Reflections

The past three months have been some of the busiest of my life. During this period I have developed an ability to hear when somebody within a two kilometre radius utters the words "Who would be interested in..." and be there with my hand up in their face before they have finished the sentence. Never have I networked so hard, been so dedicated or devoted myself to anything quite so much as I have done to my career in sound. Countless days have been spent waking up with just enough time for breakfast before heading in to the studio and from then on being devoid of all sunlight and food (but never coffee) until the following morning.

In this time I have been sound recording and booming on two feature length films and a TV series - the latter of which involved a Pozible Campaign which you should go, check out and throw your money at. I’m not sure if it’s all the cool gear that I get to use or the challenge of having to record a high quality of sound under pressure but I’m really enjoying working on film sets.

I have also been in the studio a lot, recording and mixing a more musical set of sounds. I have recorded a punk band, a hardcore band, an alternative rock band and a jazz band. I’ve also written a number of songs, both for the screen and otherwise. I have written an hour of electronic music for a live show, a future/classical piece for a tower defence/first-person shooter game, a re-imagining of an old nursery rhyme for a web-series, a cinematic drum based score for the same series and I even found time to write a personal piece incorporating live and electronic elements.

Also, since the start of the year I have started more vehemently doing post sound for film and am seriously enjoying it. Most recently I took part in doing a trailer for a web series, two episodes for two different web series and a short film. All of these have been an invaluable learning experience. I have learned to appreciate and enjoy the mixing of these projects, rather than just recording and manipulation of the sound effects and foley. It’s only really been in the past month that I have realised the power of a good mix. I have always enjoyed the sound effect side of things, getting individual elements just right, but now I can see the creative freedom that mixing an entire product affords you. I can see now how much more it is than pulling levels and adding reverb and this makes me really excited to go and work in this aspect of audio more. 

But is all off this work paying off? Or have I just been beating the proverbial dead cat. I often worry that I have over-committed and in will have to start hiring ghost producers to help me get my work done. Thankfully I am yet to experience such an occurrence and instead have always handed everything over on time or early and to the satisfaction of my clients. So I think that I can display my ability to do quantity, but obviously that isn’t the important part of all of this. Nobody cares if you can write a hundred songs that all suck, it’s the songs that give you goose bumps that matter. So with that in mind I would like to share with you three of my recent products that I am most proud of.

 

The first of these projects was put forward by a group of film students. The brief was to write an intro song for a dark comedy web series wherein a rivalry between two warring bakeries turns ugly after one of the bakers turns to murder. To fulfil this brief we decided pretty quickly upon a reinterpretation of the traditional song Paddy Cake. Our initial notion was to write it in a 60s gospel swing style but I felt that this wasn’t going to be quite dark enough for the genre. I borrowed a mac from a friend as my logic board had just fried and sketched out a 32 bar rhythm. That demo actually ended up being quite a close representation of what I was after. Having such a simple tool such as Garageband as a starting point meant I wasn’t “restricted” to a universe of options. I didn’t get sucked into tweaking that reverb or making sure the drums sat just right. I couldn’t change those things so I didn’t have to worry about them. This is definitely something that I feel helps the writing process and will be pursuing further as a creative tool.

When we got back into the studio all of my team members were down with the new direction and so we jumped right in to tracking some drums. This was a great session for me as we tried some pretty extreme recording techniques in order to achieve the grungy sound that I was after. Things like two valve condensers as rooms, running cranked into Neve pres and straight into a pair of destressors on brit mode, ration set to high. A pretty extreme sound, but done in the context of the song it worked great. In fact I think every element of the track had distortion of some kind on it. We also recorded some sequences of metal racks and objects getting smashed it time to the beat. These I cut up to the grid, and with a little bit of sampling added in, managed to have a cool beat that sounded like a bunch of pots and pans in a kitchen. The whole process really taught me just how important (and how much more fun) it is to pull a good sound during recording. The extra hour spent experimenting and fixing problems can save a half a day messing around in the mix. Overall the project was a great success in my view. All of the team members pulled together and produced a great sounding project. And more importantly the clients loved and it was implemented as the theme music without a single change requested.

 

The second project that I am proud of is a short film entitled Aura of NostalgiaThis was the project where I was afforded a large amount of creative freedom. It basically centres around a man whose emotional stability begins to breakdown due to a night of drinking and reminiscing over his relationship. I was lucky to work with such a creative and audio minded director who really pushed freedom to really try to tell the story from an acoustic standpoint and to bring about the illusion of the apparition of his memories. To achieve some of these effects I used a combination of delays and reverbs running into each other, coupled with manipulated samples and soft-synths as well as various filters throughout. This was a fun process and I know that it was appreciated by both the director and the producer.

Re-watching the film after hand-over, I am struck by inconsistency of the placement of some of the sounds. I don't want to be too specific with what I can hear as it might colour your watching. But I'll just say that I know there is room for improvement and I really can't wait for my next opportunity to be able to implement this improvement.

 

Third project was a three stage process of recording, mixing and mastering. All of which was shared with a talented friend of mine. The basic idea was to go to a small bar in Fitzroy and record the resident jazz band while getting in a cameraman to film some shots for a promo video. Seems simple enough right? The hardest thing was the prep. It took us a solid three weeks of sourcing microphones, interfaces, talking to bar staff and general running around to ensure that the night would run smoothly. In the end due to some solid leg work by myself and others the night was a great success.

In terms of the recording engineering we had some troubles attempting to daisy chain two 8 channel interfaces via ADAT. Luckily however we had a backup plan and ended up having two computers running separate Pro Tools sessions which we synced up later. This was a little bit finicky with having to switch headphones in order to monitor things from one system to the next but overall it was ok. The sounds we pulled were generally pretty good. Obviously it was hard and quite different to what I'm used to, being unable to properly monitor a sound as you set it up. We ended up setting microphones in positions that we knew from experience would generally give us a good sound and then tweaked where possible. The overall sound that was pulled was pretty good. If I were able to go back and change it I would definitely tweak the piano and the trumpet but other than that I think they were all represented quite well by the recording. 

I loved this project and it really reinvigorated my love for recording music. The live setting was a little tricky but I would love to do some more work in the environment in order to really nail the approach. You can listen to the recordings here

 

Well, those of you that made it all the way through that mammoth of a post, I thank you for taking the time to pry further into my thoughts. Stay tuned, there's definitely more work to come.

H