[SFX Lab, the laboratory of sound effects, a place dedicated to experiment and explore sound libraries. The main goal is to hear what happens when sounds of a specific kind are combined, processed, and transformed in several ways.]
New chapter of the sfx lab, this time dedicated to explore high doses of resonance, with a quite special kind of sounds: bells and chimes.
These sounds are characterized because of their qualities regarding harmonics and detailed/subtle elements, so combining and processing them is always something interesting and very “musical”. I’m going to play with three different libraries, all of them full of elements that vary from the shortest and exotic, to pretty long recordings with beautiful/long resonant tails. The libraries used are the Bells and Animal Bells packages of Rabbit Ears Audio, plus the Chimes library Tim Prebble released at HISSandaROAR in the last year.
I’m going to do several quick experiments, trying to find different ways to process the recordings, and aiming to achieve different materials from the elements. There are so many things we can obtain from them, so as always we’re going to just experiment and listen. Remember this is not a tutorial or something to go into details regarding the tools. This series of articles are focused on listening to libraries and just playing with them.
We could use these elements to create a wide variety of sounds and layers which, alone or combined with other materials can generate sounds with a particular mood or emotional impact. Eerie atmospheres, nostalgic addons to the ambience, tension, mistery, wonderful drones! Resonant whooshes, magical powers and spells, extension elements for impacts, and lots of things more. They are also rich on tonalities, so the variations in resonance and dynamics can be very useful to give very musical touches to sounds and alter the timbre of designed sounds, in order to add more harmonics and details.
Let’s start with the big bells, from Rabbit Ears Audio’s sixth release, which includes bells fabricated in all kinds of material and recorded with several positions and performances. That approach creates a fascinating gallery of sounds, including recordings with heavy attack, along others which feature takes with long tails, perfect for stretching, freezing, shimmering, cloud making, and all kind of drone-atmosphere making techniques. Let’s explore that.
In the early days of the musique concrete and experimental/electroacoustic movements, there were two experiments that led pioneers to develop a new world of sounds, and more important, new ways to listen and transform sound materials. The first experiment, coined by Pierre Shaeffer and his research team at GRM was called “closed groove”, which was basically a way to loop sounds as much as you want, so it could be heard repeatedly over and over again. That repetition was connected to the reduced listening experience, where sound is valued as material, trying to avoid the real casualties of the recording and its meaning/context in the visual/contextual world.
As Michel Chion tells in the guide to sound objects, the second experiment was important to further developments regarding the form of the sound, specially the attack and its relation to the timbre of the sound materials. That one consisted on doing the closed groove technique with a fragment of a bell sound’s tail.”A sound like a flute” was the result.
Below is a video with some experiments inspired on that, using GRM Freeze to select specific fragments of a bell’s waveform, and then changing the pitch/repetitions to create variations of the drones and tones generated. Although it’s something you can do manually on an editor, the plugin offers more controls and does the looping/multiplication instantly. I also added a couple of plugins more (eq and doppler) to explore different variations. Let’s listen:
Although GRM Freeze is my favorite, there are also other alternatives and similar tools you may like to explore: Marc Lingk’s TimeFreezer, Michael Norris’ Spectral Freeze/Spectral Gate & Hold, ioplong’s flitchSplifter, and ndc’s Buffer Synth. Ableton Live users can find a freeze button on the default reverb, and also try M4L devices such as monolake’sGrain Freeze, beatwife’s creations, and ck’s m4l pack. Reaktor users checkout these ensembles: Twisted Tools effects (several of them come with freeze function) Fast FX (multi-fx, comes with the software), g-Transformer, Zero Kelvin,Travelizer FX, autoFreeze, and Freeeze. Even Reason users can have some fun with the hold option on the BV512 Vocoder. Anyway, sound freezing FTW!
Now let’s take another approach to the tails of the bells. This kind of material is pretty incredible for convolution process, so you can use the characteristics of the bell sounds and merge them with other sound. In this example I’m going to use the bells as Impulse Responses, inside Altiverb, which since its latest version allows to use WAVs as IRs in a very easy way. The plugin now allows to drag&drop any audio file directly and use it as an IR. Pure quick fun. Let’s take a look at that feature on this video and listen to different sounds being processed “inside” the bells:
The second bell release from Rabbit Ears Audio is quite unique and interesting, since the wide variety of sounds performed by these bells are really dynamic and diverse. Recordist Michael Raphael, who crafted this fantastic package, explains it in a great way: “The materials include brass, bronze, common metals, wood, animal horns, and even some gourds. So just imagine: ding, clank, ring, twack, rattle, clunk, click, and who doesn’t love gourds?”. All those variations were recorded in different perspectives (close, medium, distant) and include a wide variety of materials. Each bell features an specific type of sounds and includes different takes, with details, movements and lots of great noises you’d like to use on wood/metal articulations, foley tasks and any kind of heavy layering of elements in order to build big structures and rattling metallic sounds.
I specially liked the textures you can obtain with these animal bells. It’s incredible to listen how the simplest variation can achieve lovely elements, textures, movements. When you process sounds which have been performed in such detailed way, processing gets more expressive and fun. Lots of surprises occur when you perform with those sounds in a sampler or something where you can manipulate the files with more expression. Let’s listen to quick experiments I did using Alchemy processing different sounds from the library:
Let’s play with HISSandaROAR’s Chimes, which includes sounds with a lot of subtle details and harmonics. Tim Prebble recorded the sounds inside an ADR booth, so you can hear pretty detailed recordings, with lots of variations and even more fun: sounds where recorded at 192k, saying you can go extreme with the processes and stretch them in fantastic ways. For that exploration, I wanted to use some delay/reverb effects in order to listen to what happens when you multiply those harmonics or just extend their tails with echos and feedback manipulation. For that, I’m going to use a pretty crazy delay (which also gets pretty unique chorus/flanging/reverb effects) called ValhallaüberMod, developed by one of my favorite plugin makers: Sean Costello, owner at ValhallaDSP. Besides this fantastic delay, he has also developed two amazing algorithmic reverbs I encourage you to try. They’re just fantastic.
So, it’s time to torture these sounds in random ways. There’s a new tool you probably already know about, called Iris, developed by the masterminds at iZotope. Although it really deserves a dedicated review (I’ll share my thoughts in another post), I’ve been working with it since its launch and I’m in love with it. It’s perfect for torturing these bells and chimes, since there’s a wide variety of things you can obtain with it. Iris uses spectral analysis/processing to visualize and transform sounds, offering a spectrogram view where time, amplitude and frequency are showed in the same canvas. That gives you the opportunity of isolating, extracting, filtering and combining sounds based on their harmonic content and spectrum.
As any tool you can have these days, it’s just a different way to transform sound. Nothing to compare with, just a different option. There’re several samplers making impressive things since several years ago, but one thing is sure: there’s no instrument like Iris. It’s fresh, fun, and has a pretty extensive path for experimentation. It’s a fantastic tool to extend/explore timbre and sonic morphologies. Although it comes with a pretty nice library and optional add-ons, the game, as always, is more awesome when you use your own sounds. Experimenting with the stuff you already have, or with libraries like those mentioned in this post, is wonderful. A gift for the ears! Let’s listen: