Ambience recording Dec 2006

I havent processed these recordings yet either, but here are a few snapshots of ambience recording locations from my travels….

The east coast of the South Island, near the Ashburton river mouth.

Lake Te Anau, Fiordland – the water was crystal clear.

Totaranui beach, Takaka
I captured three different timelapse shots/ambiences here & I plan to make them into a DVD. When winter gets nasty in Wellington I’ll just turn the heater up & watch/listen to it!

Wharariki beach, Takaka

A gentle breeze in dry long grass – near Wharariki beach, Takaka

I’ll upload the sounds soon, promise!

Impulse Responses Dec 2006

I managed to capture a few impulse responses for Altiverb while away on holiday. I haven’t gone through the recordings yet but once I have I’ll upload them and then update this post…

My nephew Morris firing my .22 starter pistol into a small metal silo on my brothers farm in Southland.

This IR had a nice metal zing to it!

This is inside a tin shed – figured it might be useful for ADR….

This is Echo Point, a spot on the road of the Western Inlet from Takaka. I discovered this spot many eears ago, when there was a sign saying: ‘Echo Point – startling echo heard here!’ The signs now gone but if you happen to explore this area, its by the road marker #99 on the Western Inlet. No doubt it sounds quite different when the tide is in…

my remote studio

While on holiday in Takaka I set up a temporary music studio without having to consider one of those no credit check loans to pay or it, much thanks to Gaylene Preston who loaned me her cottage & woolshed… its such a peaceful spot

The woolshed was the perfect size to set up in & the acoustics were nice! Aside from cows the nearest neighbour is about 2km away…

its the toy orchestra!

I love my contact mic

The executive producer seems to like it!

happy new year!

I finished 2006 by going on a road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. The main destination in the far south was Fiordland, quite probably the most remote spot in the whole country!

I went on a boat trip to Manapouri Power Station & then out Doubtful Sound to the open sea on the West Coast…. totally awe-inspiring! I was so impressed with the company organising the trip, Real Journeys, as they took us into a beautiful spot, deep into one of the branches of a sound & then turned off the boat motors & requested total silence from everyone, so we could just listen & appreciate where we were.

I also drove in a 4WD track to Lake Monowai & then onwards to the bottom of Lake Te Anau, following an access ‘road’ for the power pylons…

Many times on my trip I would stop, set up my sound recording kit & DV camera & record an ambience/shoot 20 minutes of video of a beautiful location to later speed up ie pseudo-timelape… the only annoying thing was if I did it anywhere near an obvious viewpoint, sooner or later a tourist bus would pull up & 20 people would scramble out of the bus, quickly take a photo & then depart again!? I think its like being there by proxy – advice to tourists: DO NO SEE NEW ZEALAND VIA A BUS TRIP!

This is the Mt John Observatory in Central Otago, a place I have always wanted to visit & on this trip timed it so I could. Its run by the physics department at Canterbury University & although it was too late in the day to get the proper tour/talk I did get to have a look around. The view is SENSATIONAL! I can only imagine what its like to be there on a clear night..

This was the main final destination – a week in Takaka, at the top of the South Island. Takaka has a fantastic climate & lots of great swimming beaches, especially Totaranui at the end of the Abel Tasman track.

Mixing a film (part 3)

Oh my god, i still dont quite believe it, but we have finished mixing!
After what feels like an eternity spent in a dark occasionally LOUD room
(& was probably actually 4 weeks) we have final mixed all the reels!

And screened them in a continuous run, discussed the comments & notes from the director, producer & execs, implemented the changes, reconformed for picture changes, screened again, implemented new material & essentially finished…
The mix will now be screened in LA for the uber-execs & i suspect we will get a few final mix notes to update prior to completion & print mastering but for all intents & purposes we are DONE!
And I bought a lovely bottle of 1800 tequila to celebrate the fact!
Hallelujah Jah! It went down a treat…. cathartic!

One funny side note, we all work in these intense work environments
oblivious at times, due to the immediate needs at hand… but at one
point during the mix someone commented ‘this really isnt the place to
be if you have a fear of monitors’
i laughed too, but after i took that photo above I counted up the number
of screens on the dub stage…there are 26 seperate monitors in that room!
Obviously that includes the bank of screens associated with the Euphonix
mixing desk but holy cow, talk about visual feedback for your soundtrack!?!

And technology aside I am left with a huge sense of warmth from the
dedicated work of a combination of many many clever creative lovely
people involved in making the soundtrack for this film – respect!

Sound so fast you can feel it!

I did a lot of research on land speed racers when working on The World’s Fastest Indian, but nothing quite this fast – check out the sonic boom from this ‘car’ doing 1126km/h!

Of course planes can pass the sound barrier as well, check this one out:

Nice bit of sonic physics, if you feel like a read

FWIW the speed of sound is 331m/s, which is why if you sit at the very back of a large picture theatre the sound will be a frame or two late… At 24fps, 1 frame = 13.8 metres of distance

mixing a film – part 2

Ok we’ve finished premixing all the FX – between the three of us cutting FX we premixed our elements down to 5.1 stems (from A -> L) which took us 6 days.

Next was the foley premix, which will take us 3 days work and then… set up for the final mix! Its always quite a concentrated mission, patching up the Euphonix Series 5 desk as it can handle over 250 tracks, and they tend to get filled up! The orchestral score is arriving on Monday and has been recorded and premixed in Los Angeles…
Its only then that we get to see what the final soundtrack is going to sound like. we will spend one day per reel final mixing, and we usually start the day by playing down the reel with all the faders up, to get a feel for it… It then becomes a moment by moment, scene by scene process of balancing all of the elements into a cohesive dramatic soundtrack. In a funny way the difference between that first run through in the morning and where we are by the end of the day is like slowly bringing an image into focus. The content is essentially the same but how you perceive it all is radically different. And good mixers make it seem easy, which it sure isn’t!

a tidy foley studio?

All I can say on the topic of foley rooms is NEVER trust a tidy one!
The best foley rooms are FULL of props and surfaces to recreate footsteps & performed sound effects, and a good foley artist knows the room, the props & can instinctively reach for a prop to create the ‘right’ sound for any moment… Which is why I love photographing the foley room at the end of each film – every film has some unique requirements so particular props are sourced & become a part of the available collection from then on. Below are a couple of snapshots of the Park Road Post foley room after finishing work on Walden feature film Bridge To Terabithia. The film involved kids climbing trees, hence the large chunks of pine tree you can see in the first photo.

For a great description on foley, have a look here

where i am

My studio is in Wellington, New Zealand – in a quiet little suburb called Miramar

And a Google Earth location marker for my studio
just for the record 41°18’45.59″S, 174°48’49.29″E

Also in the neighbourhood is Peter Jackson’s awesome film post facility
Park Road Post

Plus WETA Physical, WETA Digital and two huge soundstages, one of which has a massive exterior blue screen created using shipping containers
stacked up like lego blocks! Wellywood indeed…

capturing the wind (part 1)

Obsessions are funny things… obviously one of mine is sound, which I appreciate is a fairly broad obsession, so to be more specific about it I love to try & capture the wind – not in a balloon or anything – but the many textures of sound created through the wind hitting things.
While there are plenty of obvious examples eg wind in wires, wind drafts, wind turbines, etc, the further into it you go the more specific it becomes…. so needless to say I have been searching for the perfect situation to capture the sound of the wind through a cabbage tree.

Last weekend I went for one of my favourite bush walks close to Wellington, up in the hills above Eastbourne, starting by where the buses sleep at night…


Of course I took my record kit (Fostex FR2 HD recorder & Sanken CS5 mic) but every time I stopped to try & record nice birds etc either a plane or the wind would pick up…
After half a dozen aborted efforts I was heading back down the track to Kowhai Street & realised the wind was making some crazy gusts up the valley & there before me was the perfect little cabbage tree…

So I put the mic up the side of the cabbage tree, sheltered from the main gusts but capturing the the leaves thrashing around.. so I recorded until my arm got too sore to hold the mic any more, but heres an excerpt:

mixing a film – part 1

We have just started mixing this film at Park Road Post – Peter Jackson’s fantastic film post production facility. So I thought I might document the process a little….

For the first week or so we are mixing in two rooms – the dialogue & ADR premix is happening next door in Theatre 3 while we start the atmos/ambience premix in one of the bigger theatres, Theatre 2.
We will spend two or thre days on atmos and are printing to a number of 5.0 and LCR stems, so as to maintain some flexibility in the final mix. After thats done we’ll move onto the sound effects premix followed by the foley premix….
All up we’ll be three weeks premixing everything before the score is ready & we can start final mixing – I can’t wait! Its always a joy to have everything fully premixed & finally get to hear it in context….

Heres a screen shot of the ProTools session for Reel 1 Atmos:

After lunch I got distracted & started taking photos through a glass:

no photoshop filters involved! cool huh?

radio? i.choose

When I was a boy I grew up in rural Canterbury, in the South Island of New Zealand & as I became aware of music I began to crave more than what was dished up on mainstream radio… FWIW I think the first cassette my brother brought home that really opened my ears was Talking Heads – Remain in Light, followed by Eno & Byrne – My Life In the Bush of Ghosts.. both albums I stil love to this day!
But radio back then was a dismal affair – once I moved to the city, student radio became my saviour & oddly it still is as far as radio goes. But at least now no one is locked into radio for purely geographic reasons, thanks to broadband & streaming audio.
So no matter where you live, heres my favourite radio shows,
check them out (all times are NZ local time ie GMT+12 hours)

Tuesday 9pm – 12pm

Radio Active DEEP
Tuesday 11pm – 1 am

Radio Active THE SESSION
Thursday 9pm – 11pm

Sunday 9pm – 11pm

BBC Giles Peterson WORLDWIDE
Thursday 2am – 4am
Radio Active used to replay this locally alas no longer
but the BBC make their shows available to stream for
a week after the initial broadcast…. God bless ’em!

tune in etc etc…

studio tools you never knew you needed

THIS is genius!

“Any experienced studio engineer or producer knows that the presence of visitors in the studio can dramatically alter the performance of singers and musicians. Sometimes the effect can be beneficial, other times it can be disastrous.

Using advanced propriety computer modelling, the Virtual Studio Visitor plugin convincingly emulates the effect of various studio visitors on a performance, without the need of the visitor to actually be present.
Want to hear what the lead singer would sound like if his angry girlfriend was watching from the control room? It’s as simple as applying the Viurtual Studio Visitor ‘Resentful Girlfriend/Wife’ preset to his unaffected vocal track.

The sound can be further customized by adjusting controls for how much the singer or musician hates, respects or fears the Virtual Visitor, as well as controls for setting the level of sexual involvement with the person. Two additional controls specify whether or not the visitor is an ex-band member and whether the visitor is owed money by the musican or singer. The overall level of the effect is determined by the Strength knob, allowing fine-tuning’

Hah! Brilliant!
wonder if they make a version for ADR sessions?


You only have to go to a gig or stand in front of a drum kit or bass amp
to appreciate the physical effects of sound, but this video illustrates the
effect frequency has on the natural balance between order and chaos….

Anarchy rules! (at some frequencys anyway)

Focusing your ears

How come you can shut your eyes but not your ears?

A crucial skill not often discussed by people who work with sound is that of being able to focus your ears… Most people understand the idea of focusing your eyes because we all do it constantly and you especially become conscious of the skill if you have some kind of vision defect/gift such as myopia. But how do you go about focusing your ears?

It seems if you were considering the idea of ‘training’ your ears to detect pitch (if not perfect pitch then relative pitch) then there are plenty of books & courses of study/practice. This is due to history and musical tradition ie you MUST be able to sing/play in tune… So the idea of training your ear to focus on pitch is well known, but what of sonic focus ie to be able to sonically zoom in & focus on a sonic detail?

As an example when we are mixing a film there may well be 100 sonic elements playing at once, all contributing at different relative levels as the scene plays but it sems the ‘trained’ mind has an ability to ‘look’ past all the mass of sound & hear, say, a single glitch or a mistake/imbalance. Or to focus specifically on one element of a background ambience.

Compared with visual focus, it seems sonic focus is psychological – we aren’t altering our ear function to zoom in on a sound. So focusing the ear is more of an aesthetic endeavor than a purely technical one, we are choosing to focus our mind to listen to one aspect of what our ears are hearing… So is this heading into the land of psychoacoustics, cognitive psychology or instinct?

recording metallic resonance

I’ve been recording & then messing with some lovely resonant sounds
generated by various bits of metal, suspended by cotton thread…
the largest have been some chromatically tuned wind chimes that
I just got from magnolia windchimes in nelson – add a breeze and
these generate beauitful aleatoric music all on their own!

far out! Just came across these wind chimes:

You’d get shut down by noise control
if you had those in wellington!
(US$2700 incase you’re interested)


Everyone has experienced a bad ADR session, but I have never heard an actor so eloquently insult the director as Orsen Welles does while attempting to voice this commercial!