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An Artist-Scientist Finds Her Voice in Sound

Malika Gumpangkum is a Tampa, Florida native with a BA in English Literature from Emory University. She is also a student in Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program. Gumpangkum recently shared her interest in sound, her dream job as a film critic and what she hopes for in her future career.

Q: How did you end up choosing to pursue a BA in English literature? Was that an interest of yours from a young age?

A: At first, I was majoring pre-med and English, but had a change of heart and focused solely on English literature. My mother, a registered nurse, gave me her full blessing and encouragement. From my early teens, I was fascinated and enthralled by the effects and sentiments that writers like Nabokov and Angela Carter could produce with a godly command of words. I was young and arrogant enough, I suppose, to see if by studying literature in college I could find my voice.

Q: You were once interested in becoming a film critic. What was it about that career path that appealed to you?

A: I think I wanted an excuse to study and analyze film broadly – as a way to eventually push myself into the production aspect. I wanted to have an excuse to analyze the decisions that I perceive on screen and learn a little bit more of the vocabulary and the brush strokes. But honestly, I just wanted to be as cool as NPR’s Bob Mondello or Manohla Dargis, critic at the New York Times.

Q: Speaking of NPR, how did your internship come about?

A: I applied, threw all of myself into the cover letter and was lucky enough to get the internship with NPR’s Arts and Culture Desk. It’s a great internship; if you take the initiative, you will find unbelievably generous and brilliant mentors there.

Q: And then you stayed on for a couple of years after the internship, right?

A: Yes. I stayed on as a contract production assistant with the Arts and Culture Desk and NPR’s Weekend Edition. I got to chase and help produce some pretty cool interviews with awesome people.

Q: Was your internship at NPR the first time you discovered your interest in sound, or was there something else that sparked your interest?

A: I can honestly say that NPR sparked my interest in sound. There were so many people around me who were passionate, intelligent perfectionists about what they were producing for the air, and despite having absolutely zero training in broadcast tech or audio, I wanted to see if I could be a part of that atmosphere.

Q: What were some of the highlights from your time at NPR?

A: Collecting and suggesting soundbites from movies for NPR’s arts and entertainment radio pieces, learning how to edit on my very first DAW (Digital Audio Work Station), attending Tiny Desk Concerts on the fourth floor and overcoming my ludicrous fear of making cold phone calls for booking interviews and obituary fact-checking.

Q: At what point did you decide you wanted to go back to school to pursue a master’s?

A: Sometime in the winter of 2016. My friend was applying to master’s programs in film, and I also decided that it was time for me get out there and learn more of the production and design skills involved in developing film and video games. I wanted to have the resources and backing of an educational institution.

Q: How did you land on Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program?

A: I was Googling sound design and engineering master’s programs around the country, and Northwestern, to my complete surprise, offered one. I knew I needed to apply.

Q: What was it about Northwestern’s program that appealed to you?

A: It’s a new program with a start-up kind of energy, and it seemed open to letting the student carve out specialization of courses. With its speaker series, courses and faculty, Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program seemed to have a more enlightened and updated perspective of the industry landscape. Plus, there is an unbelievable menagerie of audio gear available to students to use. Northwestern is notorious for its strengths in entertainment media, so I envisioned collaborating with students on film or documentaries.

Q: Did you apply to the program with a specific focus in mind? What do you hope to gain from the program?

A: I applied to focus on film sound design, and really to learn and experiment with new audio production techniques and design. I wanted to get back into the “artist-scientist” mindset at school, while also building a creative portfolio for a new career path.

Q: Where do you see your career heading after your time at Northwestern?

A: I’m open to any type of production work. I’d love to eventually be the supervising sound mixer or editor at a post-production house for film or video games.