HISSandaROAR SD004 Fireworks Library Released!

Fireworks font

I am very happy to announce that Library number 4 is now available from HISSandaROAR!

FIREWORKS is a library I have been planning for well over a year. Here in New Zealand fireworks are only sold for one week each year (Guy Fawkes is November 5th) and most years I would buy a bunch of fireworks & record them for my library, and I noticed how often those sounds were handy for all sorts of purposes…. So in November 2009 I contacted a number of fireworks importers and asked them to hand select an arsenal for me based on sound. Six hundred dollars later I had a serious fireworks selection but summer was starting & I knew I would have to wait for winter & the fire risk to not be an issue. So I stored my potential library away & waited….

Fireworks collection

After discussing the project with recordist friends a number of locations were suggested, which I checked out one by one, and finally settled on Waiohinehine Park, in Newlands, Wellington. The hard part of finding the best location was a trade off between the location being isolated enough to not have traffic noise, but not so remote that it was too great a distance to travel to. The latter was important as I knew I wanted to involve a number of recordists and some of the locations were 3 hours travel each way. Recording at night would have meant 3 hours travelling home, late at night – an unattractive prospect!

Waiohinehine Park is literally a 15 minute drive from central Wellington, but has no immediate traffic issues. Depending on the wind direction it could be in the flight path, but that can be coped with & just means taking 10 minute breaks…
I visited the location during day time and listened – there was a great slap echo off the hills to the left of the photo below. I visited the location at night, and on a still windless night it was very quiet! So the location was locked in, now time to sort out permissions…


My first port of call for permits was Film Wellington – an organisation funded by the city council to insure Wellington is a film friendly city. And I was so impressed with the help & advice they provided. They cleared access to the park for me with the City Council and provided copies of an official letter which I dropped in peoples mailboxes near the location, advising them of what we were doing. They also put me in touch with a fire officer, who I met with on location and outlined what I intended to do. He issued a fire permit with a few conditions (must have fire extinguisher, wind must be less than 5kmph etc) and he also gave me contacts which I had to advise on the day eg the police, fire department etc. The police was especially important – depending on your imagination, from a distance fireworks sound similar to firearms and the last thing we wanted to record was an armed offenders squad visit. Or get billed for it!
So with council permits and fire permit in place I set dates, a Thursday and following Sunday, Monday, Tuesday as weather cover. Thursday arrived and the weather was dreadful – rainy & misty…. by about 3pm I called off the session and hoped the storm would have passed by Sunday. Sure enough the weekend was sunny & clear, and Sunday night was go! It was a beautiful clear evening with a full moon and no wind at all – perfect!!!

I loaded up my 4WD with a LOT of gear: apart from recorders, mics & mic stands I also took lamps, a table, cameras, warm clothing etc.. and props! Apart from 3 big plastic bins of fireworks one of my goals with capturing the fireworks library was about context: these sounds are very useful when designing weapons and I was very interested in reinforcing this aspect by releasing fireworks in metal pipes of various sizes. Earlier in the week I visited a great junkyard and bought a number of different size pipes, from a 2m long metal drain pipe to short narrow pipes to a larger air conditioning vent; all great sources of resonance!
I contacted all the recordists to confirm the session was on, phoned in notification to the police, fire department etc & then raced off to the location a few hours ahead of time to get set up…..


I got the table & my gear setup before my friends arrived. The recordists & setup was:

Tim Prebble – Sound Devices 722 with two Sanken CUB mics
Dave Whitehead – Sound Devices 722 with Sennhesier 8050 and DPA4006
Matt Lambourn – Sound Devices 722 with MKH816 and my MKH70
Ray Beentjes – Sound Devices 744 with quad rig: Sennheiser MKH 50+30 LR and MKH816 x 2 LsRs

We also had a loan of two other recorders & mic rigs: Matt Stutters Sound Devices 722 recorder with MKH8050 + MKH30 MS rig and Chris Wards Sound Devices 722 recorder with a pair of MKH8020 mics.

Usually when I record I take my DV camera and also usually shoot timelapse with my DSLR stills camera, but I knew this session was going to be difficult to shoot, so I asked my friend & dialogue editor collaborator Chris Todd to shoot with his lovely new Canon 5DMkII!

Oh yes – we were armed & dangerous!!!


We started off recording the small fireworks, as I figured that would give everyone a chance to set levels & get mic perspectives sorted out. The ground bloom flowers were great fun & totally unpredictable – every one was different! Apart from releasing them on the ground I also took a wok and got great movement by dropping them into the wok as they ignited. Also following Chuck Russoms experiences of dropping them into a swimming pool, I took a big metal bowl & filled it with water and got some phenomenal sounds from it. But here the trick was planning ahead: I knew I wanted to drop them in water but how to do it without either burning myself or having the fuse go out in the water. The answer? An extra large pair of BBQ tongs! With these I could hold the firework, light it & hold it over the water bowl and when the fuse actually ignites the firework, then release it into the water. Using this process I had a 100% hit ratio of lighting & releasing the ground bloom flowers with no duds!

Fireworks with tongs

After then trying releasing the ground flower blooms into metal pipes (great resonance!!!) we then decided it was time to move on to the bigger fireworks. I chose a big firework that I knew I had multiples of and let rip! And wow!!! The slap off the hills was so beautiful! We spent the next half hour or so releasing all of the big multi shot fireworks, verbally ID’ing each one as we went. ( I later collected up all the used fireworks, took them back to the studio & photographed them for metadata… verbal IDs are essential!!!)


Next we moved on to the rockets and roman candles. These were more predictable and I had many multiples of each one; most simply fired up to ten single shots, with each shot having an explosion when it reached its destination. To test the power of them the first shots we did were from within one of the pipes and I instantly realised (a) what a great idea the pipes were and (b) how incredibly loud actual mortars must be – these were comparatively low power fireworks but the contained sound from within the pipe was exhilerating! I also detected there wasnt too much physical kick from them so once we had finished experimenting with the pipes I took to releasing them handheld, and the results from controlling where they shot was very interesting. Some shots I pointed towards the hills, so the slap echo was pronounced, but others I fired horizontally along the ground, so the explosion was also low to the ground and the sound had a whole other tonality – in many ways more boomy & less crack. I also fired a few deliberately aiming through Rays quad mic setup.

Now I do not want to encourage anyone else to do this – firing fireworks hand held could go very wrong if you are not fully confident & do not know what you are doing. I wore safety glasses and gloves & was very careful at exactly where the fireworks were aimed. So KIDS DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!


By 9.30pm we were running out of time (I’d said we’d be done by 10pm) so we worked through all of the other big fireworks & then packed up. I still had a large number of small fireworks including smaller roman candles, but i felt confident recording them on my own – it was the big fireworks that I needed the help from my friends with. So we headed home, tired, smelling of gun powder & very happy that we’d heard & captured some very beautiful, very dramatic sounds…


The next day I visited each of the recordists and copied their recordings onto my drives; each recordist turned in approx 8GB of material (recording stereo at 192kHz) while of course Rays data was twice that via recording quad. I spent the following week working on the material, while also waiting for another still quiet evening. Thursday, a week later, the weather came right, and I made the necessary notifications and headed up to the same location. I again started off doing more ground bloom flowers, this time recording with the two Sanken CUB mics (close up) on one Sound Devices 722 and my Sanken CSS5 mic (a bit wider) on another recorder. Once I moved on to the roman candles I moved the CSS5 mic further away, almost 5m from where I was launching the shots from. So for example if using a pipe I had one Sanken CUB mic at the base of the pipe (where the firework was lighted) and the other CUB mic at the exit end of the pipe. I then pointed the pipe at the CSS5 mic and later when listening the sense of movement is great! After I tired of using the pipes I went back to handheld releases and pointed the firework directly at the CSS5 and I just knew I was getting great passby sounds as the shots were whizzing past the mic, missing by mere centimetres… and sometimes not at all! After a few direct hits one sparked & the fluffy actually ignited for a moment!! Listening back at my studio I laughed when I heard myself go “SH+T!” – I still have to stich up the burnt patch on my poor Rycote…

Burnt Rycote

But near misses aside, this is the first HISSandaROAR Library to be released 192kHz and multi channel. I do plan to release more libraries in this format, but it won’t be all libraries – just when the subject matter warrants it. But working on this library was a revelation for me in using 192kHz – wow plugins work SO MUCH BETTER at 192k!!!

Anyway in the meantime please do go check out the FIREWORKS LIBRARY and failing all else grab yourself a copy of the FREE library!

And thanks so much to my dear sonic friends for helping make this library possible: Dave, Matt, Ray, Chris, Matt, Chris, Ken Saville (for the CUB mics) and Nicci at Film Wellington and Jock at the Fire Department!
Arigatou gozimasu!

6 thoughts on “HISSandaROAR SD004 Fireworks Library Released!

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Music of Sound » HISSandaROAR SD004 Fireworks Library Released! -- Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: Designing Sound » FIREWORKS, New Multi-Channel SFX Library of HISS and a ROAR [with Exclusive Stories]

  3. jeff p

    Wow, you certainly put together one hell of a team for this. Thumbs up. Downloading the ultra now!

  4. Pingback: Hiss and a Roar Releases New Fireworks Library! | Colin Hart's Sound Kitchen

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