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New SoundTank Podcast “Secrets of Star Wars Sound Design” Is Released

Have you ever wondered where the electrified hum of a lightsaber originated?

It’s one of many fascinating facts you’ll hear discussed by Academy Award-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom who worked on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and is interviewed in the new Northwestern SoundTank Podcast series.

Rydstrom, known for sound design for films such as Finding Nemo, Saving Private Ryan, and Jurassic Park,talks about the new Star Wars film in the latest episode of the new podcast series produced by the SoundTank, home to the new MA in Sound Arts and Industries.

The SoundTank Podcasts will periodically focus on sound professionals like Rydstrom, but will also highlight student work and faculty collaborations.

“A lot of programs have a newsletter that they put out, but since we work with and through sound, we thought, what better way to convey what we’re doing than in sonic form,” says Jacob Smith, associate professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film and director of the new MA program. “This is a way to bring together Northwestern faculty and students around all the great work they are doing in sound, but also to broadcast that work out to the world by using one of the most dynamic new platforms for audio, which is podcasting. We will also profile sound professionals whose projects and careers resonate with what we’re doing here and can inspire our students.”

The idea for SoundTank was born at the 2014 Lambert Family Sonic Boom Conference at the School of Communication, where Rydstrom was the keynote speaker. The incubator was launched last fall.

“The conference was great for me because usually anyplace I go or talk is cinema-focused, but what I found fascinating at the Northwestern sound conference was it included people outside my area, people studying the neurology of sound, the biology sound,” says Rydstrom in the podcast. “I’m fascinating by how sound works, how music works. How does it affect our brain? How does hearing affect our emotions?”

The new one-year MA in Sound Arts and Industries, which is now accepting applications for Fall 2016, seeks to continue the work done at that conference, bringing together sound artists, scholars, and scientists in collaborative ways.

“Any program that treats sound in a bigger way, in an interdisciplinary way, has potential to inspire people to do better work, to discover how it can be used in art or medicine,” Rydstrom says. “These are inspiring things to talk about. I don’t know of any other program that combines these things but to me it’s a natural.”

In the podcast, Rydstrom discusses several aspects of his career, including his first professional sound credit for the movie Cocoon, his experiences designing sound for CGI-animated features, and some of the challenges of updating the iconic sound effects of the original Star Wars trilogy such as the hum of lightsabers, the scream of TIE Fighters, the beeps of droids, and the voice of Chewbacca (listen to the podcast for details — no spoilers here).

“Gary Rydstrom: Secrets of Star Wars Sound Design” is available on iTunes and SoundCloud. You can hear it and learn more about the program at the webpage for the MA in Sound Arts and Industries: