SD101: Wooshes

Ok this post comes with a warning: if its your first sound post gig & you want to be overtly, obviously, naively stylistic then please go ahead and misuse/abuse what I am about to suggest; use it on every whip pan, vaguely extreme picture cut or action-based movement, but please, do it knowing you reside in the land of Sound Design 101. Its like saying “Kanicha Wa! I am fresh off the boat, I dont understand the language or culture quite yet but I’m not going to let that stop me from doing things that in hindsight & with a bit of maturity I might well cringe at, at a later date… but now is now… and here I go….woosh… woosh woosh…. woosh”
More than enough said… but just incase, what am I ranting about now?

The (semi/un) technical term is ‘Woosh’, or maybe ‘Whoosh’ if you are American – i’m not so I don’t know, but hey i’ve seen a few files labelled as such, so call them whatever you like but they are those swishy, wooshy movements of air sounds that are often used as transitions, or to create the aural illusion of movement, or to simply compensate for something the director wishes was onscreen & isn’t….

As with most cliches, they exist for a reason – at the best of times they work & evoke much more than mere existence should allow…. and at the worst of times they are lame as the worst metaphor you could possibly come up with… but as with all art, its a matter of taste and as many rich people indicate without even trying, budget does not equal taste – often it is inversely proportional, but as with anything creative it is up to the depth of the creator to reveal whetehr that depth is from the shallow end of the pool or the divers end… In the end this rant is to hopefully provide a few starting points in terms of making wooshes of your own (and thereby avoid commercial librarys of genericized woosh fodder) but to also think & think again about whether a woosh is actually needed… maybe the ultimate woosh is in fact a silent one? The sound of one woosh, wooshing?
anwyay let me just say this: Death to the Woosh/Long live the Woosh!

Ok, so please excuse the guy in that video (me) – I wasn’t quite in character that day and my trailer & the per diems were all a bit small & the shasimi wasn’t as fresh as i’d like, but it serves a simple purpose of illustrating how wooshes came to be….

Woosh revelation 001: Wooshes are directly related to the physical world!
If some geezer comes at your with a lump of wood & swings it, just missing your head, you will hear a woosh. It won’t be some cliche filmic artefact but a real physical phenomena. And at that point, best you run like stink in the opposite direction! But if it wasnt a bit of wood, but instead a samurai sword (in which case dont run, just say your last prayers) or as in the video, a length of vacuum cleaner pipe, the sound will vary accordingly… ie the physical sound of the physical event will vary. In the end, just like the wind we perceive outside, it is the sound of air molecules being cut by a surface. If its a fat, flat surface then it will sound a certain way whereas if its a thin sharp surface cutting the air then it will sound different…. and this leads me to my second conclusion;
The best lessons are those learned from reality/nature
So get a length of string or rope, attach various objects to it & swing it around your head & listen (preferably also have a stereo mic recording at this point) Try a cheese grater, a tennis racket, a TV aerial – each will sound uniquely different & should go into the sound FX library labelled as such. I have natural wooshes in my library created by pool cues, golf clubs, vacuum cleaner pipes, cheese graters, tennis rackets, radio & TV aerials, swords of many varieties, sticks, canes, fishing rods, bird cages, kites, wood saws of many varieties & any number of obscure things I can’t even remember & didnt label properly…
Until I get around to writing Wooshes 102, please, go generate a library of your own! Just remember the object is moving air, so use a Rycote & fluffy on the mic… and also that way if you hit the mic with your cheese grater it hopefully won’t destroy it!

7 thoughts on “SD101: Wooshes

  1. Mark

    Oh yeah, swinging samurai swords around the air is a GREAT idea! “Please don’t arrest me, officer! I was observing the audio this device generates when it slices animal flesh and bone in order to increase my understanding of how sound changes between different materials!” Poor dog.

  2. tom lowndes

    hey. come on now. when i’ve used the sound ideas 6000 series whooshes i’ve pitch shifted them at least a semi-tone. that counts doesn’t it? that’s art isn’t?

  3. tim

    Hah don’t get me started on the subject of Sound Ideas!
    Just been reading about how if you use one of their sounds in a product that sells more than 10,000 units (ie any successful Hollywood film) then their sounds are not royalty free as advertised & the sounds must be relicensed!?! Nice use of fine print! Glad I dont own any of their products…

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