Exploring Sound Design Tools: Mammut

mammut.png

Mammut is a strange and unpredictable piece of software. It basically does a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) of a sound file but unlike Paulstretch, which uses slices of the sound, Mammut uses the whole thing at once, creating more drastic results.

Mammut is not (in any way) a commercial tool but more of an experimentation one, so I won't go into detail about what is doing under the hood. Instead, I will focus on how it can be used to create interesting and cool sound design. If you want to follow along, you can download it here.

Software Features

Mammut has many processing tabs but I will only cover some of the most interesting ones.

Loading & Playing sounds.

Mammut works as a standalone software. You need to load a sound (using the browse button) to be able to start fooling around. The "Duration Doubling" section adds extra space (technically, FFT Zero Padding) after the sound. This extra space give some of the effects (like stretching) more time to develop and evolve.

Play and stop the sound on the Play section. There is also a timeline of sorts. Now that our sound is loaded, let's see what we can do with it.

Stretch

It creates a non-linear frequency stretching with frequency sweep effects. All frequencies are raised to the power of the selected exponent, so small changes are enough to produce very different results. Because of the frequency sweeps, it sounds quite sci-fi, like the classic star wars blaster sound. Here are some examples at different exponents:

As you can hear, as the values get further away from 1, the effect is more pronounced and it also starts sooner. Here are some results with values higher than 1:

And here are some interesting results with a servo motor sound.

This sounds remind me a bit of japanese anime or video games, maybe this could be one of the steps for achieving that kind of style from scratch.

Wobble

This stretches and contracts the frequency spectrum following a sinusoidal transfer function. You can control the frequency and amplitude of this change.

This one is weird (no surprise) and it doesn't really do what I was expecting. It tends to create sounds that are increasingly dissonant and "white noise like" as you go to more extreme parameters. Here are some examples:

Threshold

Quite cool. Removes all the frequencies below a certain intensity threshold. This means that you can kind of "extract" the fundamental timbre or resonance of a sound. Used on ambiences (3rd example below), it sounds dissonant at first and then, once you remove almost all frequencies, kind of dreamy and relaxing.

Block Swap

This one basically divides the frequency spectrum in chunks and interchanges their halves a given number of times. Hard to wrap your head around but it produces interesting results. First, the number of swaps seems to make the sound more "blurry" and abstract as you can hear:

Then, the block size seems to create different resonances around different frequencies as you increase it.

Mirror

Simple but hard to predict. It reflects the whole spectrum around the specified frequency. The problem with this is that when you flip the spectrum around a low frequency, everything ends up under it and is mostly lost. On the other hand, if you use a higher frequency, too much of the energy ends up on the harsh 5-15 KHz area.

A couple of examples:

Keep Peaks

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 15.50.33.png

This one doesn't even have controls or an explanation on the documentation. It seems to extend the core timbre of the sound across time which can be pretty useful. When using this option, the duration doubling function is specially handy.

Conclusions

Mammut is certainly original and unique. Since it only works standalone and is rather unpredictable and unstable, I don't feel it would be very easy to include in someone's workflow. Having said that, is definitely a nice wild card to have whenever you need something different.

Exploring Sound Design Tools: Pickup Coil Microphone

This post belongs to a series where I´m using unconventional microphones to get interesting sounds.
Please h
ave a look at the other posts from the series:

Contact Microphone.
Hydrophone.


To finish up this three part series about unconventional microphones, here are my results while recording with a coil pickup.

This device records the inductance of electromagnetic waves that are generated by any electronic device, allowing you to get all sorts of buzz, fuzz and hum type of sounds. This type of microphone is similar to the one used in electric guitars.

I have been recording everything in sight: computers, hard drives, screens, appliances and all sorts of audio equipment. I was very surprised about the vast array of different sounds that you can get. Sometimes just changing the mic placement a few centimenters gives you a completely different sound, which seems to be a recurring theme throughout this unconventional microphones series.

So, here are some of the sounds I´ve got. You can individually download every sound via freesound.org or download the whole package through this link.

Hum & Buzz

These are probably the most common sounds you are going to get since any electronic device has a transformer that produces these kind of sounds.

As you can hear, different devices produce different timbres:

Hum & Fuzz Effects

These two are interesting. The first one was produced recording a microwave oven and moving the microphone back and forth to create these dopplery whooshes.

The second one was recorded on a blinking electric hob, creating this pulsating alarm-like pattern.

Data & Glitching

Hard drives, printers, phones and computers produce very cool and interesting sounds. It´s worth recording them while idling but also as they boot up.

Conclusions

I´m happy with the results and I´ve definitely got some cool sounds that I will be using in the future. These could be great for sci-fi, user interface or magical sound design. Thanks for stopping by,

Exploring Sound Design Tools: Hydrophone

This post belongs to a series where I´m using unconventional microphones to get interesting sounds.
Please h
ave a look at the other posts from the series:

Contact Microphone.
Coil Pickup.


Continuing with the unconventional microphones theme, this time I've being fooling around with an hydrophone. As you may know, these are designed to better capture sound in water instead of in the air.

I tried recording water movements and props on all sorts of small containers, the kitchen sink and the bathtub. I quickly learned that is important to manage the cable properly since moving or touching it can be quite noisy, specially when trying to get quiet sounds. I was usually using one hand to keep the microphone and cable still and the other to perform the sound.

I also discovered that very small changes in mic placement usually produce vastly different results. On some occasions, just some centimetres were the difference between a close aggressive sound and a distant atmospheric one. I don't know if this is the case because water is denser than air and sound waves move 4.3 faster but it certainly something to keep in mind.

Finally, I have to say I was surprised by how clean the sounds were, although when processing very quiet stuff I did some RX cleaning here and there.

So, on with the recordings. You can individually download every sound via freesound.org or download the whole package through this link.

Bubbles

I first tried to get some bubble sounds. I used a plastic drinking straw to get the small ones and then tried sinking a bowl or a mug with some air inside to get bigger ones.

I tried some effervescent tablets too and got some nice fizzy sounds. 

Movements

Next, I tried some water movements. I quickly found out that submerging the microphone and trying to create water sounds with hand movements doesn't work really well since not a lot of sound energy reaches the mic.

So I tried to record them with the mic just on the surface of the water and got better results that you can hear in the first example below.

I also wanted to get some underwater movements and discovered that the easiest way was to move the microphone itself through a large mass of turbulent water. I did this in a filled bathtub (second recording below).

Steady Water Streams

For this sounds, I was trying to get long samples of water flowing that could be then used for underwater scenes.

To achieve this, you need some kind of water flow. In my case, since I didn't have access to a swimming pool or a jacuzzi, I just recorded the whole filling and emptying process of a kitchen sink and a bathtub.

While doing this, I experimented with different mic placements and amounts of water flowing in. You can get a vast array of result by just changing these two factors as you can hear in these examples:

Metal Kitchen Sink

Here are some other sounds I got in the kitchen sink.

Again, the draining sounds show how important mic placement is. Those changes in the sound intensity were produced by just getting closer or further away from the vortex.

Others

Here are some other random things I tried.

The first one is just me hitting a floating bowl with my finger. The resonance was captured with the mic underwater and close the bowl but not touching it. As the bowl filled more and more, the pitch changed in an interesting manner.

Lastly, the second recording below is how water directly impacting the hydrophone sounds. 

Conclusions

It was nice doing this recording session. I learned that mic placement is crucial when working with these microphones. Having an hydrophone is perhaps kind of a niche purchase, but it could be very useful if you need underwater sounds or want to record anything that involves too much water for conventional microphone to be safe.

Exploring Sound Design Tools: Contact Microphone

This post belongs to a series where I´m using unconventional microphones to get interesting sounds.
Please h
ave a look at the other posts from the series:

Hydrophone.
Coil Pickup.


I bought a JrF contact microphone a while ago to do some experimenting and see the potential these mics have for sound design. Here is what I've discovered.

As you may know, a contact microphone records sound from vibrating solid materials instead of the air. This gives these microphones some unique and interesting sonic qualities. Since we are not capturing the ambience around the recording, results usually feel isolated, without an acoustic context. This can be a blessing, no need to worry about reverb or background noise but also may result in dull boring sounds. I quickly discovered than experimenting and trying different props, microphone positions and methods of producing the sound is key to achieve interesting results.

On the technical side, contact microphones need to be connected to a high impedance input in order to have a good frequency response. If you want to get into more detail about this and contact microphone usage in general this is the place to go.

Now that you know the deal, here are some of my recordings. You can individually download every sound via freesound.org or download the whole package through this link.

Window Glass

I just attached the microphone to a large window and try different things.

The first three sounds were recorded with just damp hands, I was trying different movements and was surprised with some of the results, although most of it is just regular squeaks. 

As you can hear, something so simple creates a surprising amount of low end some times.

Next, I tried to try using a milk frother applied on the glass. These recordings exemplify very well the possibilities of these microphones. Usually, it would be impossible to avoid the sound of the machine itself but with a contact mic we are getting the sound of the glass reacting to the vibration without any of the motor. 

The first two examples show this. The other two are the result of applying the forther to the cable of the mic itself resulting in some weird and tonal sounds.

 

Metal Oven Tray

Next, I tried to record some impacts on a metal oven tray. No thing too remarkable on this one but I got nice clean metal resonances that are always good to have.

On the first recording, you will hear that the three small impacts sound kind of distorted. This happens when the microphone is loose so it vibrates against the surface of the object you are recording. This can be useful if you want to get a dirty sound.

Bicycle

I thought the the wheel spokes would be interesting to record and the sound was surprisingly heavy.

Despite having roughly the same length, different spokes produced very different metal overtones. 

I can see these being use with some dissonance in a horror soundscape.

Electric razor

This razor doesn't have different speeds but I discovered that I can use my finger to slow down the motor and create some interesting power on and power off.

There is a nice amount bass, this could be use as layers for sci-fi or fantasy, weird machines.

For the third sample below I tried to create some malfunctioning engine sounds.

Electric Toothbrush

This one is quite dull but could be used as a layer for a servo door or robot. Also, it has a weird chewbacca kind of tone.

Drying Rack

Nice metal impacts with a lot of resonance. Again, surprised with the amount of bass here.

As you can hear, some of the sound have that distorted quality coming from the microphone being a little loose.

The ratchet/castle door sound was done by just striking the different metal rods with a wooden spoon. Quite cool.

Printer

Lastly, I tried attaching the mic to my printer. The result is not very interesting but it could be nice as layers for a robot or some mechanical thing.

Conclusions

As you can see, metallic objects are probably the most interesting ones to record as they resonate more but I'm sure there are many other creative things to try with a contact microphone that I will explore in the future. Thanks for reading.

Exploring Sound Design Tools: Reformer Pro

Kroto's Audio Reformer Pro is a unique tool for sound design. Here is a look at the software from a practical everyday perspective. I will focus on how it can improve your workflow and also on how it can spice things up on the creative side when doing sound design. I encourage you to grab the demo version and follow along.

Technology

Basically, Reformer takes an input (another recording or a live microphone signal) and uses its frequency and dynamics content to trigger samples from a certain library, creating a new hybrid output.

reformer diag.png

In other words, it allows you to "perform" audio libraries in real time like a foley artist performs props.

Versions

Reformer uses a freemium pricing model and comes in two flavours, vanilla and pro. The first one is completely free but only allows you to use certain official paid libraries. These can be purchased on the Krotos Audio Store where you'll find a huge selection of different libraries.

The pro version uses a paid subscription model and offers more advanced features. This is the one I'll be covering on this post. This version allows you to load up to four libraries at the same time and do a real time mix between them (the free version only allows to load one library per plugin). More importantly, it also gives you the power to create your own Reformer libraries using your sounds.

Interface

As you can see on the right hand side, Reformer Pro controls are quite simple and self-explanatory. Nevertheless, here are some features worth mentioning:

Since you can load four libraries at a time, the X/Y Pad on the left hand side of the plugin will allow you to mix and mute them independently.

The Response value (bottom left corner) changes how fast reformer is processing incoming audio. In general, faster responses work better with sudden transients and impacts while slower values will work better with longer sounds. If you notice undesired clicks or pops, this is the first thing you should try to tweak.

The Playback Speed functions as a sort of pitch control allowing you change the character and size of the resulting signal.

Reformer Workflows

As you can see, Reformer offers an imaginative way of manipulating sounds but how can this be helpful in the context of everyday sound design and mix work? Here are some ideas:

  • Sync: To quickly lay down effects in sync with the picture using your voice or some foley props. For example, covering a creature's vocalizations by hand is always very time consuming and on these kind of tasks is probably where Reformer shines the most.
  • Substitute: Imagine you have all the FX laid down for a certain object or character and now you have to change all of them to a different material or style. In this case, you could keep the original audio, since it has the correct timing and use it to drive a reformer library with the proper sounds.
  • Layer: Once you've stablished a first layer for a sound, you can use reformer to add more layers that will be perfectly in sync with no effort.
  • Make the most of a limited set of sounds: Sometimes you find the perfect sound to use for something but you don't have enough iterations to cover everything. You can create a reformer library with these few sounds and, playing with the playback speed, response time and wet/dry controls, get the most of them in terms of different articulations and variations.
Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 15.44.15.png

Creating your own libraries

Reformer Pro includes an Analysis Tool that allows you to create custom libraries with your own audio content. I won't go into much detail about how to do this since the manual and this video covers the topic perfectly and the whole process is surprisingly fast and easy. I encourage you to try to create your very own library too.

Ideally, you should use several sounds that follow a sonic theme so you can have a cohesive library. At the same time, these sounds need to be varied enough in terms of frequency and volume content so you can cover as many articulations as possible.

From a technical standpoint, make sure your files are high resolution, clean, closed mic'd and normalized.

As an example, I created ghostly, sci-fi monster voice library using sounds I created with Paulstretch (see my tutorial for Paulstretch here).

You can hear below some of the original samples that I used to build the library. As you can hear, I tried to mix different vocalizations and frequencies:

And here is how the built library behaves and sounds when throwing different stuff at it. The first sounds are the result of monster like vocalizations and you can hear how the library responds with different combinations of timbres. The last sound on the clip is interesting because is the result of the library responding to a ratchet or clicking sound. As you can see is always worth trying to throw weird stuff at reformer to see how it responds.

You can find this library ready to use for reformer in the link below and give it a go:
Ghostly Monster Reformer Library.

Reformer as a creative tool for sound design

In my view, Reformer is not specifically designed for creative sound design as it lacks depth in terms of how well you can manipulate and control the final results. I miss having some control on how the algorithm creates the output signal in a similar way Zynpatiq's Morph plugin has it. But again, I understand sonic exploration is not the main aim of Reformer. Having said that, you can still achieve interesting designs mixing together elements from different kinds of sounds.

For example, we can use a recording with some interesting transients, like a rattling noise to drive some different libraries. Here is the result with a bell:

As you can hear, Reformer takes the volume information and applies it to the bell timbre. And here is a hum and the same rattle creating some sort of fluttering engine or mechanical insect sound. Just for fun, I also added a doppler effect to add movement:

Being able to control any sound with your own source of transients opens a huge window of possibilities. For example, you could use a bicycle wheel as an instrument to perform different movements and articulations. Pretty cool.

I'm just scratching the surface here. There are many more creative ideas that I would want to try. The demo version only runs for 10 days so make sure you can really go for it during those days.

Conclusions

Reformer is a very innovative tool that for sure makes you think in a different way about sound design. Being able to sync and swap sounds on the fly is probably where Reformer shines the most, allowing you to perform recorded libraries live as a foley artist would do. Definitely worth a try.