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Norio Ohga, “Father of the CD,” dead at 81

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 | 0 comments

Just a brief note of sound design-y import: MSNBC reports that Norio Ohga, president of Sony in the 80s and early 90s and (nominally) “Father of the Compact Disc” has died of multiple organ failure.  He was 81.

Ohga is generally cited as being the primary industry champion for the Compact Disc-Digital Audio system, the “Red Book” CD or just plain “audio CD” to you and me. It’s to Ohga that most sources attribute the choice of the running time and recording dimensions of the CD, 74 minutes of 44,100 hz (actually 44,056 hz), 16-bit stereo audio; for many years a legend circulated that Herbert von Karajan had suggested the 74 minute running time in order to accommodate his recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony “Choral,” but this was always apocryphal and probably invented by an over-aggressive marketer at Phillips, Sony’s partner in the development of the CD.  The CD-R and CD-ROM quickly followed on after the original CD-DA standard in 1980, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Ohga had originally trained as an opera singer, and had been hired by Sony after writing them an angry letter complaining about the quality of their reel-to-reel tape machines in the 1960s; he remained interested in hifi sound his entire life.  He’s also credited with focusing Sony on content creation as much as consumption, using his tenure as Sony CEO to buy Columbia Pictures, CBS Records, and creating Sony’s Playstation unit.

The choice of lossless linear PCM for the CD, a simple and royalty-free format, infinitely reproducible and unencumbered with effective copy protection, was obvious and practical at the time, but would have extraordinary repercussions for us and everyone else in the business of professional recording. Because of the audio format, the CD was the first widespread consumer format that could be used practically by professionals, and it was–for the first time an amateur, at home, with nothing more than a consumer computer and consumer disc recorder, could produce recordings of as high a quality as a professional, and this recording could be played in any middle-class living room or car. The fact that sound could be “ripped” off a CD at full fidelity in non-real time, unlike any tape format, revolutionized what most old-timers tended to think of as the “sound library.”

The ease of ripping also made massive, widespread and decentralized content piracy a reality, and I think it’s not too strong a claim to say that CD ripping initiated the debates we now have over copyright, the rights of copyright holders, the putative right to “mash-up” and repurpose recordings without a proper license, and the practicalities of maintaining a copyright regime in an era where massive amounts of audio can be copied across the globe, at marginal cost, with modest equipment available to any 9-year-old.  I’m sure none of this occurred to Ohga at the time, but in retrospect he stands at the very crux of these developments. What if the CD had been a few years late in development, or Ohga had demanded a two-hour run-time, and so Sony proposed the CD contain ATRACS audio instead of PCM?  Perhaps then the CD would have just been MiniDisk 0.9…

Take a moment and reflect on how different the last 20 years would have been if you’d bought your music on digital cassette, you’d bought all your libraries on DAT, and your only choice for archiving your libraries was a PCM-F1, DASH or ProDigi tape.

For more on the compact disc check out Pohlmann.

Rodney Gates Special: Creating Hand-to-Hand Combat Audio for “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy”

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 6 comments

[Written by Rodney Gates for Designing Sound]

Jason Bourne – One Skilled Fighter

Jason Bourne is one of my favorite characters brought to the silver screen in the early 2000’s. More realistic and practical than James Bond, he made for a great character to watch.

I loved the tightly-choreographed fight scenes in the films, so when we set out to begin development of a game version of this character and his story, I was totally excited. After all, I already had a “Bourne Supremacy” poster on the wall in my office. :)


We knew the hand-to-hand combat aspect of Bourne was going to be a large component of the game. The animators, designers and programmers created an extensive fighting system over the dev cycle to help bring this to life.

There were rapid light and heavy punches, kicks & blocks, combined with slowed-motion, quick-time event takedown moves for multiple assailants, as well as the seemingly-endless contextual takedowns moves you could perform on all manner of objects and structures around you. With the expert attention to detail and proper framing, these were highly-cinematic events that were cool to watch unfold onscreen.

Creating the sound for this part of the game was a playground for the Audio team, and I for one had a blast.

SFX Lab #1: Experiments on Pressure, Blow Holes

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 5 comments

Welcome to SFX Lab, the “laboratory” of sound effects, a place dedicated to experiment and explore sound libraries with the goal of learning different kinds of sounds and some of its morphing features.

We take libraries of a certain theme and put them through some experiments. Think about not only what you will learn, but also for what your ears are obtaining. Some time ago, I read an inspiring interview of Walter Murch, where he said:

“Never before in history, before the invention of recorded sound, had people possessed the ability to manipulate sound the way they’d manipulated color or shapes. We were limited to manipulating sound in music, which is a highly abstract medium. But with recorded material you can manipulate sound effects—the sound of the world—to great effect. In the same way that painting, or looking at paintings, makes you see the world in a different way, listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently.”

So, that’s the goal of this. To never stop hearing new sounds and researching them in depth. Exploring from these thematic libraries is a great way to train ourselves and teach us a lots of new things about the sounds we use, the many things we can find in a single collection of sounds and what we can derivate from them, etc. If you don’t learn anything from the text, just think about this section as an art gallery in the street. You can go there to hear see the pieces and allow your mind to explore.

HISS and a ROAR Pressure

One thing I love from these kind of sfx packages is that you never stop exploring the content. Think about this as not only a variety of material for fabricating new designs but also about how much you can explore such a complete palette of sounds and learn what these objects can do.

The variation of performances, perspectives, tools, gear and processes are really valuable things that teach you a lot about real life sounds, and of course when it comes to design, what you have is a lot of control and more accurate sources.


New Webinars: Secrets for Great Film Sound with David Sonnenschein and Ric Viers

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 1 comment

David Sonnenschein and Ric Viers are back again with “Secrets for Great Film Sound” webinar series.

Learn the essential tools and techniques from the best in the business!

  • How do you talk to the producer to get the gig in the first place?
  • What kind of prep can you do with the script to keep under budget and get the best recordings?
  • What gear and techniques do you need to solve those tricky dialogue scenes?
  • How can you integrate your skills with the picture editor and music composer?
  • What tools are available to help audio support character, emotion and story?


Wed. April 27, 6pm (Pacific) Session – Sign Up HERE

Thur. April 28, 9am (Pacific) Session – Sign Up HERE

More info at

Using Dropbox for Sharing Pro Tools Sessions Between a Group

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 | 6 comments

Charles Deenen has published a useful guide on his site explaining how to setup Dropbox for sharing Pro Tools sessions quickly between a group of people, in the cloud.

Dropbox allows you to work “virtually” in a group with Protools, sharing sessions almost instantly. However there are a few rules to follow during the workflow, to make this process smooth. The following is assumed:

  • You’re working with Protools 9.x
  • You work with a library program like Soundminer / Netmix etc.
  • You work with other people in a group, and need to open up their sessions
  • quickly from various locations.
  • Each editor / mixer has the necessary plugins to listen to the session (if needed)

On GRM Tools 3, Part 1

Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 | 3 comments

A friend recently asked me what three plug-ins I would take with me on to the proverbial “desert island.”  Assuming I also packed a Macbook, a copy of Logic and an iLok updater, I told him my three plug-ins would be:

  1. Serato Pitch ‘n Time
  2. TL|Space
  3. The GRM Tools

I recently picked up the complete GRM Tools version 3 “Evolution” bundle, and here’s my experience, along with everything else I know about the GRM Tools.


Sound Design Challenge #9: A Walk On The Beach

Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 | 0 comments

This month’s Sound Design Challenge is now live, and it’s a game audio based challenge designed for even beginners to handle. It’s a great learning opportunity if you’re looking to get your feet wet. There’s even an extended deadline this time around; a full two weeks. We have plans to migrate the Sound Design Challenge over here to Designing Sound in the future, but until then…

Well, here we are. This month’s Challenge took a significant amount of work to pull together, but I’m pleased to offer this game audio oriented challenge. To start off, I’d first like to take some time to thank Damian Kastbauer and Jeff Seamster for helping to design this challenge for the broadest participation possible (good for beginners too), and to Richie Nieto for providing templates for everyone to mess with. We also need to thank Ric Viers and BlastwaveFX for providing the sound effects you’ll all be using in this challenge. I’m going to take a moment to shamelessly plug their effects library. We’ve got the Blastdrive at work, and it’s an awesome collection. Head over to the Blastwave FX site and check out some of the many collections they sell, including the all new Sonopedia 2.0. I’d wax on about their audio goodness that are their effects, but you get to use some of them in this challenge yourself.

Now, the Challenge…You’re going to be using Wwise, the basic templates we provide, and the Blastwave FX sound files to create a background ambience of a beach that progresses from a nice calm day to a raging thunderstorm.

Continue Reading…

UPDATE: Link was broken, but it is now fixed. Sorry for any confusion. Full details and materials for the challenge are available at

Philosophy Behind Design: Stefan Strandberg

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 | 2 comments have published a fantastic sixty minute podcast with Stefan Strandberg, DICE audio director behind the Battlefield series. He talks about his design philosophy and looking at the bigger picture when designing and auralizing in context. This is a must listen even for those with limited interest in game audio.

The team that built the soundscape in Battlefield Bad Company 2 raked in awards for their efforts. The 2010 BAFTA For Use of AudioGameSpot’s Best Sound Design award for 2010 andThe Game Audio Network Guild Award for Sound Design Of The Year 2011 are examples of such laurels.

Stefan brings imagination, passion and analytical skill to his craft and you can hear the results in every DICE game he has worked on.

His sound crafting made BFBC2 one of the best sounding FPS games ever and the recently released trailers indicate that BF3 will continue that excellence.

The information Stefan covers enlightens and entertains and I for one will never take in-game sounds for granted again.

Listen to it here.

Rodney Gates Special: Early Challenges – Authoring Sound for “Darkwatch” on Two Very Different Platforms

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 | 3 comments

[Written by Rodney Gates for Designing Sound]

All SKUs are created equal…right?

It is a common question every time a new game is released on the console platforms: “I have both systems. Which version should I buy?”

In a perfect world, any game created for the consoles would run just perfectly on them, without any performance edge leaning towards one machine or the other. Perfect frame rate, glitch free in every way and beautiful experiences for all!

But of course we do not live in that world. Though things have improved with the current generation of consoles overall, it is still often said that the smart choice is to find out which console the game was developed for first and you’ll most likely have your answer.

Darkwatch: Curse of the…middleware?

“Darkwatch” was a great game to work on. Blending the Wild West with vampires seemed like a perfect fit for an FPS back when the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox ruled the living room. Both machines were great in their own rite, but were quite different in their design. So naturally, they had very different requirements for getting sound into the game.

Unlike today’s market where the Xbox 360 has had a significant head start on the PlayStation 3, the inverse was true for the previous console generation. With this being the case, when Sammy Studios began development with “Darkwatch”, their initial eye was on the PS2. For authoring sound in the game, we were using Sony’s proprietary audio tool called SCREAM.