Category Archives: General

Sound Design and Update

Well it’s been a long long time since I last posted and quite a busy year. I have now become a freelance web designer but hope to get back into sound at some point…

I created a siren sound on freesound (my username is Oddworld) and it got used in a hip-hop track here https://soundcloud.com/donnie-ozone/electric-gordon-trap-door – Funny where stuff ends up!

Happy New Years Eve

I wish everyone a happy new years eve. I’m looking forward to visiting deserted London tomorrow morning, seeing what sounds I can gather.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Airports

While I was waiting for a flight back to England yesterday I noticed how amazingly quiet airports are. I’m not sure whether it was just the off peak time I was travelling or that having not been abroad for a few years I’d forgotten what to expect. I realized that everything had been carefully engineered to provide a quiet space. The walls and ceilings were made of Micro Perforated Plates allowing sound absorption. This made me feel good knowing that this was thought about extensively in the design of the Airport.

Sound recording in public

Today I saw someone hastily pocketing their M-Audio Microtrack II while listening on headphones; instantly recognisable from its strange scientific looking stereo mic configuration. If only sound recording devices were more socially acceptable like the digital camera one could carry it around in public without raising suspicion. It feels like there’s a stigma around sound recording equipment – they are alien devices, unknown by most and akin to spy like technology. Taking a photo of a someone in public is more acceptable than recording their voice because as a society infused with CCTV and remote surveillance we have become used to a visual invasion of privacy. Audible privacy is something we feel we own the right to; sometimes stepping out of that right in a public conversation on a mobile phone for example. I think there is a fear that our social exploits would be used in a negative way such as if the words on this blog were turned around for a different use. If a conversation happens in public – who owns the sound if it were recorded? If everyone was being recorded in public right now would we be more careful about what was being said?

The Space

I just discovered THE SPACE – “a new, deliberately experimental service, managed by Arts Council England and developed in partnership with the BBC. It has been designed to give arts and culture organisations the opportunity to experiment and engage with new and existing audiences in a completely innovative digital environment. It is a pilot and will be available from the 1st May 2012 to the 31st October 2012”

I have only briefly looked at this and it looks like they have  a lot of interesting stuff so far – check it out

http://thespace.org/

Mindful Solitude

I was recently perusing the shelves of Foyles in Euston station one evening without a purpose and found a book called “Seeking Silence in a Noisy World” and having briefly scoured the first few pages I knew that it was the book to buy. It talks in depth about the value of silence and how different cultures and religions approach silence. I particularly liked the explorations on the natural environment and how it connects us with our past both visually and sonically. Silence is a term that changes in context and cannot be explicitly defined as it mostly always a subjective experience.

The foreword reads

Often we do no recognize the value of silence until we are driven to seek it; most of the time it remains an unused resource. My own stumbling journey, which I will describe throughout the book, included a formal retreat while I was at college and a self-imposed silence on a Cumbrian moor. What I began to discover was that it is the natural world that helps me most of all.

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/mind-body-spirit/seeking-silence-in-a-noisy-world,adam-ford-9781908005113

Sound Theory – Sample Rate, A/D Conversion

It has been a long time since I last posted as I’ve been busy with other jobs. I have recently been refreshing my knowledge of sound theory because I know that it will really help my understanding, especially when it comes to mixing. It’s quite easy to learn all the lingo and tech speak when it comes to sound but not actually, really understand how it works. This is my attempt at explaining it briefly in my own terms.

I understand hertz as being one cycle per second and in digital audio this is used to set a sample rate frequency to convert an analogue source to a digital one. This is performed with my sound card which at the moment is an M-Audio FastTrack USB. The FastTrack is a suitably low-mid range unit which has a guitar and mic level input. Since I just need to plug in the USB to the computer its easy to take the inner workings and process of how the sound is delivered to my speakers for granted. In order to record my voice into the computer I would need to convert the analogue signal of my voice into a digital format for the computer to process. This process is Analogue to Digital Conversion or ADC for short. If the ADC uses a sample rate of 50Hz the analogue signal is split 50 times per second and a measurement of the amplitude taken at that moment in time. This measurement is converted to binary, a measurement known as the bit depth. 50 times per second sounds like a lot but CD quality audio is 44,100 times a second! This value was arrived using the Nyquist Theorem which in a principle I will explain in a later post. When exporting audio I normally choose 44.1Khz as a base amount as my hard drive has Terabytes of space and if I need to convert to MP3 the quality is high enough to start with. By understanding the sample rate and its limitations you can choose lower sample rates like 22Khz or 11Khz. For example a telephone conversation has a bandwidth of 3.6 kHz. “Bandwidth is the difference between the highest and lowest frequencies carried in an audio stream” (Source: Audacity Wiki). Telephone speech sits in this frequency range so 8kHz is a suitable sample rate to select and the file size will be smaller which is useful in some cases like web streaming or computer game audio.

So…the higher the sample rate, the more accurately the computer can reproduce the sound. In order for my ears (analogue system) to hear this played back from the computer the digital audio needs to be converted back to analogue. The sound card performs this using a Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) which directs the speaker cones to move back and forth at the same frequency of the measured waveform causing pressure changes in the air that my ears convert to brain signals. Amazing when you think about it!

Useful Reading

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DDL Trunks

This sound was made from a sound recording of a voice that has been time-stretched 800%. The intonation can be heard clearly which gives a distinctive drone sound. I can visualize an air raid siren.

what does sound recording mean to me?

In my experience field sound recording is capturing an indoor or outdoor environment with at least one microphone and focusing on either a mass bed of sound (ambience) or ‘zooming-in’ on individual events (I like to call these sound spots). The purpose is to accurately capture the sound for future re-production, re-arrangement and playback. I had often thought that sound recording – in the field recording sense – that is, outside of the studio, could be compared with photography. However, the more I think about it, a photographer constructs an image based on a number of factors which include lighting, framing, camera placement, image composition and more. It is also subject to personal choices, ideas and methods. In this sense each photographer can apply their own unique stamp on a photograph.

I now think that a photographer is more like a sound designer because by using a range of tools (methods to construct the image) the final outcome is a result of such layering, artistic choice.

I think that field sound recording is more scientific than creative. It is in its very nature methodical. Surveying which is “the science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them” (Source:  Wikipedia (Surveying)) has a similar method to sound recording. Is this method the same as field sound recording except with the use of different equipment ‘recording’ equipment?

I intend to find answers to the following questions

  • Is field sound recording a sustainable vocation?

There are already thousands of recorded sounds available to purchase either separately or in packs that can also be freely distributed, e.g under Creative Commons licences. How does a sound recordist justify doing this again. I think some of the following reasons apply:

  1. They couldn’t find the sound that they were after.
  2. They wanted to record the sound rather than paying for it.
  3. It will form part of a sound pack that they could monetize.
  4. The quality of the recorder wasn’t the right fidelity.

This leads into my next question:

  • What happens when all the sounds in the world are recorded? Why do field sound recordists continue to record what has already been recorded?
  • What are the personal aims of sound recordists ? Is it for financial gain (e.g. creating a sample library) ? Or is it for the experience, experimentation etc.? (*examples*..)

Collecting

I watched a video from Sonic Terrain called Alan Burbridge – The Sound Collector. The way that he describes what he does is very interesting to me. I’ve roughly transcribed what he said.

“I don’t think it’s the technology, I think it’s the birds to some extent but I think it’s more of a sanitised hunter-gathering……People collect match boxes, or they collect train numbers, or airplane numbers or they tick off how many formula one races they’ve been to. For me, I’m, as I say a sanitised hunter gathering so I’m going out there I’m hunting my birds, I’m getting close enough to them to get a good recording and then I’m leaving them alone, not causing them any harm. So it’s a bit like going out and taking nothing but photographs and leaving nothing but footprints. It’s the same sort of thing.”

Matthew Herbert

“I used to be a collector, I used to always have something in my pocket. Oh, a funny motorbike! Oh, a strange bird! But now I’m not so interested in that. For me that’s like being a photographer and just taking pictures of anything…There has to be a reason why you are recording something otherwise its just like you’re a consumer. Say, Okay I have cheese one day and ham the next.”

  • There is a need for a surveyor to re-record data in the future of a previously mapped site because maybe the land has changed or boundaries have been altered – does the same apply to sound recording? – We know that the soundscapes change across time but is this so evident in natural places that appear unchanged over a long period of time (e.g. not affected by human progression).
  • Is there an element of keeping up to date with the latest technology of recordings? As the bit rates and sample rates increase does this influence a re-recording?
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