Joseff Harris created the sound design as well as the mix, master, and final edit used in the audio fiction podcast End of the Cornfield. Check out our interview with Joseff, learn more about his creative process, and check out his future projects.
When did you first begin working in sound design?
It was a slightly unusual journey into sound design for me. I’d always played instruments and written songs, but I could never envisage a future where that was my job so I actually went away to study Ancient History at University. In 2015 I moved to Bristol in the UK, getting a front-of-house job at the Bristol Old Vic theatre. It was only then that I slowly started to realize what you could do and make with sound. I basically then just blagged it, (and sort of still feel like I do some days!), getting random jobs with theatre-makers where I could rip some simple sound effects off youtube and write some music. It was around that time that I really got into ambient music. I fell in love with the endless possibilities of the genre and how experimental you could get. I also picked up a cheap field recorder and started going out into the world and recording my own sounds, taking them home with me and blending them into the music I was writing. I also owe a lot to my mentors that have given me endless time and answered so many questions / showed me so much.
What is your sound design process like for an audiodrama? Does it differ from other composing and sound design projects?
I’d say I have a fairly similar approach to most work I create, especially if it involves both sound design and composition. I definitely feel at home when I can contribute to both as I like to create worlds where the sound design and music are aligned and blend together; I like work where it’s sometimes hard to distinguish what is the music and what is the sound design. No matter what project I’m on, I always like to start with finding a sound palette; I find this super-useful for both me and the rest of the creative team. I’ll just write random bits of music or underscore, exploring textures, instrumentation, and themes that I feel would suit the project. Once I have that, I’ll think of overarching themes of the piece and through-lines for where my music can sit as well as what the world feels like from a sound perspective. After I’ve brainstormed that, it’s taking each episode as it comes. I’ll put markers throughout the project with key elements that I need to hit, then it’s about layering. I’ll build the atmospheric bed of the scene, then think about where the characters sit within that scene, add in the spot sound effects, and finally the foley work that needs recording. It’s only after all this that I stick themes / more obvious musical motifs on top.
How did the story of each episode inform your work? How do you make that connection between sound and story?
As I mentioned I’ll always look for themes in projects as I think that helps to keep my work closely tied to the story. For example, something that came up in the story a lot was the absence of Britt’s mum. That was a clear hook for me so I wanted to explore what that theme would feel like and, in turn, how that affected Britt’s relationship with the other characters. From a more sound design perspective, it was very important to nail the naturalistic world of the play. Exploring what the cornfield sounded like was quite a lengthy process but essential to the storyline.
Do you have a favorite episode from a soundscape perspective? What has the experience been like working on End of the Cornfield?
I really enjoyed doing the final episode because it allowed me to incorporate every element of my skill set as well as tie up all the work I’d been doing throughout the series. In that final episode, there feels like there’s a good balance of musical explorations and experimental sound design, but you still really get to feel the location that this piece is set in. It was the first time that we got to get experimental with the vocals of the cast too. In terms of working on the project, it’s been a joy! I loved having the freedom to create such a vivid and rich sound world. The whole team was so complimentary and supportive of the work I make, and I think it comes down to what I mentioned earlier…making a solid sound palette meant that from day one we were all on the same page about the potential of sound in this project. Can’t wait for the next one!