Friday, November 19, 2010

Article: Recording Sound Effects, Working with Wind Sounds

Recording and Working with Wind Sounds

Wind sounds are some of the most evocative sound effects you can use in any media project. The atmospheric and moody sound of wind seems to bring up something within us – perhaps something primal – that stirs our imagination. I believe it’s something deep inside each of us, some small part of our being that longs for the wilderness, the loneliness of the vast open natural world, and the sense of adventure. The sounds of howling wind seems to touch on these emotions and maybe that’s why wind sounds are so widely used in all kinds of media productions, be it in movies, video games, art and installations, and even in music productions. From New Age to Folk, Ambient music and Techno -- composers and producers use wind noise, sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes more obvious, to add atmosphere, mood and emotion to their music tracks.

However, recording and working with wind sounds can also be a huge challenge. We all know that a sound recordist's worst enemy is wind, because wind blowing onto the microphone can cause havoc for a sound recording. We've all heard wind sounds captured with the wind blowing directly onto the microphone. I think you'll agree with me, they don't sound good.

So, the challenge is: How do we get the microphone to where the wind is blowing, but without actually getting the wind onto where the microphone is located! There are various tricks we can employ. The most obvious one is to use a "wind muffler" or "wind screen". You've probably seen these on the TV, camera crews and sound crews with microphones with frankly rather ridiculously looking "furry animals" on their microphones. My hand held sound recording device, a Zoom H4, came with a small foam ball to stick on top of the microphones. It's a start, but it really doesn't help much. So what I did was that I went out and bought myself a few feet of "fake fur", a synthetic furry fabric, and I cut and sowed myself a furry "hat" to fit snugly around the existing foam ball. I then took it one step further; I used the remaining fake fur fabric to make myself another furry hat to fit on the outside of the first one! So now I have three "stages" of wind muffling around the Zoom H4 microphones; check it out in this picture:

The amazing 3-stage home made wind muffler

From right to left you can see the actual recording device itself, then the foam ball that came with it, then the first stage fake fur wind muffler, and finally the second stage furry wind screen.
The result is pretty good! I've been able to record several high quality sounds with this setup including a howling wind from an inside perspective which is the sound you get if you're sitting inside a cabin in the wilderness with the wind howling outside.

There are also other ways of ensuring you get good quality wind recordings without the dreaded distortion of air directly onto the microphone. You can always sit inside something, like a cabin, a caravan, a car or something else, and try to record the sound through an open window or door. But I'm not a fan of this method. First of all, leaving a car window open will actually allow the wind directly onto the microphone, which means you aren't getting rid of the problem in the first place, but perhaps more importantly, if you sit inside something to do the recording, then your sound will inevitably get "that indoor sound". Quite simply, you can hear that the sound is taken inside and it just doesn't sound natural like a wilderness our outdoor wind sound should do.

A better option then is to use blankets to try to create a "tent like" installation where you have nothing between the mic and the outside world, other than some fabric. Fabric such as blankets and sheets tend not to give you "that indoor sound" because the sound doesn't reflect off these fabrics and bounce back, in the same way that a wall, a ceiling, or the inside of a car would do.

Either way, recording good wind sounds can be both a great challenge, but when you get it right, it can give you a really great, evocative, and highly useful sound, whether you're recording for a sound effects library or for a home video project. Good luck!

About the author: Bjorn Lynne is a veteran sound engineer, music composer and music producer. He has worked as a on countless video games and has since set up his own company Lynne Publishing which publishes Royalty Free Music through their site and Sound Effect downloads through their site

Article: Recording Sound Effects, Onboard Commercial Aircraft

Recording on commercial aircraft is a complicated and time-consuming task. It involves planning, special equipment, time and money. Although the price of commercial flights has dropped massively over the last few years, security is now tighter than ever making this task even harder. If you are planning on taking a trip by plane in the near future and want to record some on-board ambiances, then there are some important considerations to make.

If you need a certain type of ambience, for example: a particular aircraft model; few passengers or lots, then planning involves researching what airlines operate particular aircraft types; where they fly to; what flights are busiest and of course the price will be a factor too.

To make the most of any recording, it is always best to try and get as many versions in different locations/positions which means that a flight with plenty of spare seats is best. Try booking a flight late and one that doesn't require seat allocation. Many cheaper budget airlines don't allocate seats to passengers and this will allow you to get a good seat for recording the takeoff and landing and, if it isn't busy, move around the aircraft recording alternate takes in different locations. It would be ideal to record ambiences at the front of the aircraft, middle (above the engines which is noisiest) and at the back (more on this later).

It is near impossible to walk through security and on to an aircraft with a mass of recording equipment nowadays. Security and hand luggage restrictions just don't allow for it. Therefore a small compact recording set up is required. There are many hand-held portable recording devices on the market today such as the Zoom H4 and Nagra Ares-M. I own and often use the Nagra Ares-M recorder as it is extremely small and lightweight; has a clip on microphone; runs for hours on just 2 AA batteries and above all it looks like a cell phone (which is ideal for this application as it does not arouse much suspicion as opposed to the Zoom H4 which could be said looks like some sort of stun-gun). But there are plenty of other makes and models out there so check the market and road-test some recorders to see which is best for you.

Once Onboard

Before attempting any recordings, make sure you know the make and model of the aircraft. Ideally, if your recorder gives you the option, rename the default filename to be something legible. An example maybe for a Boeing 737 could be B737. Also it is advisable to 'slate' at least the first recording (but ideally all) with the make and model by saying it into the microphone at the beginning of the recording. The make and model of the aircraft will be written on the aircraft's safety card/instructions.

Currently the use of electronic equipment (such as cell phones) on takeoff and landing is prohibited on most commercial aircrafts. This means you may find it difficult to record at these times. But if you are going to try, make sure you are discreet and try to capture the whole event. A takeoff recording would be best from the taxi onto the runway and for at least a few minutes into the flight. On landing, a few minutes before touchdown and ideally, to the point of the aircraft engines shutting down. If you have a choice of seats on takeoff or landing, try sitting a few rows behind or in front of the seats above the wings (if the engines are on wings) as this is where the engine noise is loudest and will 'mask' other characteristic sounds onboard such as the air conditioning units and seat/furniture creaks which will add to the overall ambience.

Once in the air, it is best to record each ambience for at least 2 minutes. This will allow for a long section with the subtle changes in engine, passenger and crew noise to be spread out making the looping of the ambience easier and less obvious. It also means you have greater flexibility when editing out any undesired sounds such as babies crying, PA announcements, clicks and pops etc.

Once at cruising altitude, moving around the aircraft and recording in different locations means you come away with a set of versatile sound effects rather than just multiple versions of the same thing. This is why it is best to try and book onto a quiet flight with lots of empty rows of seats. As discussed earlier, try and get different recordings at the front, middle and back of the aircraft with also a window and aisle seat variation for each. The sound level, tone and atmosphere will be different in each location as the cabin will resonate differently due to the distance from the engines.

Try to position the microphone up at around head height or above the main body of the chairs (if sitting down) so that the diaphragm is open to the space of the cabin. If the microphone is down deep between chairs, the sound will be dampened by the cushions, thus not capturing the full frequency range of sound within the aircraft cabin. If possible, also get recordings standing in the aisle.

You must make sure to 'slate' each recording by saying into the microphone the make and model of the aircraft (as already explained it is ideal to do this for all recordings) and the position of the recording, for example "front of aircraft, aisle seat at cruising altitude". Don't rely on remembering these details as when you come to edit and label the recordings, as much detail as possible will help to sell your sounds. A file description detailing all the information is much better than just 'aircraft internal ambience'.

If you need the toilet, don't forget to take the opportunity to record the ambience inside there too! Come away with as many different variations as possible.

Author: Alan McKinney

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