[Article written by Frank Bry about his new library Ultimate Destruction, a collection of+600 destruction sounds recorded over a five year period at 24-Bit 96kHz in a multitude of dirty, dusty, smelly, noisy, dangerous and physically grueling locations. Available at The Recordist]
Where do I begin? This sound effects library has been in the making for over five years so I need to access my memory banks and see if I can remember some of the crazy sessions I did. But first, I want to share some of my thoughts on why I made this collection and the theory behind the madness.
Ever since I started in sound design I’ve always needed all kinds of crashes and general destruction source material. This kind of material is not easy to find and sometimes recording your own can be a challenge. There are some great CD library collections of destruction sounds but most of it is designed. While these work great for a simple “drop and play” audio situation when your in a time crunch and they sound wonderful when played by themselves, they often leave you to a situation that is just not quite right. What if you have a complex destruction scene in a film or need to create that incredible crash sequence in a video game? You need clean, high quality sound elements separated out that you can manipulate and process so it sounds like something you created, your signature sound. That is the idea behind Ultimate Destruction.
From My Mind To The Microphone
Some of the sessions for this collection were planned multi-microphone fiascos and others were just from being observant or being in the right place at the right time. When I was recording the crashes and other crazy stuff on my ranch I ran images and sequences through my mind of my favorite crash scenes from my favorite movies. I tried to remember what certain scenes sounded like and how the arrived at the final audio destination. One of the things I noticed in theses scenes is there are a lot of elements used to create them. How can I mentally break them down to the individual parts was my obsession during the recording process.
My goal was to record them as big as I could and as long as I could and this presented many challenges. The first was having the various objects needed to make the vibrations and second, the tools need to make the action happen. I’m always on the look out for stuff to smash. My garage is full of things like old TV monitors, computers, boxes of bricks, metal objects and other stupid stuff any sane person would dispose of. When I purchased my ranch it had a lot of junk laying around and I have kept it all and even found some things I never knew were there until recently. I have my tractor, long chains and cables and many farming tools to hit stuff with. OK, a good start. Time to begin recording.
After recording Ultimate Concrete SFX I had tons of cement block and sidewalk debris left over. I wanted to record long dumps and pours with the tractor but the loader bucket always made a multi-pitched metal tome when things fall out. I needed to solve this problem as the concrete dumps sounded like they were coming out of a metal container. I experimented with many types of padding inside the bucket and finally found the right combination of a couple of old rugs clamped and taped inside the bucket. This was no easy task since the weight of the concrete would sometimes pull the rugs off and they would fall to the ground with the debris. This did not effect the sound that much but is was a pain in my backside to put the whole dampening system back in place after each dump. It was enough I had to hand load the bucket each time so this was an extra step I wanted to do without.
The concrete still made some noise as it was falling out of the bucket so I carefully positioned the microphones so that sound was off axis and I tried to dump from as high a location as possible. I have a dirt ramp I built to drive the tractor up on and was able to dump the debris onto a concrete floor I found buried in a hillside that was from an old barn the burned down many years ago.
Cool! I Found a BIG Rusty Old Tool Box!
Just recently I found a old construction tool box that fits into the back of a pick up truck on a remote corner of my ranch. I pulled it out and dragged it to my foley pit and planned my next sessions with this lucky find. My goal in recording this metal box was to create source material that could be used for a variety of crash situations. From a car rolling down a hill to a large bus hanging off the edge of a cliff and falling over.
This tool box was full of old nails, tools, chains and other disgusting things so when it was moved it made all kinds of noises not just a hollow metal sound. Stuff was rattling around inside the box and I knew it would eventually all fall out so I only had a few takes to get that sound. The first thing I recorded was the rolling and tumbling down a hill. This did not go as planned at first because the box would not roll! It would just fall to the ground and stop even on a steep embankment. This was actually a good thing because I was able to kick it down the hill one or two revolutions at a time. I was able to digitally edit the take together for a full roll and still have the separate parts that can be timed to a sequence.
The next thing I recorded was pulling the box with a cable attached to my tractor. I had 75 feet of cable so the tractor was far enough away from the microphones that the engine sound is not there. I proceeded to yank the box up and down a steep dirt embankment and got some great stuff. Slowly the box began to empty itself and was now becoming lighter in weight that I was able to easily pull the box with a short cable against the dirt. I later added some metal pieces and then some glass windows for added effect.
No, You’re Not Tearing That Building Down, Are You?
When one of the auto dealerships moved out of their downtown location, the new owners scheduled the buildings for demolition. I kept an eye on the location as I drove by it on my trips to town. I finally noticed the big excavators and cranes in the parking lot next to the buildings. Soon they would be ripping the buildings apart, and I wanted to be there. I missed the first part of the tear down, but I eventually showed up and recorded the machine operators pulling some of the walls apart and separating the metal into piles. Wanting to be mobile, I used my MKH-8040ST rig on a boom pole. I was there at the right time. They had already pulled the roof off and the machines were inside the building behind the walls they were about to rip down. I was able to get up close (maybe too close for comfort) to the wall as they tore it apart and it fell over. I struck gold! I was so nervous and excited that I barely shot any video. The video I got was with my iPhone while I was holding the boom and positioned to flee if debris headed in my direction. This was a little dangerous I guess, but in the end, it all came out great. Thankfully I did not breathe any toxic dust.
The excavator operator came over to chat with me during the metal separation. He was more than happy to “perform” some cool metal mangling for me. Metal can make such unexpected sounds and this metal certainly did. As he shoved it around and slammed the excavator bucket into the pile, I recorded all sorts of nice big wrenching and squeaking sounds. Gold!
On another occasion, a house right up the road from my ranch was being destroyed, and I was able to get the final stages of that tear down. I recorded some wood crunches and cracks along with some metal roofing being rolled up for recycling. This was the same house where I recorded glass windows being broken for Ultimate Glass SFX.
Wood and Glass Make A Great Couple
I recorded some hard breaks, cracks and dumps using some old, slightly rotted lumber that I had laying around. After whacking them with a sledgehammer and breaking them to bits, I loaded them into the tractor bucket using the same dampening technique used with the concrete. I dropped them onto the ground and also onto the concrete floor. I had some alternate microphone recordings from Ultimate Wood SFX of plywood rips in my archive that I included in this collection.
Glass is a very difficult thing to record. It’s dangerous, loud, and messy. My goal this time, using all the left over debris from recording Ultimate Glass SFX, was to get some long glass debris sprays and dumps. After hand loading the glass into the tractor bucket (I always wear hand, eye, and hearing protection when working with glass), I was able to slowly pour the glass out. I had previously separated the large mirrors and thinner glass so each pour had a distinct size to it. Mirror glass is thicker and heavier while window glass tends to be much thinner. I tried short and long pours, but at times it did whatever the hell it wanted to do and it all fell out.
I had saved some broken window frames and was able to crunch and crack them in a stack using a MKH-8040 to record them. I also had some computer and TV debris set aside that contained glass pieces along with the plastic and metal portions. These made for some great debris movements that can be used to sweeten a crash scene. Some of the sounds are subtle, but they are still destruction.
Metal Madness . . . The Recycler!
I took a quick trip to the local metal recycling facility to ask them if they would allow me to record. They were super nice and loaned me a hard hat and said, “stay out of trouble.” The only interesting activity they had going on was some scrap aluminum bundling. This giant machine is belt fed with scraps of metal. After tumbling down the chute into the compactor, the scraps come out bundled in a fairly large size rectangular hunk of metal.
I was able to position the MKH-8040ST microphone just inside the top of the chute and get the pieces falling in and being mangled. The machine is powered by a large electric motor and hydraulics which produce a very loud whine and hum. Since the mic was just inside the chute, the motor noise was minimal. This machine was extremely loud when the metal was falling in. Since I had to wear a hard hat I could not wear headphones, only earplugs. Good thing I did not monitor the recording with headphones as I’m sure hearing damage would have occurred.
The sounds this machine made were awesome! Most of the time the belt would continuously feed hundreds of pieces of metal into the compactor so it sounded like one long, drawn out metal crash, perfect for sound design. The metal pieces were not that heavy so the resulting sound does not have much low frequency information, but when a larger aluminum chunk hit the side of the chute, it was great.
I’ve always wanted to record explosions and while I was recording a few guns last year I had my chance to record some Tannerite. Explosions are not something you can record everyday. It takes some planning, a good location that allows this kind of very loud noise, and a very good rifle shot. Since I have the gear, all I needed was the above. It all came together after months of planning with the local gun shop. After recording multiple guns, it was time to set off the Tannerite. If you don’t know about Tannerite, it is two (legal) substances that when mixed together and hit with just the right projectile at just the right velocity, it goes BANG!
We brought along 25 half-pound canisters and planned how many we were going to tape together and set off. We started out with a few singles and doubles and then moved on to the big ones—up to five taped together. We set the canisters on tree stumps so they would not kick up too much dirt and debris. I recorded with all the microphones I had on the gun shoot placed at various locations in the gravel pit. I used a Sanken CSS-5, AT 835ST, MKH-416, PCM-D50 (96k), MKH-8040 and my MKH-8040ST microphone set at 24-bit 192kHz and 96kHz. I aimed the microphones in different directions and set them at different distances. I would guess the mics were anywhere from 30 meters to 50 meters away from the blasts.
I did not know what to expect. I knew they were going to be loud, but since we had just shot off some REALLY loud rifles, my perspective was totally messed up. Needless to say, they were LOUD. Your body feels the concussion but if you’re wearing hearing protection (like I was), they sound muffled. After we set off the first few smaller blasts it started to rain. I quickly grabbed all the gear scattered around the gravel pit and set it under the hatch of my car. It seemed like the rain was not going to stop so we called it a day, and I tore down the gear. Then as quick as it came in, the rain stopped. Since we were running out of time, I quickly got the MKH-8040ST and Sanken CSS-5 set up, and we recorded the remaining explosions.
I thought I was going to regret not setting up all the gear after the rain delay. After I returned to the studio and listened to all the takes, I found the best recordings were the MKH-8040ST. These microphones at 192k sound amazing. They record the full spectrum of the blast and when pitched down, live up to the hype.
It’s A Wrap
I recorded a many more sounds for this library and would love to detail it all out but this article would become a short novel. Head on over to my website and look at the photos from many of the sessions. Some of the sounds date back to a time when I was not documenting the sessions as I do now.
There are no heavily processed sound effects here (except the explosions), just the real life destruction action as it happened. Many of the tracks were recorded with multiple extended frequency response microphones at close, medium, and distant perspectives. Each category was recorded separately to give you, the sound designer, the freedom to layer and process each type of sound individually for the most creative options. I hope you get much use out of this collection and hope it works well and inspires you. If you use it, feel free to let me know where and how. I would love to hear your end results and am honored if you were able to use it in your sound designs.
One of the things I’ve learned over the many years recording sound effects is to be very observant. I’m almost too observant (it drives my wife crazy sometimes). I can get easily distracted driving around town or just hanging out in a public place. I’m always listening and looking for things to record. I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time and get some unique, and maybe once in a lifetime, material. I thank my lucky stars I was not in the right place at the wrong time. As always, be safe and enjoy! -Frank