Guest Contribution by Stephan Schütze
Why I am not going to tell you which microphone to use
The simple answer to this statement is, because we don’t have time. The exact choice of which microphone to use for each situation of recording a vehicle is a detailed exercise and would take more pages than we have space for. Even then, there is a major flaw associated with the idea. What I hear and what sounds good to my ears may not work for you. Suggesting Brand X or a Model 2B, stuffed up the exhaust pipe of your Honda, may only serve to encourage you to spend more money than you need to. As much as we all love to buy new equipment, I think there is value in stepping beyond the tools and toys. I’m going to be more general and share a more conceptual approach to capturing good vehicle sounds.
What I will do is take you through some of the essential lessons I’ve learned when recording vehicle sounds for Sound Librarian. In creating our sound libraries, I’ve recorded motorbikes, cars, tanks, boats, airplanes, pretty much every vehicle I could get my microphones near.
“Footsteps with character: the art and craft of Foley”, a great essay written by Benjamin Wright, included in the Screen journal.
“In this essay I look more closely at modern Foley performance and aesthetics, giving special attention to the customized nature of Foley effects and the importance of creating sound with ‘character’. What interests me is not only how Foley professionals have negotiated their role as sound artists but how the professional goals of Foley have shifted in response to the increasing use of digital audio workstations.”
Download/read (PDF file) / via musicofsound
For the past few years I have been bothered about the amount of time I spend on a job — not specifically about how busy I am, but rather how much time I spend concentrating on the task that needs getting done. By default, most of us learn to constantly optimise our workflows as our experience grows. This is very important, as successful projects are judged not only on their quality but also budgets! But most of us also have the task of being creative collaborators while working long hours. Not easy.
One of the biggest problems I find with workflow optimisation is that I get stuck with techniques and ideas that have previously worked and quite often end up forcing ideas that don’t fit the context. They are often sub-conscious decisions and I need to consciously stop myself and try something new. I recently started taking ‘silent breaks’ to combat this. I’m a big fan of the pomodoro technique and use a 25 minute timer when I work. With every break (every 25 minutes) I step away from the computer and silently ponder on my work. I was surprised (and in hindsight, not so surprised) to find that it greatly improved my productivity and the quality of my work. There is something quite stimulating in taking a break, staring out of the window in silence and letting the mind wander.
But there are days when I ignore the timer because I’m too busy trying to make an idea work. I then start to optimise my workflow once again and forget about productive silences. An infinite loop.
A number of years ago I took part in a critical listening exercise where participants where given a piece of music and 3 hours to provide a critical assessment of it. The piece of music lasted just over 4 minutes so during those hours I got very familiar with it, but I didn’t really get much beyond scratching the surface of it, in terms of critical listening. The point of the exercise was to enlighten us as to the difference between ‘hearing’ and ‘critical listening’. For those 3 hours I was receptive to the music, I heard it, absorbed it, liked and disliked aspects of it, but I wasn’t able to engage a more critical mindset and turn my receptive listening into an active evaluation of the music. At that early stage in my career as an engineer I simply didn’t know how to set about the process.
Charlie Chaplin on ‘City Lights’
“Ideally, for me, the perfect sound film has zero tracks. You try to get the audience to a point, somehow, where they can imagine the sound. They hear the sound in their minds, and it really isn’t on the track at all. That’s the ideal sound, the one that exists totally in the mind, because it’s the most intimate. It deals with each person’s experience, and it’s obviously of the highest fidelity imaginable, because it’s not being translated through any kind of medium.” – Walter Murch
Silence can be sonic; sound can be silent. We’re always listening to both. When we listen to a sound, we listen to a silence. When we listen to silence, we listen to sound. The dualism behind this is just an illusion, because in reality, we only find one thing, a single coin, with two faces, but a single coin.
There’s always sound in silence, always. There’s no such thing as sound without silence. There’s no such thing as silence without sound. Both are always dependent on each other and get differentiated just because of our fantasy of reality. We could think as silence as “absence of sound” but that will not be in an absolute way because there’s no place without sound, there’s no time without sound. Silence is absence just in partial ways, depending on the wave, all the time attached to the context the absence of a particular sounds, or just the choices around the speakers can’t reproduce.
First, some confessions: I am a sound designer, I have never worked on a Broadway production, and therefore, never expected to win a Tony Award (let alone be a part of a discussion of this nature).
I may not be an “insider” of the theatre world, but the decision earlier this month to stop presenting Tony Awards for sound design (of a play and also of a musical) deems a reaction from the entire sound design community. With that in mind, please support this petition initiated by John Gromada.
Link to sign the petition: Reinstate the Tony Award Categories for Sound Design Now!.
Actress Jill Winternitz showing her support on twitter.
The first time I heard of the decision by the Tony Administration Committee was from Randy Thom’s post in Designing Sound on the 13th (two days after the announcement). The news initially confused me; it seemed like a huge “slap in the face” (as Randy Thom wrote) with very little that could possibly be gained by this action. Sure, sound design is not as glamorous as some categories, but there must be more to this decision.
Guest Contribution by Rob Bridgett
For the past 14 years I’ve been a proponent of sound as a deeply integral part of the video game development process, getting audio involved earlier, allowing it to become a part of decision making and concepting, allowing sound’s early presence, excitement and enthusiasm to influence the other disciplines involved in the collaborative sport of video game development.
Recently, you may have noticed a trend towards narrowing down the focus of what we consider to be multi-disciplinary game development, there are small team, minimal, retro, and almost inevitably towards audio-only games. At the Game Developer’s Conference Nicky Birch of Somethin’ Else’s spoke about their audio-only games (such as Papa Sangre) as did Brian Schmidt on a similar theme in 2013). These are games in which the player has little or no visual input or stimulus, but relies entirely on spatialized audio cues.
R. Murray Schafer at “listen” short film
“One can look at seeing but one can’t hear hearing” – Marcel Duchamp
As you may know, silence is the topic chosen for this month here at Designing Sound. One may think silence is not existent if we value it as an absolute sonic absence, but here I’m going to examine its role and possibility towards the act of listening to sound, silencing, not as that state of complete sonic deletion but as a force able of letting sound to be. Here’s not about asking “what is silence?” but just creating an invitation to be silent and just listen.
I recently came across the Frictional Games blog and have spent the last few weeks trawling through it’s archive. It provides a wealth of informaiton on game design, and in particular discussions on the point of game narrative. One particular post, 4 Layers, a narrative design approach, written by Thomas Grip, Frictional’s creative director, raised the concept of the mental model, and the impact this can have, not only on game design, but also on a players experience of a game.
Acousmonium, INA-GRM, 1980. Photo by Laszlo Ruska.
Surround (Oxford Dictionary)
- (verb) [with object] – Be all round (someone or something)
- (noun) – A thing that forms a border or edging around an object.
- (adjective) (Surrounding) – All around a particular place or thing.
Based merely on a technological approach, one might think that Surround sound is just the technique of reproducing audio signals in a particular array of speakers that distribute sound around space in order to give a three-dimensional illusion for the ears…
Surround is not visual really, is not something we can see. Surround is not just a technique of distributing sound, but the consequences of it. It’s a characteristic of sound itself, natural to the sonic phenomenon and responsible of the entire notion of the “auditory field” which is more than simply one dimension of space, but a multi-layered, multi-dimensional representation of sound.
In this article I aim to explore different experiments and perspectives toward the use of surround sound and the experiments between space and form, getting out from the image/film relationship in order to explore how sound “alone” can be enriched by the process of multichannel distribution, which has been deeply explored aesthetically, psychologically, musically, etc.