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Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 | 5 comments

Peter Albrechtsen Special: Backgrounds in the Foreground

[Written by Peter Albrechtsen for Designing Sound]

Let’s start with talking not about choice of sounds but choice of words.

In the US, background ambiences are called backgrounds – or just BG’s. In Denmark, though, we call them atmospheres. For me, that’s actually a better word to describe this part of the soundtrack, as background sounds can add so much texture, feeling and – yes – atmosphere to a scene. It’s an amazing tool to shape a scene, not just mapping out the geography and time of day, but also setting the mood, creating a vibe and building an underlying rhythm. It’s one of my favorite sound design tools because it works quite subliminally and can be extremely effective, nevertheless.

I want to start out showing a commercial I did a couple of years ago, which I think showcases ambiences in an interesting way. It’s an IKEA commercial directed by a very visually and aurally imaginative Danish director, Martin de Thurah, who really created this commercial with sound in mind. Here it is (even though this youtube-link isn’t exactly the greatest quality, sorry):

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First of all, I need to point out that the sound design of this commercial wasn’t just done by me but by two talented colleagues as well, sound designers Morten Green and Mads Heldtberg, the latter also being a very skilled composer. It took a lot of experimentation and building of sounds to establish the very different universes and small tales that unfold very, very fast in this commercial.

If you’re very strict in the way you describe the layers of the soundtrack, some would probably point out that several of the sounds you’re hearing in this commercial aren’t really background sounds but foley and effect sounds. But still several of the small scenes are utilizing these foley and effect sounds like they’re part of a background ambience track – like the typewriter on the boat, the radio program at the apartment buildings or my toothbrush rattling in a glass at the end. This is not the point for me, though. What I find interesting is how the sound sets up a world of each image that goes beyond what the eye sees. The backgrounds really set the tone and the background sounds are in that sense very much in the foreground.

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Posted by on Feb 18, 2011 | 1 comment

Peter Albrechtsen Special: The Sound of Music [Part 2]

Music is sound and sound is music.

That’s how it is for me. I’m a big fan of all kinds of music and music really influences all aspects of my work. I wanted to share with you some different songs and talk about how they’ve inspired my work. It’s by no means a list with all the artists I love – there’s no Kraftwerk, no Fela Kuti, no Miles Davis, no Slayer, no Philip Glass, no Nina Simone, no Boards of Canada, and, shame on me, no Radiohead. But nevertheless, here are 10 tracks (well, the last five) that have meant a lot for my work with sound:

Underworld: Skym

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I love manipulating with the human voice. It’s such an awesome instrument in itself and you can make the most amazing textures with it without losing emotional impact. I’ve been listening to a lot of the early voice experiments by Steve Reich and Alvin Lucier and I’m also a big fan of the unique way the voice is used and manipulated by very different artists like Juana Molina, Mike Patton, Burial, The Knife and even Michael Jackson, who was a true master of advanced vocal arrangements.

This track has a special place in my heart. Underworld has worked on several soundtracks and for good reason – there’s something very cinematic about their atmospheric soundscapes, even when the duo is riding high on a beat. This track, “Skym”, is very low key, though, with no drums at all. Instead it’s based on a few tones and, first and foremost, the way singer Karl Hyde’s vocals is manipulated and echoed. Often the reverb comes in before the actual voice and at times just one word is cut out of a sentence he’s singing and repeated in extremely musical ways.

I was listening a lot to this track when I worked on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. There’s a very intense POV scene towards the end where the main character is drugged and he wakes up while the murderer is speaking to him. For this scene, all the sound elements you hear on the soundtrack were created from the villain’s voice using a lot of weird processing, reverb and reverse effects. It was my salute to Underworld.

The Books: The Story of Hip-Hop

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Old sounds become new sounds in the hands of The Books. This New York-duo has a truly unique vision: Their songs usually consists of folky, acoustic instrumentation – guitar, cello, banjo and more – combined with a diverse range of found sounds and samples obtained from cassettes and other recordings found in thrift stores. If that description sounds a tad boring, it’s very misleading, ‘cause The Books’ collage songs are usually wonderfully playful, humorous and groovy in a charming, laidback way.

All of The Books’ albums are great but I picked this song because it just cracks me up each time I hear it. Besides that, it’s also just a brilliant example of The Books’ sound and how elegantly they weave different sound bites in and out of their tasteful instrumentation. The way they work with textures, sounds and weird voices is really something to behold. The Books’ sound has segued quite a bit into the way I deal with flashbacks and other sequences where time dissolves. I love it.

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Posted by on Feb 15, 2011 | 4 comments

Peter Albrechtsen Special: The Sound of Music [Part 1]

[Written by Peter Albrechtsen]

Music is sound and sound is music.

That’s how it is for me. I’m a big fan of all kinds of music and music really influences all aspects of my work. I wanted to share with you some different songs and talk about how they’ve inspired my work. It’s by no means a list with all the artists I love – there’s no Kraftwerk, no Fela Kuti, no Miles Davis, no Slayer, no Philip Glass, no Nina Simone, no Boards of Canada, and, shame on me, no Radiohead. But nevertheless, here are 10 tracks (well, the first five) that have meant a lot for my work with sound:

Elvis Costello: I Want You

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I can actually say that this song has been life-changing to me. When I went to the European Film College back in 1995, the film sound teacher played this song as his way of introducing himself and his course. At that point I didn’t know much about film sound but I was hooked immediately and I signed up for his lessons. Since then, there’s been no going back.

There was something about this track that totally mesmerized me. I’ve often been wondering why I had such a big emotional reaction to this song. I’ve got lots of respect for Costello’s skills as a songwriter and how he constantly evolves but I’m not a big fan in any way. This song stands out and I can keep listening to it – it draws me in every time.

Musically, it’s not advanced in any way. Rather, it’s the opposite: The sound is pretty hissy, the guitar playing is rough around the edges and the organ is severely missing some low-end. But it doesn’t matter. Actually, it sets for the perfect tone for the very rough emotions that Costello is singing about. And then, there’s the voice. You can just hear that every word is important to him. “I want you,” he’s singing over and over again and you just know that he means it. He wants his love. Now.

Working as a sound designer for film, I’ve learned from this how much performance means. Performance means way more than perfection. Actually, a great performance is often not technically perfect in any way but moving because of its faults, mistakes and errors. If an actor’s voice sounds a bit jagged it can add a lot of emotion to a scene. Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for emotion.

The Beatles: Tomorrow Never Knows

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In the interview earlier this month I mentioned how classical music was here, there and everywhere in my childhood home but actually there was one more thing dominating the airwaves: The Beatles. My dad loved The Beatles right from the start and got most of the old singles and all the albums, of course. But he wasn’t just in it for all the wonderful melodies but just as much for all the crazy sound experiments that the band and producer George Martin did. “I Am the Walrus”, “A Day in the Life”, “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and this one, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, those are some of the tracks that got most airplay.

It’s simply astounding music. For me as a sound designer, I’ve learned from this how much you can get away with soundwise if your melody/story/script is strong enough. But I’ve also learned how much fun it is to play around with sounds – the most banal sounds can be amazing and provide a new emotional perspective and tell new stories if you pitch them down, turn them backwards, apply weird reverbs to them.

The album “Revolver” (from 1966, amazingly enough) stands for me as the Beatles’ masterpiece among masterpieces. It’s a tour de force and the first time Beatles really used the studio as an instrument in itself – and “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the prime example. Just check out the crazy solo that starts about a minute in, it sounds like nothing else, like nothing is playing exactly the way it should but amazingly musical anyway. It’s pop and avant-garde as one. Listening to this song makes me realize that the world of sound is one big playground.

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Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 | 3 comments

Peter Albrechtsen Special: Exclusive Interview

Welcome to the first installment in a series of articles featuring our amazing guest Peter Albrechtsen. This one is an interview I had with him, where we talked about several things, including the evolution of his career, influences, creative methods, techniques, and more. Hope you enjoy it.

Designing Sound: How did you get started in sound design? How has the evolution of your career been?

Peter Albrechtsen: As a kid, I loved two things: movies and music. My dad had an enormous collection of classical music and I was trained in classical piano for ten years – without ever becoming a virtuoso in any way. But it meant that music was all around, and when I got into movies – I was a big, big fan of Hitchcock – I also listened to soundtracks. It wasn’t until I attended the European Film College in 1995/96 that I had this epiphany that sound for film was the way to go, the way to blend music and movies. It felt like entering a new world that I wanted to explore infinitely.

I got into The Danish Film School in 1997. I was still very much a youngster, but during those four years I learned a lot of technical skills and met a lot of inspiring people. My graduation movie had a pretty crazy soundtrack – it was my attempt at saluting Rumble Fish, one of my all time-favorite sound design movies. One of many wild ideas was to put some of the dialogue on vinyl and get a dj to scratch the lines into the film. Some people thought we went much too far, but a lot of people loved it as well and it meant that I got this reputation of being ’the crazy sound guy’. And it got me working with a lot of people who really wanted to explore what sound design could do.

I’ve been working as a professional sound designer and re-recording mixer for 10 years now and I’ve had the good fortune of working with a lot of wonderful directors and being part of a young generation of skilled sound designers – and at the same time learning a lot of tricks from local veterans of the game. Here’s some shout-outs to Kristian Eidnes Andersen, Peter Schultz, Nino Jacobsen and especially Kasper Val, who’s one of Denmark’s most experienced mixers, lately he did The Killer Inside Me – I’ve worked with him on 10 feature films. Thanks!

I simply feel very privileged to be able to do this for a living. It’s very rare that people’s greatest passion is also their work. It’s amazing.

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Posted by on Feb 1, 2011 | 0 comments

February’s Featured Sound Designer: Peter Albrechtsen

This year is going fast, huh? After the great visit of Tim Walston, let’s go with another film sound special! It’s a pleasure for me to announce the visit of Peter Albrechtsen for the month of February. Peter is a true master of sound, with an incredible vision and talent. This is going to be fantastic.

Bio

Peter Albrechtsen has been a professional sound designer, sound re-recording mixer and an all around sound effects nerd for 10 years now.

If you’ve seen The Kingdom by Lars von Trier, that was actually the hospital where Peter was born 34 years ago – no wonder he later got a taste for horror films. The first love, though, was music: Coming from a home filled to the brim with records and tape recordings, it was very natural for Peter to play music and he’s been trained in classical piano and also played in several bands both as a drummer, bass player and vocalist. When one of his bands recorded an album in the early 1990’s Peter got an instant fascination for the tricks of the sound studio and when attending the European Film College in 1995/96 he started doing sound for movies, which was one of the other major interests of his youth.

Peter attended The Danish Film School from 1997 to 2001 and has since then worked on about 70 productions in both Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the US. He has worked as both production sound mixer, sound effects editor, supervising sound editor, sound designer, sound re-recording mixer and music supervisor (ooh, all these titles) and his cv includes both feature films, documentaries, short films and a couple of tv shows. Last year Peter became part of a new studio facility, tonemasters.dk, together with five colleagues but he still works freelance on different projects both back home in Copenhagen and around the world.

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