See with your ears;Cross Phase;Video and Media

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Backtracks. CD-Rom for multimedia PCand Apple Mac. pound;29.99. Channel 4 Schools. Age range: 9-14.

A beautiful woman pulls on a magic glove and is transported to another world where her lover lies sleeping. Her face filled with tenderness, she approaches the bed and kneels by his side. As she bends down, the music swells, a bedspring twangs and, in the distance, a lavatory flushes.

The scene is from Jean Cocteau's 1946 version of La Belle et la Bete, the sound effects courtesy of Backtracks, a CD-Rom designed to encourage children and young media studies students to alter the meaning of images through the manipulation of sound.

There is plenty of fun on offer here, but much instruction also. As ingenious as it is easy to use, Backtracks holds 30 video clips (including feature film extracts, cartoons and advertisements) to which users add, either separately or in combination, sound effects both lengthy (footsteps, heartbeat) and brief (a distant scream, a creaking door, someone breaking wind even), plus music of various moods and colours.

Sound and picture are joined by means of a digital edit desk. A jog wheel, counter and timeline help accurate matching, while three continuous sound tracks, the same number of volume controls and twin faders make possible some pretty sophisticated effects. Notes on technique and results can be made on-screen and work can be saved for later modification.

As the excellent teacher's notes point out, the main purpose of this CD-Rom is to show that "music and soundtracks make a difference", and there are plenty of opportunities to do this. Subversion, as with La Belle et la Bete, for example, is easy - just add funny noises to a serious situation.

Pictures of crowded streets can take on an air of foreboding when set against sombre music, while a perkier passage gives a more positive slant to the same scene.

And what better way to suggest conclusive impact than to add a thump, a thwack or a thud to the kick that makes the goalie's net bulge in the Reebok advertisement.

There can be few more exciting means of showing young students that we see with our ears as well as our eyes. Aspiring film editors and Foley artists will love Backtracks, as will their teachers - once they've persuaded classes to go easy on the breaking wind effect.

Laurence Alster

Backtracks is available from Channel4 Schools, tel: 01926 436444, or Plymbridge Distributors, tel:01752 202301

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