Reading: Room tone

Following on from issues with atmos sounds in my Assignment 3 moving image, I found an article on room tone by sound designer Woody Woodhall.

‘Room tone, sometimes called room noise or fill, is simply the recorded sound of a particular room that a scene is being shot in. That sound is caused by many factors – lights, refrigerators, air conditioning, people, furniture, as well as the “sound” of the microphone, the “sound” imparted by the recording device and the specifications of the recording’ (Woodhall, 2018).

No two rooms have the same room tone.

The main function of room tone is to cover unwanted noise and fill gaps in the sound.

A dialogue editor can fix problems with sound by adding a bit of room tone over the offending noises and adding a precise edit and some cross-fades.

If room tone has not been recorded, you have to create it from the audio clips you have:

  • take parts of the scene that are quiet
  • you can also find it in the handles of the audio clips – the longer the handles the better
  • put it all together and apply some noise reduction software to get rid of some of the issues
  • then double the length of your tone by copying it and reversing the second half

When editing location audio, besides creating a seamless dialogue track, the dialogue editor also creates a track that is called production effects (PFX) – any useful location recording that does not have dialogue in it (e.g. breaking a glass, knocking on a door, working in the kitchen, running water, chopping vegetables, etc.).

Editing the location PFX onto non-dialogue tracks helps create the final sound effects stems and sub-mixes.

Room tone is needed when PFX are removed or when bad lines are muted and replaced by ADR.

Room tone is also needed when you get busy noise in the middle of what should be silence. You can cut out the noise and replace it with room tone, if it matches.

Room tone can be used to keep the dialogue track filled with audio from start to finish, while other sounds might be happening in the sound track.

Room tone can be useful in allowing sound effects editors to enhance the PFX in the sound design and help blend foley recordings with the PFX and with the dialogue tracks for the final mixing.

‘Room tone is the glue in the sound editing that creates the continuity from edit to edit.’

Every room sounds differently according to its shape and contents, what machines are running, what traffic is passing outside, even what natural sounds can be heard such as birds. These things change throughout the day, so getting room tone at different times of the day can be useful.

Even one shot can have completely different tone than another shot in the same room, depending on what direction the mic is facing.

On-set room tone recordings are important because creating usable room tone from scraps of location recordings is difficult.

The most essential room tone to record is that in odd places.

Movies that are quiet or that have sparse music score and minimal sound effects leaves the dialogue track bare and audiences will be aware of this.

Room tone is an inevitable part of the filmmaking process.

30 seconds spent recording room tone on location can save dialogue editors hours in post production trying to create it.

 


Woodhall, W. (2018) ‘Room Tone – 28 Weeks of Post Audio Redux: #2 Do we really need it?’ On provideocoalition.com, July 02, 2018. At https://www.provideocoalition.com/room-tone-28-weeks-post-audio-week-2/ [Accessed on 10 November 2018]

Reading: Seeing with your ears – Spielberg and sound design

There are three ways you can build up tension in a scene – camerawork, pace, music.

Films have two ways into your brain: eyes and ears. When you are watching a film, these two senses are interconnected.

The visual side of the film gets the most attention because it is in front of you. But the visuals are in many ways the ‘face of the operation’. The sound ‘is actually the puppet master, the one that really holds the power.’

Sound affects what you see and from what perspective you see it.

As soon as the audio starts, you should be placed within a perspective. The sound design picks specific sounds out to tell the story within the scene.

In film, you see with your ears. The power of sound design is its invisibility behind the image. If dialogue sounds close, then the viewer is close to the person that is speaking, wherever they are.

 

Example: Munich (2005) dir. Stephen Spielberg

The Assassins arrive outside an apartment building to detonate a hidden bomb.

The 4′ 50″ scene is without music and almost entirely without dialogue. How is the tension built within the scene?

By building a bed of constant, noisy, city ambiance, and singling out and stringing together like beads on a wire, key noises that the tell the story.

The background that Eric Bannagh and his team are going to assassinate a man in his home by getting him to answer a phone they have secretly installed a bomb in.

The string of isolated plot sounds

  • the car with the assassins arrives
  • the dialogue of the targets wife and young daughter, and their car going away
  • the coins and rotary phone that make the call
  • the priming of the detonator
  • the truck passing by

The first moment of trouble in the scene comes in sound. Up until this point in the scene, isolated noises represent the steps of the plan going smoothly. The truck passing by represents a break in that chain and a hitch in the plan. At this point the ambience outside starts to take on some strange qualities. There’s a high pitched whine, like a train stopping, on top of everything. Just like the moving truck blocks the assassins view, the movers talking keeps them from hearing the daughter’s car returning back to the apartment. We hear her footsteps, not her voice this time, which continue indoors. In the apartment the ambience is quiet. The incredible thing about this scene is that Spielberg builds the tension, not by working towards a great crescendo of noise, but by gradually subtracting elements. While the daughter is in the apartment, the danger is signalled by a single sound effect, the rotary dial of the telephone. The climax to the scene is silence. It’s a silence that works so well because it anticipates the noise of an explosion to come. At this point, the ambience has become really impressionistic. When it comes back in, it has echo that reverbs the hurried footsteps and an anxious siren. The whole sound universe corresponds in a way to the assassins, to their feelings and their nerves.

This scene is made with no dialogue, no music, just camera work and sound design.

 

Key points for me

When making a film always ask myself ‘what do my ears see?’ Because sound affects what the viewer sees and the perception from which they see it, I should build scenes using camera work and pace, and a sound design that carefully picks out key sounds to tell the story.

 


Nerdwriter (2018) Aeon At: https://aeon.co/videos/from-shifting-perspectives-to-shaping-scenes-how-sound-design-can-carry-a-film (Accessed on 14 October 2018)

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.

 

Exercise: Listening

One of the most memorable sound effects I can still hear even now, is the twang of the swinging door of the dining room in the hotel in Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953). A very distinct sound, caused by people walking through as it swings back and forth, closing with a whoomp. Sound effects like this help bring a film to life by building a sound picture of the story space.

Space 1: Attic office

Sounds:

  • ticking clock
  • passing cars
  • room ‘tone’ (?)

This space gives the impression of being a quiet room. The ticking clock adds to the atmosphere of the room, giving a strong sense of place. I had not expected to hear the sound of cars passing on the main road outside the estate. This shows clearly how no room is totally silent. I was also aware of some kind of room ‘tone’. This shows it that there is always some kind of background sound in a room, however quiet it might seem.

Space 2: Woods and stream, beside Edmondstown Road

Sounds:

  • water flowing
  • traffic – cars and lorries
  • a dog barking
  • breaks squeaking
  • birds
  • aeroplane

Surprisingly loud background sounds. Although varied, they were predominantly cars and lorries. Standing in the woods beside the stream, I had expected to be surrounded by woodland sounds (water, trees, birds). But, with the headphones on, I was surprised to hear how loud the road sounds were. Our brain filters out certain sounds, depending on our perception of the place in which we are standing.

This has been a very useful exercise, for several reasons.

It has shown me that every location comes with its own range of background sounds. Some expected, others not. That it is important to listen carefully to the sound space of a location in order to get a full picture of the place I would like to portray on film.

It has also shown me that relying solely on an ‘atmos’ track may not be the best thing to do, as it may contain sound elements that are irrelevant to the picture or are simply just distracting. A sound space is designed. This requires the recording of separate sound effects, that will then be manipulated in post-production to create the desired effect on the viewer’s experience of the film.

 

Project 12: Music to picture

‘Music to picture’
Music: ‘Little Birds’, from the album Touchstone © 2017, Brigid O’Neill

Although not a conscious decision, I have found myself returning to an earlier theme explored in my Assignment 3 film. The result of selecting a music track playing in my head, with a similar theme.

The stripped back sound of ‘Little Birds’ feels as delicate as birds wings. A slow, smooth rhythm, with a langourous and elliptical feel. Mainly a vocal track, accompanied by Uilleann pipes in the background, it’s a piece of music that I find hauntingly beautiful, probably because of its use of the pipes, which I love the sound of. Here, the pipes are used to create a layer of sound, a drone, which helps gives the song a floating, dream-like feel.

The message of the song is clear, from the perspective of a parent watching a child grow and finding her own path in life.

Fig.1 Logbook 5, pages 43-44

 

Fig.2 Logbook 5, pages 45-46

I wanted to convey the song’s dream-like feel. So I adapted an approach similar to that used by Jonas Mekas in his diary films.

To achieve this I realised I needed to find a way of capturing movement with the camera, both movement within the frame and the movement of the frame itself. So I decided to use a Sony A6500, as it’s small form factor would enable me to capture footage handheld while allowing me the greatest freedom physically in creating the effect I was looking for when moving the camera. My Sony FS7 would be too heavy for this.

Reducing the frame rate from 25fps to 5fps (something I have never tried before) and combining this with very fluid handheld camera movements, enabled me to experiment with a simple way of applying dream-like textures to the image. Although I knew that reducing the frame rate would result in a blurred image, I had no idea how the final effect would look or even if it would actually work for this film. It required a leap of faith. So, while keeping an eye on composition, I decided to let go and accept a more free-form approach to capturing footage, and see where the experiment would lead me.

This free flowing approach to capturing handheld camera movements, with slow pans and tilts, letting the camera drift almost randomly through the scene, and an occasional lift to the sky at the end of a shot, has resulted in the dream-like ‘texture’ I had hoped for.

The guiding rule behind the editing was to let the film work with the music. This involved cutting to the beat. Beginning with a rough assembly of clips over the music track and then re-ordering them several times in order to create an effective flow of images. Cutting to the beat required shortening and lengthening many clips to make them fit the beats. Some clips were slowed down to make them fit their allocated place on the timeline. Static frames at the beginning or end of several clips were cut out, to maintain the overall sense of movement within the film. Using the audio waveform was particularly helpful in cutting to the beat, as it helped me line up the start of a clip with the beginning of a musical beat.

Fig.4 Screenshot, edit timeline

As the music sets the tone and pace of the film, the images and editing had to work with this. Cutting to the beat has given the film its visual rhythm. Creating a rhythmical structure has given the film a form unique to the combination of sound and picture within the moving image. I’m very happy with the result.

 


List of references

 

 

List of illustrations

Fig. 1 Logbook 5, pages 43-44

Fig. 2 Logbook 5, pages 44-45

Fig. 3 Logbook 5

Fig. 4 Screenshot, edit timeline.