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Creating a Unified Voice

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 | 6 comments


Image by flickr user woodleywonderworks. Used under Creative Commons license.

This article is not what I originally intended. I started it, nearly completed it and then decided to rewrite it from a different angle. It’s core subject remains intact, speaking to our collaborators…the people who hire us to make their pieces of media “sound good.” Whether we work in film, television, games, mobile applications, interactive art installations or any other existing or emerging medium, the majority of us work in service to another. Many a sound professional can be found lamenting the working situation they find themselves in; proclaiming, “ if only…”


The Voice In…

Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 | 2 comments


Michel Chion is a well known voice in film sound theory. A lot of people have heard of, and possibly read, his book Audio Vision. For some reason, The Voice in Cinema is a little less popular. This post isn’t really meant to be about Michel Chion or his books though. We’re focusing on the idea of “voice” this month, and it’s hard to come up with a header image that is relevant. ;)

I know some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute. You just did “dialog” in January.” Well, we don’t consider “voice” and “dialog” to be interchangeable. Voice is something different, and more ethereal, than dialog. Dialog carries the raw data, and it’s the voice that gives it expression and emotion. The topic is far broader than simply “metadata for dialog” though; obviously, that’s not to say we are discouraging the discussion of characterization in sound design. That is a perfectly relevant idea for this month. There’s also the issue of defining the sonic voice of a piece, managing and melding the voice of many different artists on a project (directors, editors, sound designers, etc.), or the desire to give sound designers a voice that is equal in weight to the rest of our collaborators. The opportunities for discussion this month are many. So let’s get started!

As always, Designing Sound encourages guest contributions from the community. If you would like to contribute to this month’s theme, next month’s (“broken”) or touch on an important off-topic post, contact shaun [at] designingsound {dot} org, or use our contact form.

Music + Sound Award – Sound Design winners!

Posted by on Feb 28, 2014 | 0 comments

Music Sound Awards

The UK Music+Sound Awards took place last night in London, recognizing outstanding work in music and sound design across all the visual media industries.

The awards include entries from computer games, feature and short films, television and cinema commercials, non-broadcast or viral advertising, branding and title sequence and television programmes.

The 2014 UK Music + Sound Award winners for Sound Design include:

‘The Last of Us’ (Sony Computer Entertainment)

Television Advertising
Honda ‘Hands’ (Anthony Moore at Factory / Weiden & Kennedy)

Cinema Advertising
London Short Film Festival Trailer (Phil Bolland at 750mph / Ben Campbell at Cut & Run)

Television Programme
‘Misfits’ Series 4 (Tony Gibson / Molinare / Clerkenwell Films)

Short Film
‘Post Personal’ (David Kamp)

Non Broadcast + Viral Advertising
Audi R8 V10 Plus ‘Evolution on the outside, Revolution on the inside’ (Will Cohen at String and Tins / BBH)

Trailers + Promos
‘Skins – Time Changes Everyone’ (Arge at Envy Post / 4Creative)

Congratulations to all the winners!

For non-UK residents, there is still time to enter work for the International Music + Sound Awards online. Also, be sure to check out the other categories!


The making of Geosonics by Soniccouture

Posted by on Feb 28, 2014 | 1 comment


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.


A Modular Creature Design System

Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 | 7 comments

I’ve been working on a game project on and off over the past year and a part of the design is of relevance to this month’s theme — animals. The gameplay revolves around creatures of various kinds — some good, some evil, some tiny, some large. I had to conjure a vocalisation system that achieved the following technical and design criteria:

  • Actions by the user would directly affect the state (and sound) of the creature
  • The player must be able to perceive some sort of emotive response from the creature
  • A modular system which would work for various creature types and characters
  • With mobile devices being the primary target, it had to be simple, effective and portable
  • Low CPU and memory usage, which translates to maximising the design capabilities of the system with little DSP and few samples

Design Considerations:

As with most people, I’ve found creature/animal vocalisations easier to design when using material that consists of either human or animal vocal sounds. It is easier for players (or the audience) to make visual and mental connections if they find something remotely similar to reality. It was important for me to make the resulting design as close to what animals sound like.

I collected sounds that matched the above criteria and then shortlisted them based on recording quality (to ensure maximum quality after subjecting them to DSP mangling), character (sounds that created an image or an emotion in my mind) and frequency content (important when grouping sounds together).

‘Emotion’ is tough to parametrise or quantify. It is a loose descriptive and can mean different things to different people. Instead of going after specifics, I put down a list of questions to help me made decisions:

  • What size does the sound convey? (the relative size of the animal)
  • Is it irritating, menacing, timid or defensive? (dogs were a good reference for this)
  • Does the sound convey speed and energy? (this is related to the previous question)
  • Is there enough content to make the creature expressive and not boring? (player-creature encounters were expected to last a few minutes)
  • Is the sound distinctive enough? (it is easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of perfection)


A Few Independent Animal Sound Libraries To Check Out

Posted by on Feb 26, 2014 | 3 comments

Animal Sound Design and Recording Month is coming to a close so we thought it would be neat to do a roundup of just a few of the indie SFX libraries out there that have great animal recordings.

(Disclaimer: I sourced suggestions from the Twitter community and my own experience so this list is not intended be comprehensive, simply a few strong suggestions. If you feel there is a fantastic library that we left off this list; please post it in the comments!)


The Carpetbagger Blog Talks to Steve Boeddeker and Randy Thom

Posted by on Feb 26, 2014 | 0 comments

The Carpetbagger, a New York Times blog dedicated to the film awards season we are now in the flush of, has spoken to Steve Boeddeker and Randy Thom at Skywalker Sound.

“Before there was a here here, I was here,” said Randy Thom, the director of sound design at Skywalker Sound, part of George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch complex outside of San Francisco. “It used to be called Sprocket Systems, in the earliest days, and it became Skywalker Sound in the mid ’80s,” said Mr. Thom, who first worked with the company on “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Randy talks a little bit about the history of the Ranch and Skywalker Sound, and there’s a 5 minute video that includes interviews with both Steve and Randy.

Check it out here.

Whoosh Review

Posted by on Feb 25, 2014 | 7 comments

GUI3D_02In the last year, we’ve all been happy to see the slow emergence of software tools designed explicitly for sound design. The fine folks over at Tonsturm are the latest to release one such tool under the moniker Melted Sounds. Whoosh is a Reaktor based plug-in for designing, as implied by its name, complex and varied motion elements and pass-bys. The basic idea behind the tool is similar to a post here on Designing Sound by Charles Deenen, which was later built into a Kyma patch by Jean-Edouard Miclot. Whoosh simplifies the process of setting up this kind of processing chain yourself. If you’ve got Reaktor, you simply load the ensemble. The source material included with tool comes from some of the best independent sound effects libraries out there. Seriously, the list is hard to ignore. Sounds have been licensed from: Chuck Russom, Colin Hart, Tim Prebble, Jean-Edouard Miclot, Michael Raphael, Mikkel Nielsen, and Frank Bry…not to mention sounds from Tonsturm itself. It’s safe to assume that it sounds good…even if I weren’t about to tell you exactly that. Ultimately, deciding if it is a worthy addition to your toolbox is something we each have to decide individually. There are a lot of tools out there, and we all have our priorities. So, a review should be about its potential impact on workflow. Does it allow you a depth of control similar to Charles’ process at a comparable (or improved) speed?

Let’s take a look at what Whoosh can do.


LA Underground – An Interview with Charles Maynes

Posted by on Feb 24, 2014 | 3 comments

LA-1-940I 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. (more…)