The Decision Making of a Soundtrack & the Soundtrack to Decision Making

I had heard from many people about how This American Life was the best podcast ever made and Ira Glass was the next messiah, but I had never heard an episode until we listened to “Infidelity” during class. I immediately got it- that smooth voice, that wonderful editing, the smart music choices. So when we had to pick one of the audio documentaries to write about and one of the choices was an episode of This American Life, you can guess which one I chose.

After skimming the table of contents of the episode, I decided to write my analysis on the section where they discuss the decision between picking the power of invisibility and the power of flight. It sounded the most interesting, as I feel like that question is one posed to most every human on the planet at some point.

As I was listening, I focused on the music choices and segues during the act. As a radio DJ, I’ve learned a lot about how and when and why to play certain music at certain times, and so I decided to analyze that aspect of the act.

I liked how when the psychologist was discussing that he would originally ask people the question of flight or invisibility at dinner parties, the editors used jazzy music. It made it seem like we were at a fancy dinner party being asked this question ourselves and listening to other people answering the question. I feel like this was a wise move that help to include the viewer in the story.

Later, in a couple of very dramatic moments in the act, they use what I’m pretty sure was music from one of the Star Wars movies (or else another famous action-adventure film) to create a segue to more gentle narration by Ira Glass. This helped the viewer’s attention immediately return to the story, as the familiarity of the tune helped immediately set the time (awesome) and the mood (epic). It was a good segue in between what would turn out to be sections of rather depressing interviews as people admitted that they would choose invisibility because they’re flawed/wanted to steal sweaters/wanted to watch women showering.

Later, Ira Glass gets a woman to admit that choosing the power of invisibility over the power of flight means that that person wants to hide from the world. When he asks a follow-up question of “Well, would you hide?”, you can hear the hesitation in her voice as she stumbles over her words and says she refuses to answer, all while a sad instrumental tune plays. I think this accomplishes two goals: one, to make the viewer empathize with the woman being put on the spot, and two, to ask the viewer why they were empathizing the first place. The obvious answer, of course, is that they too wanted to hide (as this woman being interviewed clearly did), but either way the slick editing created a short yet wholly effective emotional moment.

What I have gotten out of listening to this episode is:
1. Music with words is not a wise choice.
2. Your choice of music is extremely important and can literally shift the mood of an interview.

Based on these two extremely simple facts I gathered, I am planning on working hard to find the perfect music to accompany and to create segues in my audio documentary. Pairing interviews and other recorded audio with music seems like a most interesting challenge that I am looking forward to facing head-on.



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