Jad Abumrad at PopTech 2010 – Camden, Maine (Kris Krüg/PopTech via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License)
I recently had the chance to chat with Jad Abumrad, creator and co-host of WNYC’s Radiolab. Each episode of Radiolab explores ideas in science, technology, and the universe at large through a seamless blend of expert interviews, sound design, and music. Together with co-host Robert Krulwich, the show has covered topics such as sleep, colors, cities, and loops, just to name a few. Recently, Radiolab has taken to the stage, touring around the United States and adding a visual element to the show’s already imagery-rich storytelling. Jad and I talked about noise, sound’s ability to create powerful mental images, and how all of that translates into a live show.
Designing Sound: I’ll start off by asking you about noise. When I say the word “noise”, what does that make you think? What does it mean to you?
Jad Abumrad: Honestly, the first thing I think is a particular style of experimental music which is loud and abusive and cacophonous and hurtful, but which I very sparingly employ in scoring the show. I’m thinking Merzbow and the whole “musical pain posse” that sort of tumbled out of him. I always like the idea that those stabs and bursts of noise could kind of catch someone off guard, almost like an idea that sort of hits you in the face before you’re ready for it. There’s something about the storytelling we do where I want those ideas to have that kind of impact. So I think about that kind of music.
Guest contribution by Douglas Murray
I was inspired to finish this write-up after reading the feature list of the new Zynaptiq UNFILTER plugin. Their web site says:
You can also apply the measured filter response from one recording to another – placing the two in the same acoustic “world”. Or you can create roomtone to fill editing gaps, by applying a measured filter response to noise.
Then I read Shaun Farley’s tweet on the subject and saw that it was quickly followed up by Mike Thornton’s Pro Tools Expert YouTube video: Using Zynaptiq’s UNFILTER Plug-in To Create Room Tone From Pink Noise. I am looking forward to trying UNFILTER for this and its many other promising features. Meanwhile, there is another way to “create room-tone to fill editing gaps” which only requires a convolution reverb plug-in many of us already own.
[The kind folks at Audiofile Engineering have put together a giveaway of apps - including Triumph. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find out how you can be one of the three lucky people to win!]
OS X has suffered from the lack of a good and dedicated audio editor. There was a lot of hope pegged on the release of Sound Forge Pro Mac, but we all know how that went. There are a few alternatives though – Amadeus Pro ($59.99), TwistedWave ($79.90), Adobe Audition ($349) and Triumph ($79.99).
Triumph, by Audiofile Engineering, is version 2.0 of Wave Editor. While it does retain majority of the functionality from Wave Editor, it has also been rewritten ground up to take full advantage of the latest features in OS X – Auto Save, gestural input and support for retina displays, to name a few.
Before I dig into the details, here are some of the new features:
- AppleScript Support: AppleScript (Apple’s easy to learn scripting language) has been deeply integrated into Triumph. Most of tools, actions and processes are AppleScripts, which makes it easy to create custom templates and automate processes
- Auto Save & Versions: Triumph supports Auto Save and Versions in 10.7 (Lion) and 10.8 (Snow Leopard). I’m not a fan of these new features in OS X and thankfully they can be turned off from the Preference menu in Triumph
- Effects Groups: Probably one of the most useful features – to save a chain of effects as a group
- Effects Automation: Useful for expressive and detailed sound design
- Hardware Output & Channel Mapping: Configurable channel mapping – both at the project and hardware level.
- Redesigned Meters: Don’t we all need gorgeous looking oversampling meters?
- Scrubbing: For intricate editing
- Notification Center (for OS X 10.8 – Mountain Lion): I’m still a Lion user and haven’t been able to experience the new Notification Center. It allows “you to be unobtrusively notified when operations complete”
Installing and registering Triumph was a breeze. The first thing that impressed me was how quickly it opened up – almost instantaneous. On creating a new project I was greeted with a gorgeous and well designed interface. It took a bit of clicking around and reading the user guide (which unfortunately isn’t as extensive as it should be) to get some understanding of what Triumph is capable of. I’ve used Wave Editor only once (about a year ago), so I was quite new to the workflow. If you are a Wave Editor user, you might find it easier to get started right away.
Guest article by Douglas Murray
photo by flickr user Bo47 (Bo Nielsen)
Remember, all rules are meant to be broken! With that principle in mind, let’s scratch the surface of the grammar and possibilities of an aspect of film sound design: backgrounds (also called BGs, atmospheres or ambiences).
Backgrounds offer a powerful opportunity to use sound for maximum impact. Movies essentially need to have background sound at all times. By adding background sounds to a scene we define what the scene is, where we are, and what’s happening around us, even off screen. We can also suggest to the audience how to feel emotionally about a particular scene by giving subtle or direct sonic cues incorporated into the background sounds.
ambiances, plural; ambiences, plural
- The character and atmosphere of a place
– the relaxed ambience of the cocktail lounge is popular with guests
- Background noise added to a musical recording to give the impression that it was recorded live
Wherever you may be reading this article, stop whatever you are doing, and listen to your environment. What do you hear? Tempting as it may be to declare ‘nothing’, the complex cacophony of the world around you is being combined, and fused together in your environment to create the sound of a specific location. The sound of your immediate surroundings is being pulled from all manner of sources such as electrical hums, water pipes, passing traffic, neighbours, the weather and even local wildlife. As indistinct these may be from your perspective, these sounds are still making their way, however faint, into your room, heavily filtered and being reverberated around and off your furnishings to distort them beyond recognition and delivered to your ear as a nondescript, intangible ‘room tone’. Its such a slight sound that many people simply don’t hear it. They hear ‘silence’ (Probably because they haven’t tried to make any recordings there!)