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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. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Curiosities from Sound Design, Part 2

In the first part of the article I presented some curiosities of sound design. In the second part I would like to to familiarize you with some more advanced methods of sound creation and the effects you may achieve in this way. However, before I proceed to the topic of advanced sound design, I am going to tell you about some sounds that I managed to create at home.

Home Made Sound Effects

One of the simpler home made effects is the sound of a light bulb short circuit. We may record it by unplugging the desk lamp cable from the socket or pushing the lamp switch very slowly.

Another tool we may use are hex keys. We can use them to create the effect of opening or closing doors, or to imitate the sound of a skeleton key (moving a metal belt part of tracksuit will also create a similar effect). Meanwhile, opening and closing every part of a penknife (Swiss army knife) will enable us to create the sound of clicking for the game menu or for opening a new column).

One of the most interesting experiences related to conducting a test task for The Witcher 2 game producer were the sounds accompanying the moment, when Geralt enters the inn during a snowstorm. The sound included footsteps on the snow. It was not an easy task, because the temperature outside reached -20 degrees, therefore walking around with the recording equipment was not possible. I used a package of coconut cereal to create the desired sound (you can use also poppy seeds or flour).

Let us now proceed to the Steampunk world sounds. We are likely to need some kitchen equipment. Tampering with a handle of a French fries cutter will create a sound of moving metal limbs. An iron with a steam function will provide us with the sound of long or short draft of hot air pushed into the outside. We will achieve the sound of a moving piston by placing the microphone closely to a hinge of the microwave oven door, and opening the door rapidly, so that the hinge will make a complete movement into the wide-open and back (the condition is we need to record the sound as a loop). If you lived in big city you probably travel between districts by bus or tram car. I recently moved to a big city and I noticed how many sounds a single bus makes (bus luggage doors, slowed tram doors sound effect and even sound effect of stopping the tram car.)

Crumpling a rectangular piece of aluminum baking foil with your fists creates a sound of walking on extremely dry grass (if we fold the middle part of the foil a little bit, the sound will become more intense). Now one more trick: the aluminum baking foil will resemble the sound of wind blowing through windows curtained with foil. All you need to do is blow at it a little bit.

During such a trivial activity as ironing clothes, I was adjusting the iron’s temperature by turning a little knob. While doing it, I heard a sound, which seemed to me as a small robot speaking (this sound is also similar to opening a vault).

Now, let’s cool the atmosphere a little bit, shall we. Stabbing a knife into a frozen bread roll resembles the sound of driving an alpenstock into a frozen rock wall.

If we speed up a little bit the sound of opening the DVD drive in a laptop, the outcome will resemble to sound of a trap.

Using the effects

Let me come back to the scene with Geralt for a while. A strong and long-lasting reverb resembles the atmosphere of an inn or a church in the best way. The reverb is a frequently used effect, nevertheless its most important parameter is the time of the reverb. For example, in order to resemble a heartbeat, one should add a kick drum to the sequencer, and then add the reverb with the time amounting to 0.5 second (the sound of the heartbeat will differ, depending on the kind of kick drum chosen by you). When recording loud sounds, we need to switch on the limiter, so that the volume will not exceed 0 db. On the other hand, in order to make a quiet sound more audible, we may use a compressor at the headphones during the recording process.

When I was training at a gym, the sound of screwing weights to dumbells reminded me of the opening doors. Hitting the neck of the weights at the wall resembles the sound of crushing the doors open with a battering ram or shooting concrete with a bullet (after adding the reverb). I do not recommend theses ideas, if you live a in a block of flats.

I am the kind of person who listens to music from dawn till dusk, even within moments after getting up. One evening, when I was falling asleep, little headphones stubbed against each other, reminding me within one second about tossing dices during the monopoly game.

The effect of noisy sound from vinyl disc can be achieved when we add Grungelizer plugin in mixer from the Cubase application.

Another method of recording the sound of sharpening a sword is shuffling a metal belt against a metal kitchen chair.

Military Sound Effects

As I am a military lover, I play war games very eagerly, and I even more eagerly create sound effects of this kind.

You can achieve the effect of voice from walkie-talkies in three ways. The first one is by turning the guitar amplifier on (in order to get a mild white noise); remember to minimize low tones in the equalizer and the distortion effect. Depending on the modulation of the guitar amplifier’s knobs, the white noise will be more intense or more crackling. I really recommend recording it all live with the mixer effects turned on. The sound of a walkie-talkie being switched on can be achieved by changing the pace and the pitch of the white noise.

The sound of a voice giving orders with a gas mask on can be achieved by increasing the bass frequencies and decreasing the high frequencies in the equalizer.

You can produce noises disrupting the walkie-talkie conversation by e.g. blowing air into the microphone. I remember that when I was a child, I used that method playing with the walkie-talkie by blowing long and slow breaths into the microphone, and then quick and sudden ones. It was the first sound I have ever created: the noise of a landing plane.

Remind yourself when was the last time you cut something and where do you keep your home scissors. The sound of hitting scissors against a metal hanger, which usually lasts not even a second, may be used in the GUI or for creating soundtrack for the cut scenes with the GPS elements, as well as a sound of choosing or abandoning some piece of equipment during the game.

In order to create sounds for the close quarters combat scenes, e.g. the sound of line movement generated by the character sliding down the rope from heights, you will need a pair of headphones with a cord and a laminated A4 piece of paper (if you do not have one, you may as well use a wooden back of a desk).

The sound of turning knobs at a sniper’s rifle can be achieved by recording the sound of a digital or reflex camera’s zoom, speeding the recording up a little bit.

Kontakt 4 the Sound Sequencer and Sampler

When I was creating my own album Wasteland Theme 2, I needed the sound of a quick measurement taken by a Geiger counter. So I launched the Cubase programme and Kontakt 4 Sampler with the snare sticks sample with arpeggiator and change octave to higher.After while I played one arpeggio notes on my keyboard I realized how great is the Kontakt Sampler is.

The sound, which irritates us most every morning, can be transformed into a warning alert in a helicopter or a plane, by changing its pace and making it lower by one octave. Of course what I have on my mind is the alarm clock.

One day I was walking from my kitchen to the living room, immersed in thoughts and at the same time consuming salty sticks. All of the sudden I dropped my food and the salty sticks hitting the floor created a sound of falling shells from a rifle’s cartridges. (If you do not find this product in a shop, you may also use toothpicks.) I was surprised to discover that, because the sound effects of guns belong to the most difficult to produce (well, unless you risk losing your hearing and equipment at a military training field or at a shooting range).

A long time ago, when I did not have good – quality screens at my disposal, my studio work companion were small high-tone loudspeakers, which I had purchased back in the 90s. When I was turning the volume up at those loudspeakers, having turned on the phantom power microphone beforehand, I was causing a feedback in the form of an extremely high-pitched sound, irritating ears. (It was very similar to the one used in the “Lost” drama TV-series).

About the author: Piotr Koczewski started working in the game development industry in 2006 as a Musician and Sound Designer. In 2008 he released an ambient music album inspired by the post-nuclear SF, called "Wasteland Theme". In 2009 he co-organized the Video Games Live concert in Poland. You can listen to Piotr`s music at his website www.piotrkoczewski.com.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

1SoundFX goes sound recording in Athens, Greece

In films and on TV, we've all seen those nutters who walk around with big headphones and mobile sound recording equipment, recording every sound they come across on their path. Well, I'm not afraid to admit it - I'm one of those guys.

I've been seen on train station platforms in the arctic north of Norway, on a white sandy beach in the Caribbean and, most recently, on the streets of Athens, Greece - even on the hills of the Acropolis itself - and recorded sounds. (The photo on the left shows me, at the Acropolis). And I'm now happy to be able to present all of the resulting sound files to you here at 1SoundFX.com, available for download in glorious High Definition 24-bit WAV audio.

Athens, Greece is a very busy place. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the city is bustling and oozing with heavy traffic, busy streets, noisy mopeds and motorcycles and millions of people. Everywhere. All the time. For someone like me who's from a quiet little seaside town, Athens can be overwhelming, invasive, and very exhausting. My first recording was that of the most heard sound in Athens: City street traffic. Cars, buses, mopeds and motorcycles seem to compete for the loudest noise levels in this city.

Next, I recorded the sound of the central City plaza, called Sintagma Square. It's a quite small square full of people, a 50/50 mix of tourists and locals mixing it up in the cafes, and with traffic on all four sides. From the middle of this square you can hear mostly people chatting, with more distant sounds of buses, cars and motorcycles on the road system surrounding the square. (The photo on the left showing people, cars and taxis on the corner of Sintagma Square).

I also enjoyed bringing my audio recording gear into the city's Flower Park, a little "green lunge" in the heart of Athens where people bring their kids for a day out, or just to take a few minutes break from the stress and bustle of the office or the city. The park is connected by a whole network of little footpaths in a somewhat, quite frankly, confusing web with signs pointing this way and that way. Standing in the park I managed to capture this rather nice sound of the breeze blowing through the leaves of huge trees overhead. A little bit further into the park I came across a very large bird cage, an Aviary. Inside were lots of small birds tweeting away happily. (Photo on the right shows park entrance).

Whilst walking from the hotel toward the Acropolis, my ears caught the familiar sound of lots of noisy kids playing in a back yard. I couldn't see the children because they were separated from the city traffic by a huge wall, but I could hear them just fine. I set up and recorded a few minutes which resulted in this rather nice sound of young children playing in a school back yard.

At the Acropolis I recorded various sounds, but here's a limitation of the media of sound itself - it can't really reveal the historical setting or archeological and historical importance of the Acropolis with its Theater of Herod Attica or its Panthenon. The sounds, when taken out of context, are just sounds of people chatting, and that's the best I can do unless you can imagine yourself at that place while closing your eyes and listening to the sound recordings. (The picture on the left shows the Theater of Herod Attica, at the Acropolis).

Whilst in Athens I wondered the streets for hours and I was lucky enough to come across lots of buskers. Don't know what a busker is? It's one of those guys who will sit in the street with a guitar, or an accordeon, or what ever instrument they play, with their hat on the sidewalk in front of them, in the hope of having some coins donated by people passing by. I came across several of these people and actually became quite good friends with one of them. He was a Bouzouki player, playing traditional Greek folk music on his Bouzouki for the enjoyment of tourists and locals alike. I actually recorded three different songs of his; here they are: Bouzouki music 1 - Bouzouki music 2 - Bouzouki music 3.

On another street in a different district of the city center, I came across another old Greek guy playing the Santoor. (They seem to prefer the term "Santori" locally). I recorded two songs by this guy: Santoor music 1 - Santoor music 2.

I also captured the sounds of a very fast moving little Jazz band. These 4 guys would quite literally play for a few seconds in one spot - maybe for one minute - and then move on to the next spot, a little further down the street. People hardly had time to get their wallets out and donate a few coins, before the band had taken off and were not only to be heard 20 meters down the road. Wow... what a stressful, hurried band! Here they are: Street jazz 1 - Street jazz 2.

A friend of mine gave me a tip about an indoor food market, he said I had to go there and record the crazy sound of people shouting over each other about their meat, fish and vegetable products. And he was right - this place was completely crazy. I mean, I thought Athens in general was a stressful and busy place, but the city itself seemed like an oasis of calm compared to this market place! Here's one sound of people cackling and shouting at the meat market. Here's another dense crowd noise from the food market of Athens. And here's a sound from of the fish market noise, that's just another area of basically the same market hall. While I was there I also shot this little video clip with my cellphone. The video and sound quality isn't good, but it will give you an idea of the "feel" of this place. I got to tell you... I don't envy the guys who work there. After spending about 45 minutes in there for sound recording, I felt completely exhausted, like I needed a stiff drink and somewhere to lie down. But that's Athens for you. :-)

In this blog I haven't talked about all the sounds I recorded on my trip to Athens. There are plenty more. They are in amongst the well over 100,000+ other sound effects that we have available here at 1SoundFX.com. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Making an Audio-CD from downloaded sound effect files

We sometimes get people writing in and asking us whether it’s possible to get our sound effects on a CD. It may be that they need to put together an Audio CD to use for playing sound effects during a theatre, recital, a magic show or similar. What the customer typically needs is a CD that will work in a regular music CD player, with one sound effect on each track, so that they can play a track from the CD to get one sound effect, and then play the next track for the next sound effect, etc.

We at 1SoundFX.com do not produce CD’s, and we will not create a CD and send that CD to you in the post. However, in case you weren’t already aware, it’s now very easy for anybody to create a CD using their own computer, and sound files downloaded from our site. And in this article, we’ll teach you how to do that with a Windows PC and the free program Windows Media Player.

You will need:

  • A computer that is equipped with a CD-recorder or DVD-recorder. The CD/DVD-recorder is sometimes also referred to as a “CD-burner” or “DVD-burner”. Nearly all computers have them! I’d say that most computers sold after since 1998 are already equipped with a CD/DVD-recorder as standard.

  • One or more blank CD-Recordable discs (also called CD-R discs). These are CD discs without any content on them – quite literally they are “blank”, empty CD’s which are ready for you to write (“burn”) your own audio content to them.

  • One or more WAV sound files that you have purchased and downloaded from our sound effects library.

  • A free software program that can create an Audio-CD from WAV sound files. The two most commonly used programs for this is Windows Media Player and iTunes.

Step 1: Obtain the actual sound files

This step involves using our website’s extensive sound library of well over 100,000 different sound recordings from all over the world, finding what you need, and then downloading those sound files to your computer. Start by Searching or Browsing for sounds on our site. Buy some Credits and use those Credits to buy the sounds.

Once you have bought one or more sounds, those sounds are immediately made available for you to download from the “My Downloads” page within your personal 1SoundFX.com user account area. From there, click to download the sound file(s) and take a note of where on your computer you store them.

In the illustration below you can see that I’ve saved 5 different sound files to a directory on my computer. In my example, I’ve saved them to G:\temp\sounds\ but you can save them to a different directory, such as “My downloads” or “My documents” etc.

In my example, I would like to make a 5-track Audio CD containing the 5 sounds you can see above. One sound on each CD track. “Amb Tokyo Japan Street Festival”, “Ambience Jungle Insects Birds Distant Apes”, “Vampire Bat, Close calls from a single animal”, “Avro Shackleton exterior” (A sound of two bomber planes passing over head), “Aberdeen Tram exterior Run at Speed”.

Step 2: Insert blank CD-R disc into your CD/DVD-recorder.

A blank CD-recordable can be purchased from just about any computer store, or these days even at supermarkets. You typically get them in packs of 5 for maybe 5 dollars, so they are not expensive.

Please note that while you are browsing for blank CD-Recordables, you may come across some described as CD-R and some described as CD-RW. The difference between these two types of discs is that the CD-R can only be written to once. Once you have put your audio onto it, that disc stays like that forever. You cannot later change the content, or use the same disc to create a new, different Audio-CD later.

The CD-RW disc can actually be re-used. You can create a working CD on a CD-RW disc and when you’re finished with it, you can use the same CD-RW disc to write a new Audio-CD or data disc. You simply “blank it out” again and start over, using the same disc. Take care however, because many Audio-CD players cannot play the CD-RW disc format! Some can, others can’t. If in doubt, use only regular CD-R – not CD-RW discs.

Unwrap a blank CD-R disc and put it in your computer’s CD/DVD drive, like so:

Step 3: Create a playlist in Windows Media Player

Now it’s time to start up the program Windows Media Player, which comes free with Windows. If you haven’t got the latest version of this program, you can download the latest version free from Microsoft, at this link.

Once you’ve started the Windows Media Player program, look near the top right-hand corner of the program where you can see a little blue arrow pointing toward the left. This is the Show list pane button – we’ve circled it below:

Click this button to open up an area on the right-hand side of the program, which should look something like this:

It’s now time to create a “Playlist” using the sound files that you’ve downloaded from our site. To do this, do as Windows Media Player suggests: “Drag items here”. So while you’re looking at this view in Windows Media Player, make sure you are also viewing – elsewhere on screen – the directory where you stored your downloaded files. Now select all the files (or those you want to add to the playlist), click and HOLD your left mouse button on them, and – while still holding the mouse button – Drag your mouse over the “Drag items here” text in Windows Media Player, and then let go of the left mouse button.

You will now have a “Playlist” that’s ready to be written (“burned”) to CD. You can re-arrange and decide the order in which you want the sounds to play (remember, it will be one sound per CD-track) by simply clicking on the different sounds in the playlist view and dragging the sound up/down.

My playlist now looks like this:

In my example, Track 1 on the CD will be “Ambience jungle”. Track 2 will be “Vampire bat”. Track 3 will be “Avro Shackleton”, Track 4 will be “Aberdeen Tram” and Track 5 will be “Ambience Tokyo Japan”.

Step 4: Creating the actual CD

Now we will copy this playlist onto the CD-R disc, which is also commonly known as “burning a CD”. It’s really quite straightforward. Look at the top bar of Windows Media Player, you’ll see a large-ish button with “Burn” on it. Mouse-over this button and you’ll see a smaller line with a tiny arrow on it, just on the bottom edge of this button. This is for opening the “Burn options”. Click to have a look at it.

Firstly, in our example, you want to make sure that you are set to burn “Audio-CD”, not “Data CD”. We are making a CD that we want to play in a regular music CD player, and in order to get that, we need to burn it the CD in “Audio-CD” format – not in Data CD / CDROM format.

Secondly, you may want to look at “More Options” here and take a look at the “burn speed”:

Most CD-writers today are capable of burning an Audio-CD at very high burn speed. Doing this will finish the burn process in a couple of minutes or even less- but you should be aware that burning Audio-CD’s at very high burn speed may give you more error-prone discs! You may find that some fidgety CD-players are unable to play a disc that’s burned at very high burn speed, or that you get audio skipping, cd tracking problems (“jumpy sound”) or other problems caused by burning at high speeds. Personally I always write at Slow speed. I’m not in that much of a hurry that I can’t wait 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes for the disc to be burned! And burning at slower speed gives me discs that I find are more reliable, less error prone, and just tend to work better, for longer.

You only have to set this option once – not every time you want to create a new CD.

Once this is done, click OK and then you’re back to the main Windows Media Player window. Now click that big “Burn” button near the top of the program, and Windows Media Player will start writing the Audio-data to your blank CD-Recordable. It will take maybe 2 minutes if you have only a couple of short sounds on it – up to maybe 15 minutes if you have a whole CD full of sound.

Maximum 70 minutes. Maximum 99 tracks.

For the record, a normal CD-R disc can typically take about 70 minutes of sound in total. Also, the Audio-CD format is limited to 99 tracks. You cannot have more than 99 tracks on an Audio-CD, regardless of the length of your sounds, or the total length of all the audio you’re trying to write to the disc.

Once it’s done, the disc should pop out of your computer and it should be ready to play in your music CD player. Enjoy!