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The Little House

Just a quick post to mention The Little House that aired on Monday on ITV1, attracting nearly 6 million viewers and trumping the “Spooks” penultimate episode over on the other side.  I was Sound Supervising Editor on the job earlier in the year, working with director Jamie Payne and producer Jeremy Gwilt.

I’d just like to mention one of the sound challenges that I faced in this show, which is an issue I seem to have faced in a few TV programmes over the last couple of years:  A baby playing a very significant role but having little or no sync sound to cover the multitude of different moods that it goes through during 2 x 60 minute episodes.

Luckily for me, I happened to have recordings of my son crying, gurgling, chuckling, screaming – the lot.  I’d recorded some when he was pretty much newborn, only intending to capture the cute little noises he often made but inevitably ending up getting crying sounds too.

Later, when he was about six months old, I worked on another ITV programme called Sleep With Me which similarly required baby vocalisations throughout it’s entirety – mainly distressed crying and screaming.  My little boy was waking a lot during the night at that time so it was very easy just to leave the mic in the corner of the room when he woke us up crying.  I can’t say I was terribly popular with my wife for doing this but it has resulted in giving me a great stock of sounds to cover a variety of baby moods and ages when needed.  My little boy is now nearly 3 so it’s getting increasingly weird to hear these familiar baby noises coming out of the TV, but it’s very nice in a way too.

The reason I mention all this is that I happened to stumble upon a rarety; a TV review that mentions the sound!  It’s actually an ITV Discussion Forum, which comments on these baby sounds throughout Monday’s episode of “The Little House”.  As the sound editor on the show, I’m sure you can appreciate that some of the comments are quite satisfying for me to read.  Others are just plain funny.

Congratulations to Jeremy for the success of the first episode which you can still watch online for a little while, and best of luck for episode 2 on Monday at 9pm again!

 

 

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Join the Club!

Recent improvements in Soundcloud’s private sharing features have enabled me to put into action an idea that I’ve been wanting to set up for quite a while now but which I haven’t felt able to in quite the simple and fuss-free way I envisaged.

The Sound Collectors’ Club is basically a private account I’ve set up on Soundcloud.  The idea is that people can upload their recordings on a given monthly theme to this account via the dropbox on the club homepage.  Once the recording or recordings have been transferred into that month’s private ‘set’ (by me) I will then e-mail you a private link which will give you direct access to all the tracks which that set contains and which you are free to download and use within commercial projects without any restriction (other than you obviously mustn’t go and sell them on as sound effects – individually or as libraries).  Hence, from contributing just one recording you could end up with a small arsenal of sounds to add to your library.  However, a contribution is necessary in order to even be able to audition any recordings within the private set.

Part of the big appeal for me of using Soundcloud for this venture is that some of it’s ‘Stat’ features come in really handy.  Once you’ve gained access to a set you can comment on each other’s recordings and ‘favourite’ a sound – all of which I’m hoping will soon be able to be automatically documented on Twitter for people to follow.  The creator of the track that gets the most downloads (or decided by the number of ‘favourites’ that a recording gets if several tracks’ download numbers are tied) gets to choose the theme or topic for the following month.  In this way, participants get a chance to supplement their libraries in the way that best suits them rather than me dictating the subject matter every month.

As is probably evident from this idea, I’ve been very inspired by the flurry of activity that has occurred over the past year or so within this global sound community that is currently thriving online.  The Sound Collectors’ Club borrows ideas from several of the products of this community that have come before it but tailors them into a package which best suits me and my interests.

In a nutshell, the club is basically inspired by 4 things:

  1. I love the (potentially) phenomenal productivity of crowdsourcing (nod to Tim)
  2. I love the idea of field recording workshops but I’m always a bit frustrated that the pooled results are just for listening purposes and cannot be used on commercial projects.
  3. I like the concept of Shaun Farley’s Sound Design Challenge but I want to participate in a field recording version of this.
  4. Soundsnap.  I’ve begun to dip into this from time to time over the past year or so and have grown to quite like using it for grabbing a couple of fresh sounds here and there.  In this way, I don’t envisage the club providing definitive collections such as Tim’s Hiss and a Roar ventures; rather an occasional supplementary boost to the palette of fresh sounds at your disposal.

My current priority is just to get this idea out there and see if anyone’s interested in joining in.  However, if people are interested, I do have a lot of ideas that I would like to try out in this format.  One such idea is to do a larger worldwide version of Noise Jockey and fieldsepulchra‘s Project MoMa collaboration that they did back in May and then pool the results. Also, I’d like to try and make this not just a virtual club but also organize field recording meet-ups with other local sound enthusiasts and then once again use the club account to bring all our efforts together.

The whole basis and appeal for me of this idea is it’s simplicity but please do bear with me if there are any rough edges that crop up over the coming weeks that I may have overlooked.  I’m no web wizard:  I have no idea how to set up a website (hence I’ve stuck with wordpress.com) and have no real intention of learning as I prefer to focus all my attention on my primary ambition which is to keep getting better and better at sound editing.  This is still a work in progress:  I’ve made a point of avoiding the inaction that overdeliberation can produce but as a result I will need to continue fine tuning things over the coming weeks (including the appearance of the club homepage which still needs some work).  Having said all that, in theory the club should need very little supervision other than accepting submissions so I’m hoping this is a very straightforward yet fruitful venture!

Feel free to offer up any comments or suggestions within the club homepage or through the club’s Twitter feed.  With a bit of luck, there’s a few of you folks out there that are keen on this idea too and we can start getting a few sounds together!

Look forward to hearing from you –

Best,

Michael Maroussas

Plundering Historical Documents for Ideas

Recently I needed to come up with ideas for background sounds that would have been heard in a Victorian country house.  Basically this consisted of trying to discover what the inhabitants of the house (i.e. the owners and servants) might talk about (providing ideas for crowd ADR) and do (providing ideas for the FX tracklay).

My starting point was Wikipedia entries for some of the servants’ titles: valet, footman, etc. in order to get an idea of what their duties might have entailed.  However, within the footman entry I discovered that “one 19th century footman, William Tayler, kept a diary which has been published”, and so I tracked a copy down hoping it would provide some inspiration.

If your looking for a real page-turner jam-packed with high drama – this ain’t it, but for detailed descriptions of life as a servant in Victorian times it is quite a treasure trove of information.  For example, on January 1st, 1837, William…..

…..and on May 18th:

In this way, one can start to get an idea of the kind of sounds one might have heard within such a property during this period.  I guess a lot of these sounds are ‘foley’ but there’s also plenty of information within the book that gives ideas for background crowd ADR which is always handy when dealing with a film based in a country or time that is not our own.  For example, there are words or phrases that may have been used in relation to horses and carriages:

……or for general murmur or background chat at parties:

(all quotes taken from “Diary of William Tayler:  Footman, 1837” – ed. Dorothy Wise)

Another book I stumbled across was “Useful Toil:  Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s”, edited by John Burnett, which provides first-hand accounts of a wide variety of trades, ranging from coal-miner to butler to cabinet-maker.  As well as these accounts being useful in their own right for the kind of ‘sonic research’ I’m describing, the book also has a terrific bibliography with leads to many other equally intriguing memoirs, of which the following are just a few:

“Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay” – George Ewart Evans (Faber, 1965)

“The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy” – James Dawson Burn (1855)

“Brother to the Ox:  The Autobiography of a Farm Labourer” – Fred Kitchen (J.M. Dent, 1940)

“Children of the Dead End:  The Autobiography of a Navvy” – Patrick MacGill (1914)

With my curiosity regarding this subject well and truly piqued, I do intend to read some of these books simply for pleasure but, in any case, with the current popularity of period dramas showing no signs of letting up, it’s good to know that there are first-hand accounts out there in the ether that can provide us with accurate minutae of different walks of life which we can hopefully translate into richer and more authentic soundscapes.

AWOL!

Due to being snowed under with work and my wife being about to give birth  to our second nipper any day now you may (or may not!) have noticed my posts have been rather non-existent for a while now.  I should be back in action in a few weeks time, at which point I can put my blog back to normal after WordPress seem to have kindly decided to redesign it for me…..(has that happened to anyone else?)

Speak soon,

Michael

Audioboo and iPhone Recordings

Some of you may have noticed that a new widget has appeared in my sidebar recently.  I’ve just set up an RSS feed from my newly-opened Audioboo account so that you can hear field recordings that I capture on my iPhone from time to time.  Unlike my Soundcloud tracks, these are free for you to download and do whatsoever you may please with them.  “Gee thanks!” I hear you all say – as if a phone recording’s going to be any use to anyone, eh?  Well, I was surprised.

I’m not pretending these are great sounding recordings but I do think they are good enough to enable them to be used in commercial projects.  Not as foreground FX or exposed sounds; I’m talking about using them for atmos FX, tucked in amongst other elements.  I believe that the deficiency in sonic quality is compensated for by their precious content – spontaneous events which occur when a pro recorder isn’t to hand.

So far, I have found that the main attraction of recording with a phone, as you can see from my list of Boos, is capturing stealth recordings of various noisy people around town.  Shouts and spontaneous bursts of laughter are great for adding detail to urban soundscapes, and the low end content of the traffic ‘bed’ that will inevitably run throughout such a scene will help mask the thin quality of the recording which belies it’s origin.

I’m waiting for the release of the new Mikey from Blue Microphones to see if this improves things even further.  Already more and more recording apps are emerging – the coolest (looking) one so far has to be the McDSP Retro Recorder, but Audiofile Engineering’s FiRe is recommended for use with the Mikey add-on, if that means anything.

If you would like to download any of the Boos I’ve recorded then simply click on ‘FREE BOOS’ in the sidebar on the right and then Ctrl-click on the little ‘play’ icon of the Boo you want to download and then select ‘Download Linked File’.

The National Physical Laboratory

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get away from work in time to go along to the NPL Open Day that I mentioned in an earlier post.  My disappointment, however, has been slightly alleviated by the discovery of these videos and podcasts, made on the day, which presumably give a glimpse of what I might have seen (and heard) had I attended.

I so want to get into that reverberation chamber to record an impulse response!  I must find a way!

This one is a Microwave rather than Acoustic Anechoic Chamber but interesting nonetheless….

….and finally, if you go to this page, you can watch a longer presentation by a Dr. Gianluca Memoli relating to soundscape research and perception and mapping of noise, which is also very interesting (I’m only about a third of the way through it as I write) although you have to push the volume up and down a lot as he walks backwards and forwards past the mic!

Dog Day

I’ve been helping to gather a bank of sounds for a forthcoming film project recently.  In particular, dog racing sounds have been my main focus over the past week or so.

We had another short flight ban in the UK one day last week so I thought I’d use the opportunity to have a go at some ‘dog feet foley’ in Bushey Park which is very near to where I live.  It’s a large enough open space to enable you to get a decent amount of distance between you and the nearest roads (by London standards anyway) but I’ve never really done much recording there in the past because there is normally a relentless barrage of air traffic passing over on it’s way to or from Heathrow.  The ban must have lifted first thing that day because as the morning went on the occasional high altitude plane began to appear every ten to fifteen minutes but even this seemed a blessing compared to the normal rate which seems more like every two minutes.

Anyway, on my way to a secluded spot in the park, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by the sound of a woodpecker hammering away at a tree.  I gradually managed to figure out which of the large trees the sound was coming from (there’s a lot in Bushey Park…) and in the end I’m pretty sure I was within 25-30 metres when I made this recording:

I absolutely love the sound woodpeckers make.  Considering what a violent activity they engage in, it’s amazing that they are so relaxing to listen to.  As you can probably hear, the woodpecker was surrounded by a variety of birds including crows, jackdaws, pigeons and lots of parakeets, which have apparently been around for a while but their population in Southwest London seems to have absolutely exploded since the ’80s.  I wish I could hear what the park sounded like ten and then twenty years ago – very different I imagine.  My recording certainly sounds a lot more exotic than I would have thought most people would expect an English park to sound.

Half an hour passed before I was happy to move on and get back to my quest for dog sounds.  However, as soon as I started having a go at imitating dog feet on the ground with my hands (in soft leather gardening gloves) I realised that it was a really rubbish idea and that I didn’t have a hope in hell of recreating the rhythmic pattern of a greyhound sprinting past.  Fortunately though, while I was failing miserably at this, lots of dog walkers suddenly materialised from every possible direction.  I was having to stop recording to let these people pass anyway so I thought I might as well give up on the foley attempt and just start asking dog walkers  if they were up for trying to help me out.

All of them were.  I stopped 4 or 5 people in the end and got some potentially useful stuff to work with.  Have a listen:

(NB.  As you’ll have noticed, I’ve been leaving a lot more of my tracks unedited since my Scotland sound diary.  I feel that sometimes it’s a lot more revealing if you can hear the unadulterated track, mic bumps and all, rather than a perfectly manicured version of it.  However, let me know if you are finding it annoying or unpleasant to listen to)

So, after an eventual success in the park that morning, I organised to go and do some sound recording at Wimbledon Dog Races in the evening.  I went along with a colleague who got miked up with a couple of DPAs in order to try and record some close cheers and shouts in amongst the small crowd that was there, while I went about capturing some wider chat tracks and tannoy sounds with a stereo Schoepps.  It was interesting to hear the real sound of the dogs hurtling past but the background sound of the crowd and the tannoy made it pointless to try and capture any clean running sounds on this occasion.

With more than ten races taking place that evening, we got a lot of stuff (I’ve been ploughing my way through it all ever since!)  However, amongst all the great wide sounds that I got of the crowd, one of my favourites of the night is actually a close recording of a few guys who were chatting on the far side of the stadium, away from the main crowd.  They all seemed to have some personal involvement in a dog and seemed to know each other from other race meetings, so it was interesting to hear some of their banter:

It’s not actually much use to me as a sound effect due to the mixture of overlapping sounds and mic handling noises but, as a stealth recording of a slice of life at a sporting event that may not be around for much longer, I think it’s a really interesting piece of audio.

Friday: Loch Beinn a Mheadoin

My final Scotland sound diary entry is taken from some recordings that I made on Friday on a trip to a place called Glen Affric.

We drove all the way to Loch Affric first where I recorded some surprisingly tame chaffinches (they must get fed by tourists a lot) and some blustery wind in trees.  However, my favourite sound of the day is a return to the realm of water!  On the drive back down the hill on the way home we stopped for a while at a beautiful spot by Loch Beinn a Mheadoin.  While my little boy was having a paddle in his wellies I couldn’t resist grabbing a quick recording of the water gently lapping against the rocks by the side of the Loch.

So that was my week in Scotland!  It’s a great place to record natural sounds, with very little (if any) of the kind of constant noise pollution that I’m used to having to contend with in London.  I did tend to acquire a slight roar of background wind in it’s place but this is entirely preferable to the blanket of traffic and aeroplane noise that a lot of us spend our lives engulfed in.  A strongly recommended sound destination!  Now there’s an idea; a field recordists’ version of Trip Advisor!

Wednesday: Abriachan Forest

No water sounds today!  I had planned to go to the coast today but in the end we went to Abriachan Forest.

I think I was expecting the forest to be teeming with birdsong but instead I was taken aback by just how quiet it was.  There was absolutely no audible plane or car noise but I will have to edit out some distant chainsaw and also a nearby workman occasionally hammering away – although his hammer blows did serve to highlight the beautiful acoustics of the forest.  I also managed to pick up a tick while sat on the forest floor for the 15 minutes that it took to get my recordings.  I got rid of it but have been scratching imaginary ones ever since…….

Tuesday: Plodda Falls

Today, we drove to nearby Plodda Falls.  There is a wooden viewing platform at the top of the waterfall which juts out over the edge of the sheer drop so between the gaps in the walkway planks you can see the water falling 40 metres (apparently it’s that high; it felt more!) down below.

I got a recording of this main, end part of the waterfall but, as is often the case with powerful water flows, it’s sonic character was scarcely distinctive from simple white noise.  Consequently, I walked further upstream to the start of the waterfall which was gentler and grabbed a quick clip before my 2 year old son brought proceedings to an end by shouting “Dadda, home now!”  There’s still some work to be done if my plans to turn him into my field recording assistant are to be successful………

Plodda Falls