, but she gets business majors, BDIC students, and lots of folks from the sciences. Most come with a passion they want to pursue that’s decidedly NOT theater, be it their own music, podcasting, or film.
Teaching sound design, according to Altadonna, involves balancing the artistic and technical sides: “thinking about how sound and music emanate around an audience and interact with the performers in three dimensions” and using that to tell a story. When she started teaching the class, Altadonna prepared assignments based around theater to hone those skills. What she found was that theater wasn’t where her students’ passions lay, but that her theater background nonetheless equipped her well to help them improve the technical and artistic aspects of their work. Mixing artistic backgrounds and even experience levels is valuable, Altadonna said, for “pushing us all out of the processes and notions that we’ve developed over time honing our craft.”
“I have all these very accomplished people who are really digging into stuff that is interesting to me,” Altadonna said. “Why would I be doing a class that’s totally focused on theater when there’s film, when there’s film scoring, when there’s music production, when there’s podcasting — all of these things that I would argue require just the same amount of nuanced artistry. There’s a story in THAT if you’re doing it right.”
Instead of “learn to design sound for theater,” Sound Design II, now subtitled “Storytelling for Media,” has a different pitch: “You will get supplemental skills to fill out your toolbox, and we will curate the interests and pursuits that you’re bringing to the table,” Altadonna said.
Altadonna teaches fundamental skills such as recording live and in-studio sound and how to find one’s way around a sound editing platform to record, compose, and edit. She teaches Logic in the classroom, and has worked with students using Ableton and FL Studio, “because I support anybody who’s bringing in a DAW or sound editor … I support people working in the platform that they’re interested in working on.”
Although she has her preferences for platforms and equipment, Altadonna said that “once you learn good recording technique, you can do it wherever and however you want.”
In one class, a student with very little experience in sound used the skills she learned to create a personalized audio book of The Giving Tree for her young nephew.
Others have tweaked material they’ve already recorded or learned how to create professional-quality demos. “There’s freedom to explore and continue to develop your own music and projects, or I can give you new challenges and curate skills for folx trying this stuff for the first time,” said Altadonna.
Sound Design II (SPIRE number 33784) meets Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:15AM - 1:10PM, this fall. It is open to non-majors at any experience level and has no prerequisites.