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!

recording vehicle FX

Its such fun to get out of the studio & do some FX recording! This a Ford Bronco V8 we recorded yesterday for our current film project: Bridge To Terabithia. We managed to track this vehicle down via TradeMe, since whatever we recorded had to match the one used in production. This one provided the challenge of having no WOF or registration and also being left hand drive… Needless to say we took it carefully but got some great material!
Recorded onboard using an HHB hard disk recorder using two dynamic mics (one on exhaust & one on motor) plus two Sennheiser 416s inside the cab… For exterior moves, passbys etc we used a Sound Devices 422 recorder with an MS mic setup using Sennheiser MKH 50 and 30.
After all that we went & recorded some interior bus moves (foley etc) plus recorded a few impulse responses with my starter pistol for use in Altiverb…

black sheep

The last film we completed sound design for just had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, apparently to much ‘laughter & shrieking’ which is appropriate seeing as the film is a black comedy/horror by the name of Black Sheep. It screened in the Midnight Madness section fo the festival to a full house of 1200!
In hindsight one thing this film achieved was to mess with every idyllic childhood memory I have of growing up on a farm, but in a hilarious way rather than there being any permanent damage!

A couple of reviews from Toronto:
twitch film review
mcn blogs review

There is also a video clip online actually from the film;
a scene from reel 1 where we first meet the lamb creature
(oh how I wish the audio from youtube clips was better!)

And by the way, I found these clips via this great blog on NZ film

I call architecture frozen music

and so does Goethe
in fact he said it first
I just borrowed the phrase

So…. as the title says, this blog is about ‘the music of sound’
ie my random thoughts on the lovely way air molecules vibrate.

Most of my waking hours are spent working on film sound design via which i get to collaborate with composers & music editors, but I also love to spend any downtime I have noodling around with music & sometimes, by virtue of using similar technology if nothing else, the two overlap & I try to capture the happy accidents that occur…
as one of Eno’s Oblique Strategys says ‘ Honour thy error as hidden intent’