Need a Mentor?

Please note the date on this post – I have no plans for more virtual sound design interns – see this article

Empathy is a character trait I value. Highly. I heard a psychologist interviewed on the radio a year or so ago & her core theory (based on research) was that a large proportion of people in prison never learned empathy as children. Every now & again I meet someone with an obvious lack of empathy & think hmmmm… they just have no appreciation for their effect on other people & I think about those people in prison, who commit crimes with similarly no thought for the often devastating impact on their victims…

So why am I talking about empathy? Well I so appreciate the support a number of generous people gave me early in my career & while its difficult to repay their kindness I feel that it is probably more appropriate to repay in kind ie offer similar support to young people now… And to me this is an act of empathy, as I dearly remember how hard getting that start is, and how much a small gesture of support can mean at critical stages… Accordingly I’ve managed to do this a number of times over the years by taking on someone with no real post experience as an assistant/trainee and it is satisfying to see them develop & forge their careers… Finding the right person can be problematic, not through any lack of willing participants but more so in terms of clarifying the crucial formative characteristics. But having successfully been through the process four times now I have a reasonable idea….

Anyway, enough philosophy for now – this post is really just to say I would like to offer a virtual internship by acting as mentor to a young sound editor who is early in their career.

So what is a mentor exactly? The dictionary defines it as “a wise and trusted guide and advisor” while Wikipedia refers to “a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person” which sounds a bit more like it.

When I started my own company I had a business mentor for a while, and I found it invaluable to have someone far more experienced to ask advice from. Often they played devils advocate & answered my questions with questions, so I thought through my own conclusions and I definitely subscribe to this approach. If someone I am supervising is stuck on a problem it is rare that I would simply come up with an answer for them, because that doesn’t help them develop the skills to solve that same problem when it arises again in the future.

So what are the characteristics I am looking for? Well the first thing I can say is you do not need to be local. I already have a good team of people who I work with & accordingly I simply don’t have a trainee job to offer, per se. So I am happy to mentor via email, ichat, skype, ftp etc…

You need to be able to illustrate that you are already committed to film sound post as a career. It is an investment of time on my part so I need to be convinced this isn’t just a whim. That doesn’t mean you need to have credits on films, but already having some experience of contributing to short films or TV drama etc is a definite bonus.

Technical skill is important – don’t apply if you don’t already have a basic knowledge of ProTools. I’m not interested in what your favourite software is, it is a simple fact that ProTools dominates in film sound post & we need to be able to exchange Protools sessions as work in progress. I did plenty of films early on using nothing more than ProTools LE, so that at least is a prerequisite.

Owning (or having access to) a field recording kit is also important. I dont really believe in using library sounds other than in specific situations so I want to know what you will be using to collect sounds for your work.

Lastly & in my opinion most important is personality & attitude. I am going to have to research some questions for this bit – not about your personal life but definitely about your attitudes, ethics & approach. This will also require a character reference or two who I can contact.

So its kind of like a job interview, except there isn’t a job. The virtual internship will run for a maximum of 12 months, at which point I will take on a new intern. And bear in mind I despise sycophants. I do not want to hear what you think I want to hear, I want to hear what you think. Still interested? if you want to apply, please email me using the form below & in a week or so I will send you an application form.

> Registration is now closed!

– Update 1

– Update 2

– Update 3

– Update 4

– Update 5

Atonality, Naming Goats & The Ecology of Creativity

I can’t claim any of the great subjects in the title of this post as my own; each one is an article on the fascinating site: Thinking Applied…. but it was the one on Atonality that led me to first discover it. I find it interesting how musical tastes & perception change, both individually & via the collective consciousness. I guess its all a part of evolution…
But the article that I enjoyed the most is about Internal Research & is subtitled as an algorithm for the productive use of the imagination but could also be considered as a means of accessing your subconscious. Heres the introduction:

‘Elmer R. Gates (1859-1923), who held dozens of patents, made his living “sitting for ideas.” His tools were a quiet room, a pen, blank paper, and his mind.

When I read about Gates in 1960, the notion of “sitting for ideas” appealed to me, and I began to try it. For two decades I intermittently pursued it in different settings with varying degrees of success and failure. In 1984, after one career as an academic and another as a conductor of contemporary music, I succumbed to my scientific and philosophical interests and founded a small interdisciplinary think tank. Since then “sitting for ideas” has been a major preoccupation.

Learning to use introspection productively is like perfecting an artistic skill. It takes commitment, time, and understanding. There’s no substitute for commitment, but you’ll hasten your progress if you understand the underlying process.

The example of Elmer Gates demonstrates three things: The unconscious has access to information that lies outside our normal awareness; under certain conditions that information can be released into consciousness; some of it can be unique and useful…. continues..

Interesting huh? I know its related & it always makes me laugh but if I am working on a creative problem before breakfast & get stuck, I notice that if I go have a shower after about 5 minutes a solution will suddenly occur to me. Now I’m not standing in the shower thinking about the problem, in fact I’m not thinking about much at all & its that rest that lets the unconscious go to work. Similarly there is a saying about the best way to solve a problem is to go for a decent walk ie partake in an activity that lets the conscious mind rest… Explain that to your boss next time you get stuck on a problem: ‘its not that I’m not working….

The Creative Cost of Piracy

Everyone knows piracy is an issue, and the worst kind of piracy has to be the leak. There is no greater insult to an artist than for their work to be stolen & released to the world before it is finished, and while piracy of a finished product has a negative financial impact, piracy of an unfinished product has far deeper ramifications. What prompted this post? Well, I was reading an article about the picture editorial workflow on the new Star Trek film and while it is an interesting read, one section totally stunned me, get this:

Another issue was steps taken to reduce the risk of the film being pirated.

“Security-wise we made sure all the footage we gave out to the music or sound effects guys were in black-and-white. Eventually we did give them color but it was just another security precaution to make sure things weren’t going to get out. Of course all the footage had massive block letters with the name of who it was going out to. And it wasn’t just on the top and bottom it was through the entire image. Otherwise you just crop the top and bottom.

We had a lot of ADR sessions and some of those were done internationally because some of the actors were overseas. For those we were extremely cautious with and we actually blacked out the entire screen and made a little circle around the actors face and tracked the circle to their face so that is the only thing that was being seen. It’s a little scary when you are dealing with another country, another company and department that you have never met doing the recording. So it was a lot of tedious work involved but you do feel better about sending it out.”

Good grief! So THAT is the creative cost of piracy. To try & prevent the possibility of a leak, the sound post team are required to work to BLACK & WHITE video??? And the actors doing ADR are expected to get back in character, engage with the story & create evocative performances while looking at DISEMBODIED FACES???? In closeup that would seem a little weird but in a wideshot it must be bizzare!
While I feel sorry for the people working in such circumstances, I feel total disgust for the people who create this situation by pirating & leaking original artworks. What exactly is the motive for leaking something? What possible benefit is there? And is this a direct side effect of the Wolverine leak? There must be better solutions than those suggested above.

No mind

“When I improvise there’s no mind. I’m just there. I fiddle around. It’s like a painter would do, just fantasise a little bit. I’m not thinking about this shit, it’s just something I do. Mind messes everything up. When inspiration starts, rational thinking stops.”

Thats Joe Zawinul talking about his creative process from an interview published in SOS magazine back in June 2003 and that ‘no mind’ state intrigues me, since it appears in a number of other unique circumstances.

Mushin is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. The term is shortened from mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning mind of no mind. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything.

Am I talking about music or the meaning of life? Yes, no, maybe… but some of those buddhist words of wisdom could easily be describing music:

“The river has no shape, but it takes on the boundaries which it carves out for itself,
so is the mind boundless, until it creates a prison for its own thoughts.”

To the mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.

Lao Tzu

While attaining the no-mind state takes considerable focus & practice, the state of being in the flow is related & is perhaps a step down the same road…. There is a great article here: In the zone: enjoyment, creativity, and the nine elements of “flow.” Of the nine elements discussed, number 7 is particularly relevant: Self-consciousness disappears. When I was younger I felt far more self-conscious than I do now, and maybe thats just a part of growing up. I remember having one of those great, random, deep conversations with a complete stranger on a plane, about how as you grow older you eventually reach an age where you simply become comfortable in your skin. It takes a certain amount of time, but I would also presume, a certain amount of experience, of living…

A couple of videos worth checking out: the first by the author of the book discussed in that article; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, on creativity, fulfillment and flow

And a video of a presentation by David Lynch: Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain:

Food for non-thought?

25 Things

Someone tagged me on Facebook with the 25 things meme, so i thought I’d paste it here too. So heres 25 random things about me

1. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is the first film I ever saw. My grandmother took me during school holidays; thanks Irene, I hope Heaven is cool!

2. An empty grain silo on my Dads farm is the first beautiful sound I remember exploring, age 6 or so… I caught a mouse in there and it bit me. This was before computers – it was a real mouse.

3. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno & David Byrne is the first album that made me want to be a musician/sound engineer/music producer/space cadet

4. Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders is the first film I saw that made me want to be a film maker. I still love that film & visited some of the locations when I went to Berlin a few years ago. I saw the angels. They seemed happier.

5. As an artist and a human being, I believe what you choose NOT to do is as important as what you DO choose to do. I do not sing & I do not dance, so please, dont even ask me.

6. I have never consciously tried to meditate, ever. But I meditate every time I play the drums, mow the lawn, drive my car, water my plants, play my double bass, dream, swim, travel, make or listen to music, record sounds in nature…

7. I believe I am currently in Zen kindergarten. I hope to start school one day.

8. I’ve been in three bands (& I bet you can’t name one of them!)

9. I recently fell in love with a modular synth. I would sleep with it if I could, but its a bit sharp & pointy & all the glowing LEDs & warped sounds would keep me awake at night…

10. I would eat Japanese food every day if I could (preferably in Japan)

11. Haruki Murikami is my favourite author but I would love to live inside a William Gibson novel.

12. I like staying up really late on Sunday nights…

13. I dont believe anything good happens on Monday mornings.

14. I dislike telephones and wish they were never invented. Why wasnt the internet invented back in 1876 instead? Oh, right…

15. Autonomy is a core requirement for me to be happy.

16. I had piano lessons for two years when I was young but I still cant read manuscript. I had the loveliest piano teacher called Joan. She had two daschund dogs & when they barked it meant the next student had arrived and I would soon be FREE!!! I met my piano teacher again recently. My Mum told her I make jazz… or something…. and she’s right! (about the ‘or something’ bit)

17. I love steampunk as alternate history…

18. I feel incredibly blessed to work on films & to spend time with so many inspiring people.

19. I believe in Moleskins (the little notebooks, not the trousers!)

20. I have nine nieces & nephews: they are the nine coolest people on the planet.

21. My best work is the work I do tomorrow.

22. My favourite place is here & now. Second is there & soon. Third is way over there, in a few months…

23. My favourite state of mind is when I am caught up in the flow of creating music/sound.

24. I believe you become what you dream about, but every dream takes a different amount of time to become real. And you have to keep dreaming it for it to become real. The really big dreams can take ages…

25. The Y2k bug broke the tibia & fibula in my right leg. Well, either that or a combination of champagne & gravity. It happened 2am Jan 1st, 2000. Enough said. I am now partly robotic & have to avoid large magnets.

Music Thoughts

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby, has launched a new site called Music Thoughts which pretty much sums up its sole purpose – as a repository for music related quotes & thoughts, heres a random example from Robert Fripp:


It reminds me a little of Brian Enos Oblique Strategies although the thoughts contained within those are more specifically philosophical & relevant to the creative process in terms of provoking change… I own a copy of the 4th series of Oblique Strategies & consult them occasionally – the fifth series are still available although so is a free version for the iPhone/iPod Touch…

Music Thoughts is a great idea – whenever I’m reading a book or wandering around the interweb & come across a spark of wisdom specifically relevant to me I tend to write it down in my moleskin, as good thoughts are very worth revisiting. Relevant to this, on the front page of my current moleskin I have a saying I try to refer to often. Its says: “we become what we think about” and at a later date I’ve added in brackets “so think the future”
It was prompted by watching the following video, basically its a speech by Earl Nightingale (who sounds a LOT like Orson Welles) & it is very worth the ten minutes to check it out, its not new or quirky – its just worth thinking about…

Another great quote form that video: “The opposite of courage is not cowardice, its conformity” or in short form: “baaaaaaaa”

ps Earl wasnt the first person to come up with that saying, Buddha beat him by quite a few decades!
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

Ambient Sequencer AS606!

Check it out here

Funny! I used to use half empty packets of zigzags to achieve the same results ie jamming down keys for infinite sustain…

Stashing ideas In the real world…

Do you own a Moleskin? If not, then make it your next purchase…. why? Because they are perfectly designed to collect ideas while you go about life in the real world, thats why! Hell, they even make one for people that can read that strange tadpole language….

What? sound designers? Me not speaka de tadpole.. But if the choice was between my ipod & my moleskin the ipod would stay at home – why? Because like television ipods are mostly passive, whereas nothing is more interactive & inspiring than a blank page & a pen…

Anyways, relatedly here is an inspired bit of animation by Evelien Lohbeck called Noteboek

Inspiring Words

I often read books & articles on how people approach & think about their work in other creative fields, as the techniques are often either transferrable or inspire other ways of thinking about sound design and music. So if you would like some interesting advice & insight into the creative process of some very successful creative people, then have a read of this article – the author of the Magnum Photographers blog asked the same two questions of 35 photographers:

When did you first get excited about photography?

What advice would you give young photographers?

So have a read, heres a link to the PDF and wherever they say photo substitute the word sound (or music, whichever is your primary muse)

When did you first get excited about music?

What advice would you give young musicians?

Are you GENERIC?

There was one sentence in the quotes from the previous post by Ryuichi Sakmoto that has stuck in my head as it has interesting ramifications: “I don’t like ‘experimental music’ that’s only point is experimentation.”

Its an interesting point & perhaps the subtext is being wary of self-indulgence, an important consideration for any artist or musician. But it also makes me think of music that is so intensely genre driven that its only point seems to be to identify with that specific genre. The concept of genre is not new by any means, but I cant help think of the term generic as having negative connotations, as in cookie cutter type sound-a-like music… How important to you is genre?

Mix Stage Essentials: the ping pong table

There is a great tradition of ping pong & post production. When I first started working on films we were mixing to/from 24 track reel to reel recorders & when we finished a reel & it was time for a reel change, it was also time for a game of ping pong. Nowadays a reel change usually only involves swapping hard drives on the recorders which takes only a few minutes, but the ping pong served more functions than simply filling in spare time. Mixing is demanding work – the concentration & focus involved in constantly assessing the creative progress/developments & details as well as all the technical requirements… So to turn the lights on & jump around & get some exercise does wonders!
I had a ping pong table at my studio for a while too, and I used to find that whenever I got stuck on a tricky problem if I stopped work for ten minutes & had a game of ping pong, as soon as I sat back down the solution would appear. Its partly the blood flow/exercise and partly the no-mind of playing… Anyway here is a great video thats certainly isn’t recent, but is still great to see again: ping pong matrix style or Japanese Bunraku style:

Playing ping pong on the mix stage can also be an interesting way of revealing peoples personalities – who is competitive and who isn’t… There have definitely been a few directors (& maybe a mixer?) where the mixing definitely goes smoother if they get to win at ping pong!

Rally for service?

I love Tina Weymouth

Can I tell you my Talking Heads story? It takes a little while, so bear with me.. and no, it doesnt involve me literally loving Tina Weymouth, mores the pity… but it does go right back to year zero for me with regards to the aesthetics of music…

When I was a kid my first ‘real’ exposure to music beyond what was immediately in front of me came via my older brother who by then was attending boarding school (we lived on a farm, too remote to commute to secondary school) and he’d return home for weekends with his ghettoblaster full of new music. Mostly he was into the Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Talking Heads… but one weekend he arrived home & had two new albums; ‘Remain in light’ and ‘My Life In the Bush of Ghosts’. Yep! home taping sure killed the music market. But he wasnt sure if he liked either of them – ‘its all too weird’ which immediately picqued my interest… I couldn’t assimilate the names of the albums let alone the music & the weird vocal samples but it had this otherworldly feel to it that inverted or at least initiated my aesthetic mind to the unknown… It was mysterious as all hell & yet felt grounded in multiple cultures, none of which I had any immediate experience with. It suggested a world far, far larger than my immediate neighbourhood & slowly it began to become both my favourite album & my starting point for developing a love for music; not the music anyone else told me I should like, but the music I loved.

The problem was it set a high tide mark for all the subsequent music I heard. How come most of the ‘new’ music was actually quite plain & boring? It took a year or five, but it slowly dawned on me; I had fallen in love with an eclectic kind of music that was equally esoteric & mostly ignored by pretty much everyone I knew or met for the following decade… Is that my fault or theirs? Such questions haunt you at that age…. but I persevered with the question…

Fast forward a decade & I’m at secondary school & there was a 12 hour long music festival called Sweetwaters South happening at the ex-Commonwealth Games venue in the small/big-for-me-then city of Christchurch & aside from such rock bands such as The Pretenders & Simple Minds there was also a band called Talking Heads…. needless to say I had big expectations & I wasnt disappointed; this was the Stop Making Sense Tour and MUCH thanks to the non-existence of the interweb the entire audience was oblivious to the stage setup… & when David Byrne walked out on stage in the crazy oversized suit & matching oversized ghetto blaster & asked if he could play us a song, of course the response was rapturous… And I specifically remember when first the bassplayer joined in & then they rolled on the drumkit – it was a beautiful de-construction of the ‘band’ concept..


Nothing they did before, or since, has surpassed those two albums…. I guess it was just a moment in time; for them, for me & for anyone who it resonated with… but it is a rare & precious thing to be able to pinpoint an album that was so deeply influential in so many ways….

So of course we know Eno & Byrne’s egos & input were writ larger than life as to what & how, but actually what was the how of that formative album? How did it occur? Heres a quote from Tina on this very subject:

When we were making Speaking in Tongues and Remain in Light, we were jamming. From that we were taking the best bits and then recording and improvising on top of those.

Ah so! The core essence was jams; that makes a lot of sense, when I know from personal experience that the most transcendant moments of my musical involvement occurred during jams… but they just get written off as frivilous, fun-at-the-time jams unless of course someone is recording them in a way that they can later on be cut up & ‘organised’ into something more coherent than their freeform origins… Was that person Eno? or did he turn up afterwards? Who knows?
But as a bass player I know what provides the true basis of music: drums & bass. And on a personality basis I know who I trust most of any musicians in a band, the bass player. They tie the melody to the rhythm & contribute a major part of the ‘feel’ to a song… And so I stumbled across this interview with Tina Weymouth, bass player for Talking Heads & the fantastic Tom Tom Club…

>What do you remember most about the band’s early days?

“I remember how committed we were, but also how tough it was. We were on Christy Street, near the Bowery, and it was simply a space that was both affordable and non-residential, so we could play our music. We lived on pasta and cottage cheese. We had no shower and no hot water–just a hot plate and a mini fridge. Our big refrigerator was the window ledge. The toilet was down the hall, and I was the only one who ever cleaned it. But it never really got clean, so eventually I just spraypainted it silver, a la Andy Warhol.
The whole setup was really unsanitary and dangerous and weird. This was right when Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver came out, and I had to cut off all my hair to avoid being propositioned by pimps on my way to CBGB’s. I still looked 15, and after seeing little Jodi Foster in that movie, I just said, “No more!” But I think being absolutely bone poor is the most motivating thing in the world. We were so committed; we rehearsed seven days a week.”

> In the early ’80s, you embraced synth bass when many bass players swore it was the end of the world.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t have that sort of macho identity with my bass. I’m not that wrapped up in being a bass player. I am like a jealous lover if I hear someone playing my bass, though–it’s like they’re making love to my lover. How dare they? [Laughs.] I’ll hear the voice of my bass calling, and I have to go stroke it and play it again.
Another reason I ended up on keyboards so much was that David assembled the big band for the Remain in Light tour. It was really just the four of us on the record, with occasional appearances by Robert Fripp or Adrian Belew on guitar for eight bars or so. But then, to keep from getting bored, David and Jerry added [keyboardist] Bernie Worrell and [bassist] Busta Jones for the tour. Having Busta in the band was fun for me, because it allowed me to do other things besides play bass, and to see the structure of a song from another perspective.
It really just made me more flexible. Like with “Burning Down the House” [Speaking in Tongues]–I originally wrote my part on bass guitar, but when I got into the studio it didn’t sound tight enough for me. So I ended up playing it on a Prophet 5 [synthesizer]. Now we’re playing “Burning Down the House” live on tour again with the Heads, and I’m back to playing it on bass guitar and it sounds really good. You serve the song; that is of utmost importance.”


> How did the band’s partnership with Brian Eno affect things?

“We were huge fans of his, and even when David began acting weird we brought Eno back into the picture for Remain in Light because he was so full of ideas–and I think that record is wonderful for having had Eno as part of it. He’s very good at pushing and stretching boundaries, and only people who are willing to put their hand in the fire should work with him. He and David had some sort of falling out during their My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [Sire] project in 1980, and that created tension. But it was good for the group to have so many ideas bouncing around in the studio. Sometimes Brian wanted more of his ideas than ours, but I don’t think that’s frustrating–that’s just him. What’s frustrating is when you don’t have ideas.”

> Were David and Brian responsible for the cut-and-paste approach to bass on Remain in Light, where multiple bass tracks were recorded and then pieced together during mixdown?

“Yes, those lines were created by Eno, purely with the studio. Both Brian and David were constantly playing bass during those sessions, and I encouraged it. But whenever I would show up to the studio in the morning, before the two of them had arrived, the engineer would take me aside and say, “Look, this is really bothering me. These guys keep missing beats.” So he’d have me replay what they had recorded the night before.”

Hah! God bless engineers at simultaneously problemsolving & preserving egos!


“When it comes to effects, I go through periods of change,” Weymouth admits. “Right now I’m using just a little MXR Flanger; it gives me a bit of extra sustain and chorusing. I think effects are great in the studio–I say, ‘Go for it!’ But onstage, you must simplify. Everything breaks in the live situation; it’s amazing. My mother calls it la malaise des choses–the malaise of things.”

Check this fantastic Tom Tom Club video for Genius of Love: LIVE at McCarren Pool, Brooklyn

& such is youtuber (who would name a TV channel after a potato?) you can either watch the fantastic animated version with mono sound, or the static version with stereo sound… & they try to pretend its progress eh?

A final note: yes, I did get excited when they released the multi-tracks of a few songs off Bush of Ghosts for all & sundry to remix. Did I remix them? Nope. Did I listen to the raw tracks? Hell yes!! There is a saying that I personally think is very relevant to this, attributed to Basho, a haiku poet from the mid 1600s:
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.”

The role of Sound Effects in film…

There was an interesting post on the gearslutz forum a while back quoting something composer Danny Elfman said; the article/interview cited was called: “Sound Effects Suck.” But rather than be reactionary, what he has to say is worth thinking about, here’s a few relevant excerpts:

‘Elfman isn’t critical of any particular sound designer, as much as the entire freight-train dubbing mentality. “They’re simply doing their jobs, which is to provide every possible sound. It’s the mixer’s job to select sounds and ask, ‘Do we need to hear everything that you see and don’t see all the time?’ What contemporary dubbing is doing is taking all our imagination away from us.”

The situation on Batman Returns was his worst ever. Elfman wrote his music with dynamics in mind, only to find that everything was flattened out by the dubbing mixer. The film was so poorly dubbed that Elfman believes his music actually hurt the picture; had he known how the sound effects would have been used, he would have simplified his writing. “In the end result, I believe that if 25% of the score and 25% of the sound effects had been dropped, the entire soundtrack would have been infinitely more effective than the busy mess it became.” Many composers will argue that a good relationship with a director will help get their score across in the final mix, but unfortunately most directors “don’t have good ears, even the brilliant ones. With Tim Burton, I had my best and worst dubs back to back. I’ve never had a better dub than on Edward Scissorhands, and I’ve never had a worse dub than on Batman Returns. No director does this consciously, they just lack the audio skills to deal with such a complex science.”

So it sounds like he had an ‘interesting’ experience on that film, and its more than a bit self-aggrandising to assume that his opinion is correct & the directors isnt, for dubbing mixers work under direction. But whats maybe more interesting than Elfmans ego is that the title of the article IS reactionary in that it casts aspersions on ALL sound effects, rather than the actual issue, which was about the choices the director made in terms of the final mix of one particular film.

The actual issue, of final mix balances is also a two way street; many a time I’ve had lovely subtle sound effects prepared for a scene only to find when the score is mixed at the level asked for by the director, the sound effects are basically inaudible. And it isnt just a level issue ie turning up the sound effects may not solve the problem. One simple example I remember was during the final mix of Black Sheep; there was a scene where a giant were-sheep was attacking someone & in an attempt to cause a distraction the hero threw a haggis at it. We had a realistic sound effect prepared for the haggis hit but the orchestral score was played loud to reinforce the jeopardy & no matter how loud we played our haggis hit it wouldnt rate. In the end the only sound that would rate was a thuddy explosion.

As a supervising sound editor & sound designer, context is an important consideration for all sounds that are prepared, and it is where temp mixes are very valuable testing ground for possible conflicts & to get some indication as to the likely way a scene and/or moment may play. If sounds need to be heard & simply arent rating due to context, better to find that out sooner rather than later ie well before the final mix.

But what is the role of sound effects in film? Fundamentally sound effects (& ambiences & foley) exist for one reason; to help tell the story. If they are self-serving or detract from the audience suspending their disbelief and engaging with the story then they should not be there. But often it isnt an all or nothing issue, its by degrees… And thats where mix decisions become crucial.

Something else Elfman says is somewhat naive of the usual practice finishing films: “Sound people tend to look at each individual moment. They look at five seconds, and if something’s missing for a fraction of a second, there tends to be a panic. They don’t look at the context over the entire soundtrack and the entire film. ”

News for you Mr Elfman, and I dont know how its possible for you not to know this, but we have specific prodedures for both scenarios: individual moments & the context of the entire soundtrack.

As a supervising sound editor it is my job to insure that every imaginable sound effect is available, based on my own experience & my teams experience but also on the numerous spotting sessions & run throughs we have had with the director. Once you are on a mix stage it can be a serious & costly matter if the mix is held up because source material is not available or hasnt been prepared. So OF COURSE ‘sound people tend to look at each individual moment’ because every moment is potentially important, every footstep, every door open, every sound. When we mix, we tend to work through the film scene by scene, so again we are focused on moments but with the knowledge of all the previous ‘moments’ that have been mixed before.

But here’s where I dont understand the gap in his knowledge; every film I have ever been involved with have at least one double head screening & that screening is solely about overall context. Let me explain what a double head screening is. Once we have worked through the entire film, mixing scene by scene, we then output the mix, stitch it together & take it to a seperate screening theatre & watch it in a continuous run, like a normal audience will. Its called a doublehead screening because at this point the picture & sound elements are still seperate. This is the first time anyone in the team has seen & heard the film, accordingly immediately after the screening much discussion ensues & a list is made of changes to be implemented. Then follows another two days or more of mixing, making changes that are partly about details but often about the soundtrack as a whole. Its often the first time that we can do a reality check about overall loudness throughout the film, whether there is too much music (or not enough) & whether the overall film soundtrack is working thematically. And if budget & schedule allows another double screenign is held to check the changes in context.

So sorry Danny, but maybe its just that you have never been invited to a double head screening? Can’t imagine why… but it seems often composers are on to their next project by this stage….

Thinking further about the role of sound effects in film I came across a somewhat academic disertation by someone from University of Nottingham titled: In Defence of Vulgarity: The Place of Sound Effects in the Cinema – vulgarity? say what? It appears the author is out to develop a hierarchy of elements in a film soundtrack, which seems dubious from the outset, but some of what is discussed is interesting & as with some of Mr Elfmans comments bear delaying a reaction until some due thought has been involved… but this chart made me laugh, if only because there wasnt anything in it that I could agree with…

Academics are often unintentionally funny. I remember doing a sound workshop for a group of film makers a few years ago – it was mainly for short film directors, producers etc and during a Q&A at the end someone piped up, asking if I ever use the term diegetic and non-diegetic when working… I had to tell the truth & say depsite knowing what the term meant I had never used it myself nor heard another sound person or director use that term in the 18 years I’ve been working in the film industry. No prize for guessing the occupation of the person asking the question; she was an academic… Welcome to the real world!

School of Sound

Every year I receive an email notifying me of the next School of Sound (held annually in London) and I wistfully think one day I’ll get there, but for some reason the April dates never fall between films, and flying from New Zealand to London is not something to be done directly, unless you like to suffer. Seems they dont really make planes with 6ft tall people in mind, unless you are a rich 6ft person & can afford to get out of cattle class…
Anyway if you live in London or at least closer than I do, can I highly reccomend you check out The School of Sound, 2009:

The 8th SCHOOL OF SOUND International Symposium
15 – 18 April 2009
Southbank Centre, London

The School of Sound presents a stimulating and provocative series of master classes by practitioners, artists and academics on the creative use of sound with image. Directors, sound designers, composers, editors and theorists working at the highest levels of film, the arts and media show us the soundtrack from unexpected perspectives. They reveal the methods, theories and creative thinking that lie behind the most effective uses of sound and music. If you work in film, television, commercials, radio or multimedia – this event will convince you of the extraordinary potential of the soundtrack.

We have devised a programme that is as useful for the director, producer or screenwriter as it is for the sound designer and composer. Sound in storytelling, sonic environments, human sound perception – the topics range from the practical to the aesthetic to the abstract during these intense four-day meetings.

In its previous editions, the SOS has attracted delegates from over 25 countries. Join us for our eighth event in 2009. At the SOS you will not learn about hardware or software. But we can introduce you to the ideas of creators working at the cutting edge of sound production and inspire you to say, “I never thought of working that way.”

Confirmed speakers
Noted Indian director presenting the work of Ritwik Ghatak

Composer, radio artist and sound ecologist

Sound Designer and Music Producer for film, radio, dance and theatre,
collaborating with Chantal Akerman, Agnes Jaoui and Philippe Garrel

Features Sound Designer (Jarhead, The English Patient,
The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Film Editor

Radio features producer

Drama editor, former Head of the MA Programme at the NFTS and
author of Fine Cuts: The Art of European Film Editing

Film Sound Designer known for his longtime collaboration with Atom Egoyan

Documentary filmmaker (Divorce Iranian Style,
The Day I Will Never Forget, Sisters In Law)

Avant-garde filmmaker, video and installation artist

Registrations now being accepted. For information about the programme, fees and registering, go to, email or phone 00 44 20 7724 6616

Can I also highly reccomend a book published of previous lectures, mentioned previously here in my sound design book list & available from the school of sound website. I particularly enjoyed the section by Walter Murch (as always) and Carter Burwell but also found Mani Kaul very very interesting & philosophical, hence the upcoming 2009 session will be a definite highlight… I’m also a big fan of Atom Egoyans emotionally driven films so hearing Steve Munro speak would also be very interesting… But I’ve got two films back to back from January to May, so…. I’ll just have to dream of 2010…

Space, and the preservation there of…

ok, i’m in philosophical rant mode so bear with me, but equally feel free to disagree in the comments… I DO realise I am a product of where I’ve been & what I’ve seen & heard… and as with everyone else, its just my unique perspective…. but the crux of this rant is that I ALMOST feel driven to start a new perceptual non-profit organisation with the sole purpose of preserving space. I havent experienced space beyond earths gravity, so I’m not thinking lunar or interstellar – I’m thinking about that seemingly inherent human trait to do more.. and then more.. and then more… until all the space is filled up and there are no longer any empty spaces left.

There is a saying ‘God is in the details’ (no doubt promoted by the Get Things Done/right brain dominant crowd) but I prefer to (re)think it as ‘God is in the empty spaces’ and by ‘God’ I dont mean anything religious…

The empty spaces I refer to are equally metaphorical & real: an empty section in a developed part of the city, a momentary silence in a film soundtrack, a seemingly blank canvas, a totally fulfilled sparse piece of music within beautiful reverbant spaces… All of these empty spaces exist to provide a vehicle in which you as the active participant project yourself & your thoughts/perception….

So what brought on this semi-coherent rant? Well, despite owning a baby grand piano (thats been prepared to within an inch of its life) and a virtual piano (NI) that includes a beautiful multi Gigabyte rendering of a Steinway Concert D grand piano, I recently came to the realisation that while I love to just sit down & play/improvise on the piano (especially since I got an Akai Headrush looper pedal) I can’t actually play a single piece of piano music that I love. In the process of rectifying this situation I began teaching my gnarly old bass players fingers to play at least the start of Satie’s Gymnopedie (sample/MIDI/notation in a previous post here) and in so doing I learned to appreciate the sublime space around those repeating two chords with a whole new respect. Sure that piece of music has been commandered for all sorts of advertising banalities, including more than a few soap commercials, but not only did Satie write that piece back in 1888, he was only 22 years old when he did it! Did I have such an appreciation of space at that age? Sadly hell no! My appreciation for space came much later – I would guess some time in my thirties….
Anyway I was raving to a friend the other night about the space between those two chords, and he pipes up; ‘I have a beautiful version of that piece, but played on guitar!’ My heart shrinks, oh right I think to myself, someone can play guitar & actually leave space around their notes/chords? This I have to hear, it would be a first… Wake up next morning & listen to an mp3 attachment he has sent me & it just reinforced every reason why I very rarely listen to guitar music anymore: the version is note for note ‘correct’ but everywhere there was space in the original, is now filled by goddamn arpeggios!?! I have never taken more pleasure in deleting a file in my life! What is it with (most) guitar players that they feel they must single handedly fill the entire spectrum (in the frequency AND time domain) all by themselves?

The funny thing is, I grew up playing bass in guitar bands – back then the Velvet Underground & Sonic Youth were our role models, but eventually I had an epiphany: Guitars are evil, un-necessary & unwanted, UNLESS & this is the caveat, the person playing that guitar instantly illustrates that they understand space & time. And in the decades since I have found only a few. So feel free to educate me if you are more informed than I, but if I check my music library the only guitar players I find that I have actually listened to in the last decade include:

– Fred Frith
– Keiichi Sugimoto (Minamo/Fourcolour)
– Christopher Willits
– John Lee Hooker (in acoustic mode)
– Gustavo Santaolalla

Philosophically its not just about guitars though – many of the best composers & musicians that i respect & listen to repeatedly share a common factor: minimalism. I dont mean this in an extreme way, but they do share an ability to produce music involving what is needed, rather than simply what is possible. And in this time of ecological & financial near-crisis, I do often wonder if these accute problems arent just a simple illustration that the core belief that ‘MORE IS MORE’ is fundamentally flawed… and a more sane approach, if ‘LESS IS MORE’ is too hard to digest, then at least ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ is heading down the right road? Is rampant capitalism & endless expansion sustainable? No, didnt think so either… but what does it take to curb it? It seems a crisis is the only answer….


I was watching a video clip of Michael Parkinson interviewing Orson Welles earlier this evening & about 25 minutes into the interview Orson said something that made me realise why I feel a certain way about very certain circumstances. Let me be more specific; do you know people who are musicians who always want to play you their own music? Well I’m not one of them, no matter how I feel about music I have made, I very very rarely ever want to play it to anyone…. I will happily give them a copy & say check it out, but its usually under the one provision that they never play it in my presence… Sometimes people think I’m joking or being overly/falsely humble but I’m not; I really fckng mean it!!!!! The same way I mean dont walk into my studio, pickup my acoustic guitar & start playing strummy open chords… because I will really have to work hard to suppress the overwhelming desire to dash over & snap off all of the fingers on the offending chording hand. I DETEST hearing those strummy numbskull chords as much as I DETEST playing you my music. But what does that say about the people who DO want do either of those things? Well, other than that they shouldnt visit me…
I always wondered about the latter, primarily as some kind of ego complex ie some musicians obviously must believe that their music should be heard by everyone, whether you are even vaguely interested or not….. And then I watched the aforementioned interview & at a certain point went ‘ah RIGHT! I understand!!!’ Heres the part:

It also explains a post production phenomena that I know well ie no matter what the budget or schedule you COULD always make it better…. We could easily continue working on any film project for an extra six months, but would it make it better? maybe… but its only worth something through finishing it, and the most important thing to make that happen? A DEADLINE!!!!!

Once its finished ‘You can’t change it…’

….. but will that always be the way?

Honour thy error as hidden intention

I’m quoting (or remembering) an Oblique Strategy by Brian Eno, which I personally believe is a truism, or at least an admirable approach to the truth… What made me think of it was reading this great interview in pingmag with Haruo Suekichi, the creator of literally thousands of fantastic steampunk watches… the relevant quote is below… I dont wear a watch, my cellphone seems to keep the time ok, but if I did it would be one of these… And oh how I would love to commission a USB controller designed by this man! Must visit his store next time I’m in Tokyo…

Do you make a lot of mistakes when making watches?

“When I notice I made a mistake, I try not to consider it one because I don’t want to waste the effort I’ve put in to that point. So I adapt it to my intentions. When I make a mistake in a very basic calculation, or when the whole effort would be wasted, I shout. I make clock hands as well now, and first I think about some possible ways and I try many times — but it doesn’t go well, doesn’t move well or overloads the moving part. And I’m working analogue so it cannot be changed digitally. So I have to learn by my feel. I cannot tell like shaving 0.3 millimetre is enough but I have to try and adjust it in every case. So till I learn the feel, I have to try and try and make mistakes so many times. Gradually it becomes stressful work, finally I shout and struggle. When I get angry, I sing. I have an echo microphone.”

Berlinale Talent Campus – the good, the bad & the absent…

Back in February 2006 I was lucky enough to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus, I’ll explain what it is & my experiences, which were mostly good, often brilliant & inspiring, but also importantly in the year I attended, totally lacking in a few key areas…

Ok, so what is the Talent Campus? Its basically a conference involving 500 film makers from all over the world, who spend a week in Berlin doing workshops, going to screenings & discussing what it is they do & why…. To attend you must apply by submitting a short video clip of your work & the campus is open to anyone, if ‘you work or study in the areas of screenwriting, production, documentary filmmaking, direction, cinematography, acting, editing, sound design, composing, production design, art direction, visual art, film criticism or animation.’ Being a sound designer, I submitted a 3 minute section of my show reel, using (with permission) a few scenes from Gaylene Prestons film Perfect Strangers….
There is no age limit, although at 40 I would have been at the older end of the spectrum and while there were plenty of people my age, the group also ranged right down to people who were early in their careers ie still in film school and/or who had little prior real world film exprience. So that is the first comment I must make – as with all things in life your own attitudes & experience play a major part in how you perceive reality & the views that follow are by someone who had been to film school 16 years prior, and has since already worked on literally dozens of feature films… So my attendance had different goals & expectations than someone (or my own self) if I was fresh out of film school. And heres two examples that really illustrate that point. The Talent Campus is coordinated to occur at the same time as the Berlin Film Festival and as luck would have it, a film I had done sound design for (No.2 by Toa Fraser) had been invited to screen at the festival, so it was great to be able to catch up with Toa between screenings… but I noticed this other weird thing in the Talent Campus schedule; on a certain evening Campus attendees were invited to meet outside the main Film Festival venue & ‘experience what its like to actually walk up the red carpet!’ Say what? I’m old enough to have had to do that a few times & its hardly the highlight of my career, so I figured thats one thing I can skip in the schedule… And when I talked to a few people afterwards it turns out it was even lamer than I imagined – a bunch of the students turned up, hung around & then were invited to walk up the red carpet, go inside & hear a brief welcome speech from the Festival Manager… and then turn around & walk back outside! Oh well, whatever cranks your dial…

But mostly the Talent Campus was very good: I attended maybe half a dozen very good workshops. One was on picture editing & involved a panel of three very experienced film editors; an english editor who had cut a lot of action films (eg James Bond films), Angie Lam a chinese editor who had edited films like Hero & Kung Fu Hustle, and a german editor who worked primarily on documentarys. It was interesting to hear their different working methods & experiences, both in terms of film making/story telling, collaborating with directors & technically.
As I mentioned earlier, the Talent Campus coincides with the Berlin Film Festival and some of the other highlights for me were getting to see a few films that were having their debut screenings at the festival. So my year, I got to see Michel Gondrys ‘The Science Of Sleep’
Chan-wook Parks ‘Old Boy’ and Mathew Barneys ‘Drawing Restraint’. But even better; as with most major film festivals, the directors were in attendance & so after each screening at the talent campus, the director would then do a half hour Q&A session! It was just so great & invaluable to hear for example Gondry talk about his working methods, both in writing & then making his films. A riot almost broke out during the Q&A with Chan-wook Park, who answered questions via a translator. Problem was the translator was interpreting & obviously had no film knowledge, so Chan-wook Park would make a lengthy answer in Korean which the translator would then summarise it in a few words! It was so frustrating there was a prolonged uproar from the audience, but then thankfully a young Korean film maker attending the Campus managed to get control of one of the roving mics and proceeded to do an accurate translation – phew! Chan-wook Park is such an intriguing/inspiring director it would have been a real shame/lost opportunity to not hear his answers verbatim.

In hindsight the best workshop I did at the Talent Campus was by Peter Broderick and basically covered his considerable experience of using the internet to promote & sell independent film. This workshop influenced my thinking hugely, as Peter is an eloquent speaker but more importantly he has real world experience – he isnt a shareholder in some web startup, hyping their services.. He knows from experience what has worked & why, in what contexts & his insight was invaluable. And I can honestly say, if I hadnt attended that workshop I sincerely doubt this blog would exist, nor any of those other dozen little web presences I maintain. I certainly wasn’t ignorant before doing the workshop (eg was already up & running) but as with any knowledge, if you are starting from zero you have everything to learn & it can be overwhelming & potentially so daunting as to be paralysing. But, if you have a bit of knowledge & have already started down the road, spending time with someone who is five or ten years further down that same road is incredibly enlightening. This workshop alone made the 36 hours spent getting my atoms to Berlin from NZ worthwhile!
Apple had a presence at the Talent Campus & I did a great introductory workshop on their Motion software – I learned lots & the following week in London bought Motion (& later on upgraded to Final Cut Studio) so that was definite bonus of being able to do a hands on workshop/tutorial….

Now the bad. Ok this is going to sound a little bitter & so it damn well should! Despite the talent campus being about film making there wasn’t a single workshop or even mention of film sound. I was frankly appalled when I discovered this, partly for my own sake but even more so for the hundreds of directors & writers attending, who NEED to have an appreciation & understanding of the use of sound in film making & story telling. Are the organisers of the Talent Campus deaf? It would seem so, as I received no reply to my comments/enquiries about this issue & what made it even worse, literally rubbing salt on a wound, was that the person they had chairing the picture editing workshop was none other than Larry Sider, he who runs the excellent School of Sound workshop in London each year. So they had a perfect candidate to run a workshop/lecture on film sound & they didnt!!! UN-FCKNG-BELIEVABLE!!!!! I am experienced in film sound enough for this personally not to bother me too much; my reason for attending the Talent Campus was to learn more about other aspects of film making & to extend my ability to collaborate with other departments, in that respect the picture editing workshop was invaluable. But if I was a young sound designer, who was seeking guidance & insight from someone experienced in my specific field I would have come up empty. Every other department basically had mentors & specific workshops to help them develop, but for sound – NOTHING!!!!!
Admittedly the Talent Campus does run a film score/music competition & workshop, but as any film maker knows, music is only one third of a film soundtrack at best. Where was the workshop helping directors & writers learn about writing for sound, writing (& not over-writing) dialogue, collaborating with sound designers & dialogue editors, understanding what ADR is & how important directing ADR is, what makes up a film soundtrack & what the process is from preproduction, production & post to insure your film has a good/great soundtrack. All equally important for developing film producers to learn about too. And for picture editors.
So was my year just a silent anomaly? Lets check the Talent Campus schedule archive: hmmm 2008 had a Digidesign/Avid workshop (but thats technical, not via a practitioner) 2007 nothing, 2006 nothing! I challenge anyone from the organisers of the Talent Campus reading this to justify (& hopefully address) this total lack of support for an important aspect of film making.

Lastly, the absent.
I am a firm believer most people get the experience they deserve & I also have the distinct impression some people just dont know how to travel. By travel I dont mean getting from A to B, I mean what you do when you get to B. It seemed despite the fact it was for many people their first time in Berlin, the only time they actually explored the city was for dinner! Before leaving NZ I had spent considerable time researching (music, art, architecture, history) and after receiving the schedule for the Talent Campus, I worked out what times during the week there was nothing on that interested me & accordingly planned excursions, ie getting lost in Berlin. I have to confess I love getting lost! In my youth I went on a trip around bits of Europe & remember a mad 3 days spent in Barcelona, without being able to speak any of language (shame on me) but every day exploring the city, getting happily lost with the knowledge of my get-out-of-jail card. No, not literally! But I knew no matter how lost I got ‘home’ was never far away as I would simply flag down a taxi, give them a card from my hotel & relax…
So for me, one of the definite highlights of the Talent Campus was exploring parts of Berlin. Being a tourist I visited lots of Berlins iconic architecture, contemporary & ancient.. and visited a bunch of locations from one of my favourite films of all time Wim Wenders ‘Wings of Desire’ and imagined the angels sitting around, listening to peoples thoughts… and listening to me, thinking about them…

I tracked down more than a few of Berlins infamous record stores (& of course on my way back to NZ had to pretend my carry on bag was just a little light backpack, when in reality it contained about 15kg of vinyl/excess baggage!) but the two highlights that still stick in my mind were these: I went to many art gallerys & exhibitions and as a side attraction to the Berlin Film Festival a number of gallerys had related video art exhibitions, which were fantastic & inspiring to experience. I also visited the sadly now defunct Tesla Centre & experienced some fantastic sound art & installations…

But lastly, on an evening near the end of my time in Berlin I got invited to a party in a warehouse on the top floor of the building below & what a wicked party it was! Really wild inspiring music & a couple of lo-fi VJs with multiple projectors…

So I left Berlin, totally buzzing… & I cant wait to return!

Last of all, some advice. Do I recommend applying to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus? HELL YES!!! It was an amazing experience & culturally very very interesting, every person I met was from a different part of the world (although thankfully for me, speaking English is a pre-requisite for attendance) and living in little old New Zealand in the far reaches of the Pacific it was so encouraging to share common experiences with other filmmakers. Attending the Talent Campus has helped me mature as a film maker & collaborator, and has helped me define the direction/path I wish to pursue in the future…

If anyone is thinking of applying & wants to ask any questions, comment away! Or if you attended & want to share you experience, feel free – as I emphasised, this is just my opinions & experience…. For more information here is the site for the Berlinale Talent Campus

Oh and if you go, bear in mind Berlin is a little chilly in February…
Take a jacket… and some duty free vodka!

Dont clap!

Maybe its just me, but when I am at a concert or gig or whatever & I hear people start to clap along I feel like shouting at them: “WTF!!!!!!!! This isnt kindagarten…. & it sure isnt an old folks home, so WTF!?! I mean WWWWW TTTTTTT FFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!”
If you dont believe the source of my anger, listen to this recording as a good example:

download bad clappy mp3

Ok apart from it obviously having been bootlegged on a cassette back in 1972, I think the audience got off lightly by dear old Uncle Lou…. but as a bassplayer, playing with other humans in days past, it always amused me that bass was the anchor between the beat & everything else. Depending on the drummer, you could either relax & play on (& around) the beat, or if the drummer wasnt so tight/reliable/sober then you had to drive/underpin the beat & keep everyone on time…. and depending on the guitarist, in tune!
On a good day I always thought of it as tuning the drums & syncopation of the beat….. & on a bad day, well, I would swap my empty beers for the drummers next full one, hopefully before he noticed….

But my point is; next time you get a baby sitter & go see some band, please dont try & clap in time with your favourite song! The joy of hearing music live is that hopefully the band will improv around the original song a bit and the last thing they need is an out-of-time offbeat slappy beat coming back at them…. Its like people talking during movies, unless you are under the age of six or seven you obviously have your contexts mixed up! Please, go somewhere else & sort them out!!!

Sonic Childhood Memories

Ok so I am hoping to only write one hundredth of this post, since I know/suspect pretty much everyone who reads these random rants of mine is (a) sentient and (b) has keen ears…. So I am going to ask you to contribute a sonic memory from your childhood… To start the ball rolling, heres three of mine:

I grew up on a farm (near the Rangitata River mouth, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand) & occasionally I used to potter around in the shed making things… quite what I was making I can’t actually remember, but I do remember the huge old bluegum tree that was behind the shed. This tree was huge, maybe 100 feet tall… And at a certain time of the year it would randomnly drop bluegum nuts from its branches & these nuts would fall from a great height, land on the tin roof of the shed & slowly roll down the angled roof, until it fell off & dropped to the ground. I close my eyes & I can still hear that sound…..

Also farm related; every day after lunch, as my Dad headed back out to work he would walk out of the dining room, down the hall & then he would go over to the barometer attached to the wall & tap it, to see what the weather was likely to be doing in the immediate future. This barometer was like a giant old watch, so tapping it had a lovely glass & just slightly loose metal mechanism sound to it…. hmmm must get me a barometer, I’d bet its more (locally) accurate than the TV weather girl…

Lastly, this one is a smell & sound memory: scratch & sniff! My parents farm backed on to the Rangitata River and when I was young my idea of fun at the weekend was to jump on a motorbike & go for a blast up the riverbed, navigating through gorse & bush, crossing streams and finding my way upstream or down… But one summer I heard a funny/weird story of some dudes growing some kind of huge marijuana plantation in the gorse an hours ride up the river from home. Imagine such madness as local policeman pretended to be fishermen, waiting to catch the stoners; as a teenager I was intrigued as hell. So after the bust goes down me & my motorbike head upstream to go see what the hell they were up to… And after riding around all the trails I know & eventually finding a path into their deviency I ended up crawling through gorse & broom to a beautifully tended but empty strip of soil, recently stripped of 6 foot ganja plants! Now some people consider gorse & broom as weeds but ever since I have considered them to hold some ulterior purpose… And on a sunny day if you are anywhere near a broom bush, you will hear its seed pods exploding…. and you will smell the sweet aroma of gorse flowering…… that memory is just up the river…

So when you think of your childhood, what is the FIRST (or best) sound you remember?

A Few Questions – Part I

I was sent a few questions via email the other day from a random stranger & I thought I would post my reply here; not to provide any universal truths (because there are none) but hopefully to provoke thought and/or discussion – how would you answer the questions asked? Every time I am put in this position (ie how did you get where you are etc) I try to answer as though I am giving honest suggestions & direction to my younger self, back when I was in the same position in the very early 90s…. I spent 18 months as an unemployed musician/university drop out prior to attending film school & if I can help explain my ‘gap year’ to myself let alone anyone else, then so much the better!

What do you think has kept work coming your way. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of jobs ready to go but I certainly have no guarantee of work 3 months from now, and this is a bit daunting. Any advice?

First, re the idea of work beyond 3 months, I have only one thing to say & that is;
as a freelancer, get used to it!
That is how life is, learn to cope with it & even better count it as a blessing! I went to film school in 1990, its now 2008 and this is the first time in my career that I have work confirmed beyond 3 months, literally! So in my case it has taken 18 years of semi-constant work to reach a point where I have confirmed work for the next 6 or 8 months…. FIRST. TIME. IN. 18. YEARS. And even then it is still dependant on ever changing shooting schedules etc…. Seriously. A year ago I would start a 3 month film project and I would have nothing confirmed after it. Sure I pursue multiple projects; like any good producer you have to have many ‘irons in the fire’ because you well know only a few will come to fruition on time, but in my experience 3 months is as reliable as it will ever get – the exception being big budget US studio films where at most I have been contracted for six months, but that was at year 14 and 15 in my career respectively….

Over the last decade I have come to appreciate that I basically do a years work in 9-10 months (income-wise & workload/stress-wise). So the other random 2-3 months of each year are mine to do what I like with, and as I get older those months become more & more welcome/valuable; I spend them doing short films, travelling and/or working on my own projects and inversely that justifies giving up the rest of my time for other peoples projects. It keeps me sane (well I think so anyway!) But it does also dictate that you manage your finances accordingly, and it is NOT for everyone. Some people cannot stand the instability & they should probably stay in nine to five institutionalized salary-man type jobs… but if you can flow with the punches/manage your own time & finances accordingly then I honestly believe there is no better life….

What do you think has kept work coming your way?

In hindsight, I think it comes down to one simple statement: every time someone asks me do something, I do more than what they ask.
Work is not just a task to be done, it is an opportunity. If you do what they expect, they will be happy & say thanks, & maybe they will hire you again, maybe not… if you do less than what they expect then you either dont know your job or you are lazy, and in both cases they should NOT hire you again… but if you do MORE than what is asked of you, then you have illustrated that despite what THEIR intentions (& budget) were, yours are HIGHER…. Now be careful, if you go & do a lot of extra work that no one wants, then its just a waste of time: for you & for whoever is mixing your material… but if your extra work shows that you understand what the story & drama of a scene requires then your extra work will be rewarded, because it makes everyone sound good… And believe you me, every mixer likes to mix sounds that makes them look good! A very simple example is say someone gets hit over the head with a bottle. If you are a beginner/naive sound effects editor (for Tv, Film or whatever) you might deliver one track of a bottle smash & think thats it…. but from a mixers perspective what can they do with it? Make it louder or softer, EQ it, maybe add reverb where appropriate, but there isnt much mixing involved & if it was me as sound editor, I would need to be pretty damn sure I was presenting the best goddamn bottle smash ever heard to be able to go home at night & not worry about that particular moment…… What would be smarter would be to add a track with a seperate boofy bass heavy smash AND a seperate woosh/swish AND some glass fragments falling to the ground AND a head/bone/skull impact sound, so that maybe instead of that single bottle smash you gave the mixer six or eight tracks of material with which to make that moment sound GREAT! So my example is to illustrate that while the mixer will DEFINITELY notice the difference between one basic track and six well chosen elements, the director will also notice that a lame bit of violence now makes you wince…. and the producer will like it because the director is smiling… & that concept applies to everything you do, forever more… Think about it & ALWAYS carefully do more than what is asked of you….

The other aspect is relationships: when I first started out I was very very happy not to have to present my work to a director, I didnt know enough to know what was right & what wasnt, so someone more senior than I, my ‘boss,’ would mix my material so it made sense & then present it to the director & later on I would do any fixes requested. This phase went on for a number of years & during that time my most important relationship was with my boss; it was to him I answered & as long as he felt I was doing good/progressively better work then every thing was good. And I got progressively better work as a sound editor (answering to my boss/supervisor) until sooner or later I began getting projects where I was the one presenting my work to the director & soliciting feedback, and in my case it was a feature film called Stickmen in 2001, so bear in mind this is 11 years after film school. Accordingly when someone comes to see me & says they want to be a film sound designer, I think to myself well… it took me 10 years to get my first film, how long has this person been at it?
But relative to relationships, my most important relationship then & ever since has become between me and the director and producer, and secondly to the picture editor, composer & the other sound editors. So no matter the project, budget or requirements, the most important thing is that the director & producer are happy that I am doing the best possible work for their project, above & beyond what their own expectations & budget might dictate… so while the scale has changed, the core concept has not.

Also note that I have never aspired to be a mixer, I have always wanted to be a sound effects editor/sound designer. To my mind, mixing is a totally different skill & if you are doing both then there is a good chance you will only ever do both fairly averagely at best, simply because I well know I put 110% into being the best sound editor I can & the mixers I work with devote 110% into being the best mixers they can be…. so be wary of taking on responsibilities that you have no experience with! Over the years I have met a few flash music mixers who presume that because they know how to mix music that they can also mix films/TV & I quietly watch them fail, simply because sound post requires far more of them than they ever know or more likely have ever even been aware of……. ie with a film they are required to mix at least four times what they are used to: Mixing music they have only that musics end result in mind whereas with sound post they are being asked to mix (1) dialogue(production, ADR, voiceover) (2) sound effects, ambiences & foley (3) music (score & source music) and most important of all (4) the drama, scene by scene & overall as a film. Mixing music teaches you NOTHING about mixing dramatic film or TV soundtracks! And sadly ignorance is not an excuse for anything….

The last answer to this question may well be the most telling: it is because I have not FCKED up a job yet. I have been confronted a few times by local people who seem to think I have some form of Gods Gift – I distinctly remember a TV sound editor/mixer asking me how it felt to be top of my game & apart from my having to suppress an instant feeling of nausea (you obviously have no idea how deep the rabbit hole is/i am just scratching the surface.. etc etc) all I could coherently answer was this: I am only as good as the job I am currently doing: if I dont do the absolute best job right now then I am worthless, if I blow this opportuntity given me right now then I may never work again… If you aspire to be artist in what you do, there is no arriving: it is an endless journey & you CAN always do better…

Which aspects of audio production are most in demand? I’m gravitating toward sound design and music production, but my number one priority is paying the rent to begin with. So I’d really like to know what I need to able to offer to give myself the best chance of surviving.

What you ask is so context based that I dont believe I have any form of coherent answer so I feel it would be better answered by a question: what is more important to you: music or sound design? (or whatever else are your options) Think carefully, regardless of ‘whats in demand.’ Whenever some young person comes to me & says they want a job in sound post I always ask them if I had a job to offer in any one of the following, which would they choose first: dialogue editor, sound effects editor, music editor, or composer? Think about it & give me an honest answer. What do you MOST want to do? Because THAT is what you should most focus on. If they say they I dont know (or I dont mind) then I suggest they go away & do some homework & work out what it is that they DO want to do, because as long as they dont know they are a liability, to me & to themselves. I would frankly be seriously FCKed off if I hired someone as an assistant/trainee sound effects editor and after two or three months they revealed that they really just wanted to be a composer & were biding their time! Go bide your time with someone else, I want to work with people who know what they want to do & are passionate about it!

In your original question you mentioned that you are providing an audio facility, but I personally believe you should be under no illusion that it is YOU that is (hopefully) getting hired for work, not your facility. Early on in my career, people above me would debate the merits of how much to spend on advertising their facility & I always thought to myself (a) the best advertisement for your work is the work itself and (b) no one hires your facility – they hire YOU & YOUR skills & presume that you come accompanied (& of course, seperately budgeted) with the facility/resources that you need to do your job. Your facilities name will NOT get you future work, YOUR name & reputation WILL hopefully get you your future work.

A slightly more abstract question: where do you see the industry going? I know that things like youtube and file sharing are turning the entertainment industry on its head, so who do you think us soundies will be getting our work from in 5 or 10 years?

Despite all the hype, I really dont believe the ‘industry’ is changing much at all. But the industry I am referring to is the feature film industry, which is my core focus. Feature films are based on two things: (1) the directors vision and (2) the resolution of the medium. So sure ten years from now youtube , or its high rez replacement will be important in marketing (& maybe even a secondary means of distributing) films, but the core high resolution medium of making films will be very similar to what it is now. Sure some films will be released in 3D with 10.2 audio or whatever, but those formats only suit a certain style of film making and again I think its VERY IMPORTANT to think deeply about what kinds of films you want to be working on… if you want to work on 3D theme park ride type films dont ask me, I dont work on those films….

I think online video distribution will effectively replace television & frankly the sooner the better; apart from The Simpsons & the occasional doco I really dont watch TV because its mostly very very bad. People who leave their TV running all evening I think equates to having a media sewage outlet spilling into their lounge; why would you bother? Read a book, listen to music, stream a video clip thats relevant to your interests….. do something/anything that doesnt insult your intelligence the way commercial television currently does! But in terms of new projects, a new delivery platform does not mean there will suddenly be lots of new great ideas. DV was marketed as such & did it deliver? Maybe for 0.02% more than what went before…. but in the end nothing changes, content is still king. And good content requires good audio & THAT is where the best work will be done.

But to me, what is exciting about the future is the democratisation of ideas; good media equals good ideas….. I believe in the future, good ideas will develop in a high resolution format that isnt hindered by budget. You wont need a TV channel or funder behind you to make a great doco or film in a broadcast format; people with good ideas will just make their project, find their audience & that audience will fund their next project….. In the end technology does not create ideas, humans do!

Ok, so anyone else? Ask away

Freedom from distraction

Whether its a distraction or not, the internet in all its uses is a time consumer and nothing can make you lose a train of thought faster than an ichat alert or email arrival… so if you need some time out, to concentrate/write/create/etc this little application might be of surprising value to you:

In a nutshell Freedom (for osx) disables all network connections (wireless and ethernet) for a set amount of time: a reboot is the only circumvention of the Freedom time limit you specify!

I’m going to give it a try this week & see what impact it has… Its donationware which is admirable, so if you try it & continue to use it, please do donate

found via here

Lens vs Microphone (& why i love myopia)

My fundamental creative core is sonic, make no mistake: whether its sound, music or that glorious blurry region inbetween; my ears are my primary sense. If it came down to some apocalyptic trade off of losing a sense & surviving I would instinctively sacrifice my sense of taste or vision or touch or smell, so as to retain my hearing… but as time passes I slowly become more & more interested in my sense of vision…..
It may well be inspired by my myopia: I am short sighted & have been since age 15 +/- but that is a ‘flaw’ I hold dearly. Both my brother & sister-in-law had laser surgery to have their short sightedness erradicated & when they confronted me as to whether I was going to follow suit I said HELL NO!!! Reason 1: I dont like the smell of my retina being burned off by a laser… but more importantly, reason 2: I love wearing glasses – people with ‘normal’ eyesight dont realise what they are missing out on & I am seriously reticent to share the secret that is common to all my myopic percentile of the population, whether they realise it or not…. ok, let me explain, lenses are like microphones….

Lenses are like microphones. This is a relatively obvious conclusion that makes total physical sense, but despite all that it never even crossed my mind in the previous 3 decades. I fully appreciate light & sound are just arbitrary zones on a spectrum that extends down to earthquakes & light years…. and extends up beyond the frequency of electrons in various orbits on the periodic table…
But I love shallow focal depth; sonic or visual…. and if you are myopic you have an instinctive appreciation of intensely shallow depth of field well before any of those words had any meaning to you. For an experienced cinematographer to achieve what I am talking about would require an informed & prolonged discussion with many departments of a film shoot… and yet, I take off my glasses & there it is: absolute beauty, surrounded by a sea of lovely analogue blurr…. and that proximity to something, or more impoertantly;someone, carries with it an intimacy the instinct of which is far more important & emotionally valuable than any premeditated intent….

And as I learn to appreciate lens, first on my stills camera & recently on my HD camera, I find myself more & more translating their behaviour & response relative to my microphones…..
ie that zoom lens is like my shotgun mic!
& that macro lens is like my contact mic (if its quiet) or a dynamic mic (if its loud)
& that 50mm prime lens is like my Neumann…

it really is a continuum…. of frequency & response….
but it makes me wish for the character of one format to translate to another
for example, why cant I take a Sennheiser 816 microphone & follow focus?

I totally recognise my own (& others) ability to shift focus on the sounds they hear in an otherwise dense soundscape, but that is psychological focus as opposed to the physics of visually shifting focus…. We often emulate the phenomena in a mix, but it doesnt exist in a single microphone as far as I know……..?

The Six Stages of Film Production

Thankfully I havent been in any situations where this could be applied
but it made me smile to read it…

The Six Stages of Film Production

1. Wild Enthusiasm

2. Total Confusion

3. Utter Despair

4. Search for the Guilty

5. Punishment of the Innocent

6. Reward of the Non-Involved

An old movie industry adage recalled by Walter Murch in his journal July 9, 2003
copied from the book: ‘BEHIND THE SEEN’

15 x 3

Thanks to Kelly for the spark…..

1. What are the last 3 things you purchased?
• a 21 string Gu Zheng
• barcus berry Planar Wave contact mic (here)
• Metasonix TM6 tube multimode filter (same (link as above)
(& I suspect these three will be combined in the very near future!)

2. What are the last 3 songs you downloaded?
• Landscape Prelude by Victoria Kelly (i’m remixing & it was beautiful before i started)
• Tell Her by Scuba (those beats, that vibe…..)
• Prelude For Meditation by John Cage (ahhhhhhhh so….)

3. Where were the last 3 places you visited?
• Tutkaka, Bay of Islands, New Zealand (pix here)
• Sanur, Bali (pix here)
• Kyoto, Japan (pix here)

4. What are your 3 favorite movies?
• Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders – trailer
• Wrekmeister Harmonies by Bela Tarr – trailer
• Tony Takitani by Jun Ichikawa – trailer

5. What are your 3 favorite possessions?
• damien in The Omen – trailer
• the twins in The Shining – relevant scene
• those creepy kids in Village of the Damned – trailer
(also in the Simpsons parody ‘The Bloodening’)

6. What 3 things can you not live without?
• music
• sound
• oxygen/food/technology/kindred spirits…

7. What would be your 3 wishes?
• less talking, more listening
• less sport, more culture
• less = more (more or less)

8. What are 3 things you have not done yet?
• experienced zero gravity
• breathed liquid oxygen
• died

9. What are your 3 favorite dishes?
• sashimi
• shabu shabu
• ramen

10. What 3 celebrities/heroes would you want to hang out with the most?
• haruki murikami
• laurie anderson
• animal from sesame street

11. Name 3 things that freak you out.
• team sports
• fans of team sports
• people who don’t get it

12. If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
• open minded
• inspired
• confused

13. Name 3 unusual things you are good at.
• listening
• being quiet
• being really really quiet

14. What are 3 things you are currently coveting?
• my next research trip (indonesia/japan/south korea)
• finishing music (in the form of 2 very different albums)
• living another day

15. What 3 bloggers would you like tag?
Karl Kleim

arigatou gozimasu!