Exercising listening in a public outdoor space.
Sound designers by nature have an inherent curiosity towards sound. We explore the way sounds work every time we approach a project. With each new opportunity to design a sound, we ask ourselves questions such as: What object/event produced the sound(s)? Where is the sound source located in relation to the listener, and just as importantly, how does (or how will) the sound impact an audience’s emotional state when heard?
It goes without saying that the sheer act of producing our own sonic work, and by critically listening to and dissecting the works of others (as Berrak Nil Boya explored and extrapolated on in her recent post) will inherently make us stronger and better critical listeners. Though along with these practices, it is invaluable to also step away from evaluating completed, produced works and critically listen to some alternate sound sources, and in some potentially new ways; just like exercising a muscle, the more angles you can target your critical listening “muscle”, the stronger and more well-rounded it becomes.
The question then must be, other than by evaluating an already existing game or film’s audio as it was intended, how, and what, can we listen to in order to hone our listening abilities?
This post looks to add to this conversation by offering a few exercises I’ve picked up and augmented over the years and still use to this day. Once again, just like any exercise routine, training your critical listening is an on-going responsibility for any sound designer (though vitally important early in your career, continued practice is essential to maintain a high level of critical listening fitness).
Guest Contribution by Stephan Schütze
Why I am not going to tell you which microphone to use
The simple answer to this statement is, because we don’t have time. The exact choice of which microphone to use for each situation of recording a vehicle is a detailed exercise and would take more pages than we have space for. Even then, there is a major flaw associated with the idea. What I hear and what sounds good to my ears may not work for you. Suggesting Brand X or a Model 2B, stuffed up the exhaust pipe of your Honda, may only serve to encourage you to spend more money than you need to. As much as we all love to buy new equipment, I think there is value in stepping beyond the tools and toys. I’m going to be more general and share a more conceptual approach to capturing good vehicle sounds.
What I will do is take you through some of the essential lessons I’ve learned when recording vehicle sounds for Sound Librarian. In creating our sound libraries, I’ve recorded motorbikes, cars, tanks, boats, airplanes, pretty much every vehicle I could get my microphones near.
Allow me to share a story with you:
It was the weekend before the holiday break. Our horror film shoot had been going on for a few days, and as was typical of December at the base of Cape Cod, the weather was frigid and rapidly getting worse. With reports of an approaching winter storm, we frantically worked in the freezing cold to finish our exterior shots as quickly as possible. After moving inside the little house and getting the final shots of the day, my boom operator and I quieted everyone to perform the always-exciting task of collecting room tone.
Typically, room tone recordings are unremarkable things, but on this cold December night, hidden behind the whine of the set lighting, the creaks of an old settling house, the distant buzz of the electrical system, was a soft and rhythmic ringing. The two of us glanced around the room, making sure someone on the crew wasn’t fiddling with their keys, but even they had puzzled looks on their faces: They heard it, too. After a minute or so, we cut the recording and everyone started running around trying to find the source of the sound. It wasn’t until someone opened the front door that we realized what it was.
This is a guest article written by Ariel Gross, Audio Director of game development studio Volition Inc, which produces such PC and console titles as the Saint’s Row and Red Faction series. You can view Ariel’s introduction post here.
I Feel Like a Fraud and So Can You!
Every now and then I feel like a fraud. Every now and then I feel like I’m merely masquerading as a professional. Every now then I feel a little bit terrified, and then I see the look in your eyes. Wait, wait. Sorry. That last one was from a Bonnie Tyler song. But here’s the thing. The more I open up about this feeling to others, the more I realize that lots of other people feel this way, and it can be really comforting to know that we’re not alone. And actually, it might just be okay that we feel like frauds. Good, even!
How is it “okay” to be a fraud?
Well, hold your horses there, header. I never said that I am a fraud. I said that I feel like a fraud, and there’s a big difference. I’ve never claimed credit for something that I didn’t actually do. That would make me an actual fraud. If I have done that, it would have been unintentionally, and I would be mortified to find out. I would shout from the tallest mountain that there was an error.
It’s more like a sense of disbelief that I occasionally accomplish things that are actual things. To be clear, actual things are what I’ve always endeavored to do, and I believe that anyone that sets out to do actual things will likely become more capable of doing an actual thing. And that is just fine… for other people.
The issues of loudness and dynamic range are common across all audio/visual media, but recently this conversation has been gaining traction within the game audio community. Following his presentation ‘Fighting the Loudness War’ at the Develop conference in early July, I contacted Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Audio Director Garry Taylor to discuss the subject further.
DS: First of all, can you tell us a little about how yourself, and your audio career in the games industry so far?
I left school at 16 and joined a band as a bassist. As well as constant gigging I also taught myself my way around a mixing desk and started engineering live bands at my local venue, The Square in Harlow, UK. After 10 years gigging and engineering bands, both live and in the studio, I bumped into a game developer friend who asked me if I wanted to do some music for a project he was working on. I enjoyed myself on that project and decided I wanted to work on games full time. I offered to work for him for free for a couple of months, and in those two months made myself invaluable, after which he offered me a full-time job. I stayed at Mythos Games (creators of X-Com) for 4 years before joining Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) as a sound designer in 2001. After working at SCEE’s London Studio for 5 years, I moved to Cambridge to manage the audio team there. In the last couple of years I have taken responsibility for audio for SCEE’s London, Cambridge, Liverpool and Evolution Studios.
DS: Could you tell us about where your interest in loudness standards stems from? What issues are being caused by a lack of any kind of standard in games at the moment?
GT: The main problem for me was the complete lack of consistency between different titles on PlayStation, especially the audio that accompanies the icons on the Xross Media Bar (XMB). As a front end, I felt the XMB problem reflected very badly on PlayStation generally and needed to be fixed. But without any official guidance, there was very little that audio developers could do to counter the requests from producers to increase the volume on titles.