A multi-disciplinary journey in music, sound, and field recording.

Doors, and Saying No

Posted: July 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects

Mmm, so many tasty, carcinogenic choices.

Like over 100 other field recordists, I signed up for Tim Prebble’s crowdsourced special effects library of doors from around the world on his boutique effects label, Hiss and a Roar.

Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, I had to bow out of the project, and a number of other side-projects. (Saying “no” is a powerful tool to help rein in your life from your own over-committal. Just do it early enough.)

However, one of the more interesting doors I did manage to record was the hinged front panel of an all-metal, 1970’s-era cigarette vending machine. This thing lives in my office, inherited from previous tenants. It’s too big to get rid of, and too odd and ironic to let go of, since none of us smoke. This object has been heard here before.

In honor of the awesome work everyone has done on this upcoming release, today’s sound is a fragment of my own aborted contribution, in the hopes that everyone will support Hiss and a Roar and pick up the collection when it’s released.

[Sennheiser MKH 50/30 mid-side stereo pair with into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Satan’s Violin Lesson

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design

Noise Jockey: Taking the "E" out of "e-bow."

Almost exactly one year ago, I played a steel cable on a gate with an eBow, recorded with contact microphones. I decided to give it a go with a regular bow when I realized that this gate was basically a one-stringed guitar.

Think about it: Wound metal string under tension, wooden resonator. That’s all a guitar really is. What a wooden gate lacks is thickness, like a guitar, but at more than a meter in width and height, that’s a broad-enough surface to send air molecules running for cover.

I had to rosin the hell out of the bow to make it tacky enough to grip this oversized “string.” I found that also spreading rosin on the wrapped steel cable was helpful. I tuned the cable, as much as one can, by adjusting a turnbuckle.

I recorded in mid-side stereo. Today’s sample features is comprised of one mono track totally dry, one mono track run through Michael Norris’ Spectral Blurring effect, one mono track pitch-shifted down by 1.5 octaves, and the one stereo track pitch-shifted down by three octaves. Recording at 192Hz helps for such tomfoolery.

I apologize to my neighbhors for the unholy racket that I’m sure they thought was a demonic violin 101 class.

[Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 recorded as mid-side stereo into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Roam Home to a Drone

Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Rycote, Shelving, & Bear Canister

Today's lesson: Channelling resonance through a vibrationally conductive chamber!

[This post’s title not ringing a bell? Read more.]

As regular visitors to Noise Jockey have read before, I’m pro-drone, and I vote.

Any rich, enveloping tone is like audio heroin to me. Why? It’s definitely psychoacoustic, possibly all alignin’ my chakras ‘n’ such, maybe it’s the resonant frequency of my skull…I have no idea. While they’re easy to synthesize, they’re harder to record in the real world, but can be much richer and full of sonic surprises.

But it’s not like they’re rare. Quite the contrary: Almost anything will resonate under the right circumstances, but thin metals seems to be the best, including commonplace wire shelving units.

In trying to record a set of metal wire shelves in my shed, I started with contact mics, figuring there’d be subtleties to be captured…but putting mics on the thin rods of the shelves prevented them from moving as freely, and it just lacked the character that my ears heard. I ditched the contact mics and moved a large, polycarbonate bear-proof food canister onto a shelf and stuck a hypercardioid mic right at the mouth of the canister. This amplified the sound, added more of overtones, and increased the sound’s sustain.

Today’s sound is an edit of decays and tones from striking these metal shelves with a hammer. I simply edited out all of the transients of the actual hammer falls, and layered many sequences of these resonant tones together, “boomerang-reversing” some of them to get more consistent volume and tone. However, no plugins have been used.

[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]



Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

Sunshine on his shoulder makes him jumpy...

No sound designer can resist sound-making objects, so I did some recent damage at ThinkGeek for some small, inexpensive musical items…but then I noticed the robots.

Sadly,  buying a spendy mechanical robot arm just to record servo sounds seemed like a horrible investment. I learned this lesson last year. ;-)

However, I did get a tiny solar-powered grasshopper kit. An offset actuator in its abdomen makes the whole thing vibrate on tiny wire legs when it’s solar-cell carapace is hit with sunlight or a strong halogen source.

Of course, that would sound tiny and delicate. Which is OK. But how to make that sound bigger? Well, you put it on something that will resonate: Something with air around it that will conduct vibrations easily. (I’ve had loud, racous luck with this before.)

Being a hot, sunny Sunday, I chose the top of my closed Weber grill. I tested the sound with contact mics, but the steel was too thick. Truly, and unusually, where my ears were – close to the top of the grill – was where the best sound was. I switched to a hypercardioid mic in a windscreen, and captured today’s sound.

To accentuate the lovely low-mid resonant tones, I applied a huge -24dB cut at 5.5kHz , where the metallic feet where vibrating against the grill (I still wanted a tiny hint of chatter  in there), tand a +9dB boost at 180Hz. Could make for a nice layer with some other design elements.

[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Stupid Lav Tricks: A Robotic Primer

Posted: May 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear

To paraphrase Ned Flanders, "That set my beatbox all the way up to Roomba!"

Lavalier microphones (“lavs”) are used with wireless transmitters and receivers all the time in the world of film and video production because, well, actors move. Sometimes it’s the best way to mic someone if you can’t keep up with their movement or a boom can’t get close enough, as with a wide shot. They’re not usually the first choice for miking talent, but they’re a common one and a good tool for certain conditions.

Wireless lavs are also handy in sound design for the same reason: Some things move. When they move, you need to pan your mic with it, or accept off-axis sound falloff, or be trying to get a Doppler effect. If you want your mic point-of-view to stay on something moving, and a cable’s going to get in the way, then a wireless mic system is just the ticket.

But, as with everything, there are some caveats.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Magnet + Hydrophone

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear, sound design, video/motion

Magnet + Hydrophone from Noise Jockey on Vimeo. [Did you miss my first video?]

It is what is says, people! ;-) I ducked out some handling noise, but for the most part the audio is unaltered. Enjoy.

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Hard Drive Guts

Posted: April 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Hard Drive Guts

I'm killing this platter slowly with a screwdriver, and it never sounded so good.

Nothing puts Moore’s Law in perspective like ripping an 80 gigabyte hard drive out of an enclosure and swapping with a 2 terabyte drive. 80GB isn’t even big enough to act as a Photoshop scratch disk in 2010.

It’s not new ground by any means, but I did get some pretty interesting results, ranging from IDM-like chirps and squeaks to all sorts of weird drive vocalizations when I slowed the platter down with a screwdriver – much to my surprise, the damn thing came to a stop, jittered around, and then spun right back up again. Most of the sounds were pretty subtle (perfect for the MKH 50), surprisingly, but with lots of surprises. [I shot video of the whole thing, a still of which can be seen above, but really, a hard drive spinning is not that interesting. Trust me on this one.]

I had a great time until Chuck Russom suggested on Twitter what might happen if the 7200rpm drive would have come loose…

These sounds have only been normalized and no sound processing has been applied.

[Sennheiser MKH 50 microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Fun with Bikes

Posted: April 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design, video/motion

I’m pleased to offer the first video content on Noise Jockey, and outgrowth of an earlier post on recording bicycles. More to come.

Audio nerd bonus quiz: This was recorded double system with two microphones. The visible one was for the sound effect itself, aimed at the bike wheel. Where’s the other mic?

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More Guywire Shenanigans

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
Antennae on Big Rock Ridge, Lucas Valley, Marin County, California. I'm lucky to have found this damn thing in fog like that!

Antennae on Big Rock Ridge, Lucas Valley, Marin County, California. I'm lucky to have found this damn thing in fog like that!

As mentioned in earlier posts, Ben Burtt famously made the Star Wars blaster sounds out of hitting tensioned wires. Who wouldn’t want to do the same? My interest was really in how much or little processing it might have taken to get such an iconic sound, so I had to give it a go.

Well, it turns out that the answer is “precious little.”

Here’s some more audio fun from my recording session in dense fog and high wind with guywires that were stabilizing an antenna array. (I highlighted some wind-in-the-wires drones from this session in a previous post.) This very short collection of samples hasn’t been processed beyond than normalization for loudness. It makes a feller want to go around hitting everything with a wrench!

[OktavaMod MK-012 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Underwater Bowed Metal

Posted: March 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear, sound design
Bow, Wok Lid, Hydrophone

Horse hair, water, mic, and wok lid. Now we're cookin'!

My last post featured teensy finger cymbals being dipped in water while resonating, recorded with a submerged hydrophone. This time we go a bit bigger.

Bowed cymbals are one of the classic clichéd horror movie sounds…clichéd because they’re awesome! (coincidentally, just yesterday, Chuck Russom posted some great examples on his blog.) I recorded some a while back, borrowing some cymbals from a friend at work who keeps his drum kit at work. During that session I also realized that the wok lid from my kitchen made similar sounds, but with a different timbre: More groany, throaty, less musical, but with a quality I liked.

So, I played the wok lid with a violin bow as I moved it into and out of a tub of water, again with the trusty Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone tracking to a Sound Devices 702.  The H2a can be overly bright on some material, but for this stuff it was pretty good! (Next time I should record the above-water sound to a second channel with a small condenser mic for more mixing flexibility.)

The recording below is 100% unedited except for some slight compression and normalization.

[Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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