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

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