Japanese Motion Graphics

I love animation, motion graphics & VFX….. but only when they blurr your sense of reality – not, as seen in many big budget & dumb Hollywood flicks, but more often as seen in short films and music videos where the artistry overwhelms the techniques and budget… heres just two examples of work I saw while in Japan, total genius that I was never even aware of beforehand….

KOICHIRO TSUJIKAWA

TAKAHIRO HIRATA

FX Recording in Japan with a Zoom H2 Recorder

Unfortunately just before I left for my trip to Japan my Fostex FR2 recorder died. Although I wasnt planning to take it and my Sanken shotgun mic & Rycote with me, I did want to be able to record sounds whiel travelling. For the next film project I will replace the FR2 with a Sound Devices 722 or 744 but I was after a small, portable, cheap alternative and luckily ZOOM released the tiny H2 recorder at just the right time. I read a great review here and bought one at Yodbashi camera on my first day in Tokyo.

The crucial specs that intrigued me were: it can record 24 bit audio, up to 96k and it has 4 mics built in enabling quad recording. And it costs only US$200!!! The idea sounded too good to be true and given the cost I was quite prepared to be sorely disappointed, but no! This unit performs amazingly well. But don’t get me wrong – it has none of the resolution of a seriously good mic, but theres the cost issue again – my Sanken CS5 stereo shotgun mic alone costs 8 times the price of the H2. You can’t expect miracles, but it does a remarkable job & is so easy to use.

I always used the H2 in 24 bit 48k Quad mode and was surprised to find it didnt have a gain knob but a switch – the gain could only be set to Low, Medium or High and I would say 90% of the time I left it set on High. The H2 also runs on penlite batterys and in total I recorded over three hours of quad recordings over a six week period and used just two sets of batteries. The advantage of no moving parts – it records to a flash card.

Ok so what does it sound like?
When you listen to the recordings in isolation the H2 sounds good and you can definitely perceive the surround components. But it leaves a slightly nagging feeling that some vitality or detail is being lost. It is a bit like listening to an ipod. With nothing to compare it to, an ipod sounds fine. But put it up against a good record player through good speakers and the short comings soon become apparent. This became obvious when I met up with a friend who was recording sounds for a dance project in Tokyo. He was recording with a Sound Devices 744 and a very nice Schopes mic in Rycote and when I compared some of the subway recordings he had made with mine it was like chalk and cheese – his recordings were more vital, detailed and alive. And so they should be, there is a US$5000 difference in the setup – its a bit like saying a Mercedes drives better than a Mini.

So the only complaint I have about the H2 is this: it doesnt sound like a million bucks!

There are a few little things that annoyed me, but none were critical eg the unit is very light plastic and any handling transfers directly to the mic, so dont try clicking the button to turn up or down the headphone monitor level or mic gain or you will get mic bumps in your recording. I also found it a bit odd that the LCD display is facing the same way as the front mics. So for example if I was recording a train pass, I would have the LCD screen pointed away from me & couldn’t see it. I prefer to know if I am clipping digital record levels while I record and it would make more sense for the LCD screen to be facing the same way as the surround mics. Virtually swapping the front and back mics doesnt solve this problem either as the front mics are set 90 degrees apart, whereas the surround mics are 120 degrees.

But the proof is in the pudding, so have a listen to some of my H2 recordings – as someone wise once said to me “Trust your own ears, only” so I will post some 24bit 48k quad recordings plus MP3 stereo versions of the same, incase you are only interested in instant gratification…

Zoom H2 Recordings:

H2FX01 Train bridge Shinjuku LR + sLR – recording underneath a train overbridge near Shinjuku Station – I love the aggressively percussive nature of this sound! There were some homeless people sleeping under this bridge & I couldnt help thinking about the city as an oppressively loud environment….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 9MB

H2FX02 Train int Yamanote Line LR + sLR – this recording in onboard the train on the Yamanote Line – it helped me with my pronouciation hearing these annoucnements each day….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 35MB

H2FX03 Temple singing Kamakura LR + sLR – this recording is from a temple in Kamakura – I love the bells!
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 28MB

H2FX04 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – a quiet temple ambience with mainly just insects & crows
download mp3 or download Quad .AV 16MB

H2FX05 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – ditto
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 12MB

H2FX06 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – ditto but much more arhthymic… note the mic bumps
for long ambience recording best to plant the H2 & walk away for a while…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 20MB

H2FX07 Int Shinjuku Station LR – busy busy busy Tokyo – the human river that is Shinjuku Station
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 14MB

H2FX08 Int Taya Cavern LR – this is a recording of water drips inside Taya Cavern, an amazing network of caves carved out by Buddhist monks a long long time ago… I figured the sound of these drips would not have changed over the centuries – the place filled me with quiet…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX09 Train to Ofuna LR + sLR – INT the train back to Tokyo from Ofuna & Taya Cavern, I had my ipod on & kept hearing weird strings everey time the train stopped & started again… turned off the ipod & realised it was the train – what a beautiful pitch ramp! The next station also sounds like its called “Kooky”
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 48MB

H2FX10 Jidai Matsuri drums Kyoto LR + sLR – Jidai Matusir is an annual festival where people dress in traditional costume from various ages & parade through Kyoto… some playign music, as in this recording
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 20MB

H2FX11 Temple ambience Kyoto LR + sLR – this is a quiet temple ambience near Daisen-In zen temple, I loved the pitch in the sound of the pigeon, had I looked up & discovered he had a flute I would not have been surprised.. the footsteps of the woman walking past gives some indivation fo the H2 ability to record spatial ambience but also notice the mic bumps – it was hot & I was getting tired – too much beauty! Wouldnt be a problem with a mic in a Rycote…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 19MB

H2FX12 Temple insects Kyoto LR + sLR – another quiet temple ambience, mostly insects & distant city….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX13 Temple insects Kyoto LR + sLR – another quiet temple ambience, mostly insects & distant city…. This is another example where 24bit helps, but a betetr mic & preamp would reveal a lot more detail & spatial information… the image feels smeared
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX14 Temple bell Kyoto LR + sLR – a temple bell and I had the H2 practically inside the bell
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 19MB

H2FX15 Subway train INT Tokyo LR + sLR – this is recorded interior subway & as opposed to the Yamanote Line in Tokyo which is above ground, I loved the shreiks, graunches & pitch ramps that the Tokyo underground subway produces…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

H2FX16 Monkeys Shodoshima LR + sLR – recorded quite wide because I preferred not to get bitten by one of them, towards the end of the file there is an outburst from one of their vigilantes/guardians over on the Left…. to translate: shake tree = F+CK OFF BIPEDS!
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

H2FX17 Birds Shodoshima LR + sLR – beautiful frequency sweeps by a number of birds, recorded by a temple built into a rock face where we experienced a zen buddhist fire ceremony – something so beautiful I won’t ven try and use words to explain it…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

So what an amazing device! My only wish is I could buy the exact same unit with US$1000 mics in it. And the true comparison, I think, should be between carrying a recorder/mic or not.
I am so happy to have all of these recordings, and no doubt some of them will make it into a film one day, but imagine the opposite ie no recorder, no mic….these would all be sound memorys, slowly fading as time passes with no ability to reference them – I know which i prefer… US$200 well spent! And its like the size of two cell phones… and it makes you listen, be quiet and listen… I stopped counting the number of times I suddenly realised I had stopped breathing & was starting to hear my heart pouding in my chest, why? Simply because of the sonic beauty of engaging with the environment in Japan…. a joy to behold!

Note: the visual record of my travels in Japan is here: steampunk.co.nz/travelzen & includes the best 50 or so photos of the 2,600 I shot in my six weeks of travel..

How much music is too much?

Arrived home (Wellington, New Zealand) last night at midnight after an indeterminate amount of time flying back from Tokyo… I crossed enough time zones as to have no real idea as to how long the flights took but it was long enough to flatten batterys on two ipods! Travel produces such mixed feelings – happy to be home & back in my studio, sad to leave all the lovely people I met along the way…
But back to the topic, I’ve been transferring all the music I bought while travelling to my main studio Mac and when I was finished I selected the entire music library on my drives & it came up with this data:

32,534 songs
111 days
263.71 GB

So how much music is too much?
If you feel like checking, paste a comment with the size of your itunes library, I’m intrigued to know if ‘normal’ people have such out of control music habits…. or whether I should seek professional help! I would guess I have two or three times that much music out in the physical world – two walls of vinyl & a big storage unit full of CDs…. In Japan Tower records have a great motto: “No music, no life” that I fully subscibe to, but is too much music too much life?

One means of gaining a perspective on vast music librarys relates to how much actually gets listened to and one revealing trick in itunes is to select the whole music library & sort by PLAY COUNT…. Unfortunately I had to move my library to a bigger drive & reload it into itunes, so my play count was reset, but does anyone reading this use one of those itunes plugins (eg iscrobbler) that tracks your music listening habits?

And lastly, while on the subject of iTunes, I was happy to receive an update notice of one of my favourite visualizers; WhiteCap check it out (Mac & PC) for nice wireframe FFT displays, although I am also partial to Soundstream the (Mac only) sound activated plasma display screensaver, especially when my laptop is set for it to trigger by whatever it hears through its built in mic… and its free! Ok, rant over, time to ah listen to some music!

Whitecap:

Soundstream:

FWIW heres a list of the music bought and/or downloaded (emusic, bleep, boomkat) while travelling in Japan:

African Head Charge – Vision Of A Psychedelic Africa
Akira Kosemura + Haruka Nakamura – Afterglow
Alice Russell – Hurry On Now
Antendex – Diagram
Boxcutter – Glyphic
Burial – Untrue
Burnt Friedman – First Night Forever
Cappablack РFa̤ades & Skeletons
Christopher Willits – Plants And Hearts
COH – Strings
David Kristian – Cricklewood
David Sylvian – When loud weather buffeted Naoshima
Deadbeat – Telsa & Miso EPs
Deepchord – Echospace
Dubstep Allstars Vol 3 (Mixed By Kode9)
Edith Progue – Timeline
Ekkehard Ehlers – A Life Without Fear
Ethan Rose – Spinning Pieces
Ethan Rose – Ceiling Songs
Ezekiel Honig – More Human Than Human Remix EP
Ezekiel Honig – Scattered Practices
Flim- Ohne Titel 1916
Flim – Pola Music
Frank Bretschneider – Rhythm
Frank Bretschneider – Party Of Two Parts EP
Gastón Arévalo – [THN099] Ultramar
Grad_u – KY_D15 Galwoju apie ja
Jodi Cave – for Myria
Kangding Ray. – Stabil
Keiichiro Shibuya – ATAK010 filmachine phonics
Lukid – Onandon
Mapstation – in the loss of clearity something else gets heard
Microcosm Music Volume One
Moskitoo – Drape
Moskitoo – Remixes
Múm – Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy
Murcof – Cosmos
Otomo Yoshihide – Monochrome Otomo
Prefuse 73 – Preparations & Interregnums
Prince Far I – Silver And Gold
Radiohead – In rainbows
Rei Harakami – Opa*Q
Rei Harakami – Unrest
Ryuichi Sakamoto – Life
Ryuichi Sakamoto & Christopher Willits – Ocean Fire
Sasaki san – Return of Sasaki san
Sawako – Madoromi
Signal – Robotron
Sigur Ros – Hvaf/Heim
Small Sails – Simialr Anniversaries
Swod – Sekunden
Tape & Minamo – Birds of a feather
Taylor Deupree – Landing
Taylor Deupree & Savvas Ysatis – The morning sleeping
Thurston Moore – Trees outside the academy
Valgeir Sigurdsson – Ekvilibrium
Yair Etziony – flawed

And various live sets including:
Rhythm & Sound, Scion & Tikiman, Pole, Monolake & Deadbeat, Andrea Parker, Tujiko Noriko – all found via the great sound+ site

EDIT: so given a bit of quiet time & reflection….
I am totally loving the Boxcutter album listed above
For my money I like it more than the much hyped Burial album….

Also been thrashing these two (free download) EPs:
[KY_D15 Galwoju apie ja] on Kyoto Dub netlabel
[THN099 Ultramar] on Thinner netlabel
tune in etc

30 Days of Night Q&A

I just completed a Q&A for the excellent filmsounddaily site and its online now – have a read here. Also great news; 30 Days of Night was number one at box office in USA for its first weekend and is currently up to US$28million, box office updates here

International release schedule ex imdb is:

Date
USA 16 October 2007 (Hollywood, California) (premiere)
Canada 19 October 2007
USA 19 October 2007
Philippines 31 October 2007
Czech Republic 1 November 2007
UK 1 November 2007
Lithuania 2 November 2007
Australia 8 November 2007
Germany 8 November 2007
Netherlands 8 November 2007
Russia 8 November 2007
Iceland 9 November 2007
Greece 15 November 2007
Turkey 16 November 2007
Brazil 23 November 2007
Estonia 23 November 2007
Egypt 28 November 2007
Finland 30 November 2007
Taiwan 30 November 2007
Norway 7 December 2007
Singapore 13 December 2007
New Zealand 3 January 2008
Argentina 24 January 2008

MY FIRST TIMELAPSE

Its really just a test but its the first time I have shot timelapse with my Canon D30 controlled by a TC80N3… the youtube vid is so reduced in quality it isnt funny – the D30 is shooting about twice HD resolution so when I get home I’ll be generating some HDVD versions…
Location was by Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo…

great sound/foggy video

I mean foggy video in a good/interesting way! Tomorrow I am going to go check out an installation at the ICC Gallery in Shinjuku, Tokyo featuring the work of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani… The project is called LIFE and features “a grid of 3 x 3 acrylic aquariums, 30cm high and 1.2m square are hung, in a darkened room. Each carries a thin film of water inside. Each has speakers affixed at both ends. Inside of each a fog is artificially created using ultrasonic waves, percolating fluid patterns which hover between transparency and opacity. Imagery transmitted down into these tanks from projectors attached above them–at times synchronizing all aquariums, at times decoupled and seemingly autonomous–shines down through this screen of kinetic patterns woven of water and fog, connecting the imagery while ceaselessly melting, floating endlessly between flows of meaning and meaninglessness, the concrete and the abstract.”

“I wanted to distance myself from the curse of time.” (SAKAMOTO)
“I wanted the imagery to project completely free of control.” (TAKATANI)

Both are intriguing statements on the release of ultimate control of their respective mediums and based on the video clips from a previous iteration, these statements are also indicative of the ultimate form of appreciation – you must be there to experience it. My perceptions will savour the experience!

Nervous Flying?

then dont watch this:

From the brilliant movie Flight Club – I’ve often since wondered if this film would get funded if it was made now, in the current political climate? Hmmmmm…

And incase you haven’t seen it, here is a plot analysis of Fight Club created in lego

Note Red = Chapter divisions, Blue = Narrator, White = Tyler Durden, Yellow = Marla Singer, Orange = Violence/Fight Club, Cornflower Blue = Bosses/Work/The Huddled Masses of the World, Green = Big Bob/Support Groups, Light Green = Space Monkeys/Project Mayhem, Black = Death/Mortality & height = intensity…

planning…

Four more days, 12 hours tempting gravity & I will wake up in Tokyo! Yahoooooooooo! I’ve been researching lots of what I will be doing while in Japan & heres a few video clips & links that give some indication musicwise… & thank god for Google Earth or I would never find some of these bars etc…

Cokiyu is playing at O-Nest bar with Moskitoo

And at loopline bar Zegunder is playing with Taro Kawasaki

I wish Sawako was playing in Japan (her album on 12k is so beautiful) but alas no…. Anyway check out some excerpts from her new album on the anticipate label

And same for Tujiko Norito – sadly she is touring elsewhere… but check these youtube clips

And aside from all that lovely melodic electronic music, i think I’ll also go see Optron who ummmm… plays fluroescent tubes!


note to self, take ear plugs!

Nostalgia

Ok heres two videos, both not so recent (the first was made in 1902, the other in 1996) but see if you can spot any other similarities… by the way the first one is a silent film, so best to mute the sound!

OZU, INTERPRETED

I just came across this most beautiful of albums: Yasujiro Ozu – Hitokomakura and I shall quote from the record labels description….

“This is the second of a series of label projects pertaining to film directors… This release turns its focus upon Yasujiro Ozu’s use of “pillow shots” (i.e. short poetic pauses that appear between the acting segments of his films. The term “pillow shot” was not coined by Ozu himself, but several years after his passing in the early 1960s by a Japanese journalist who was trying to draw a comparison of the intermediate scenes to “pillow words” found in traditional Japanese poetry.

Each artist who appears on this release was asked to choose one or more “pillow shots” to use as inspiration for their pieces. A link to web pages containing a large assortment of pillow shots” was provided, and accordingly, the pillow shots were reserved on a first come, first served basis. The artists also watched the films from which the pillow shots came from in order to get a sense of how their chosen pillow shots were employed by Ozu.”

“The sound work featured represents a wide range of artistic approaches, but as always with these projects, the artists were chosen specifically, based on their previous work and on how it might contribute to the collective whole of each project.”

download Steve Roden mp3
download Hitoshi Kojo mp3
download John Hudak mp3

Ozu-san’s films have had a major influence on audiences & directors alike, often sited by people such as Jim Jarmusch & Wim Wenders, this album is well worthy of investigation.. available worldwide via forced exposure

Yasujiro Ozu’s site, imdb filmography, wikipedia page and selected filsm by Midnight Eye

Aldous Huxley On Silence

“The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise.
Physical noise, mental noise and noise of desire – we hold history’s record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. That most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the eardrums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but usually create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas.
And where, as in most countries, the broadcasting stations support themselves by selling time to advertisers, the noise is carried from the ear, through the realms of phantasy, knowledge and feeling to the ego’s core of wish and desire. Spoken or printed, broadcast over the ether or on wood-pulp, all advertising copy has but one purpose — to prevent the will from ever achieving silence.
Desirelessness is the condition of deliverance and illumination. The condition of an expanding and technologically progressive system of mass production is universal craving. Advertising is the organized effort to extend and intensify the workings of that force, which (as all the saints and teachers of all the higher religions have always taught) is the principal cause of suffering and wrong-doing and the greatest obstacle between the human soul and its Divine Ground.”

from Silence, Liberty, and Peace (1946)

Film Music rant#1

‘Film Music’ – what a generic term! Please excuse me, i’ve been out in the sun too much lately & after six intense weeks in a loud dark room filled with vampires I feel like my senses have been reborn, or at least defragmented & newly focused…
One of the joys of final mixing a film, for me, is finally getting to hear the score. I always aim to collaborate as much as possible with the composer on each film, but there inevitably comes a point in the final preperation for the mix where we each have to just conform, do the final pass on our respective elements & go into the final mix with our faith in the the ability of the director & the mixers to find the perfect balance….
and god bless them, they always do!
But what really intrigues me with respect to the score for a film is, despite knowing the film intimately (having sweated over every single frame in its entire duration & considered & provided input on every element of sound, ambience, foley, sound effects & design) I suddenly get to see/hear how the composer has interpreted & contributed to the film, scene by scene. While sound (as in ambeince/foley/sound effects/design) contributes (or is at least available) for every frame of the film, the score choose its moments… And it is a disease of ‘modern’ film making where music also fills every second of the film soundtrack – it is constantly there, informing us how to react & feel, as though we are idiots, unable to interpret a narrative on our own. I am not going to point the finger at anyone (directors or films) but suffice for me to say film is not television – in a cinema the audience is a captive audience, they arent about to switch channels just because theres a quiet moment or because they got bored. Quite the contrary, I believe those quiet moments are crucial for an audience to fully engage…

So it begs the question, what drives a composer to provide ‘some’ (& not all) of the films soundtrack? Where do they start & where do they end the multitude of music cues that go into the final mix? To help consider this incredibly deep philosophical question I am going to quote from a recent interview with music editor Ken Karman; “Music should start for a specific reason, play a point of view or an emotion, and then get the hell out, not drawing the audience’s attention.” Amen to that sentiment, brother!
Its true of designing complex sound effects too, that it is valuable to think about the soundtrack relative to the envelope of generating a sound on an analogue synth – ADSR where A=Attack, D=Decay, S=Sustain, R=Release
A moment happens, and in sync, pre-emptive or delayed the sound starts = its attack, instant liek a gun shot or slow, like a wave breaking… the initial moment resonates (decay) & then sustains, until it slowly dissolves (releases) back into the ongoing paradigm of the soundtrack… ADSR!
Now moment by moment I fully appeciate the ADSR approach with sound, but how does it apply to the score? Well I sure dont have any universal answers but I am a permanent student of such things & as a starting point would like to suggest you read this excellent article:
In defense of Mickey Mousing

Not coincidentally the list he provides of composers who tend to underscore (rather than ‘Mickey Mouse’) pretty much equates to a list of my favourite film composers… but then the ‘right’ score for any film is that which best suits the film & most effectively helps tell the story, so damn the idea of trying to answer a very broad question with a specific answer… its all good if it works!
& God bless that little rat… by the way i laughed out loud at the Mickey Mouse/Disney jokes in the recent The Simpsons movie – did you see it? did you get the injokes? Bart in the train was funny/obvious (i’m a mascot of an evil empire!) but the score for the moment in the cabin when Homer & Marge get it on, witnessed by the local animals was hilarious!!!!

Mixing at 5000%

I shot some video of Mike Hedges & Gethin Creagh mixing a scene from 30 Days of Night & sped it up 5000% – I left the clip intentionally mute as figured no one wants to listen to the whine of audio playing 5000% faster than normal!

For what its worth Mike is closest to the camera & mixed Sound Effects, Foley, Ambiences, Sound Design & Vampire Vocals while Gethin mixed Dialogue/ADR & Music. The film was mixed at Park Road Post on a Euphonix Series 5 desk setup with 276 inputs – we only had two spare channels by the end of the mix… I can’t show you a shot of the room with an image on the screen without getting in trouble, so heres a photo from another movie mixed there:

Print Mastering…

Hallelujah! the mix for 30 Days of Night is finished & print mastering & deliverys are underway.. After spending five intense weeks in a dark loud room the fact that its sunny today is THE BEST!!!
Unrelated (or maybe not) yesterday I found a film online (via vvork) and I think it may well be the best thing I have ever seen or heard on youtube or online anywhere! Check it out, but you have to hang in there for the climax at the end or best not to watch it at all!

Created in 1964 by Nam June Paik