Essential Bodyfalls is the second library that I’ve published. This is a brief account of what I learned during the process of creating it along side fellow sound designers Grace Canavan and Pearse O' Caoimh.
Where to record
At first, we considered recording outdoors, somewhere desolated and quiet but the Irish weather quickly encouraged us to go another route. It would be very tough to find enough days when the three of us were free plus the weather was decent.. So we considered finding an indoors place. After some looking around, we found that Grace’s family had a house that was in construction and there was a room in there that we may able to use.
The place was empty and echoey but fairly quiet and mostly for ourselves on the weekends so we decided to turn it into our improvised foley studio. We couldn’t do anything permanent to the room, so we did some research to find possible solutions that would be easy to remove afterwards.
We were able to get some help from the builders working on the house and we built a wooden frame and two foley pits for us. The idea was to apply a poor’s man room within a room concept. The frame, which spanned two thirds of the room, was then covered with old blankets and duvets creating both a dream-like blanket castle and hopefully a recording studio.
The result, despite the low tech approach was pretty decent acoustically. The room was now very dry although from a frequency balance perspective there were improvements to make. Firstly, the high frequency absorption was maybe too much so we removed some of the blankets to make the room a bit more bright.
The biggest issue, as always with amateur acoustical work, were the low frequencies. We had some big resonance modes on several places. To solve this (or at least to try to), we built some DIY bass traps on the corners. We had an improvement but it wasn’t very dramatic. We decided to continue anyways knowing that we would maybe need to do some EQ work with the resulting sounds.
Props: Building dummies
Although the idea of using your own body to record is tempting, it may not be very practical from a medical point of view. We knew we had to build some kind of dummy that we could use as an action double. Something durable, heavy enough and of course realistic sounding.
We tried several things to try to create the correct weight and sound.
Mark 1 (Fat Tony): Our first approach was to use sandbags covered with clothes. A big one would be the torso plus two smaller cylindrical ones for limbs. The resulting dummy was heavy (maybe too heavy) and it sounded quite dull.
Mark 2 (Potato Man): A different approach was to stuff some old dungarees with a mix of potatoes and foam. The result was a brighter sound that maybe needed more weight.
Mark 3 (Punching Bag): This time we bought a punching bag and we stuffed with old clothes and foam. This one sounded kind of in the middle of the two previous ones, it had a good amount of weight to it but without being too dull.
We also used other smaller props, like toys and stuffed animals to give the sounds more variability and to interact with the different materials and surfaces we had. At the end, the best results were achieved by combining two or more props in a single action, we were usually using two of our dummies at a time.
Surfaces & Materials
Although we considered some others, the final library ended up having body falls on: dirt, gravel, sand, concrete, metal, grass and wood.
We were able to find some of the materials in construction sites where builders were kind enough to let us grab a bucket full of different types of dirt, sand and gravel.
For the concrete, we just use the bare floor of the room since it had no carpet or tiles. For metal, we used different pieces that we found around. We had a solid one and then a more hollow sounding one.
The grass was recorded using combinations of dry grass and VHS tapes to achieve both short and tall grass. Finally, the wood falls were recorded on an old door and a abandoned pallet.
We used a piece of cloth to contain the materials and easily swap them when needed. Something we quickly discovered was that to get more interesting results, it´s a good idea to combine different materials. The dirt, for example, had a bit of gravel mixed in to enhance the crunchiness.
Something we learned while working on this project was that at first we were being too ambitious. We were planning to record several falls from each of the dummies with three different intensities on each variation of every surface. This would have taken forever.
At the end, we decided to streamline the process, focusing of getting nice sounds for each of the surfaces regardless of the prop used and mixing up intensities. The best results were probably achieved when combining the dummies and using two of them at the same time.
Since we were a team of three, two would be recording while the third is editing and checking takes on a Pro Tools rig that we set up on another room. This way, we had quick feedback on what was working the best.
After we have recorded enough falls on any given surface, we would record some isolated interactions with the material like drags, impacts, debris, etc… This proved to be essential on the editing phase.
The gear used was quite simple. A sennheisser MKH416 and a Shure SM57 into my faithful Tascam HD-P2.
Editing, mixing & Mastering
This is probably one of the most gruelling steps of the process. We needed to process and combine hundreds of sounds to get to the final product. The approach we used was to have a master Pro Tools session with every single dummy and surface combination. We then did a selection of the best sounds from each of the takes.
We then created a new session per final bodyfall type where we combined all the different layers of sounds to achieve a nice range of intensities and complexity. In some cases, we could even use a dull, neutral fall recorded on concrete and for example add a gravel impact and debris to create a gravel body fall.
Izotope RX was used to clean up takes and EQ + compression was applied all around. We were also mindful about audio levels and we applied the same mastering process to all the final sounds so they have a confortable level of loudness to work with.
In my opinion, the main lesson learned from this project, was that it´s important to set a realistic goal and focus on getting that done to the best of your abilities instead of planning to do something too ambitious that you probably will never finish.
Another lesson was that sometimes it´s easier to just pay for something instead of expending a lot of time trying to get it for free. Every problem can be solved with either time or money and knowing when to use each is key if you want to get things done.
If you work on any library creation project, something that you should always keep in mind is that the editing and mixing process is tough and very time consuming. Try dividing it into smaller chunks or assigning different sections to different people to make it easier.
With all this work now behind us, we are very happy with the results and with how the library is doing. We are definitely looking forward to tackle new projects and apply all the learned lessons but in the meantime, you can check out the library here:
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.