As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…
A few weeks ago, I talked about the idea of a sonic version of the “visual zoom.” This past week, I had the realization that there’s a sonic analogue to another camera trick…pulling focus. Quite simply, it’s pulling a fuzzy picture into focus using the lens (or maybe taking it out of focus). Depending on the budget, the camera department on some projects will have a single person dedicated to “pulling focus.”
I can think of two key ways we can emulate this in sound, though there arguably are probably more.
The first is with reverb. Think of the a wide open and very reverberant space, with a single speaker blasting out a spoken announcement. Depending on you location in that space, the reflections may make it impossible to actually interpret what is being said. If you move closer to the source…giving yourself a more distinct time separation between the source and reflections…you’re likely going to have an easier time comprehending what’s being said. The sound is more in focus.
The second way is by applying atypical recording techniques with your microphones, especially with those that have a less-than-flat frequency response as you move off axis. The shift from off-axis to on can increase the clarity of the sound you’re recording. Additionally, you may be adjusting its position to the source in a way that alters the timing of the sound’s arrival at the capsule…adding doppler shift to that change spectrum! Don’t think that’s an interesting sound design technique? Someone people might disagree with you. Watch one application demonstrated here.
Diego Stocco returns with the third in his video series of advanced & experimental sound design techniques Feedforward Sounds. In this tutorial entitled “Creative Miking Techniques” Stocco goes into great detail to explain some of his techniques developed for sound design through creative recording.
“From my point of view, even in these days where plugins, controllers and apps have become important tools for music production and sound design, being able to effectively and creatively use microphones remains essential, because creating original sounds from all kind of acoustic sources remains essential.”
Let’s start out with what to listen for in a recording location. Naturally, we’re always going to be looking for a space that isn’t going to introduce too many environmental and human generated artifacts into the recording, but the physical layout and acoustic properties of a location can contribute as much character to your recordings as microphone selection…sometimes even more. On top of that, recording vehicles and weaponry (what you’ve specialized in) isn’t something you can do just anywhere. So, what do you listen for when scouting potential recording sites?
The biggest problems I face when searching for a recording location is traffic, especially airports and expressways. I’ve scheduled multiple jobs where I had to find ideal locations away from these environments. Fortunately I live and work in a quieter area away so I don’t have to travel too far. However, that rare Ferrari I need to record is located in the middle of a downtown so it’s crucial to make generous car owner friends who are willing to drive an hour or so to a quieter location. Most microphones I’ve tried are quite sensitive in capturing unwanted background sounds. This is why I often use my Sennheiser MKH-418s M/S shotgun mic. For isolation with a mono mic I use either my Neumann 82i or the Rode NTG8. On bigger budget jobs I will rent the Neumann RSM-191s mic (probably one of the best field recording mics ever made).
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.
While AES42 compliant digital microphones are relatively new to the audio world, they’re not “brand-spanking” new. There have been several on the market for a few years now, and new ones are slowly being added as well. For all the time they’ve been available though, I had never heard one in action…not in a controlled environment anyway (the AES show floor is hardly the place for a comprehensive demonstration). I also didn’t know anyone who had spent time evaluating any. There’s always a lot of excitement about the feature set and manufacturer stated capabilities for this category of microphone, but just how much of that is genuine…and how much is the marketing machine up to its usual tricks?
At the AES convention in San Francisco this past October, I spoke to the people at Sennheiser about this very issue. They were more than happy to set me up with some demo gear that I could try out. I recently received nearly $8,000 worth of their top of the line equipment from them, and my biggest regret is that I had to send it all back. Part of that regret is because the gear truly is impressive, but I also feel like I’ve only started to scratch the surface. That’s the larger regret for me. Life waits for no man (or woman), and schedules have a way of moving forward with or without you. So I restricted myself to testing a limited set of features, in the hope that it would give me a view that would be representative of digital microphones in general.