90 Second Sound Design is a series of shorts designed to give you quick and insightful sound design tips / behind the scenes as to how I make certain types of sounds for projects or my sound libraries.
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.
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.
New Challenge for a New Year
I don't generally make resolutions for the New Year but all the talk definitely brought up some thoughts on what my goals should be. I spent January really challenging myself on this, writing down ideas and creating massive amounts of Trello boards. I landed on some great ideas that I'll be implementing but I decided on making my one big thing for the year doing pure sound design daily.
I did a great deal of recording last year. I have many sessions yet to be edited and added to my master library. With that in mind I noticed that outside of actual projects and creating examples for classes, I wasn't spending much time just playing with sound. I had a growing list of plugins, processes and interesting sound experiments I wanted to try when I 'had time'.
Maybe it was coincidental but I feel like I noticed a lot of similar sentiment in the community (on forums, twitter etc.). So I asked myself a series of questions: How can I make this part of my daily routine? What should the expected result be? What limitations should I impose? Will this make me better at my craft? Can it help the community? These questions are how I landed on my 365 day, pure sound design challenge.
The Game Plan
The idea is simple; spend an hour or less every day to create a new sound or series of related sounds. I decided it was key to ultimately limit myself to using only sounds I have recorded. I think I will rotate other limitations; right now I'm just using Pro Tools and stock plug-ins. I believe having these temporary sets of 'rules' will freshen up the challenge as the year wanes. As a result of this initial limitation I've found myself experimenting with Pro Tools elastic audio a lot more than I usually do.
I also wanted to make an active effort to track my work for future reference. With that in mind, I settled on making a brief journal entry each day to outline what I had done, how much I liked the outcome and anything else worthy of note. It also gives me some potentially interesting content to share via the blog or future videos/podcast.
Reflections after Month #1
I've held off on posting this because I wanted to see how I felt after completing the first month. I have to say I'm very pleased. Overall, I feel like I am getting the desired outcome that I intended to in my planning stages. I think I spent more time each night for the first week as I was getting in the groove of what this would be. I'm averaging at about 30 minutes per day now though.
I've created some really cool sounds that I might not have otherwise. Setting aside the time was challenging some days, and I actually was extremely sick the first two weeks. All in all I'm really looking forward to tracking my progress throughout the year and sharing as much as I am able. I'd also encourage any other sound designers out there to join in and reach out if you do!
Pure Sound Design 2017 - Key Components
- Create one new sound or a series of related sounds each day
- Spend 1 hour or less
- Create a brief journal entry for each day, outline the process
- Evaluate your limitations
These are the parameters that were right for me, evaluate the idea for yourself and figure out what you know you can commit to. Remember, the idea is to have fun.
Recently I saw a post on the exchange forums of designingsound.org where electrical sound design elements were being discussed. A number of techniques and materials were brought up that I found very interesting. This inspired me to give it a try on my own and see what I could come up with.
I did this experiment at home, so I relied only on materials that were conveniently nearby. I gathered some packaging plastic, a glass mason jar, aluminum foil, and a styrofoam cup (with lid). I also heated up a burner on my stove later to get some sizzling sounds using water.