The drumming of hoof beats to the fence. The subtle “whoa” of the rider off the ground. The clatter of falling rails. Dennis Baxter spends his life thinking about the sound of sport. And how to recreate it for television.
For nearly 20 years, he’s has defined the sound of the Olympic Games.
“It’s my belief that people have ingrained in them a memory of certain sounds. And if that sound is not fulfilled then the mind knows that something is wrong,” says Baxter.
To capture the microsounds of sport he uses strategically placed mics as close to the sound source as possible. (At the 2012 London Olympics, Baxter used close to 4,000 microphones.) Then adds the missing audio to the broadcast “to ratchet up the excitement and entertainment value.”
But what you hear isn’t necessarily what you see. When good sound isn’t available, it’s not uncommon for Baxter to use prerecorded sounds to re-create the live experience.
The thundering hooves of a horse race is actually a slowed down buffalo charge. The sound of steeple chasing is falling through a hedge. The thud of a horse landing from a jump, the stomp of a single elephant foot.
Just kidding on the last one. Jumping is just jumping.
“Horse jumping is a relatively easy sport for audio to cover, especially at the Olympic level. I do not have to recreate any sound because the arena and PA are not too loud or overused. The natural sound of the competition is easily captured with microphones placed near the jumps and outside the area of competition. We use wireless microphones at the jumps and microphone operators around the perimeter,” he says.
“I think the sound of Olympic Equestrian Events is some of the best sounding events that we produce.”
If Baxter has his way, we’ll hear the heavy breathing of the rider for the 2016 Olympics. He hopes the future of sound engineering is microphones on the athletes themselves.
Read more about the BBC documentary: “The Sound of Sport.”
Carley Sparks covers show jumping and related ridiculousness at getmyfix.org.
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