Friday, 4 May 2012

Personal Recording Portfolio

Skip James - Kit Downes 

I was lucky enough to be able to record the Kit Downes Quintet at Dempsey's Irish Pub in Cardiff. Here is a list of the microphones used in the recording: 

AKG C541- Drum Overheads Bayer Dynamic
M201 – Snare 
AKG 414 – Kick Drum 
AKG 414 – Centre/Rack Tom Beyer Dynamic 
M201 – Cello 2x Sony C48 – Piano Strings in cut out 2x Calrec – Piano Hammers 
KSM’s – Sax Clarinet 
DPA – Double Bass 
DI – Bass 

 As this was an important recording the people helping with the recording and I had set up a backup Macbook Pro with its own interface which was a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40. The primary set up was also made up of a Macbook Pro and its own dedicated interface. Each Macbook was running Reaper to record the audio into as it is 'technically' free therefore both Macbooks could run it and record without any problems of conflicting file types across different users. However for the mixing process of the track 'Skip James' I made use of Reapers tools to bounce out the stems of each track and mix them in Pro Tools as I am more familiar with the user interface.

Piano Mics: On the left, a stereo pair of C48's in the cut out of the body set to cardioid to avoid feedback from the bass behind and to isolate the piano. The C48's capture the body of the piano while the Calrec's positioned above the keys help to capture the more percussive attacks of the piano notes. This technique proves in giving a grand piano a lot of depth over the frequency spectrum. 

Kick Drum: An AKG 414 placed off centre of the drum, more specifcally for the type of music as we weren't wanting to capture a bassy and boomy kick drum sound. 

Tom Rack: Another AKG 414 to capture the toms of the drums.
Snare: Beyer M201, great at picking up the dynamic properties of Jazz playing which can be vast in terms of dynmics. 

Overheads: AKG C451's that capture the body of the drum kit and it's overall sound including of course the cymbals and hi hats. 

The purpose of the drum mic setup overall was to suit it for a live environment but capture the overall sound of the kit and its timbre rather than spot mic'ing which is not the right thing to do in this type of space. 

Bass: This is such an effective microphone placement for all stringed instruments using a DPA clip-on microphone.  We also ran a direct input as means of a back up in case anything failed during the recording. 

Sax:  It is hard to see in this picture but there were two of the KSM's used on the Saxophone, one directed at the mouth piece and one directed near the bell of the instrument, again to get an overall, realistic sound of a sax.
Cello: A M201 was used on the cello and directed at the bridge, as the cello is smaller it was very suitable for catching the overall timbre of the instrument. 

Having never really done a lot of live recording of gigs, let alone jazz gigs I took away one key lesson, which was that if you get the mic positioning right, it saves you so much hassle in the mixing process.

It was for this very reason why the mixing process was fairly straight forward and just a case of cleaning up and editing the piece.
I chose the piece 'Skip James' as it has a gradual ramp in dynamic towards the end of the piece displaying the execution of the mic positioning.
It also has the 'rawness' that I love about the recording overall, most people may be afraid of compressing the whole recording or certain instruments in case there is too much background noise. I however, love it. As a listener it really helps to put you in the context of the space and of the players. 

As I said, the mix was about tidying up any discrepancies within the overall mix and the individual instruments. Saying that, pretty much every track had its own EQ to shave off any unwanted hiss or low-end hum.
For instance, I cut off some of the high-end frequencies on the drum overheads as it was simply not needed in the overall mix. Similarly I cut off some of the low-end at around 60 Hz, again as it was simply not needed and cut out the muddyness of the mix. 

Another aspect of the mix was gently bringing the levels up of certain instruments to make the overall mix louder and to help the solo lead instruments shine through. This was just a case of using soft compressors on each track. Nothing to hard, otherwise I would have made more problems for myself with peaking towards the end of the piece.

Nightflight - John Hardy 

I was lucky enough to record the premiere of John Hardy's latest symphony 'Nightflight' in which he collaborated over with various students on the Contemporary Music course. 

This was my second big recording in with Dora Stoutzker hall with the Soundfiled microphone, so I was pretty familiar with the set-up although there had been some changes since my last recording in there!

There is not bucketloads to say about a recording like this, the Soundfield does a lot of the work, however the key part is the Soundfield settings.
Personally I think it is absolutely crucial to tailor the settings to each recording for many different reasons, but mainly because of the setting. Whether it is a piano and soloist or a full orchestra.

Playing this piece was the Welsh Sinfonia Orchestra, it was a fairly small orchestra, but they still managed to fill the space suitably. 

Unfortunately the picture of the other half of the soundfield settings got lost, this show the settings on the night. I spent a good 20/30 minutes listening to the players rehearsing, specifically for load sections to fine tune the levels in order to avoid peaks. 

I also spent this time fiddling with the pattern and getting a realistic sound for the orchestra. 
The pattern was set in between Cardioid and Hypercardioid, but more in favour of the Cardioid side. Furthermore, the angle of setting was at about 110 degree to 120. 

Originally I was going to record in Sonar, however I noticed there was a level coming in but I did a test record and found a problem, therefore I switched to the Pro Tools system which functioned fine.

With a recording like this, in such a magnificent space, there is not a whole lot to do with the recording. 
I would say it was more of an editing job. I went through using strip silence and removing the silences in between the movements to get rid of any unwanted audience noise.
The only significant element of mixing was the use of a Maxim in Pro Tools to bring the level up and get it as high as possible without any peaking but leaving room for dynamic space.



- 'Arduino Project: My Box' Write-up/Information
- 'Cede' Ambient Game Sound Design 
- 'Press Start' - Video Game Piece 
- Trailer Sound Write-Up

'My Box' - Arduino Project 

I began my work with Arduinos almost two years ago now, when I was introduced to it, I found a whole new world of possibilities and projects at my fingertips.
In the first year of my work I managed to get eight solenoids working and my most successful piece to date was my recital last year in which I had two vibraphones playing together as human versus machine. It was beautiful. 

This year I wanted to consolidate my work in an effort to try and start developing it into some instrumental, one product. 

It was this thinking that inspired me to create my new instrument, my new box. 

In the picture above you can see the inner-workings of my box. It consists of four solenoids in four corners with the Arduino Mega at the top in the picture. 
I felt I only needed four solenoids as opposed to more because I could already get the complex features that are unplayable by humans. 

I created my very own Piezo contact microphones by cutting the ends of guitar/instrument cables and soldering the piezos on to the end. 
I rigged the contact mics to the outer box where the solenoids would be hitting the wood. This added a whole new dimension to the box as it gave me the opportunity to trigger MIDI in all kinds of ways using Pure Data. 

Piece One - 'Beat-box'

For this piece I wanted to display my instruments capabilities of playing complex rhythms and speedy lines of percussion.

I based the piece on ternary form to help the listener/viewer determine the sections precisely, also to display the instruments impressive performance capabilities. 
The piece starts of with a strong delay like roll which rumbles onwards and grounds the opening of the piece.
The piece is also accompanied by samples which are triggered by the solenoids as the play the piece to further demonstrate the possibilities of this technology. 

Section A - I developed a recognizable theme to introduce the section but to also function as a return point for when it is played again later in the piece.
I also demonstrated tasteful motifs which I felt came out very well and functioned very well as a entertaining feature of the piece. 

Section B - In this section I introduce complex rhythms and a new meter, the main motif plays in 7/8 which adds to the piece and gives it that irregular edge. 
Here I also demonstrate the power that I can put behind the solenoids and the endless dexterity that I have over them by my use of technology. 

Piece Two

This piece is more angled towards putting the instrument in an installation context. 

To do this I used Pure Data as more of a compositional tool. I used a drum pad to trigger each solenoid in PD. 
I then programmed the contact mics into PD to allow me to create a message to bang/trigger whenever audio above a certain level was detected.
I then assigned three notes to each mic and essentially created a tone row, however what made it more unique was that PD randomly selects what note from the three to play, so essentially there are limitless combinations of notes. 

Finally, I designed a patch in Omnisphere which I felt really gave the installation a beautiful edge and it was not a sound that gets boring quick.

A Success... 

I feel my work this year has been a great success and I have furthered my ideas and work with Arudino technology. 
At this point my work is still very developmental, it is a long process and I am experimenting all the time with new ideas and new ways of using Solenoids. However I hope to further my work into something bigger, a bigger instrument, I bigger musical machine. 

'Cede' - Ambient Game Sound Design

'Cede' is a game mod project that I got involved with at the start of this college year (2011/2012).

I spent my first term trawling through forum posts on sites like and emailing universities that ran game design courses. 

It was a real insight into the industry as I found it to be very hit and miss, it seemed to be a right place, right time kind of vibe. 

However, I was lucky enough to get in contact with a designer named Owen, who had recently graduated from a game design course and needed help with his game audio.
Owen, had been working on a mod (modifying the game to act a different way) for the game 'Left for Dead 2'  which is a four player co-operative game, in which the players battle through apocalyptic campaigns killing zombies. Cede, is also in very much the same vein. 

The designer devised this story:

"Cede, a cult driven by a twisted, religious extremist, believed in the evolution of a new race. Their ideology was that the time had come for a more superior species to the human to start growth on earth and that is was their job to help it evolve. 
After years of laboratory experiments and illegal testing on humans, an infected baby was born. Taking on attributes and genetic code completely different to the human, they believed their new species had been born. 

In the darkness of the night, the baby enraged and bit its mother, turning her into one of its own kind... An infected. Just three hours after this event, the whole laboratory team had transformed. Of course, no resistance was held in their ongoing belief to help the species evolve.

As the weeks and months passed, the leader came upon a revelation. Where humans relied on oxygen to survive, the infected relied upon carbon dioxide (co2). Further to the leader's enlightenment, not only would increasing the co2 in the atmosphere make them stronger, but it would kill off the humans...

(A decade has passed) 

It's in the dead of winter. Entire forests have been lit up by the infected in order to release co2 in vast quantities. They rely upon the season of winter for its higher concentration of co2 due to all the leaves having decomposed and fallen off the trees. Pockets of human resistance scatter the forests, where fortresses have been built to hold off the infected, but the fire spreads regardless. Animals die and generations worth of habitats burn in the blink of an eye. Desperation has spread like wildfire. But four survivors amongst all the chaos turn out of the blue like stars in the night..."

As a sound designer, for this type of project I had to be very open and very suggestive, as after all, it is not my project. Much like the role of a studio producer.
Owen asked me for some specific sounds, he wanted the trees to 'scream' and referenced me to The Ents in Lord of The Rings and wanted that to be accompanied by a low rumble.
He also asked for a number of distressed animal noises to reference their habitats being burnt out and them fleeing away.

It is very important to note that he game is still in development and having been involved with it for an extended period, I have learned a lot.
It has been a very step by step process and the sounds are not even fully in the engine yet due to various bugs and errors. Furthermore, it has been a very back and forth process and has taken a lot of work over the course of many months.

Video for Cede

Or view on youtube with this link as you may not see the full image

The Process

I managed to get a screen cap of the level sent to me, and I put this in Pro Tools to use as a guide and to see how the sounds react against the imagery.

It is also to important to note here that my job is to create an ambient sound scape, I was employed to 'bring the forest to life'.
Ergo, I am no re designing every sound in the level. This was due to footsteps and gun sounds already being included and built into the engine.

I opted to start at the bottom, I used Omnisphere to create a very low rumble, that in my head would play for the duration of the level on loop maybe fading in an out at different points. Of course it is not like a piece of music with a start and finish. The sounds need to be on going as different players can take different amounts of times to advance through the levels.

The lift sequence is currently built up of a few sounds, I was walking around my house and noticed my washing machine made a particularly brilliant hum which was animated by the drum spinning. 
I recorded this and layered a hoover starting up and powering down, of course I heavily EQ'd the hoover to be less harsh, but it gives the lift the animation of powering up and down. Finally, I used Omnisphere to beef up the lift noise and give it a more droney edge. 

Having the low rumble, I had a good solid foundation to work from. I then moved on the the 'screaming' trees.
At the moment, they are reverberated creaks, I used my wooden framed bed to get some fantastic wooden creaks and squeaks.
As for processing I put them into Pro Tools and pitched some up and pitched some down I also time stretched them to give them a real dragging croak.

Following on from this, I managed to find clips of various animals as realistically I could not get any recordings myself.
The process for the animal screams was much like that of the trees, adjusting the pitch and the time of each clip to make them sound horrid and painful. I applied reverb to also mask the more bitty clips.

Moving on from that, I wanted some drones so I used a couple of patches in Omnisphere that had low, eerie tones but not too electronic as a 'glue'.
I feel it successfully work in glueing all of the sounds together and creating one sound scape.

Overall, so far I am very pleased with the work I have done for this game and it has given me a real insight into the world of game sound design and further motivated me to seek more work in this area.

'Press Start' - Game Sound and Music Piece

For this part of my portfolio I wanted to really do something different to broaden the different pieces within my submission.

However, I have really wanted to keep most of my work relative to sound design and/or game sound design.
Therefore, being an avid gamer I decided to take the audio and music from one of my favourite games of all time and making it into my own piece. The game being 'The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time'.

The piece is heavily based on the 'file menu' music or better known as the 'Great Fairy Fountain' music, I chose to base it around this music as it appeals to me, it is a very beautiful piece of music.

I chose to emulate the new genre of 'post-dubstep' which has recently become more popular with artists such as James Blake and Ifan Daffyd.
It is similar to dubstep in tempo, but it is a lot calmer and has no sign of the typical 'wub,wub' bass line that features in all dubstep.

I started of by collecting sounds from the game, luckily since the games release back in 1998, people have found ways to extract all the audio from the game.
I took some percussive sounds such as the hookshot, which is a main item/weapon in zelda that has a metallic sound but clearly sounds dated.
There is an array of different sound that I used from this item to create the beginnings of the beat. I then buffed it up by layering more conventional percussive samples over them.

Throughout the track there is the clip 'listen!' which originates from Navi, Links fellow fairy! I felt this just gave the track a bit more edge as it has no vocal lines.

The phrasing of the track throughout is very regular, the first change after the opening beat is the introduction of the melody line, if you will. 
I took the Fairy Fountain music and purely chopped it up and re-ordered it which is a technique of mine I like using on a lot of my work. I ordered it to my liking and kept the phrasing consistent.

I felt the track wanted to just constantly build up, so I went with in and gradually built up the chord sequence and introduced different layers.
However, this would have got boring so I introduced another section in which the piece fluctuates in and out, creating this eerie feeling that so much of the Nintendo music can have on me. 
I messed with different pitches of the original music to further unsettle the mood, however I then brought it back with a break and the percussion and melody uniting and bring the piece back to life. 

After this, I built the piece up to create a 'drop' and to also create an ending, it was the simple procedure of layering synths upon synths to create a huge build up in tension and also a beautiful euphoric sense about the piece. 

This drops in the euphoric section but with a grounded bass line which repeats to finish the piece. 

I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece and felt it came out really well, acting as a homage to one of my favourite games of all time which now has a cult following among people of all ages. 
I feel I demonstrated my skills of conventional contemporary music but also my skills in remixing   
other music but also using game sound as a means of creating a piece which I find to be unique. 

The Elder Scrolls VSkyrim 

For the sound design in this piece I wanted it to be very old fashioned but a huge mythical sound world. I will talk a about a few of the key sounds.
There are a number of sword sounds throughout the trailer, and luckily I had the chance to record some prop swords in a a studio which mean't I could display a number of different sounds a sword can make. It was just a case on double up some elements of the sword draw to make it bigger.

Towards the end there is a fast action sequence, there was an orb type sound that I created when the character summons the orange orb from his hands, I used wine glasses and water to create that magical sound.

In the opening I used a mixture of gravel and brick sounds to sonify the movements of the stone dragon. I felt this came out as very effective and very believable
The end sequence features a few synths and a reverse percussive bell like effect to sonify the mystical movement of the waves flowing up into the player.
Those were just a few key sounds, but overall I felt I created a large soundscape that fitted well with style of the trailer and successfully conveyed the grandeur of it all. 

Portal 2 Co-op Trailer

This trailer required me to think heavily about the sounds of robots, for this I gathered recordings of printers. 
Printers are fantastic for sonifying robotic and mechanical structures or characters as they are so maleable in terms of how big they can sound or how small and cute they can sound. 
I had to create a mixture of this within this trailer.
All of the robot sounds are made up of printer sounds that I have synced with the movement of the trailer. 

The famous sound from Portal is the portal gun that shoots holes in the wall, I used an old technique inspired by Ben Burtt to create my own, but finding a recording of a slinky being hit while it is suspended.
It creates this magnificent laser gun type sound which I manipulated to sound more realistic to fit in with the imagery. 

There is one sequence in the middle of the trailer where the music drop out, When one robot hits the button I used a click from a camera to sonify the button. 
The crash is made up of layered crashes and bangs from household furniture and so on which worked really well against the heavy imagery.
I have a steam iron at home that makes a brilliant drone before it shots out the steam, which is exactly what I used for the regeneration of the robot. 
Again, printer sounds were used for when he walks up but when he waves I underplayed some square wave notes to give it that cute loveable edge.

During the end sequence I layered the metallic lid of my BBQ slamming with an Omnisphere patch to create the sound for the spikey plates that collided against each other. The bbq gave it that realistic top edge that I was seeking. 
Furthermore in the ending sequence there are various printer sounds that are drawn back to animate the movement of the walls and floors. 

I really enjoyed doing the sound design for this trailer as it added a new dimension within all three of the trailers that I had done sound and music for

Following on, I feel that all three trailers offer something different and unique and show my skills not only as a composer but as a sound designer.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Another video!


This makes me so happy! It has taken me 5 months to get to this place (trial and error and waiting for parts) but I have finally got somewhere really promising!

This is 8 solenoids rigged up to a vibraphone (bit of a bodge rig but hey!) and it is being sent data through the Arduino, through the circuit, to the solenoids. All using Pure Data!

The patch is using a monome patch, and it works really well!

Thanks for reading!



So I made a little logo type thing for my work, I made it out of a breadboard and some random electronics equipment...

It does the job!

A video!


Here is video footage of 3 solenoids operating on a vibraphone on a simple tone-row using Pure Data!

I am very happy that this is working, expect more to come! With more solenoids!

I've made it!

At last!

I have finally made it, this circuit runs 8 solenoids of mains power! I purchased a 10-way guitar pedal power supply and the circuit all runs of that!

I ripped the ends of all the power leads and soldered jumper cables on the end of them as so...

Be warned this is very dangerous, do NOT touch the ends while power is running through, exercise caution when using the circuit.

I also soldered some jumper cables together to get extra length like this...

Thanks for reading!

Another update!


So I stumbled across these fine circuit board in college that would allow me to run 4 lines of power through ergo, 4 solenoids!
Furthermore I found two!
I made this circuit...

This circuit is running 3 solenoids at the moment, more later!