0800 – Glacier

Reuters reports today of a Glawegian artist who has set up a hydrophone (ie underwater mic) beside one Europes largest glaciers, as it slowly melts & succumbs to global warming: “It is sad to see a vanishing world.”
Share the grief, our glacier is standing by for your call: 07758 225698

More on hydrophones here, here and comparison of various models here

piano + catapult = ?

best use for an old piano? watch & see:

& some weird english geezer with too much time & money…

You’d think if he had as much money as the annoying voice over claims
he could afford to fire a grand piano – with someone playing it…. no?

I’d love to record the piano crash myself, close up
but it would be a case of how close up?
& which microphone do you want to risk?

Managing media: FX Library

While the technology that surrounds us might appear to be the most crucial aspect of any workflow, what is actually far far more crucial is the data itself, and none more so than sound. I learned very early on in my career that anyone can go buy ProTools etc – what actually makes the difference is what you feed it ie what you readily have access to in terms of source material.
When I first started work, a year or two before Protools was invented, the FX Library was stored on quarter inch tape & logged on paper. SLOW access & slowly wearing out. Next was DAT, MEDIUM/SLOW access, better fidelity. Then came hard drives – I still have an original Digidesign ProStore 1 Gig Drive which cost $9,000 back in 1993 (its like the inverse of real estate!) And so now that mass drive space is cheaper than ever the tools we use to access it become even more important eg aside from the boot drive my Intel Mac has three 750GB drives mounted internally. This holds my main sound effects & ambience library, which is also duplicated on external drives on a server so that the other FX editors can acess them without effecting my machine… But how to find your way through over 350,000 sounds?
After much research I invested in SoundMiner – a free standing program which is written specifically for this purpose. You can catalogue & access any files on drives, auditioning & tagging them as you search. Two very handy audition features include being able to pitch shift as you audition and also insert VST plugins & monitor through them as you audition. It is also possible to tranfers the sounds into ProTools with (or without) the pitch shift and/or VST plugins… The only feature to this that i could wish for is to be able to audition files backwards (& yes I have requested it)

In terms of searching you can use boolean arguments & SoundMiner also has a thesaurus built in; so if you search for ‘explosion’, it will also find ‘bang’ ‘crash’ ‘shot’ etc… But one of the best features has to be its integration with ProTools – if you find a sound & hit ‘spot to ProTools’ it will copy/convert, import & then spot the sound onto the timeline in ProTools, wherever you left your cursor! This is genius & you can only really appreciate what a difference it makes to productivity once you are used to using SoundMiner in this way & then suddenly try working without it (eg on the mix stage)…. Another releated great feature of SoundMiner is the ability to tag sounds to a bin & then transfer the entire bin onto the timeline in ProTools, with the files on the same track, butted together. This is fantastic for say building a library of ambiences for a film eg you can spend an hour or two auditioning & tagging files & then transfer the bin to ProTools & your ambience library appears on a track waiting to be cut.
Now my experiences with SoundMiner have been only with version 3 & the developers have been demoing a major new version at trade shows for the last few months, so if you are looking at it, it is worth checking out the new version 4 first as it is quite radically different to v3. Apart from being Intel native (ie much faster) they have also rebuilt the workflow for it… I have only recently recieved a pre-release copy & once I have my head around it will write a full review, but needless to say SoundMiner is second only to ProTools in allowing me to do my work – efficiently & creatively, it allows me to make better choices in that I can easily check out all the options rather than use the first option that works…

The two other programs we rely on are AudioFinder which is a brilliant program (especially for only $70!!!) for browsing & auditioning audio directly on your drives, or on the network – I would buy the network version of SoundMiner for this purpose but I find the pricing prohibitive.

The last handy little program I use is DiskTracker which is very useful for making snapshots of offline media (eg archive drives/DVDRs etc) & then searching the snapshots etc….

As my library grows to consume any & all free space, my next upgrade is going to be for a proper RAID – I’d appreciate any reccomendations or experiences people have had… the best option I’ve found so far:
Enhance Technology 8 bay drive enclosure
For library access, performance isnt such an issue as the most I ever want to audition is a 5.1 file ie 6 tracks of 24 bit 48k… and I always transfer selected files to my work drives. I appreciate there are plenty of options for RAIDs for video editing but those also require deep pockets when all I really want is to just put six or eight 1 Terabyte drives in a single metal box & hook it up via Firewire 800…. Any thoughts?

ps one other nifty little helper that I use for file renaming: ABetterFinderRename


Cornelius is a Japanese band who have released a few albums – this video clip is for a song on their first album & I still enjoy seeing it now as much as the first time – great audio visual sync/concepts… check it out:

A new Murakami book!

Receiving a copy of a new book by Haruki Murakami is very much like being served the freshest sashimi – you have to pause for a moment while all of your senses have time to excitedly join your brain’s anticipation…
& then slowly savour every mouthful/line like it was your last…

Taking place over seven hours of a Tokyo night,
it intercuts three loosely related stories….

a fantastic 3D short film

While a lot of big budget 3D work in film aims for the holy grail of photo realism, very little of it ever achieves it, or when it does it falls into the genius area of the audience being oblivious to its presence. Unfortunately the worst of it is often given away by the robotic camera movement or even worse, the lack of any use of focus as a creative tool ie everything is in focus – very uncinematic… You only have to revisit a film that was considered ‘cutting edge’ a year or two ago to appreciate how some 3D really is the emperors new clothes… & those clothes date rapidly & badly…
But when a true artist with a vision works in the medium look out! While checking out the winners of Ars Electronica festival I became incredibly intrigued to see the winning 3D Animation; Codehunters by Ben Hibon (UK) and after a quick search found a copy to see for myself.

Watch it on the small screen here or on the directors site – great soundtrack too by Joris de Man & what a fantastic feature film it would make!!!!!
oops just found a better resolution copy – 150MB quicktime


I have a new secret (not very) weapon & it looks a bit like this:

LowEnder is the first plugin to provide a digital replacement for the much loved & adored dbx subharmonic synth. I’ve had an analog outboard subharmonic 120XP for ages & regularly print sounds through it to re-record the sub bass effect it does so well but its always a slight hassle patching & riding analog gain, but there really hasn’t been another option until now. Lowender is made by reFuse software & is built on the pluggo engine by cycling 74 & while some of the pluggos around can be fun but not regularly used, this is one plugin thats getting a lot of use! Lowender is compatible with VST, RTAS, and AU hosts on Macintosh OS X.

Download the demo, available at the reFuse site

And check out a few sounds, each file is played first clean, followed by two different settings

download metal hit FX lowender demo 1 mp3

download wood hit FX lowender demo 2 mp3

download wood hit FX lowender demo 3 mp3

FWIW there are some demo music files on the reFuse site

the birds & subharmonics

I just watched, or should I say re-re-re-rewatched Alfred Hitchcocks film The Birds and while it will never quite disturb my senses the way it did the first time it still is a sharp reminder of the power of memory versus reality & the idea of being open to lateral solutions to complex problems. When you think of a film as scary as The Birds you immediately start thinking about the score & while many of Hitchcocks films were scored by the brilliant Bernard Herrmann, The Birds is a film with no score! Herrman was employed as a ‘sound consultant’ on the project but the sonic power of the film originated solely from the sound effects… this would be considered a brave move nowadays but it must have been even more so back then..

So what does provide the scares? One reason the sound effects in The Birds directly touch the fears of the audience is that they are relatively abstract—especially the bird cries. Quoting from Chapter 8 of The Silent Scream – “There are seven attacks in all, and Hitchcock clearly was challenged by a desire to differentiate them. There are two sets of variables that he seems to be manipulating in relation to the sound effects: whether the birds are introduced first aurally or visually and whether the birds are ominously noisy or ominously silent.”
Hitchcock himself has described how for the seventh and last attack he no longer needed to have the birds scream. “When Melanie is locked up in the attic with the murderous birds we inserted the natural sounds of wings. Of course, I took the dramatic licence of not having the birds scream at all. To describe a sound accurately, one has to imagine its equivalent in dialogue. What I wanted to get in that attack is as if the birds were telling Melanie, “Now we’ve got you where we want you. Here we come. We don’t have to scream in triumph or in anger. This is going to be a silent murder.” That’s what the birds were saying, and we got the technicians to achieve that effect through electronic sound.”

Now Hitchcock is describing the pyschological effect of the sounds but bearing in mind the film was made in 1963, how & by whom were the sounds generated?

Meet Oskar Sala & the Trautonium

Oskar Sala was (he died at the age of 91 back in 2002) a 20th century German composer and a pioneer of electronic music. He played an electronic instrument called the Trautonium & helped develop it into a device he called the Mixtur-Trautonium. This is where it gets a little technical but bear with me, its worth it… or you know, skip down to the end & listen to the mp3s!

According to the excellent site 120 Years of Electronic Music the original Trautonium had a fingerboard consisting of a resistance wire stretched over a metal rail marked with a chromatic scale and coupled to a neon tube oscillator. The performer on pressing the wire touches the rail and completes the circuit and the oscillator is amplified via a loudspeaker. The position of the finger on the wire determines the resistance controlling the frequency and therefore controls the pitch of the oscillator & when the finger glides over the string a continuous glissando results over the entire tonal region. The Trautonium had a three octave range that could be transposed by means of a switch. An additional series of circuits can be added to control the timbre of the note by amplifying the harmonics of the fundamental note, non harmonic partials can also be added by selective filtering. This unique form of subtractive synthesis produced a tone that was distinctive and unusual…. have a listen:

download Trautonium sample 1 mp3
download Trautonium sample 2 mp3
download Trautonium sample 3 mp3
download Trautonium sample 4 mp3
download Trautonium sample 5 mp3

Oskar Salas Mixtur Trautonium used subharmonic frequency mixtures to generate sound. The sounds produced by conventional instruments and in the natural world are a combination of notes each with a different pitch; each fundamental has various overtones, so-called harmonics, above it. Subharmonic sounds are produced by dividing the frequency of the fundamental “undertones” — subharmonics — are the result. Subharmonic sounds do not exist in nature and differ from the sounds produced conventionally by synthesizers and software programmes for electronic music. Fax records released 2 CDs by Oska Sala, one called My Fascinating Instrument and the other called Subharmonic Mixtures

Now watch the trailer & feel the fear!

Sound Geo Tags

In the news on the BBC this week was a report on a company who has developed a means of tagging sounds to specific locations via Google Earth which is a great idea! Just as finding a beautiful panoramic photo tagged to a location brings it alive visually, the idea of virtually visiting interesting sonic locations has huge appeal, only to be supplanted by embedded video AND sound…

But of course its hardly news at all to anyone who has checked out the brilliant freesound project ‘The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds’ which already have a section of geotagged sounds The particularly observant will have even noticed freesound being credited in the excellent film Children of Men – screenshot of credits here, trailer here, and a very good article on the clever use of VFX in the film here. I have to also say the film has a very very good soundtrack – much respect to sound designer/sueprvising sound editor Richard Beggs and all of the sound team.


4 days of bliss!

the grumpy tired me that left on thursday…
has returned totally chilled out!

first stop was Morere hot pools – pictured is one of the private pools;
40 degrees celcius and $8 for half an hour well spent…

next stop was the bach I rented in Waihau Bay
I arrived after dark, had 2 vodkas & slept for 13 hours

WOW! the view when i woke up!
I took my laptop, mbox, speakers, mics etc & set up a little studio & made a few new tunes (one in particular has been cranking my dial!)

THE best way to start a day – a walk down the beach

& next stop was Tokamaru Bay

after doing lots of research I walked for hours through dense bush to find these ancient ruins (in actual fact I walked 5 minutes up a driveway from the wharf)

hmmmm abstract derelict roof shadows!

i found this broken car in a broken shed by the ruins…
& thought about the lives lived when it was new

next stop was the hot pools at TePuia Springs
go into the bar, give them $5, enjoy half an hour of total bliss!

& last, vivid memory was Tolaga Bay at dusk
if Dali was a kiwi this is where he would live!

heres a photo taken a few years ago from the exact same spot

nz music

May is ‘New Zealand Music Month’ – a slightly parochial idea but I’ll take this opportunity to suggest you check out some of my favourite New Zealand music – some new & some old…

While it may not have been created recently the work of Len Lye is contemporary in that it feels as fresh & innovative now as it ever has & if that isn’t something to aspire to then I dont know what is. Len Lye was a self described composer of motion & this CD, released on the Atoll label is a very worthy introduction to the sounds created by his kinetic sculptures. Of course it cannot replace experiencing the real thing at the Govett Brewester Gallery in New Plymouth but it does achieve the worthy task of making us appreciate Len Lyes work with our ears as the primary input. Buy the CD – I also highly recomend the DVD Flip & Two Twisters which provides an excellent overview of the work (scratch film, animation, painting, kinetic/sound art) of this genius local, and/or the biography
Rest in peace Len, your work is a perpetual inspiration!

Next up is the work of leyton who makes excellent digital dub (& remixes) as son.sine & soulful 4 on the floor techno (is that an oxymoron?) as epsilon blue but it is his work as rotor + that I would like to suggest you investigate. Sometimes abstract, ambient and experimental but always connected to core emotions visit RTCNZ to check out some of his music & then go buy the two brilliant CDs (or a couple of MP3s)

Between them Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns have helped save many traditional maori instruments from becoming unplayed museum exhibits & this country is much richer for their work (photos) As an introduction TE HEKENGA-A-RANGI (buy the CD) is an album of haunting beauty, timeless & evocative.

Released by Rattle Records the album was later remixed with varying degrees of success in a follow up CD. But it is an impossible task – no re-contextualisation comes close to truly evoking the respect & immense spirit of the original.

Taonga Puoro – Singing Treasures is also a very good book on the subject & includes a CD.

sparky & the sonovox

When I was a kid we used to listen to a radio show in the weekends where they would play kids stories/radio dramas & in hindsight this would be one of the first places that I became aware of audio manipulating perception. One of my favourite stories was called Sparky & The Talking Train, and the best bit was where the train starts speaking to Sparky. If you have heard it you will know exactly the bit I mean; ‘right front wheel…right front wheel’

So it was great to stumble across a copy of it on the interweb – you can download Sparky & The Talking Train from Kids Audiobooks plus the wonderful Kiddies Records site has a copy of Sparky’s Magic Piano which also employs inanimate objects speaking…
I always wondered how they did that effect, especially considering the technology when the show was made… & many years later I found out – it is a process called SONOVOX & here are examples from the two Sparky stories:
download Sparkys Train sample mp3
download Sparky Magic Piano sample mp3

The Sonovox process was invented by Gilbert Wright – Time magazine has an article about it here and to quote from it: “Gilbert Wright was meditatively scratching the bristly whiskers on his Adam’s apple & he noticed that queer sounds came out of his mouth. When he silently mouthed words, the sounds caused by scratching his whiskers were formed into words. Fascinated, Gilbert Wright, who was once an engineer and radio operator, began to experiment further.”

“with the Sonovox, a sound recording of a waterfall, a vociferating animal, rattling dice or whatnot is fed through wires to two little biscuit-shaped gadgets which are placed on each side of the throat against the larynx. These gadgets transmit the sound vibrations to the larynx, so that the sound comes out of the throat as if produced there. The sound is shaped into speech by mouthing the desired words.”


I have played with plenty of vocoders but unless you want to sound like Daft Punk the results can be less than inspiring… cross-synthesis can bear more interesting results but the process is not real time & certainly has none of the control or performance that the Sonovox does…

Here are links to a few other kids records using the Sonovox: Whizzer the Talking Plane and Rusty in Orchestraville – the latter being a brilliant musical appreciation course for any little rascals….

Relatedly there is a very good document available on Speech Synthesis with audio samples and history at Dave’s Imaginary Sound Space – highly reccomended!

Help me Sparky….

temp mix

Excuse my lack of posts this week – we are hell busy doing a temp mix… lock the cut on friday, conform 7 reels, predub the atmos, cut a LOT of new FX and be ready to start temp mix today = 7 day weeks, 15 hour days & not a lot of sleep recently… mixing in the same room as the photo below, but there aren’t any monkeys involved!

FX-wise we’re running 8 x 5.1 FX stems, 2 x 5.1 + 2 x LCR Atmos stems, 12 tracks of foley… plus dialogue/ADR/loop group and temp music ex the LA based composer…