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In this sixth installment about how SFX creators have pushed artistic and professional boundaries, we hear from The Recordist, contortDistort, Sound Ex Machina, Pablo Valverde, and Avosound. Stay tuned for more stories from our community later this week and next week.
What is your name, and who are your team members/co-creators?
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to capture the perfect sound effect?
The Recordist: Back in 2009 I had a tendency to record in dangerous locations or perform risky actions to record sound effects. Whether it was crawling around a steep rock quarry cliff with a boom pole and a microphone, recording close up gigantic fire bursts, or setting off explosives, I tried to capture the “unique character” of the moment. I have since mellowed with my older age, but I still strive for that “once in a lifetime” sound event. I record lots of thunder and lightning and found that it’s hit and miss most of the time, but I have devised ways to effectively capture the wide dynamic range of thunderstorms. I had to build devices and create special locations to keep the recording gear safe while still capturing the raw power of thunder effectively.
Also, back then the Sennheiser 8000 series microphones were not widely used for recording sound effects. After a good friend sent me some sound effects he had recorded with the microphone, I was hooked. I was one of the very first vendors to release sounds using those microphones, and since then they have really caught on. Some wonderful material has been released by many people using this setup.
Sound Ex Machina: While we were recording animal sounds for the ‘Animal Farm‘ library, we needed to capture some typical, good-quality cow voices to finish the field recording session. So, we found a farmer with a remote farm up in the mountains who kindly invited us to come and record whatever we needed. It took more than an hour’s drive and we arrived just before night to rural scenery with rich cow vocalizations echoing beautifully in the air and no city or other human-made noises. The session ended well, and we drove back home thinking of all the unprecedented experiences we’ve lived through this unusual job.
But then our drama began :). It seems we had brought several dozen fleas back home without knowing it, and within hours our situation looked like this:
The fleas were all over the place and our bodies were full of bites. Later after a couple of chemical disinfestation sessions, we realized some of them had also nested in the windshields we used that day. The result: seven days exiled from our homes and our wives on the edge of a nervous breakdown :-).
Pablo Valverde: It was in the Greek island of Thassos. I was in the natural swimming pool of Giola—the sound of the waves against the rocks is really special over there. It was a windy day and my only chance to record, so I had to find the proper position to record and keep my recorder and myself alive. Everything went well.
Avosound: I feel this EVERY time I make a new recording—until the time I make a new one. Okay, NOT every time, but almost. When running around a city, recording city sounds or traffic, then it’s a bit different. I’ve already recorded a ton of traffic all around the world, and sometimes it’s not so different. And not every recording will be good, but the thing is in the moment you’re recording, you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s a kind of magic—to not know what will come, and this magic happens in that specific moment when the recorder is running.
Recording sounds is like sharing a bit of your lifetime and the lifetime of others: singing monks in Myanmar or Tibet, recording crowds in the markets of Vietnam or in the subways of Munich or New York. No matter if it’s at the end of the world or around the corner, capturing sound is like burning a piece of eternity on a disc. And if the thing you recorded does not exist anymore—if it’s a vehicle, an animal or maybe the voice of an actor who died—you realize it then that you shared a moment in a specific place and captured it.
If you are lucky, you can record great sounds in spectacular places. But usually, great recordings happen in very unspectacular places or when nobody expects it. Just ask someone who makes recordings. The moment you hit stop or the battery is empty or you think the thunderstorm is over, in that moment IT happens. You hit stop and then the most spectacular and greatest thunder-clap from the whole storm crashes over you. Or your battery runs out of power and in that moment, the bloody gull makes the scream you’ve waited two hours for. Sometimes you win, sometimes not.
When was a time you felt you pushed the boundaries to design a new sound effect?
The Recordist: A few years ago I released an explosion sound library and really had to push the envelope to get the sounds the way I wanted them. I used a wide variety of plug-ins in Pro-Tools and Soundminer to manipulate and add “power” to the sounds. I would string five or six plug-ins together along with extreme pitch shifting to obtain the desired results. Also, adding other layers of non-explosive type sounds helped a great deal on some of the tracks. I had to think outside the box when adding these layers and use elements I initially thought would not make sense, but after processing and adjusting the levels they worked great.
contortDistort: Alchemy is one of my favorite synths. I feel its sound transformation and modulation abilities encourage me to push the boundaries of my sound design but at the same time allow me to use the sound as an expressive/playable instrument. One of my favorite things to do in Alchemy is to load a sample into its additive engine and reduce the PVar (pitch variation) so that all of its partials line up with the upper harmonic series. This makes the sample sound closer to an oscillator. Then I bring down the playback speed to zero and use a modulation source to scan or jump through the waveform. This is a fun way to use the additive engine in Alchemy as a sort of wave table. From there you can further shape the spectrum by experimenting with the additive element parameters, additive editor, and/or take advantage of Alchemy’s morphing capabilities. You can also assign the PVar of all the sources to one of the performance knobs. This will give you control over the dissonance of the overall sound.
Pablo Valverde: Designing creature sounds is pretty fun and creative, but when I couldn’t record animals, I had to find another way. I ended up recording a box with a contact microphone. I got different layers by using my hands, a pen and a pencil, and using different speeds, intensities and so on. Then I edited and mixed it in Pro Tools and ended up with 30 different sounds.
Avosound: I don’t see creating sound like this. No matter how you make sound, how long you play around, or which tools and techniques you use, the only thing that matters is: does it work?
When have you pushed the boundaries in selling sound effects (whether they be yours or others’)?
The Recordist: I have been doing the online “boutique” sound effects gigs since the beginning. Eight years ago there were only a handful of boutique libraries and vendors. We really had no idea what it would turn into, and back then getting exposure was challenging to say the least. The market sort of created itself and the perception of boutique libraries slowly changed from “Who are these guys?” to “Wow, this stuff is just what I was looking for.”
Sound Ex Machina: For the UI Sounds series, ‘Organic’ and ‘Musical’, we had to break into markets more dedicated to UX/UI designs, app development, and game audio in order to bring them closer to their natural environment. To make an impact we thought of a UI collection that included real-life, traditionally recorded objects, and instruments. I still remember Tapio Hakanen and Aleksi Eeben’s interview that inspired us and showed us options and different ways of thinking about user interface sounds.
Pablo Valverde: From the beginning, I’ve tried to bring something that most people don’t know. And what is that? My country. Unconsciously, everybody knows how his/her country sounds. A British guy knows how a British pub sounds, and I know how Seville sounds. So my goal is to share all the sounds that non-Spanish people don’t know.
Have you ever created a sound or synth that made you or your team laugh out loud? If so, what was the sound?
The Recordist: I have a sound effects collection called ‘DEVIL DOG’ and it has created quite a few laughs over the years. Introducing Dixie, a very special English Bull Terrier with an amazing vocal ability that is unlike anything you have ever heard before. She is special because she is deaf and makes the craziest sounds when she is dreaming or very tired and does not want to be bothered. She was very excited when I arrived, so they tried to calm her down a little bit to see if she would make some of the amazing “alien” noises they say she makes. We ended up with over 800 individual zombie-like sound effects recorded at 24-Bit 192kHz for the ‘Devil Dog HD Professional’ SFX library.
contortDistort: I demoed ‘Metaphysical Fabrications’ to a sound designer friend of mine, and the “Rubbings” preset made him laugh till he was red. He actually recorded it on his iPhone and texted it to his wife. I think the sample used in that sound was made with the distort interpolate function of the Composers Desktop Project.
Sound Ex Machina: We actually couldn’t STOP laughing out loud during the making of the Laughs library :D. I remember in particular one recording session we had with a friend and his nervous laugh after a few beers (quite a few, admittedly). He is not the kind of professional voiceover artist or actor we’d usually want, so we had to find ways to make him feel comfortable. Well, he got sort of… over-relaxed eventually, and enjoyed it so much that we all had a funny and productive day! Even to this day, that one still stands out.
I must add that we’ve also received messages from partners and customers saying it’s hard to work without laughing all the time with this library. Here’s a short preview, including some laughs we recorded that day:
Pablo Valverde: I was recording in Barcelona last summer with a friend of mine. She coughed during every take. After cutting it out in post, I did a 30-second remix with her cough. It was the repetition of the sound that made it funny.
Avosound: Not created, but recorded. Last March I travelled through Myanmar to record. Myanmar has great and beautiful temples and often they’ve been built on the top of hills, which are usually great spots to record the atmosphere of the valley and the village. Temples are holy places of course, so you have to take off your shoes, dress appropriately, and not be loud. In my temple, I waited a long time until all the people were gone and it was quiet enough to make a nice valley atmosphere. I set up my microphones and in the moment I started to record a dog came around. I knew the recording would be useless if the dog was walking around, so I hoped he’d go away. But he didn’t, and after a while he lay on the ground to sleep. I continued to record because I thought the dog would be quiet. He was quiet for a minute or so, but then he threw up on the ground and made an ugly noise. I thought, man, I have to take off my shoes but this bloody dog can puke on the ground? I continued recording, but then the dog’s friends also arrived. They started barking and running around—it was not funny at all at the moment! But afterwards it was funny :-).
What is your advice for sounds designers who want to create and sell their own SFX libraries and synthesizers?
The Recordist: I have been asked this many times over the years and I still have the same feeling and words of advice. This is not an easy business to be in. It takes an incredible amount of effort and time to create something special and run a web shop full-time. Be patient and learn the ins and outs of running an online e-commerce shop if you prefer to sell them yourself. There are wonderful tools for presenting and selling online along with many articles on the internet about your options for getting up and running. The boutique sound library industry has exploded over the last few years and getting noticed is much more difficult. The one thing I can say is make sure your sounds have character and a unique performance aspect that will benefit the end-user. Keep it honest and go for it!
contortDistort: Stay focused, organized, creative, and have fun. The great thing about being your own boss is that you’re the creative lead, but at the same time you have to treat yourself as an employee. Create an organized spreadsheet of your sounds and the progress of those sounds in relation to the goal of your library. At a quick glance, you should be able to see how far along you are in the project and which sounds need what type of attention/work. It’s great to have fun, but at the same time it’s easy to lose track of time. Log your time so you know you’re staying on track. I know this sounds boring, but I find it extremely helpful.
Sound Ex Machina: Creating and selling SFX libraries is not just about what you want to do, what you can do (from a skill set standpoint), or what your equipment is capable of; it is about putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and providing tools that actually help sound professionals unleash their creativity. It’s important to not lose sight of your products, what people really want from you, and whether you’re delivering those or not.
Pablo Valverde: Purchase a portable handheld recorder, be creative and original, record every time you can, and share something that nobody has ever heard before. It will probably be something that has been with you your whole life, but you haven’t realised it yet.
Avosound: Do it, but don’t be frustrated.
What is an area you’d like to see pushed even further?
contortDistort: I would like to see the playability of sound transformations pushed further, such as what is seen in Alchemy or Iris. There is no lack of interesting ways to process samples, but being able to play those transformations like a musical instrument is not as readily available.
Sound Ex Machina: We are a young studio having operated for two and a half years, but we had to first form the bedrock of our collection. We created some “foundation” sound effects libraries first with a wide range of use, and at the same time we had the chance to start exploring the amazing world of sound effects. Over the next period, we wanted to further update and enrich our equipment and focus on shaping more unique and creative libraries, both digital and “real”. So stay tuned, guys. Some exciting sounds are just ahead :)
Pablo Valverde: VR Audio. I look forward to comparing it with the games from my old PSOne.
We hope you enjoyed reading these stories and words of advice. To hear more about their experiences, check out their blogs:
The Recordist: therecordist.com/blog/
Sound Ex Machina: www.soundexmachina.com/blog
Pablo Valverde: www.pablovalverde.com/en/blog