Sound

Sound Design Scrapbook #8

PODCAST

Another Twenty Thousound Hertz Podcast, this time it’s a peak into the world of writing, recording, designing and producing their podcast. Being an audio based podcast, they go the extra mile to make it as slick as possible!


MIXING MASTERCLASS

If you’re interested in Mixing Orchestral music, the marvelous Jake Jackson is here on stage at the 4th Annual Mixcon event in New York. I’ve seen Jake do a number of these run downs on his mix process for Orchestral work, and they’re always super useful and insightful. Excited to continue learning about it as I spend some concentrated time mixing a bunch of my own tracks over the next couple months.


SILENCE / EXHIBITION

Last year I stepped in for 59 productions to record 2 minutes of silence in a primary school assembly, this amongst a whole array of different recordings has culminated in this beautiful exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, Sound Designed by Gareth Fry.

http://59productions.co.uk/project/moments-of-silence/

 https://www.instagram.com/p/BocAMPcFsfx/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=u62jsdh1aa06

‘Moments of Silencee’, IWM London. Created by 59 Productions © Photo: Will Weisner

‘Moments of Silencee’, IWM London. Created by 59 Productions © Photo: Will Weisner

 

The Unreturning - UK Tour Sound Design - Frantic Assembly

The last few months I’ve been fairly flat out concentrating on Sound Designing  Frantic Assembly’s The Unreturning with Director Neil Bettles Directing a completely awesome company in one of the most collaborative processes I’ve been involved in for some time, it was such a delight to be part of and I felt very lucky to be involved.

This was a bit of a dream working process for me, being in the rehearsal room from day one (for 3 out of 4 weeks of rehearsals) and being part of the creation process even before that with Neil, Andrzej Goulding (Set and Video Designer), Zoe Spurr (Lighting Designer) and Lily Arnold (Costume Designer) and the rest of the team, it’s exactly how I love to work.

The show opened in Plymouth on Monday 24th September and will be on tour around the UK, you can find the dates on Frantic’s website here, and info on the whole team there too.

Bit of rehearsal action in London

Bit of rehearsal action in London

I’m half way through writing up a bit of a series about the equipment and processes I use for workshops, rehearsals and how I use Ableton and QLAB in those situations. I used a similar set up in rehearsals for The Unreturning and eventually programmed everything into QLAB, but will wait to go into detail about that until I’ve finished.

There was a lot of content to create for the show, we recorded the excellent actors for some part of the Sound Design too, and worked with a bunch of different music tracks. It was an extremely good example of how to integrate Spotify into the process, as I suggested in a previous post, it can be such a useful way of collaborating and evolving a musical palette. Our playlist started with Anna Jordan (Writer), who added some tracks as she wrote the piece, which allowed us into her world and how she was feeling about the piece. Then Neil added as he read the and I joined, threw in my own thoughts and we all continued to add to the playlist even up to the final days of previews, it was part of my job to then expand on this and integrate some of the musical palette into the show.

I like to be part of the rehearsal process early on as I enjoy working with everyone in the rehearsal room and allowing the whole team to influence parts of my Sound Design process, and I hope the Sound Design can influence decisions in other departments too, its fair to say it’s not always possible to be around full time, but it’s always super interesting to see what inspiring ideas come out of that collaboration.

Frogman April 2018

Last week I was at Shoreditch Town Hall with ‘Frogman’ a play I first worked on with Curious Directive last year which took me to Australia for 3 weeks of on site recording for a 360 film that becomes part of a live theatre show. It’s been an incredible learning curve for me to work with VR content, not only that but being able to support 50 audience members having an individual auditory experience whilst also collectively allowing them the experience the live theatre piece.

There are huge hurdles to overcome and still some more to work on as the show progresses, but as an experiment within multi disciplinary theatre its been a super interesting challenge and well worth a watch/listen, especially if you’re interested in VR.

The show just finished a 2 week run at Shoreditch Town Hall and will play at Arts Depot in Finchley for another week. Check it out here:

https://www.artsdepot.co.uk/theatre/curious-directive-frogman

I’ll be posting a little more about the process soon, a few photos and trailer below!

 

 

2017 Round up

2017, Its about time for a round up of last year. This will be the longest post i’ll be doing for a while but I’m hoping to post much more frequently!


I started the year in New York after workshopping The Kid Stays in the Picture with Ben Grant as associate, and Simon Mcburney Directing. We worked with 7 US Actors for a few weeks and it was incredibly fun. At the same time I was stepping in to operate The Encounter on Broadway over New Year, again a lot of hard work but having been part of the show for years previously and now getting a chance to go back in and learn the op again it was very rewarding.


In early January I led my first design transferring to St Ann's Warehouse over the bridge from Manhattan in DUMBO, Brooklyn. An incredble space to work in, with it's own challenges, though the view from the back door has to be a highlight.

The show was Phyllida Lloyd's The Tempest. The third all female Shakespeare piece set in a women's prison. I led a great team at St Ann's and we updated a fair amount of the system compared to the original version in Kings Cross. I also switched from an SD9 to the in-house Yamaha CL3 which took some re-programming but was a fairly smooth transition. After some recommendations I also decided to use Valhalla room through Mainstage as an effects processor and it was great, especially as the cost implications are so minimal. We also went with a pretty much full Meyer speaker system which suited the shows content, the Sound Design isn’t particularly subtle so these provided a good impact for the upfront content to the audience.


In February I came back to the UK and began the rehearsal period for The Kid Stays in the Picture at the Royal Court, the same show we were workshopping at the end of 2016. I loved working at the Royal Court and once again was met by an astonishing team. Ben Grant as Associate. We had a brilliant set of operators Yamina Mezeli and Neil Dewar, alongside David, Maddy and Alice as part of the Theatre team. The show was technically complex for all departments and I had to come up with some interesting ways to react to the show's ever evolving set of needs. It’s a very engaging process to create with Simon and we were constantly reacting and refining throughout.


At the same time Ben and I re-mounted Beware of Pity at the Barbican Theatre, which we had made with Simon the previous year at the Schabuhne theatre in Berlin. It was my first design to be live streamed on youtube outside of The Encounter. They did an excellent job of capturing the audio for the show and I took 3 days of listening and tweaking the final product, heres a link to the Q&A of the Director, Simon Mcburney and Artistic Director of the Schaubuhne Theatre, Thomas Ostermeier.
http://www.complicite.org/live-stream.php


The Kid Stays in the Picture was a highlight of the year and I hope we can go back to the show over the next few years and continue the work we started.


Next up was Twelfth Night at the Manchester Royal Exchange. Directed by Jo Davies, I was yet again surrounded by a lovely team and welcomed into what is a weird, yet interesting theatre to work in and a beautiful building. I had the pleasure of working alongside Alex Baranowski who Composed on this one and it was a delight to work with him as a collaborator but also with his fantastic music. We worked closely with 4 musicians he and Jo bought onto the show to create the sonic world of the show.

A few years ago I started taking piano lessons as a way to develop my skills and having worked with Alex, it pushed me to continue to spend some time on developing those skills outside of the the Sound Design world and it's been refreshing to do so.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had it's first cast change in London spring 2017 and leading that change from an audio perspective was an interesting task of maintanance and preservation, whilst keeping in a position where the actors are changing and adding their own take on the piece, reacting to those updates.

Into June and Frogman, following a lot of research and experimenting with 3D video and audio,  I took a 3 week trip with Jack (Artistic Director) and Milla (Designer) from Curious Directive, to Brisbane, Australia. We worked with 4 young actors in a set made especially for our 3d film content. I took on the whole process of audio production on this project which meant planning, recording, processing all of the audio content from the on set filming. Then the theatre part of the project which was about finding the very best way to give an audience the 360 audio experience in a theatre context.

 

Milla was interviewd for a great piece talking about the Design elements of Frogman here

During those three weeks the Tony Awards Ceremony in New York took place, where Gareth Fry and I were awarded a Special Tony Award for our Sound Design work on Complicité's The Encounter. Not only this, but alongside our award The Tony's also announced that Sound Design categories will resume as a regular yearly fixture after they were axed in 2014. A huge moment in the year and a big step in the right direction for the recognition of Sound Design on Broadway!

Back over to Brisbane to finish off the filming and finally back to London to edit the recordings. I plan to do a set of short walkthroughs of the process so I can get a bit more detailed in that, but for now those interested should check out Facebook 360 spatial workstation. We then created the live theatre side of the show, I should explain that the concept of the show is part VR and part live theatre. Frogman will be back in the UK at Shoreditch Town Hall in 2018 and you can find out more here: https://shoreditchtownhall.com/whats-on/frogman

After a break in august I started working on two more Sound Design projects. The first was Simon Stephens’ adaptation of The Seagull, directed by Sean Holmes at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. The second called White Bike, newly written by Tamara Von Werthern, directed by Lily Mcleish at The Space in Canary Wharf. They were very different projects and both exciting to be leading the Sound Design of.


The Seagull gave me an opportunity to play with naturalistic content against a less naturalistic set and lighting design, working closely with the rest of the creative team, and lovely sound team at the Lyric in a fairly large/mid scale venue. The White Bike was in a much smaller venue and so smaller system also, but it’s content and the integration of the Sound Design had a more abstract sensibility. Again a wonderful creative team and we were pulling together a beautiful piece of work in a short time. We workshopped some ideas in 2016 and we found it useful to start a collaborative playlist on Spotify where Lily and I could form ideas for an auditory world, which grew over the year and played in rehearsals whilst devising, a large amount of which ended up in the show in one way or another.

Once finishing both of these I moved to Hull for a 4 weeks to work on The Last Testament of Lillian Billoca. Written by Maxine Peake and directed by Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight. We had been in conversations and meetings about the project since early 2017, it was a large scale site specific project in Hull’s Guildhall, a still fully functioning building in the centre of Hull. We used 4 main rooms and a handful of small auxiliary rooms around the building to tell the story of Lillian Billoca, a controversial, strong campaigner for the working rights of trawler men in the late 1960s.


I had to put together a strong team for what was a difficult venue to implament a design into, production engineer Guy Colletta, who worked with Gareth Fry and I on The Encounter, took on the production engineer role and getting our system into this none theatre building was a bit of a challenge but Guy is the master at this. We worked with live Music from The Unthanks in two of the rooms, one room was an audio/movment led sequence with a headphones and each room was very different in style and size. Part of the challenge was to decide how best to link or unlink the rooms and corrioors, depending on the audience experience and route around the building. It was a great situation to work our way around and we came away with something to be very proud of.

In December I decided to focus on music and composition. I went to the Tune Up event on the Southbank, which was an inspiring day, I took time learning more about the many sample libraries I’ve not delved into before and went much further into MIDI in Logic X. I've now begun writing music aimed towards media for a brilliant European publisher. This time away from Sound Design has been helpful to focus on my own projects outside of theatre, and I’m looking forward to bringing focus back into theatre again this year.

There are a lot of exciting Sound Design projects on the horizon, in and out of theatre, the UK and abroad. I plan to post more often, to put my thoughts down about projects I’m working on, software and hardware I pick up along the way, walkthroughs for things like 360 audio capture, sync, and getting that to a live theatre audience, composition, sound design content creation,  etc… Though, one of the hard things about posting about the show you’re working on in theatre is the secrecy behind it, especially before press have been in and reviewed the show, you want to keep the excitment. So I’m aiming to work around that and show the parts of my own process that I can. Some people pull this off in a very slick way so hopefully I can find some ways.
P

 

Evening Standard Award - Best Design - The Encounter

A few weeks ago Gareth Fry and I were awarded the Best Design award in the Evening Standard awards for our work on Complicité’s The Encounter. Conceived, Directed and Performed by Simon McBurney, the piece allowed us so much freedom to experiment and give an audience auditory cues to key into their imagination, it was a real pleasure to put together with such an wonderful team of collaborators. 

Gareth does an amazing job of listing those we wanted to thank and so linking to that would be easier than trying to do so again:

http://www.garethfry.co.uk/new-blog-avenue/2016/11/14/best-design-award-for-the-encounter

The team of Sound Engineers/Designers/Operators we’ve worked with are second to none. The show is always alive and changing all the time, they keep the world of The Encounter afloat and work like musicians with Simon to react to these new ideas and changes. We’re very lucky to have them! 

It’s also key to mention the gratitude we have for being awarded the Best Design award and how, Sound Design has been recognised and considered for a design award not only that, but amongst other design disciplines too. I only hope that it can help spread this school of thought elsewhere.

All dressed up at ES awards

London Marathon 2016 Recording

Last weekend was the London Marathon 2016. My girlfriend's brother ran and managed a time of 3:25:13. Awesome achievement. 

In the moments when we weren't wandering around London trying to catch him, I managed to get a few short recordings.

I took the oppurtunity to take out my little portable stealth kit to see how well it performed. It consists of a Sound Devices 702 in a camera bag with two DPA4061's with mini rycote windshields strapped to either side of the bag. 

Drums fuel of the atmosphere around Canary Wharf, I spent some time underneath a bridge where 2 taiko players were living.

After clambering up a railing I got a recording from slightly above the action, people with plastic hand clappers,  horns in the distance, and the ever present drummers.

I think the setup performerd pretty well all told, there are some big pros and cons of it for sure.

Pro: It doesn't attract attention. Which leads to a more natural performance and causes less interruptions from interested passers by. 

Con: positioning, It's difficult to be consistent with the mic positions, as there is a bag in the 30cm gap between the two mics, it's also not very natural sounding stereo image. 

Next time around I might test out a different method of strapping the mics to the bag with a bit more precision and maybe some sort of stereo spacing bar involved in the bag to help.

 

 

Free Ghanaian Gyil Kontakt instrument - PMvst001

Since the last post about recording Stephen Hiscock's Gyil (Yes I was spelling it incorrectly! O dear) I took some time to edit and put the resulting hits into Kontakt. Here is a link to the Current Ghanaian Gyil V1.0,

Free Ghanaian Gyil download
Free Ghanaian Gyil download

---   ---   ---

Specifications:
309 samples
5/6 velocity layers for each note
2x Round Robin for each note
3x patches
            - Original pitch                   
            - Tuned scale (CDFGBb)       
            - Chromatic scale pitched  

2x Beater options- Rubber (Rubber malletts made from Tires)
                                               - Sticks    (The wooden side of the malletts)

Requirements:
210MB Hard Drive space
Full version of Native instruments Kontakt 5

---   ---   ---

Feel free to download and play with it if you're looking for something authenically african and I'd love to hear any feedback.

I don't want to dive too deep into a 'How to create a velocity sensitive instrument in Kontakt' post, but there's few thoughts from the process I thought it'd be interesting to note.

My main DAW's are Ableton Live and Logic, but I decided to try using Ableton for this process. The first step was to record the Gyil into Ableton through my SD 702 and soundcard. I only had two Preamps available at the time, so used an XY setup about a metre away from the top of the Gyil. The first note, having a few different mic positions would probably help with integrating the sound of the Gyil with other libraries, but starting with a fairly dry, close recording is great starting point.

The Gyil has 14 notes and I wanted to try 2 round robins of each and have 5/6 velocity layers for each note played with both ends of the beaters. So that's 336 individual samples to edit.

Manually this takes a while and is fairly tedious. Both Logic and Ableton have a feature which slices a piece of audio from its transient markers and creates a new MIDI instrument. However, neither of these cut the audio up usefully for Kontakt. Logic does have a 'Split Silence' feature that does a better job at slicing the regions, with a bit of tweaking, by transient. Either way there is an amount of time spent finessing this, as the hits need to be very closely trimmed to the start of the transient.

Logic Strip silence
Logic Strip silence

Once each hit was edited and ready to slot into Kontakt, I set up a new instrument and using the mapping editor placed the 6 velocity layers  for the first note on it. Spreading them across the 127 potential velocities.

Again this could take a while, but you can quite easily copy and paste one set of 6 velocity samples onto another key on the mapping editor, then re-locate each of the copied samples to the next note in the sequence to save time (I didn't find this out until I'd spent a good few hours on a fairly bumpy flight trying to be precise with my trackpad... Bad idea!)

Kontakt 5 Mapping editor
Kontakt 5 Mapping editor

A similar process applies to the second takes (Round Robin takes) this was fairly simple. The mapping editor works in groups, for each round robin you create a new group and set that group to be a certain either the first or second set of round robins. Again copying the already mapped first takes and pasting that into a new group meant I could re-locate the samples within this second group with the second takes.

I did the same thing with the hard wooden end of the beaters and placed those into two new groups. Had a play with photoshop and added the Attack and Release knobs through looking into the inner workings of other Kontakt instruments scripts.

A little messing with key switches and it was prett much there.

So please do have a play with the Gyil and enjoy

African Gil - Recording session

For the past couple of months I've been working on a show called Lionboy with Complicité and we're coming to the end of our run at the Tricycle Theatre. The show had a live percussionist on stage, so this week I've decided to record Steve's (our percussionists) Gil.

The Gil is an African 'tuned' percussion instrument that steve plays in the show for a few of our 'African' scenes. It's not the most common instrument I've ever come across!

The notes are pentatonic and so, as Steve usually suggests, you can play almost any notes and they will likely fit together! Steves instrument was made by his teacher in Africa and has gaudes underneath that amplify the sound. It has a bit of a weird unique buzzing sound on some of the notes and watching people play them on YouTube it's really meant to be part of the overall sound of the Gil. To create the buzzing sound there is a spider egg membrane covering holes in the gaudes which vibrate, strange but true!

So having decided to record the Gil properly Ive also thought it would be interesting to learn how to make a kontakt instrument using those recordings, so have taken a bunch of different takes at differing dynamics and will have a go soon. I managed to find a few hours without anyone else in the theatre and got recording. Wanted to get some use out of my sound devices 702 and a pretty neat pair of DPA 4011's which we use in the show.

Here's a dry clip of me messing around on the Gil, i'm no percusionist so forgive me!


Now on to editing the single hits and trying to make a virtual instrument from it!

Field recording

A few weeks ago i took a trip home to start sourcing exterior countryside ambience. Armed with a very simple set up I used the MKH 416 with pistol blimp, going into a Zoom H4n. If i had the resources i would have loved to take a stereo or even quadraphonic recording setup but I using what i had i jumped into the countryside getting as much as possible. I planned for a sunny day but oddly enough it decided to snow during the night before and was very bright during the rest of the day. So i took advantage of that whilst i could!

Whilst it was great to be out in the countryside getting these sounds,  it was really still very difficult to get away from the background traffic sound in the distance. Luckily there were some small valley's that acted as a barrier against it. I'd really like to try using a less sensitive mic in the same situation to see the difference, though the directivity of the 416 helped immensely in getting specifics and away from external noise that i simply did not want.

To editing the recordings I used Logic, with it's Equal power crossfade it was really very simple to be able to cut out unwanted sounds (many of which were aeroplanes!) and very quick to create a loop-able ambience track out of each take. Though it certainly didn't feel as dynamic as i was hoping it would. But again, having a stereo version would have made quite a difference.

It was really useful to actually get out there and try some location ambient recording and i realised how much i actually enjoy trying to get the best recordings I can, also happening upon places/people/animals etc that i hadn't planned too was half the fun of it!

Also, though it obviously wasn't on a similar scale, going through the list of Field recording tips posted by multiple readers and Tim Prebble on his blog was very useful to look over and think about, so thanks to Tim for starting it off!

Foley Session 1 -TRP

So, I'm currently working on the Post-sound for a film put together by the BYFA for the Co-operative group. The Rochdale Pioneersis about a Co-operative movement that took place in 1844 by the people of Rochdale. Though it wasn't the first Co-operative to take place, their rules and guidelines are that which the modern day Co-operative follow. Working from a very rough cut of certain scenes, i've started to get a sense of some of the sound worlds that need to be built. Giving 'everything' a sound is what i need to get to grips with and in such I began my Foley research.

After reading a lot of i use pro tools in this way... Logic in this way... I decided to take some advice but also take a full day in the studio trying some techniques out.

For this first session i used Logic pro, tested out my M-audio profire 610, Figure 53's 'streamers'. Set up with a Sennhieser MKH416 and a Rode NT2.

Logic foley
Logic foley

Doing the session on my own, I can really see the huuuge benefit of having an engineer separate to the artist! If that were a viable option that is! anyway, the first thing i wasted a lot of time doing was, having to press stop, go back to previous location and record again, So grabbing an external keyboard helped hugely with this, but it still wasn't great. Generally, I want to move onto creating shortcuts using Quickeys (very similar to automator, but much more user friendly and quicker, also integrates applescript) using this session to experiment, it showed me the sort of workflow i'm aiming for, especially when recording+performing. I'd really like to experiment with using midi commands from the performing position to locate, record, loop etc, simply on my phone or a little Nano kontrol

I really like the multi take features in Logic, it would be fantastic for comp-ing parts of takes that are in-line with the video, however having never performed as a foley artist before, i was quite off with some takes, and naively in the moment expected to be able to comp takes when i edit it. It may be fine for some certain comps, but it cant fix a whole footstep trrack out of time! I see how important it is to get rhythms and sync in the performance more than expecting to clean it up in the edit.

Maudio profire in focus
Maudio profire in focus

I bought the m-audio more for small theatre shows, having the 8 unbalanced outs will be very handy but thought i'd test the studio use of it having just upgraded from an Alesis firewire , which has hardly and real controllable multi channel output capabilities.

The obvious issue with recording in the same room as the equipment is noise from the my mac. In quite a hot room, external monitor controlling streamers and the profire kicking out phantom power to both of the mics. This meant fan speed increases that were very very audible. Adding the power supply to the profire doesn't help, and isn't recommended by Maudio either, and figure 53 recommend using a second computer to contain streamers. In the end i just took out the NT2 which helped.

The recordings themselves i was happy with but this fan noise is unbearable, using the alesis is probably the better option in these situations, so will test that next time and try to grab a second mac to control streamers.

I was using a demo version of Streamers that i prepared prior to the session. It is a great cueing program that receives MIDI Time Code from Logic to help cue ADR and Foley performers. It's quickly becoming part of my cueing tools.

Streamers 2
Streamers 2

Basically you create a cue, give it a SMPTE time and it will create a 'streamer' overlay on a preview video. I found this incredibly useful whilst performing, and also very easy to keep control of too a larger external monitor is a must, the one i used was awful and i had trouble seeing what i needed to. Streamers also allows you to use a text file to create the cues instantly, which was extremely useful . Definitely be using a licensed version in the next session.

As for performing the different parts of Foley, Footsteps proved to be the most difficult by far! But I believe that practice certainly does make perfect so i'm willing to keep at it! Having read through the Philip Rodrigues' website on Foley, he suggests to get into the character that you're providing foley for. In my case one character has a really laid back feel and is a bit cheeky, really distinct strides. Taking Rodrigues' advice helped massively. Understanding the character helped me get the right rhythm and sync to the footsteps.

I have started to love the MKH416 after taking it out for a quick spin on location in Hebden Bridge, a beautiful place, but also chilly, and wet! a great place to try it out.

Hebden bridge 1
Hebden bridge 1
Hedben bridge 2
Hedben bridge 2

However sad it sounds, the wind i captured here was great, sitting in a little alcove of a church, wind rushing by. A little off the topic of Foley but still, I really like the mic and it worked well in the studio, but the experiment was less about the quality and more about the workflow, so i'll be going over it again.

The session was really useful and will really let me increase the efficiency of upcoming recordings. Now, onto working out an efficient editing workflow!