The year 2016 has been one of many great articles, interviews, and discussions here at Designing Sound and we want to thank all of our readers for their attention, suggestions, contributions, and overwhelming support. There have been so many great films, shows, games, and events this year that we thought we would share some of our favorites for you to go back and check out in case you missed them!
This post is full of links and Youtube videos, so please be patient on the loading. I assure you it is worth it!
Excellent sound design and music. Crunchy weapons and melee attacks. Excellent environmental sound design. Love all of it. I am especially tickled by a charge-up modification for the shotgun that when you charge it up you get three satisfying beeps before you can fire. Wonderful.
Dragon Quest Builders
Pure nostalgia. Excellent lesson in reusing legacy sounds in a modern game with great results. Pokemon Sun & Moon do this as well.
Star Wars: Rogue One/Star Wars Rebels
No video for this one yet. I really enjoyed some of the explosions and laser impacts in Rogue One. Those sounds especially were quite nice and punchy. 9/10 will watch again ;P In Rebels (which I only started watching in 2016) Hera’s blaster pistol and Zeb’s blaster staff both have really unique firing sounds that fit well in the sonic universe we know and love, while also having a bit of personality that helps cut through in a busy situation.
Robots, robot voices, robot explosions. I like robots.
This year, I’ve been heads down on more non-traditional expressions of audio design, working on product development for consumer-based robots. I learned how difficult it is to design an immersive vehicle engine that plays over a smart device while constantly being bombarded with weapon sounds and voice-over. I got to appreciate the struggle of trying to sync multiple Wwise projects across several smart phones as each ran a copy of our game (note: it’s really, really difficult; the smartest thing to do is accept your limitations and use them to build a creative solution!). But the moments that I did get a chance to grab some fresh air, I appreciated some new, pretty amazing audio experiences:
- The voice-over and beautifully crafted minimalistic design of Firewatch.
At this point, many people have experienced the game Firewatch, with its witty voice-over, beautiful nature soundscapes, and acoustically based soundtrack. But if you haven’t, I highly encouraged it. It’s an incredibly well crafted experience that’s equally gripping and emotional.
- Cloth foley and “super power” sound design in Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange was a fun and entertaining movie to go see. But what I thought was particularly interesting about the film was its focus on non-musical “superpower” sound design for Doctor Strange’s conjuring and time-warping capabilities. Punctuated with elements of tingling glass and sizzling electricity, these sounds convey the sense of scale and awe without getting in the way of the film’s soundtrack. When Doctor Strange finally gets his cape, I also enjoyed hearing the cloth foley-forward sounds of the cape that managed to give a fun sense of character.
(Apologies for the video quality, this was the best movie clip that I could find.)
- The sound design in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The film Fantastic Beasts was maybe a bit formulaic. But the VFX budget (holy moly) and sound design were… well, fantastic (albeit a bit heavy handed with the low frequencies at times). I especially remember appreciating the sense of movement, scale and tone of the amorphous evil entity in Act 3 (the Obscurus).
- The soundtrack and soundscapes of Far Cry Primal.
Overall, I’m a huge fan of the Far Cry series. I’ve played them all. And while I wasn’t as impressed with the gameplay of Far Cry Primal, I did really enjoy the authentic soundtrack and nature sounds of the game. As the experience is largely open world, it was important to me to feel like I was really immersed inside the Stone Age of history.
(This clip is quite long, but watching for a bit gives you the sense of environment.)
There were so many delightful noises this year. Thanks for that, folks! But since music’s my thing, I’m going to talk about a particularly transformative musical experience I had this year.
Day for Night was a weekend-long music and interactive art festival in Houston, TX, featuring a VR exhibit by Björk, an amazing lineup of live music performances, and an array of interactive audio-visual art installations set up in an abandoned post office. The festival was unique and interesting, for sure, but the highlight for me, and much of the draw for the rest of the attendees, was the first US performance in almost a decade by the legendary Aphex Twin.
I’ve listened to Richard D. James’s music for about 20 years, and I haven’t encountered a piece by him that didn’t teach me something new about sound and music. But I’d never seen him play. I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed. His set started off with creepy, mocking laughter and launched into something that could only be described as an epic journey. His music selections ranged from the expected drillcore blasts and frenetic break stutters to ethereal bell interludes to big, cocky dub beats. And somehow he managed to move in all these directions and stitch all those disparate pieces of music together in a way that felt completely natural. Not just seamless. It felt like I was experiencing all this music as it was supposed to be played. I’ve never heard such a dynamic DJ set, and I’ve never had a better time dancing my ass off in the rain.
2016 was an exciting year for me as it was the 1st of hopefully many years as a fulltime audio freelancer in game audio. Naturally my favorite sounds are all related to games. There’s really too many to list them all but here’s a couple of games you definitely should listen to!
Doom4 rightfully won an award for best music & sound design! The one stand out moment for me however was the epic shotgun reload moment once you leave the tutorial phase & enter the game, which is timed to the music! It perfectly sets you up for the crazy ride this game is (skip to ~7:00 in the video)!
Overwatch is by far one my favorite Games released this year. Not only because it already provided me hours of fun but because the sound design is one of the best I’ve heard in games. Blizzard put a lot of thought into the the sounds of the game & made listening to your environment a strategic requirement to be successful. Each heroes’ ultimate is announced via a distinctive voice line or sound effect & you immediately know it’s time to run for cover. But also the environments themself & how the sounds react to them & the UI too are sounding great!
My absolute favorite sounds include Ana’s subtle sniper rifle sound, Widowmakers roaring bullet pass-bys if you’re lucky enough to dodge her & the various voice line interactions between the heroes before the game starts among many many others. I think I love just about every sound of Overwatch!
Easily one of my favorite gaming experiences this year. It has a great soundtrack & a lot of great sound design moments like the spooky sounds of the radio tuning & the time loops / portal sounds but the one thing that really stood out to me was the dynamic dialog system. It allowed for interrupting NPCs mid sentence & still managed to make the dialogs feel like actual conversations between the characters. (skip to ~4:40 in the video)
Others have mentioned Firewatch already so I’m just gonna add one of the most fun sound related moments I had this year in a game. Relatively early you find a boombox at a lake & I decided to carry it back to the lookout just to discover that you can’t turn it off & it is only playing the same song over & over :). I tried to store it one of the supply boxes but it still kept playing. Luckily it disappeared on the next day.
Looks like I’m not the only one who did that:
This was an outrageously busy year. Between working on countless projects and traveling, finding any time to take in the ever-growing volume of amazing new content out there was no small task. I’m still hopelessly behind on my film and gaming to-do lists, and keeping track of all of the new gear and music releases is a job unto itself. That said, 2016 did hold a few gems interesting sound bits that stuck out in my mind:
Over the last year or so, I’ve fallen pretty deep into the bottomless wormhole that is Eurorack modular synthesizers, and by extension I’ve started paying more attention to hardware synthesizers overall. While modular has been exploding in popularity over the last four or so years, there has been a pretty steady resurgence of desktop and keyboard analog synthesizers as well. At Winter NAMM 2016, Dave Smith Instruments announced the OB-6 analog polysynth, a collaboration between synth legends Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim. Essentially a DSI Prophet-6 with a few changes in the Oscillators section and the filter form the Oberheim SEM, the OB-6 was a bit of a sleeper for me; I wasn’t particularly taken with the initial demos, but as more users got their hands on them and posted some patches, I was blown away by its depth and sonic possibilities. With the recent resurgence of synthwave and 80’s-style music and soundtracks, this synth is a beast.
Speaking of synths, beasts, and the 80s, one of the few things I was able to find the time to watch this year was the Netflix series “Stranger Things”. Between the amazing, John Carpenter-esque synth score (provided by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin, TX-based band SURVIVE) to some seriously chilling creature and sci-fi sound design by Craig Henighan, I was hooked. “Stranger Things” was full of some excellent performances and a great story, while the suspenseful mix by Joe Barnett and Adam Jenkins kept me on the edge of my seat. Go check it out if you haven’t yet, it will be 8 hours very well spent.
One of the more exciting musical releases for me this year was the collaboration between synthesists Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani, “Synergy”. After a chance meeting in their small coastal California town, the two started to discuss their love of the Buchla synthesizer, ultimately leading to the two linking up their systems and creating rich, living soundscapes while overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Listening to the album conjures up the ebbs and flows of the sea, a combination of ordered noise and melodic sequences. On a recent listen, I forgot to take my surround decoder out, and found myself enveloped by the music, which for a dreary autumn afternoon was quite a welcome change.
With all the detailed, high-quality sound effects out there, doesn’t the label “boutique library” sound kind of outdated? Each week, SFX creators capture more and more topics with a level of insight and expression that blur the line between useful, flexible stock sounds and recordings that tell us something about our world. Using no middleware, no layering, and perhaps a little RX, they deliver sound libraries that challenge us to listen deeper to our surroundings. Here are some of my favorite libraries from 2016:
Stephan Marche from Detunized finds thick, juicy sound effects from the most common of subjects: bridges, office buildings, floppy drives, ferries, etc. His collection of sounds from an early 1900s laundry machine is no exception with squeaking metal and wood that would lead you to believe you are prisoner on a creaking ship or one of Jigsaw’s victims.
Ana Monte of Monte Sound/DELTA Soundworks and Charlie Atanasyan of Faunethic took us around the world to Southeast Asia, Africa and Turkey, capturing sounds that are like mini-documentaries. Giving us a look into the daily life of these countries’ urban cities and rural villages, the sounds revel in the joys of humanity while simultaneously showing us the worst of what we are capable of.
Adding a few US destinations to my list, Thomas Rex Beverly explored natural wonders hidden where many would pass without notice. From the “ringing rocks” of eastern Pennsylvania to the peaceful, undisturbed ambiences of west Texas, his recordings make you wish you had a backyard with no humans (or planes) in sight.
Kyle Evans from Squeaky Fish gave us sounds of rural New South Wales, which could inspire a fictional world just from its ambiences. The animals appear large and fierce, from the spying crows to the ornery cows and horses, and with wide open ambiences and foley of spurs, whips and metal gates, you could swear he entered an Old West town that could eat you alive.
Finally, Tim Prebble introduced me to the sound my favorite bird, the kakapo, whose calls are contained to the land of hiphopopotami and rhymenoceroses. The kakapo’s laughing squawks give it a fierceness that is uncharacteristic of its gentle, trusting nature (which nearly sealed its extinction), and its suspenseful and repetitious “booms” could replace the opening cellos in Jaws.
My other favorite sound this year—and hear me out on this—has been the human voice. I’ve found myself communicating more often through email than phone calls and pondering stupid opinions read on Twitter more than the equally as stupid brain vomit during get-togethers. Removing actual viewpoints and attempts at insight, written words just don’t have the vulnerability and honesty of face-to-face interactions, which at least force us to hear the annoying sound of our own pontifications. In other words, don’t forget all the humans around you, with the same needs and hopes, and in 2017 try to invite your elderly relatives over for tea once in awhile.
Rev. Dr. Bradley D Meyer
2016 seems like a blur for better or worse, and when thinking about the sounds that have moved me the most this year some things were imminently obvious and others were a bit more illusive. I didn’t have a chance to play a lot of games or watch all the movies I wanted to this past year (yet) so this list is by no means comprehensive, more “the best audio I had a chance to hear (that I remember).”
I’m not sure if any form of media grabbed me the way Inside did this year. The simultaneous detail and simplicity of both the sound design and mix were astonishing. And when a compellling story can be told without dialogue, that speaks volumes to the narrative power of both the sound and visuals. When Martin Stig-Andersen gave his talk at GDC this year, I knew the bar was being raised, but playing through the game and hearing the nuances of the character foley, the various objects moving, crashing and killing, and the subtle terror the ambient music brought to the experience I keep coming back to this game to analyze, to enjoy, and just to listen to. The fact that he worldized the sound through a human skull demonstrates Stig-Andersen’s creativity, but it is the end result of his work that is an audio experience to behold.
The Revenant was a brutal movie and the Randy Thom-led sound design and score by Ryuichi Sakamoto both lend so much to both the beauty of the world and the desperation and grimness of the journey. A lot of people seemed to focus on the bear attack from both visual and audio standpoints, but for me the introduction battle, the long slow plodding shots of anticipation and the sense of space and place in the ambient sound coupled with the organic score are what created such a memorable experience.
I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Seychelles earlier this year and spent 5 days on a bird preserve appropriately named Bird Island. During the breeding season of the sooty tern, the island is home to half a million pairs of them. We missed that peak season by a few weeks and by the time we were there there were only several thousand left. But the sound they made was not only startlingly loud, it was also highly memorable. The birds sound like they’re laughing at the world’s greatest joke. In the recordings below you can hear single birds sounding off and well as what a few thousand of them sound like in chorus.
Probably a bit strange for this list, but my favorite music release this year came from a band I loved 20+ years ago. Unlike most bands on the reunion train these days, The Cherubs, a noise rock band from Austin, Texas, wrote and released a new album and two seven-inches over the past year before they started playing shows just a few months ago. Old band, new material? How odd! But what I loved about their releases is how good they sound. It is definitely the same band: loud and obnoxious, playing disjointed rock and roll in whatever time signature they feel like with accompaniment by whatever toys they may have on hand. But instead of rehashing their 90’s sound, they have crafted a more modern sound. It’s got the grit and the ugliness I loved the first time around, but also opens up a bit more with some catchy hooks stuck in the middle of a thick layer of fuzzy riffs.