What strikes me most about the series is that it deals with visual space but that audio space is mostly absent. Throughout the series, the glee club has struggled to obtain auditorium rehearsal time. The members have struggled with the structural limitations of the choir room as a practice venue and Sue Sylvester’s efforts to remove any claim the club has on the use of school space. In one of the most interesting moments of “Home,” Mercedes does a rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” replacing Aguilera’s use of the second-person pronoun with I/we. The performance number mixes Cheerios and glee club members in the same space – the center of the gym – that has only been occupied up to this point by the Cheerios and school athletes.
Outside of basic sound design rules dealing with the intelligibility of dialogue, editing, and mixing, techniques for achieving and communicating reverberation, distance, and space have little importance in the series. Occasionally, as in the roller rink scene last night where Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” plays over the sound system, the actual recordings of songs are used for atmospheric effect. However, these diegetic songs are often supplanted by the diegetically motivated (but clearly lip-synched) songs that are the hallmark of the series. These numbers are clearly overproduced, largely erasing the “grain of the voice” from the picture. Regardless of the performance space (interior, exterior, living room, auditorium, choir room, school hallway, gymnasium), environmental acoustics never play an integral role. Of course, the desire to sell soundtrack CDs and the difficulties of actually doing real live vocal performance while shooting sequences militate against truly authentic performances. But these economic and industrial exigencies don’t preclude post-production negotiations that could lead to moments of audiovisual play similar to those in Murphy’s Nip/Tuck.
It has been interesting to hear voices with more vocal power (Chenoweth, Menzel, and Lynch) and not just the young adult voices of the glee club members. Personally, knowing that musical theater stars such as Chenoweth, Morrison, and Menzel can belt it out for real reduces the gap between the recording and the televisual performance. As reactions to the show illustrate, however, the creators need to wrestle with how to balance screen time and song time between the adult and teen characters.