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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recording Sound Effects: Making Your Own

In modern society, we take sound effects very much for granted. They are used everywhere from films and television shows to games and toys. But the sounds we hear are not always recordings of what they perceive to be. The task of sound design is one that requires thought, creativity and experimentation.

If you’re an aspiring sound designer, getting access to a microphone, recorder and a spur of a bit of old fashioned creativity will enable you to create almost any sound effect you can think of. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how simple it can be to make great sounding effects from things you have all around you.

Here are 5 sounds I have recently had to create and the methods that I used:

1. Bone Breaking Sound Effects (Using Celery)
Surprisingly, when celery is snapped or crushed it sounds very much like what we expect bones breaking to sound like and is a technique used by some of the world’s best sound designers. You can try recording quick breaks, slow twists, crushing it between two hard objects and much more.
Here is an example of a bone breaking sound effect using celery

2. Karate Chop or Leg Movement (Using Cables or Sticks)
Often in a karate scene in a film, the movement of a fast arm chop or leg kick is exaggerated by adding a ‘swish’ or ‘whoosh’ sound effect to the movement. Flicking a cable through the air fast is one option. As the cable cuts through the air it creates the ‘swish’ or ‘whoosh’ sound nicely. You may find a cable a little hard to control for specific sound lengths or styles. In which case a bamboo stick works very well and gives you much more control. Just be careful not to hit anyone, yourself or your equipment!
Here are some examples of karate movement sound effects using cables and sticks

3. Lion Roar (Using Your Own Voice)
 Unless you work at a zoo you’re going to find it very difficult to gain access to a lion and even if you do, you have to rely on it feeling in the noisy mood. A much easier option is to use your voice to make the sound.
The easiest way to do this is to take an actual recording of a lion roar. You can easily get a recording from a free sound archive online or from recording one off your TV.
Using audio editing software with a pitch shift plug-in included, raise the pitch of the lion roar up to that of a human voice range and now try to emulate the sound with your voice. Record your voice mimicking the lion roar and then pitch your voice recording down to the level the lion roar originally was. Now your voice recording is transformed into a hungry lion!

4. Heavy Stone Door or Object Scrape/Drag (Using a Drinking Glass and Tile)
There are a number of ways this sound can be made but I favour this method as it uses small objects found easily around the home. Using a porcelain tile (or the rough base of a porcelain baking dish) scrape a drinking glass over the surface. You can try this with the base of the glass against the tile/dish or the rim and each has a different sound.
Using audio editing software with a pitch shift plug-in included, lower the pitch of the recording down. The lower in pitch the recording is the bigger and heavier the ‘stone’ door/object will sound.
You can also try adding some salt to the surface of the tile/dish which will provide a grittier sound.

5. Underwater Ambience (Using a Stream or River Recording)
 Hydrophones (underwater microphones) are expensive to buy and probably won’t be part of your everyday recording kit so finding a way to create a deep underwater ambience without getting wet is probably a better idea. Using a stream or river recording is an excellent and convincing method.
You’ll need to record a shallow stream or river (preferably one where the water can be heard running over rocks or stones rather than just a rush of deep water). Using audio editing software with a pitch shift plug-in included, pitch the recording down (the deeper underwater you want it to sound, the lower in pitch you’ll need to process the recording to). The sound of the water running over rocks and stones now mimics the deep water movements and bubbles you’d expect to hear at the bottom of the sea!

About the author: Alan McKinney is the owner of Fat Sound Effects, a professional sound effects library. He also creates custom made sound effects on demand. 

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