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Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Documentary Sound – A Discussion with James LeBrecht

JamesLeBrechtDesigning Sound: Would you mind giving our readers a little bit about your background and how long you’ve been working in audio post?

James LeBrecht: I’m the owner of Berkeley Sound Artists, and we’re located in the Saul Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley. We’re kind of a small company. I think the term “boutique shop” would sound little bit pretentious, but we’re kind of the right size to feel personally involved in projects. We primarily focus in sound design and mixing, and our prime emphasis is in documentaries. I started the company in 1996, thinking that maybe we’d be doing a lot of multimedia work, CD-ROMS, etc.…and we did do some of that. We did some work for a now defunct educational software company called Theatrix. But very early on Patti Tauscher, who worked with me for many years, she came to me and said, “I met this guy. He’s got a documentary, and I think we should do the sound on it.” So we wound up doing this film for Steven Olsen, and it immediately became apparent to me that…here’s a niche that people weren’t really focusing on. A lot of houses do documentary work as “fill-in” work. Some people are really kind of dedicated to it, but that’s our prime focus. Plus, being in what is known as the Fantasy building…

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Posted by on Nov 13, 2014 | 3 comments

Constructing Reality for Nonfiction Film

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Photo courtesy of Seth Emmons

Guest Contribution by Lawrence Everson

The relationship that documentary cinema has with truth, realism and subjectivity has long been a lively debate. Likely since its origins as a medium (do a quick Google search about Nanook of the North‘s impact and also its staged shots, for example). Documentary sound design is an often overlooked aspect of the craft that inhabits a particularly interesting and sometimes invisible corner of the debate. In narrative films, sound design largely fabricates fictional environments, but in documentary cinema we as sound editors, designers, and mixers are often tasked with designing a reality for, well, reality, as it were. But whose reality? And what even IS documentary reality in the end? Where is that line drawn between immersive world-building that makes a film come alive, versus blatant misdirection and manipulation of the audience? Is it possible that the realities we build can ultimately be more real than the reality of the moment a scene was shot? (And is recording documentary sound on a commonly mono shotgun mic plus lav even a particularly accurate way of capturing reality?) Is the emotion of a scene more true than the literal fact of a scene?

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Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 | 0 comments

Invasive Insects and Immersive Sonics – Ren Klyce on the Sound of Gone Girl

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Director David Fincher and sound designer Ren Klyce has worked together for more than 20 years, and their ongoing partnership is one of most acclaimed collaborations in the modern film sound community. Klyce has been nominated for five Oscars – one for Fight Club, one for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, one for The Social Network and two for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Their latest work is the very successful marital thriller Gone Girl which has just overtaken The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as director Fincher’s highest-grossing film in the US. The movie is filled with so many twists and turns that you can’t really talk about it without revealing something – and this interview with Ren Klyce also contains spoilers, beware!

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 | 4 comments

What’s The Deal With Procedural Game Audio?

Guest contribution by Martin Roth

We’ve all heard of the promises of procedural game audio. A veritable Valhalla where sounds are created out of thin air, driven by the game engine, eliminating the need for huge sample libraries and tedious recording. Sounds great! So why aren’t we hearing more of it in games today? We’ve all experienced Rockstar’s work in GTA 5; those bicycles sure do sound great! Some indy games such as Fract or Pugs luv Beats have dabbled. But it seems that if procedural audio were all that it promised, it would be much more common. What’s the deal?

The hard truth is that while the idea is great in theory, no one knows what they’re doing in practice. The field is lacking in design principles, tools, and technical performance. This is especially true considering the end-to-end workflow. On one end, high-level tools are needed to give designers the flexibility to explore sound and its interactions. On the other, low-level tools are needed to make those creations available where they’re needed, be that on the desktop, mobile, console, embedded systems, web, or anywhere else. The end-to-end workflow is key to the adoption of procedural audio.

For the purposes of this article the terms proceduralgenerative, and interactive as they relate to sound and composition will be used interchangeably. Their distinction is important, but we’ll leave that for another article.

Scarce Design Resources

The field suffers from a lack of resources to learn how to make procedural audio, including standards for judging its merits. Undoubtedly the best learning resource is Andy Farnell’s book Designing Sound. The presentation focuses on design from first principles, but may leave those without a technical background struggling to understand the reasoning (but don’t let that stop you from reading it!). The book is written for clarity, not for absolute performance or maximum sound quality. Resources are otherwise scattered, usually compensated for by personal interest or continued education specifically on the topic.

Tools, Well Almost

Undoubtedly there many excellent tools available to design sounds, especially musical ones. A near fifty year history of electronic music has created a wealth of knowledge, best-practices, and interfaces for exploring sound. But here the end-to-end argument is critical. Unless the designer can run the sounds on the target platform, the tools are not helpful except as a part of the creative process.

In order to satisfy this requirement, the available tools are generally limited to any number of audio programming languages (or even general purpose programming languages). There include Pure DataMax/MSPSuperColliderCsoundChuck, C/C++, the list goes on. Many of these have robust and knowledgable communities supporting them. All of these tools allow the user to “do stuff” with sound, but how well they meet the needs of sound designers is debatable. Many would say that the learning curve is far too steep. The target audience for these tools has typically been those more interested in experimental work.

This leaves us in the difficult situation where the ideal solution is fragmented between tools that satisfy the high-level design requirements and those that satisfy the low-level technical requirements.

Low-Level Really Is Low

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