Broken wax cylinder containing the ‘first’ film soundtrack circa 1894-1895
In ‘broken’ month I wanted to find out a little more about what’s being done to fix (and preserve) some of the broken pieces of film history. The story of the Dickson Experimental Sound Film (link to view at the end of the article) seemed to be a good way into the subject and I am indebted to Ken Weissman, supervisor of the film preservation lab at the Library of Congress, Jerry Fabris, museum curator at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park and Paul Spehr, author and film historian, for their help putting this article together.
Below is an interview I conducted between Capcom’s Tomoya Kishi and Media Molecule’s Kenneth Young. I started them off with a few questions and let them go back and forth from there. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as we had putting it together.
Jack: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your experience in audio.
Kenny: My name is Kenny Young and I’m the Head of Audio at Media Molecule, one of Sony’s first party (wholly owned) game development studios, based in Guildford, UK. I had a fairly strong musical background as a kid, but sealed my fate by doing an undergraduate degree in Music Technology at the University of Edinburgh, which turned me on to working creatively with sound before then going on to specialise a bit more by doing a masters degree in sound design down at Bournemouth Uni. I landed my first full-time job in the industry 10 years ago as a junior sound designer at Sony’s London Studio, working in their centralised audio department on a wide variety of games in different genres and on different platforms. That broad experience stood me in good stead for when I joined Media Molecule in 2007, setting up their audio department and trying my best to make LittleBigPlanet sound awesome. That involved me doing the vast majority of the sound work, some of the music, directing the composers and the creative side of the music licensing process, producing the voice localisation from the Mm side of things, not to mention being heavily involved in the design of the audio-centric UGC features of the game. That led to the inevitable sequel, and the joys of trying to juggle the managing and directing of my staff whilst remaining a hands-on sound designer and composer. Most recently, we just released Tearaway, which I wrote about in December for Designing Sound, where I supervised a team of talented sound designers and managed to keep my hand in there whilst also co-writing the original score (with Brian D’Oliveira), co-writing the voice script (with Tearaway’s creative director, Rex Crowle) and generally just trying to help the project in whatever way I could. All of which is why I’ve been on holiday for the last two months! But I’m just back in the saddle and trying to get our unannounced PS4 project into good audio shape having ignored it for a while :)
Mark Roberts has been a BBC natural history sound recordist for over 20 years. During that time he has explored some of the remotest parts of the planet. His career has taken him high into the Papua New Guinean rainforest canopy, deep underground inside Venezuelan mountains and even right into the heart of Indonesia’s volcanoes. He has been privileged to work with the world’s leading natural history film-makers and is the only member of the BBC’s team to have worked on every one of the nine Expeditions series, starting with Amazon Abyss in 2004.
Chris Watson is probably the world’s most famous field recordist. Without a doubt he has more recordings of animal sounds than we could listen to in a lifetime, However, we’re straying slightly off of animal recordings and into Watson’s collection of natural sounds – and how they ended up as one of the most unique and exciting sampled instruments: Geosonics by Soniccouture. Designing Sound chatted with Soniccouture’s James Thompson about the project.
DS: How did Geosonics come about?
We’ve made our name with unusual, niche, libraries. One of our first products was the Hang drum library. That’s what inspires and attracts us.
Over the last few years, there was a period where we were there were a lot of ideas flying around. People would email us and say “Have you seen this?” That happened with the Novachord synthesizer. For the Skiddaw Stones – I think I saw something on QI about that – so we were always picking up ideas from the media, we’re quite attuned to that.
A couple of years ago there was a little bit in the media about the Wired Lab in Australia (where Chris Watson was then a resident artist), and I had never heard of this recording technique before; using huge runs of wires. I heard the BBC Radio 4 documentary and Chris Watson was the main part of the documentary, and we’d always been fans of his – I remember years ago Dan (Powell, the other half of Soniccouture) played me one of his wildlife recordings on CD.
I recently had a chance to sit down with sound designer and sound FX recordist Charles Maynes and chat about his new “LA Underground” sound library, available from Rabbit Ears Audio. Inspired by the gritty and seedy Los Angeles shown in countless films, “LA Underground” is a 10 GB collection of ambiences from all over the city, from the industrial centers near the LA River to the heart of Downtown.
Designing Sound: How did this library come about?
Charles Maynes: I had been talking to Zach Seivers and Justin Davey over at Snap Sound, who I had met through Dave Yewdall. Basically, a conversation I had with them last summer was kind of the seed for the conversation I eventually had with Michael [Raphael]. They had been hired to do a film in New York, and they were going to go out on location and record a bunch of stuff in the city and at the practical locations, and they were like, “Hey, this is a really big projects for us, so we’re going to actually invest in some Schoeps mics and stuff.” They were debating whether to go M/S or X/Y.
Guest Contribution by Leonard Paul
You’ve worked a lot with animals as a sound engineer, could you give a brief history of how your initial interest in audio restoration of bird sounds has led to being the recordist for the Colombian Mountain Grackle in the mountains of Colombia?
My interest on animal sounds started when I worked on my audio engineering undergrad thesis. I paired up with a biologist that was building an animal sound archive at the Humboldt Institute in Colombia and he needed the technical help of an audio engineer to help him develop the archive. One of the objectives of this collaboration was to produce the first CD of Colombian bird sounds using the material he recorded in different locations around the country. It was a challenging project since at the time there were no local audio engineers working in this area. They were working in either music, live sound or audio post-production and all the tools available for sound restoration were focused on those applications. I tested out filters from different software including ProTools, Audiosculpt, Canary and Matlab. After a year of research, I ended up programming filters on Matlab and applying them to each recording, based on the information from their frequency content. I found, among other things, that audio restoration for animal sounds is very subjective; sometimes removing too much “noise” from a recording makes it sound out of context and it’s not pleasant to listen to. I came up to this conclusion after doing a survey to people from different backgrounds (musicians, biologists and the general public). They listened to the same recording filtered in different ways and chose the one that was more appealing to them.
Randy Coppinger has been dealing with voice and microphones for over sixteen years and is currently Dialog Production Supervisor at Disney Publishing Worldwide. He is active on twitter and his blog with studio anecdotes and thoughts concerning asset management, microphones, acoustics, recording and anything else related to audio and voice. In this interview we tackle topics ranging from microphones to voice talent, organisation and quality.
DS: Randy, thanks for giving us your time. Let’s start with your background. What got you started?
Thanks for asking me. It’s an honor and pleasure to share with you.
I was fascinated with my father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder as a child, which seems like the beginning of my love for audio production (I still have the Astatic microphones he used to record his singing quartet). When I was in college I worked at the radio station as a DJ, and eventually a student leader for all of our audio production. I became interested in the people who put the music on the discs we were spinning, which lead to an internship at a recording studio here in Southern California. I started out answering the phone and making coffee in the evenings. Then one fateful evening after all of the sessions ended my mentor, Chris Austin, poked her head around corner and asked me, “Would you help me put the microphones away?” After a few times striking mikes I learned their names and where they were stored. That meant I could also help get microphones for setups. Doing those setups allowed me to learn how each of the engineers positioned microphones for different instruments. I became a full time employee, assisting on sessions and learning from all of these talented people who worked at the studio. Eventually I was engineering my own sessions, and audio post production had become an important revenue stream for the studio including working on some of the early DAWs.
Kinokophone is an art collective with sound at it’s heart, producing interesting and unique sound installations and listening experiences.
Both Amanda Belantara and Jon Tipler were kind enough to spare some time to talk about their work currently taking place on both sides of the Atlantic.
Jordan Fehr and Damian Kastbauer have put out a wonderful sound library together of Buttons, Gear, Equipment and Ambiences. You may recognize Jordan from his work on such wonderful games as: Hotline Miami, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac. Damian is no stranger to Designing Sound and to the online audio community. He has worked as a Technical Sound Designer on fantastic titles such as: Uncharted 3, The Force Unleashed II, and Dead Space 3.
DS: Tell us a bit about the libraries and why you decided to record these specific subjects.
Jordan Fehr: I am often times called upon to work on projects with zero extra money for exploratory recording time like field recording or extensive Foley work, and so a lot of my recording is done during downtime to beef up my custom libraries for my own use. The libraries I have released so far under JFFX have been useful ingredients I knew anyone could use, or in the case of the restored industrial engines, a very unique source material that only a few people have access to. This new library began with me recording simply buttons and switches for UI and Foley to use in my video game work, and I will not pretend it had nothing to do with purchasing a Schoeps-MK4 which is able to achieve a detailed high-end for these tiny sounds. As I started thinking more about the usage of the sounds I was recording, I decided to turn the library into a sort of Foley grab-bag of sounds that would accompany a situation with a lot of buttons and switches. Take a spy story for example: lots of gear and equipment with detailed foley to help suck you into the character’s busy work. A lot of the thinking was geared towards video game work once Damian approached me with his part of the library because I knew that the mono machines were perfect for 3D actors in modern game editors, but that is not to say that these sounds aren’t perfect for linear media work as well.