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Creative Arts Emmy Contenders for Sound Contribute at Least Half the Meaning of Each Story

Audio artists vastly enhance the viewing experience in many subtle ways

Grease Live Creative Arts Emmys
Courtesy of Fox

To the uninitiated, sound editing and sound mixing may seem to take a back seat to the more obvious, in-your-face visual components of TV dramas and comedies.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. As any director, producer and post-production artist will tell you, sound elements constitute at least half the meaningful content of any show. Dialogue, music, background noises set the context in time and space, and convey a vast, subliminal range of emotions only the way a cleverly constructed aural landscape can do.

All of that skill is on display in a diverse list of Emmy hopefuls, helping take the audience on journeys that are as varied as the sunny song-and-dance of Fox’s “Grease Live” special, the time-traveling mystery of Syfy’s “12 Monkeys,” the noirish family dysfunction of Netflix’s “Bloodline” and the paranormal puzzles of Fox’s “The X-Files.”

For the sound team behind Discovery documentary “Racing Extinction,” the challenge was that “it was not a talking-heads type of piece,” says Christopher Barnett, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer at Skywalker Sound.

“Extinction” deals with a big, serious subject: the mass disappearance of the Earth’s species caused by human activity. “For [supervising sound editor] Tim Nielsen and myself, it was always a much larger film that we approached more like large tentpole features. The film tackles a large and detailed subject and deserved a large and detailed soundtrack.”

Barnett adds that the film was mixed in 7.1 Surround sound “on the largest scale possible, knowing the emotional impact of the message would be amplified.And then we added layers of both production tracks, and designed sounds to convey the scale of issues that threaten our planet.”

In total contrast to the serious environmental tone of “Extinction” stands Syfy’s magical fantasy series “The Magicians,” on which the sound design had to balance reality and magic. “Not only was this unique, it was also challenging as the storyline took place in the present-day world as well as the magical land of Fillory,” says supervising sound editor Gregory M. Gerlich. “We had to walk a thin line when creating magical sounds or textures so as to not overpower the story.”

Pictured above: “Grease Live”