Sea Of Stars

photo of deep sea creature
Listen to “Sea of Stars”

Science stories are fun. A lot of fun. Ideally, they provide ample active tape. Audio of the science being done at its most sonically satisfying. For Sea of Stars, the science was already done, so . . . no active tape to record. Plankton biology labs are notably quiet. Engineering challenges already solved make the sound of cold steel. Theoretical physicists make a lot of sounds. Few are active. But that’s where the challenge and the fun comes in. Sound design and metaphor can make for great story devices. I wanted to utilize both in my story about the deep sea. It’s an otherworldly place. So, it needs otherworldly sounds. I wanted to take the audience there. I wanted them to dive into an unknown world. Learn a thing or two. Then resurface with their new knowledge.

Recording Sounds

I had a list of sounds I wanted to make for the descent. For the creatures. And for metaphors that would bolster the science. I recorded all the sound effects myself. Jeff Towne encouraged me to be creative. It’s not about getting an accurate sound, it’s about making sounds that feel right. So, to get the sound of being underwater, I put a microphone in a double ziplock bag and submerged it in Eel pond. I splashed around in the sink with a soapy sponge. That worked as a squid. I wiggled a small booklet to make that wib-wob sound. The sound of a fish waving its tail back and forth. On a windy day, when the pond was rough, I recorded a dingy bobbing up and down in the water. I played around with an oar. Slamming it into the water. Gently submerging it. Thrusting it out of the water. Making bubbles that popped to my satisfaction. Combining a few of these, I made the sounds of submerging and resurfacing in the ocean.

Manipulating Sounds

I couldn’t just slap these sounds into my timeline and call it a day. All the sounds I recorded were manipulated in Adobe Audition. That’s why I recorded them in 96kHz. The higher the sample rate, the easier to manipulate in post. Almost all the sounds were slowed down to some degree. It gave them more length and lowered the pitch. Pitch manipulation helped balance out the slowed down effect when needed. I used a lot of reverb. Echoes create a sense of spaciousness. And I used the Equalizer. Raising the low frequencies and lowering the mid frequencies muffles the sound. Like being underwater. I think sound design is best done as experimentation. There are so many tools for manipulating audio. And I know very little about most of them. The fun part is playing with the tools until the sound effect feels right.


Metaphor is like a roasted duck curry. Sweet, rich, and tantalizing. If done right, it can change your perspective on life. You won’t be able to stop eating Thai food. Or using metaphors. Ever again. But much like a roasted duck curry, metaphor works best where it belongs. It’s not a Thanksgiving side dish. Or Christmas dinner fare. Roasted duck curry happens when someone drops a duck into your lap. But how often does that happen? And when was the last time you had duck at all? What I’m trying to say is, metaphor is hard to find at times. Forcing it can muddle your point. But sometimes your subject will say something beautifully metaphoric. And you’re left with no choice but to make roasted duck curry.

About Tanner’s Sonic ID

Listen to “Tanner’s Sonic ID”

I reluctantly agreed to go with Martine Chaussard to “salsa night” at a senior center not far from Woods Hole. We were dancing with microphones in hand when I noticed an older man with slick dance moves peering at me from across the dance line. I knew he was either trying to avoid me or hoping I would talk to him. I caught him in the lobby during a break, then he poured his heart out unprompted. Sometimes you just meet a talker!

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

Tanner Robbins

Tanner Robbins

Tanner is an Alabamian turned Californian. Curious about the complexities of social behavior and obsessed by the mundane. A videographer and editor for a non-profit charter school. And a freelance audio producer. You can hear more of Tanner’s work on PRX. He is also a member of AIR.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *