Project 13: Soundscape

 

‘Soundscape’

NOTE: For full effect, please listen through headphones


 

Feeling very much out of my depth with this project, I jumped straight in by recording a variety of short and long sounds for the soundscape. The idea of manipulating  these sounds for the soundscape felt very alien to me. I couldn’t see how pulling and twisting them was going to produce a pleasing result.

 

Collecting sounds

All the sounds were recorded using the SoundDevices 633 mixer/recorder with Rode NTG-1 shotgun microphone. Except for three stereo sounds, ‘traffic’, ‘wind in trees’ and ‘a breath’, one of which I planned on using for the background track. These stereo sound tracks were recorded using an iPhone6 with a Rode i-XY stereo microphone attachment (see post ‘Field recording with the Rode i-XY‘.

Short sounds

  • light switch
  • footsteps on tarmac
  • footsteps on leaves
  • door squeak
  • wine glass
  • fridge door closing
  • metal gate slamming shut
  • dripping tap
  • chair scraping floor
  • a breath (stereo recording)

Long sounds

  • conversation (on radio)
  • inside fridge
  • kettle boiling
  • wind in trees (stereo recording)
  • traffic (stereo recording)

Not all the sounds were used in the final soundscape.

 

Editing in Pro Tools

I have decided to purchase a twelve month subscription to Pro Tools, as I know I will continue to use the software for sound editing. Having not used Pro Tools before, I needed to get to grips with the basic functions. The layout and controls are very different to what I am used to when mixing sound in Media Composer. Again, I feel a little out of my depth using Pro Tools.

My first attempt at assembling the soundscape was very poor. It felt shallow and uneventful, nothing more than a simple, joined-up sequence of sound effects with Delay and EQ. Something was missing, but I didn’t know what. So I began experimenting with the placement and juxtaposition of the sounds. Each sound was ‘treated’ with an EQ to remove high or low frequencies and a Delay for reverb effect. Pro Tools comes with a wide range of plugins for this. A range of factory presets within each plugin provides great creative flexibility when applying Delay and EQ to sounds. Through trial and error, I was able to create some unusual, but effective sounds.

 

The turning point in my investigation came when I realised I could create a ‘sound space’ – by first laying down one of the long stereo sounds for atmosphere, allowing it to run for the full length of the soundscape and applying the techniques suggested in the project brief (slowing it down to half speed; adding reverb and reducing the volume so it sat in the background) and then adding other sounds on top. So the whole thing would work together as one cohesive piece.

I also discovered I could blend two or three short sounds together, end to end for effect, or overlay two sounds to create a new one with a greater depth of character. It was only through trial and error like this, that I made any progress with the project.

As I was creating a soundscape with no corresponding picture, I realised I needed to treat this as a sound composition. Letting the sounds bounce off each other. Creating a sense of movement through the juxtaposition, blending and pace of sounds. Treated with a range of different EQ and Delay settings.

 

Sound selects and treatment

Audio 1

  • Track: ‘traffic’ (stereo)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio: 1.5  – reduced to half speed
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Stereo
  • Plugin: AIR Kill EQ; Preset: Kill and Boost Low
  • Gain: -3.8 dB

Audio 2

  • Track: ‘T16 – light switch’
  • Plugin: AIR Reverb; Preset: Basic Large
  • Gain: 0dB

Audio 3

  • Track: ‘T15 – fridge interior’
  • Plugin: Modulation/SciFi; Preset: Dirty Drums
  • Gain: +6dB

Audio 4

  • Track: ‘T06 – metal gate slamming shut’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘ T07 – footsteps – shoe on tarmac’
  • Plugin: Air Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: +2.6dB
  • Track: ‘T08 – footsteps – shoe on leaves’
  • Plugin: Air Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: -12dB
  • Track: ‘T18 – kettle boiling’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘T19 – fridge door closing’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘T23 – chair scraping floor’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB

Audio 5

  • Track: ‘T11 – conversation on LyricFM’
  • Plugin: EQ3 7-Band; Preset: Telephone-1
  • Gain: +6dB

Audio 6

  • Track: ‘a breath’ (stereo)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio 1.5 – reduced to half speed
  • Plugin: AIR Reverb; Preset: Cathedral
  • Gain: -6dB

Audio 7

  • Track: ‘traffic’ (right channel only)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio 1.5
  • Gain: +8.6dB

Master Fader

  • Plugin:AIR Reverb; Preset: Basic Medium

 

Finally, I applied a little reverb to all the sounds by adding the Reverb plugin to the Master Fader, and using the ‘Medium sized room’ preset. This has helped to gel them together and sound like they are all in the same acoustic space. The finished Soundscape was output as an MP3 audio file.

It’s amazing to think this soundscape has been made out of a handful of very ordinary sounds.

 

Field recording with the Rode i-XY

To get great sound you need three things:

  1. Good microphone capsules.
  2. The ability to provide enough ‘gain’ to the microphone capsules, so that they can record an accurate representation of the original waveform.
  3. High quality analog to Digital (A/D) conversion, so that the fidelity of the source sound is preserved when it is saved in a digital format.

Combining an iPhone6 with the Rode i-XY cardioid condenser microphone attachment integrates all three of these things into a pocket sized high fidelity field recorder.

 

Rode i-XY stereo microphone

The Rode i-XY is a professional grade stereo microphone designed for the iPhone, with the ability to record at 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution. It uses a matched pair of 1/2 inch cardioid condenser capsules, fixed in a 90 degree ‘near-coincident’ alignment. Which results in immersive, true-to-life recordings that are captured in extremely high detail.

The theory behind recording stereo sound seems quite straightforward. There are several approaches to recording stereo sound, one of which is the X/Y technique used by the Rode i-XY.

Fig.1 XY pair

The X/Y setup is known as a coincidence stereo technique, in which two microphones are arranged with the capsules positioned at the same point. The most common X/Y set-up consists of two cardioid microphones positioned at 90 degrees to produce the stereo image.

Cardioid microphones are directional, so the two capsules point in different directions to the left and right of the immediate area to capture the stereo field. The stereo image is not as wide as a spaced pair of microphones, but it is a simple and effective setup.

As it’s true X/Y stereo pattern allows you to record exactly what you hear, it is particularly suited to capturing high resolution sound effects and stereo ambience.

The input levels are set using the Rode Rec app, which is quite straightforward to use.

However, I am unable to work out how to monitor the recording with headphones. So, although the Rode i-XY records amazing sound, my preferred method of recording sound remains my SoundDevices 633 mixer/recorder.

 


List of references

Rode (n.d.) ‘Stereo Microphone techniques’ At: http://www.rode.com/blog/all/stereotechniques (Accessed on 10 October 2018).

Sound Training College (2017) ‘Stereo recording techniques’ At: https://soundtraining.com/stereo-recording-techniques/ (Accessed on 10 October 2018).

 

List of illustrations

Fig.1 XY pair, ‘Stereo recording techniques’ At: https://soundtraining.com/stereo-recording-techniques/ (Accessed on 10 October 2018).