If you’re looking to build up your own personal library of source sounds it can take a little time.. it’s like a plant and it will need to be watered. Generally my approach to creating libraries isn’t so much “hey I’m going to make a metal library and it’s going to contain this this and this”. It comes together in a series of steps.
I started a project where my goal was to spend a short amount of time each night creating different sound design elements/effects. My goal was simply to have fun and free myself from normal project constraints. I'm happy to report that I consider my attempt successful. I wanted to take a moment to share my outcome and feelings on this with you - even if it is a little late.
My main focus was to create a library that had a very organic feel so I used minimal amounts of synthesis or processing. I started a new trello board and began breaking apart spell ideas into different categories and aesthetic layers.
Creating gore sound effects is one of those things that most sound designers automatically get excited to do. I think it’s also something we tend to get hung up on creatively as we see what’s been done before and automatically start thinking along the same lines immediately. Off the top of my head I’ve used fruit, vegetables, leftover mac and cheese and so on… Setting up this type of session is usually more of an endeavor. With this in mind I decided I wanted to see what I could do with the absolute minimal session setup.
Recording this type of material might initially lead you to the grocery store where you end up spending a bunch of money on stuff you’re just going to smash. Oh it’s also going to be messy, so you’ll have to spend time figuring out your workspace and how to prep for it. Then you’ll actually have to clean it up. This is the type of thing you’re not always going to have the budget and time to do. So the question is, what are some inexpensive, clean (mostly) non-time consuming ways to record this stuff?
I decided to do this at home to keep it as basic as possible. I’ve used leftover food in the past but this time I wanted to avoid even that because it still can get messy. While searching I tried to stay focused on things that would be wet and squishy but that I could still get some nice impacts with.
I ended up pulling out a washcloth, hand towel and a large plastic mixing bowl. The idea was to soak the washcloth with water and use the bowl as my sandbox for containing the mess. The large hand towel was used to line the bowl to minimize the sound of the bowl itself and to sponge up excess water.
Micing and Performance
I used my personal Fostex FR-2 LE and a Rode NTG-3 inside the Blimp. I got the mic pretty close to the bowl and the performance to take advantage of the proximity effect. My goal was to get some gore impact sounds, some squishes and some dripping. For the squishes it was just a matter of squeezing the cloth different ways. To get the dripping, I focused more on wringing it out and having the cloth a little bit wetter.
To get impacts I started by dropping the cloth into the bowl, then tried punching it. I got some decent material from trying that but it wasn’t 100 percent there. I grabbed another piece of cloth, soaked it and wrapped it around my hand and punched the cloth inside the bowl. This gave the maximum combination of squish and impact and yielded some genuinely satisfying results.
Getting everything setup and recording what I needed took me under an hour. Virtually no cleanup required. I didn’t even have any water to cleanup as it all stayed in the bowl pretty well. I rinsed the bowl and hung the towels to dry, the end. I can easily see myself doing this quick setup again in the future.
Next time I will try using different types of cloth as an easy variable. It also may be worth trying thicker liquids than just water, milk perhaps? That’s inviting more of a mess but in that case I’d just add some additional towels. I also thought of mixing in some homemade slime using the Borax/Glue/Water recipe.
Recording Sound... and Knowledge Too
A key part of my sound design challenge for the year is doing a short journal entry to log what I’ve done each day. I don’t spend a great deal of time on this part, maybe 5-10 minutes. I will say though that this small one page report has been incredibly valuable so far. It’s sort of like a sound design recipe book… At the same time it’s a way to track some of my thought process and ideas.
One of my other goals this year was to write more blogs and share more with the community. The problem has always been sitting down and getting started.. Especially when I have all kinds of other work that has to get done. That’s the really neat thing about this journal; I already have about 50 rough draft ideas that I can easily expand and talk about. Not just for blogs either, I’m actually going to give a presentation in April based on some of what I have in my notes.
I recommend journaling to anyone, especially in a creative industry. It will free up your brain a little bit and make your already awesome ideas more accessible. So basically journals = RAM for your brain.
Taking Advantage of Everyday Surroundings
I teach audio classes part time, which I’ve spoken about previously. It’s a unique job not only because of what it entails but also because of the building I work in. The Orlando Public Library’s main location downtown is an absolute beast of a building. There’s nothing else to compare it to other than a castle. It will be there in 10,000 years when they dig up Orlando (or visit it in a submarine?).
There are some really interesting sounding rooms and environments here. Spoiler alert: impulse response library on the way. So what’s all this got to do with a “speeder car”? well, here goes…
Right off of our break room is a balcony (2nd story) that overlooks a main street running through downtown. I usually will sit out there on lunch and it struck me as an interesting vantage point to record traffic. The reflections between the buildings just sound really cool from here. Also nobody is going to walk by and bother you; you can look as awkward as you need to with your rig setup. You’ve got tables and chairs to sit at, and you’re also 20 feet from a fully functional kitchen. It’s prime real estate.
I happened to be spending time listening back through some of these recordings and came across some really cool moments. When just the right combination of vehicles go by together, you get some natural layering and it becomes it’s own thing. It got me inspired to create some futuristic vehicle passbys using this as source material.
Here first is a clip of just the traffic by itself to give you an idea of what I started with. I think it’s a combination of a few cars and one of the city busses. This particular day I was armed with my Tascam DR-40 and probably just made a really quick recording while I was on break.
To expand on it a bit, I decided to thicken it up by layering in some samples from my personal analog synth library. I didn’t really want much, just something to fill out the low end a little bit.
I used to use Pro-Tools frequency shifter plugin a lot to add some flare to this type of stuff, but it’s broken in the current version of PT… The good news is I found an awesome replacement that is actually way better! That’s the Valhalla FreqEcho plug-in. I’ve been messing around with this a lot over the last month; I’ll probably need to give it a little break soon.
Here is the traffic with the Valhalla plug-in running:
I mentioned also using a little bit of material from my analog synth library to fill out the low end. I really just wanted to add this in to support what was already there. I think it filled out the final concept pretty nicely:
I am pretty happy with what I came up with. I think there is some value in the original recordings that lends itself well to this particular application. The next time I’m tasked with designing some Sci-Fi Vehicles I’m going to look back at this. I may even try doing some more recording with this end result in mind to get even better source material.