Guest contribution by the fine folks at TONSTURM
As the theme of this month is destruction we are really happy to be invited on Designing Sound to share our stories about the production and creation of our latest sound effect library:
TONSTURM | Massive Explosions:
An essential part of creating TONSTURM libraries is an in depth research phase. Explosion sfx is something we have in our heads probably since we recorded our very first library back in 2010. In 2011 we did some test recordings at a blaster training school in eastern Germany. The recording conditions at that particular training area were not good enough to record for a library project, but it was a great experience and taught us how complex and challenging it would be to create an explosion library.
Up to now we don´t know any explosion effect library that features multi-channel recorded and mastered explosion sound effects and which offers you each explosion in different perspectives, microphone characteristics and channel formats. As the title of the library says, it was also our goal to record real massive explosions that we could not find elsewhere.
So we investigated into this topic frequently and talked to experts in this field. We are very thankful for all the great advice we got from Charles Maynes, who is the master when it comes to explosion and gun effect recordings. We highly recommend reading all the articles he has published on Designing Sound!
After a lot of investigation we finally got introduced to THE blaster expert here in Germany: Werner Meyerl. He is highly experienced in civil and military blasting operations, guns and pyrotechnics. We presented him our list of things we would wish to record and what recording conditions we would need. Because of the high amounts of explosives we had in mind it soon became clear, that we could not realize such a huge operation in any civil environment. Luckily he had great connections, and we were finally able to partner up with the German military!
Besides the initial test recordings we gathered all information we could get about existing experiences on recording explosion effects: we listened to existing libraries and read countless articles on websites (Designing Sound!!). One important part was to learn about the detonation velocities of the various kinds of explosives and that different velocities will also sound different.
Together with Werner we finally came up with a long wish list containing the different kind of explosive material we wanted to record. Our goal was to come up with a great sounding variety of explosives and combinations. We also included stepped explosions as a nice extra. The final list features: TNT, PETN, ANFO, RDX, Semtex, Black Powder, Flash Powder, Det Cord, Dynamite, Gas Cartridges, Isopropanol, an Anti-Tank Mine, and more…
THE RECORDING SETUP:
Although we were prepared that it would cost a small fortune to realize explosion recordings of this scale, we got a bit of a shock when we saw the final cost calculation. Once we decided to go full risk, we made sure that we were fully armed on the recording side as well. We planned to record to as many channels as we could deal with. Eventually we ended up recording 19 channels maximum and took a carefully selected collection of microphones to the blasting stage.
MICROPHONES AND PLACEMENT:
Long distance: (280 meters) we used a pair of Sennheiser 8040s and 8020s wide spaced.
Mid distance A: (150 meters) we placed our wide spaced surround array equipped with five Sennheiser MKH 8020 omni microphones. Listening to these 5.0 files on a multi-channel setup is just mesmerizing.
Mid distance B: (80 – 100 meters) we placed a LCR rig consisting of 2 x MKH 8040 and one MKH 8050 for the center. These 3.0 Channel files sound very fat and fill the full L,C,R front. At this distance we also had two shot gun mics the Sennheiser MKH70 and the Neumann KMR82. We pointed them in every direction, but not to the explosion itself, to capture the beautiful reflections from the valley around.
Close distance: (50 meters) here we placed all our dynamic microphones: MD 421, MD 221 (Vintage), e602 (BD mic with huge bottom end), mpc66 boundary mic and SM75. The dynamic mics were dangerously close and captured the transients in a nice colored way. They simply delivered a lot of character. Our favorites here are the e602, as it features a huge bottom end and shapes the sound in a way that suits perfectly to explosion sfx. We are also fans of the boundary mic as it sounds real meaty and it self compresses in a way we really enjoy listening to.
For more experimental positions we repositioned the Sony D100 whenever we could. And we are always surprised how good this integrated recorder does sound!
Having all these channel and microphone choices at hand for designing the stereo combined versions was a sheer joy!
The single microphone channels:
The combined mastered versions:
THE BLASTING AREA:
The arrival to the military blasting area felt like in a movie. We had to cross several guarded areas and were not allowed to film or take photos. The place was everything you could wish for. It was huge and situated in a beautiful looking and sounding valley. It was early November, and the nature was pretty quiet. We booked the area for two full days and shared it with the military. So besides the massive amounts of explosives we brought with us we were also able to record detonations that were part of the military training. This was like winning the jackpot, as those guys really blew up some crazy stuff. This way we were able to record detonating explosives of multiple kilograms that were attached to a big steel bar, steel wired cement walls or inserted into a granite rock. Things you usually never get permission for. It is simply too dangerous, as the debris can have a speed up to 7500 meter per second!
During the detonating phases we had to stay at a bunker which was about 270 meters away, but most of the time we were allowed to stay outside nearby the bunker to experience the arriving shock wave massage our bodies.
The procedure began with planning a series of explosion shots which then had to be prepared and wired up by our blaster expert while we checked, repositioned and prepared our recording equipment. Finally each explosion could be ignited via radio transmission from a safe distance. The military used an air horn to communicate on the place (for example that the area is clean or that an explosion will be fired up next). After a series of explosions had been fired by us or the military, we carefully listened to the recorded files to decide whether we could improve the position of the microphones etc.
On the second day, we wanted to slim down the microphone arrays a little, as this was the day we were able to record more of the explosions planned by the military and we had to be more flexible for this. As already mentioned, this was the crazy and unpredictable stuff like an anti tank mine that shot through a 10 cm thick wall of steel.
EXPERIENCING MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS:
To experience an explosion of this size is pretty intense. After each day we had a big smile on our face, and felt like we had made a huge bungee jump or something. During the whole operation over 120kg of explosives were blown up. To hear, see and feel this raw massive energy is equally frightening and beautiful at the same time. First you see the explosion, then comes the shock wave, and about the same moment you hear the air ripping sound which is followed by a long growling tail. After these two days we are watching and hearing war movies with totally different ears and eyes. We believe for the next level of immersive audio someone should come up with a shock wave generator for cinema! :-)
We hope you enjoyed this little article about our latest TONSTURM | Massive Explosions effects library. Great sounding Explosion effects can be useful in many situations in sound design and we would like to end this with a few examples of what can be done with some simple but effective twists:
Because a lot of Sennheiser 8000 series extended frequency range microphones were part of the 96 kHz recording and mastering chain, you get really rewarding results when pitching the sound files down by an octave.
This is where it is getting interesting. Using the explosion effects for example with Altiverb as impulse response!
Simple but very effective for certain sound design applications. Especially if you think of the 5.0 surround recorded channels for example.
To celebrate this article we are giving away 1 copy of our TONSTURM | Massive Explosions – Multi Channel library. Enter the DesigningSound and TONSTURM giveaway and you could be the lucky winner!
For the chance to win, you need to do 2 things:
- Leave a comment at the bottom of this page where you describe a unique situation to use an explosion as a design element…not just to cover an actual explosion
- Post, tweet or share this article on Facebook and tag Designing Sound and TONSTURM.
We will contact the randomly selected winner via the post below, Facebook or Twitter in one week from today.
…Or you could get the TONSTURM Massive Explosions library here.
Multichannel 96 kHz Version / Price: $249,00 US – Includes:
• 24 Bit 96 kHz / 60 Explosions / 656 Files / Up to 19 Channels per Explosion
• Combined Stereo version included
Combined Stereo 96 kHz Version / Price: $179 US – Includes:
• 24 Bit 96 kHz / 60 Explosions / 177 Files / 3 Stereo Files per Explosion