Any of you Sherlocks up for playing “Guess that sound”?https://thesoundgrad.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/rlt_monster_cry_scream.wav%20
Comment your suggestions!
So I was thinking, it might be useful to do a periodical feature where I talk about the indispensable tools i’ve discovered throughout my experience as a sound designer, so far. I’ll try and keep these tools generalised rather than particular, i.e. a type of plugin or process (EQ) instead of a plugin in particular (Waves Q10).
So let’s begin with my favourite,
It’s a process I use on a day-to-day basis when constructing sounds, why? Because it can completely redefine the features of a sample! It’s like Botox for sound FX, except way cheaper and less frightening!
“How is this possible?”
Pitch is more often used in a musical context to describe “an ordering of sounds on a frequency related scale”, tonally this is perceived as a variation between high and low. An important thing to remember is that pitch is not the same thing as frequency, although, they are related. Unlike frequency, pitch, has no physical property, it is a subjective psychoacoustical phenomenon. But generally, a change in pitch will mean a change of frequency.
So when we discuss changing the pitch of a sound, we’re discussing it’s transport from one frequency bandwidth to another.
The diagram above visually highlights my previous comment on changing the features of a sound, structurally it remains the same (more or less) but it has taken on new properties after being pitched up or down.
A pretty standard bicycle bell?
Listen to how the tonality changes when we pitch it down by 12 semitones…https://thesoundgrad.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/bell-12.wav%20
The bell starts to lose that sonorous metallic ring and becomes duller. The sample is sounding more like someone tapping a glass jar or bottle rather than dinging a bell.
So what happens when we go 12 semitones in the opposite direction?https://thesoundgrad.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/bell-121.wav%20
The bell has kept, if not expanded, its higher frequency range, retaining that PINGGGGG quality. And lost the lower frequencies which flesh out the impact of the samples attack. What we have here is very similar to the original with perhaps a bit more ring on the samples decay. This might make a good sound effect for pins or nails dropping/bouncing.
Let’s try another sample
This is just a quick recording I made whilst coaching it home to Bath over Christmas. What does it sound like pitched down 15 semitones?
Because the sound’s been pitched down, it allows for more lower frequency energy or “audio weight” to take up room. At first listen to this new sample, I instantly think of the engine/movement of some sort of Armoured Vehicle/Tank. It maybe not my first choice as a primary sound but definitely a characterising feature!
That’s the beauty of Pitch Shifting, It enables you to turn one sound into many sounds!
A line i’ve comfortably adopted into my meta tagging vocabulary is “PiSh“, meaning, that file has been Pitch Shifted; I’m sure almost every sound designer has their own personal abbreviation to save time when sifting through the library.
A good habit to get into when recording sounds with the intention of pitch shifting is to record at a high sample rate; 96kHz usually does very well when pitch slapped. If you record at a lower sample rate like 44.1kHz, don’t panic, you can still get the desired effect, but the chances are you’ll also get some baggage. I’m referring to artefacts. These can vary but, generally speaking, an audio artefact would be a noticeable distortion to the signal. The more sample points on a recorded signal equal better audio fidelity and more forgiveness when you start stretching and contracting those points around.
Thus, you’re better off recording at a higher sample rate.
One of my favourite things about this tool is that it’s included, in some form or another, with every Digital Audio Workstation. So you can be sure no matter what system you’re on, you’re only a few clicks away from effortlessly expanding your library!
As always, Thank YOU for reading and showing an interest in this blog, i’m hoping to do a few more of these toolbox posts throughout the year so keep checking in!
Apologies for this delayed post, the end of 2013 was a very busy time for me, moving back to London, starting a new job etc, all the usual blog distractions! But i’m very excited to finally post some free material for you 🙂
Having spent a lot of time pulling teeth in retail, I decided to turn the experience into something more productive and set about recording everything that made a sound in the health store i worked at. Unfortunately I only had access to a ZOOM H4N recorder, so the sounds I captured weren’t as professional as i’d have liked to give you. But i’m sure they can still be of use, given the right circumstances.
You can download the free mini-library here, all content was recorded by myself and is completely free to use by anybody. If you happen to find use for any of these sounds i’d love to hear about it 🙂
As always, Thank YOU for reading and showing an interest in this blog, I really hope you enjoy these sounds and share any of your thoughts!
Back at the start of summer I did some sound work for an animation my step-brother, Andrew Popplestone, was creating. The piece was a short advert promoting visual communications company, Cloud Media . This project really meant a lot to me as it was the first time Andy & I had worked together. Being the first of the kids to leave the house and pave himself a successful career in the media industry, myself and younger brother Jake soon followed. Andrew always inspired us to be creative and taught us that, success was something you earned, not something you were owed. So I felt honoured when he offered me sound duties in his latest piece. Eager to impress, I jumped at the opportunity. The job was a first of many things for me: first project with Andrew, first advert and first music for picture. Admittedly, musical composition for picture is one of my undeveloped areas in the profession, but I couldn’t let that put me off. After all, audio post wouldn’t be as attractive without a challenge to make you sweat once in a while. Not to spoil the ending but I was very proud of the final result considering my lack of experience and I put it down to my approach.
Now, I just want to point out a couple of techniques I used to get me from A – B in this project; the life vests which helped me swim instead of sink. Anyone working on a project (these methods could be translated, so it doesn’t even have to be sound related!) where they doubt their abilities on lack of experience, try these out and maybe they’ll pull you through too.
- ABSORB YOUR INFLUENCES: I learnt this technique from a typographer I greatly admire, Erik Spiekermann. One of his methods for creating a new font is to study existing fonts with similar designs to his/his client’s imagining. This may typically be a day of looking at nothing but these designs. The next day, he tries to draw one/several of the fonts from memory and the results are these existing fonts redesigned with his own individuality. I love the organic, digestive process of this method and was sure to redevelop it for my own gain. I asked for several existing promo ad examples that reflected the client’s expectations. I then listened to every single detail… on repeat for a good afternoon. I concentrated on the way the scores were arranged, transposed and synchronised with the pictures, all became imprinted into my consciousness. So when it actually came to sitting down and recording those sounds from memory, my composition became its own, original piece.
- KEEP THE BALL ROLLING: The project itself had a very quick turnaround and I didn’t find myself spending very long on the actual composition. But a drawback I experienced when sketching out musical motifs and ideas on a MIDI keyboard was my inability to perform long segments in one take. I’m a guitarist by trait, so my musical keyboard abilities are limited. But by piecing together ideas and recording them 5-10 seconds at a time, I was really able to concentrate on their musical value and sync with the picture. I wanted the soft, inviting sound of the glockenspiel to float through the piece and tie itself to what was happening on screen; the piano kept the rhythm and the strings supported key cues. This, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, stop-start-stop-start method may not be for everyone, you might prefer to do a massive long take and whittle it down, but it does keeps you moving!
Very simple really but these became my anchors during this project and ultimately led me to success; Andrew and the client loved my composition. Hopefully there’s something in them that can help you in similar situations. This isn’t the first project i’ve undertaken where i’ve felt out of my depth and as a creative, I’m discovering that your diet craves (secretly at first) the projects which intimidate you. The more you feed yourself on these projects, the greater the hunger. Fight or flight? Sink or swim? Overcoming my fear of failure and believing in my abilities has helped me become more outgoing and bolder with my work. It’s so easy to learn a textbook of failsafe moves to get the job done. Use your text book as a seed and grow from it. You’ve got to lose your arm-bands sooner or later.
As always, Thank YOU for reading this blog, I really hope you found it useful. A big thank you to Matt and Andrew for commissioning me to do the sound on this project and for always giving me encouraging feedback! Don’t forget to follow them on Twitter! Andrew @AndyPopplestone and Matt @_mattcole_
Having been born in 1990, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the explosion in consumer gaming that’s taken place over the past 20 years. My childhood consoles were the Gameboy series, the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation. I experience such love and affection for some of the titles on these consoles that I tend to favour them over new releases. I don’t think I could ever get as emotionally attached to a set of characters or a storyline in the way that I used to. Emotions triggered by, basically, an audio visual interaction.
Unsurprisingly, audio in games has always fascinated me. From its humble mono & polyphonic infancy, through it’s MIDI teens and into it’s high-res audio adulthood, sound has evolved just as impressively as the graphics and consoles, respectively. Although I didn’t grow up with the Atari, or the NES and JUUUSSSTTT missing out on the SNES and Sega Megadrive “era”; I find myself going back to a lot of these consoles and their games, and really enjoying the simplicity in design, over all areas, but particularly the sound.
The limited data capacity of the cartridges for these consoles meant that sound quality took a bit of an axing. Putting anything above a compressed audio file on the cartridge would’ve seemed unwieldy, maybe even impossible . This seems unheard of in modern gaming but back then this sort of thing was a real issue. Sound designers would use synth based scores and sound effects to flesh out their virtual characters and environments. Although the techniques and the sounds may seem a bit basic now, back then these pioneers were breaking new ground and creating tunes and sounds that tattooed themselves into a generation of ears and will probably continue to do so until we all glitch.
So with that in mind, I’d like to pay a little respect to those early sound designers by highlighting a few classic modern-day methods of creating old school video game sounds…
First of all, when we talk about old school video game sounds, a common phrase which gets used by definition is, “8-Bit“. Very briefly, in audio terms, this refers to bit depth; how accurately digital audio data is stored. Which is relative to sample rate; the number of measurements taken per second of digital audio. So basically, the more measurements or samples being taken per second, combined with, a greater bit depth (less distance between data storage points) equals a higher quality digital audio recording, as well as a higher amount of data to be stored.
It doesn’t take much guess work to see how lowering these parameters, particularly the bit depth, would mean that digital audio recorded would take up less storage space (especially on a cartridge). The downside is that you sacrifice your resolution. For anyone reading this who isn’t that involved with audio or unsure of how this might sound, 8-bit audio typically refers to low quality, distorted and, frankly, “broken” digital audio.
To give you an example, here I am rolling in 16 bit…
…And 8 bit…
When we use the term “8-bit game audio” or “chiptune” we’re most commonly describing the sounds produced by the NES and the Gameboy; both 8-bit consoles.
This is how it was done in the late ’80s.
Which segues nicely into the first feature…
HOW TO COMPOSE A BASIC 8-BIT VIDEO GAME THEME
Let’s use the NES console’s audio engine as a reference guide for our instrumentation, or should I say, synthstrumentation 😉
It had 5 channels of audio:
Channel 1. Pulse Waveform; typically used for melody.
Channel 2. Pulse Waveform; typically used for melody.
Channel 3. Triangle Waveform; typically used for bass.
Channel 4. Noise; typically used for percussion.
Channel 5. Samples; usually 1-bit and used for extra sounds.
I’ve found that any basic waveforms, Sine, Square, Triangle or Sawtooth work very well for this sort of thing.
To keep things straight forward, for now, let’s just stick with 2 waveforms to cover the bass and melody in our 8-bit theme.
I’m going to use a square wave for the bass-line and a sawtooth for the melody.
Next we’ll need a synth capable of playing back these waveforms (as pure tone as possible). As i’m operating in Logic i’ll use the library synth, ES-1, for the bass-line and a synth I designed myself (available free) for Native Instrument’s Reaktor 5, to play the melody.
If you’re using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) but don’t have a synth, download as many as you like FOR FREE at the Plugin Boutique.
Or if you’re really old school…
I usually find it easiest to start with the bass-line. So pick a note, play it, then play that note an octave higher and repeat, until you fancy changing notes. Just always keep that octave bounce going.
Here’s what I came up with…
The bouncy octave bass-line is somewhat of an 8-bit hallmark. Not everyone did it…
…but a lot did it…
So next we move on to the melody, slightly more tricky than the previous bass formula but as long as you’re using a different waveform and in keeping with time and key, you can’t go wrong.
I went for…
Now to tie the two tracks together, let’s downsample each by a fraction. This can be done using a Bit Crusher. A bit crusher is an audio effect which generally speaking, distorts the incoming signal by degrading its bit depth and sample rate . This effect is text book for creating 8-bit sounds, i’m using Logic’s own library bit crusher, if you don’t have one then get back to Plugin Boutique.
Naturally, i’ve set the bit depth on each track to 8-bits, because we’re working with simple waveforms though, the “degradation” wont be particularly audible unless we start to effect the sample rate. Have a play about and see what suits you best.
Slap them together and there you have it!
So that covers the more musical aspect of creating 8-bit sounds, but…
HOW DO YOU MAKE 8-BIT SOUND EFFECTS?
And by sound effects, i’m referring to character noises, jumps, power-ups, attacks, that sort of thing.
Quite simply, ANY recording you have or make can be downgraded in quality to sound like it belongs in a video game cartridge. The easiest way is to achieve this effect is to mangle your precious 16 and 24-bit sound effects through the aptly named crusher. Quite often what comes out the other end bears NO resemblance to what went in, but instead, has become something completely unique. I’m still talking about sound by the way.
But if you don’t have volumes upon volumes of sound effects libraries, what to do?
TRY AND VOCALISE THE SOUND YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!
If it’s an old game sound you’re after, chances are, you can recreate it on your own.
JUST SOUND IT OUT.
Next you need to record it.
Your microphone situation is entirely up to you, but your laptop’s internal microphone will do just fine.
I’ve chosen to use my laptop’s internal microphone to demonstrate how versatile this technique is.
Then just record your sound!
Don’t be too disappointed with the quality of the recording if you are using your laptop microphone, we are going to be downgrading the audio quality even more don’t forget.
Once you’ve recorded your sound(s), open up your bit crusher and apply it.
Here are mine…
Another way to create old school 8-bit sound effects would be to get really good at messing around inside of synths…
-the good people at BFXR have done all the hard work for you and designed an easy to use online sound effects generator for you to experiment and export your sounds from. It can also be downloaded as a free standalone plugin for Windows & Mac.
Here are some of mine…
So you see, there really are a multitude of ways to emulate the 8-bit sound and these are just the favourites! I like the fact that, although we live in an age where everything is ultra-refined and constantly being upgraded that there are still people out there interested in the fascinatingly fuzzy side of bit depth.
As always Thank YOU for reading this blog and showing an interest in sound, I hope this tutorial has been of some use, don’t forget to comment. A big thank you to explod2A03 for sharing their knowledge on the NES audio engine, BFXR for the wonderful fx generator available at no cost but your own and Plugin Boutique for so much free stuff! Don’t forget, if you want to download my free synth for Native Instruments Reaktor 5, get it here!
I haven’t been in this business long but i’m delighted to have discovered the rush of excitement that comes with working on a project and receiving a credit. After all the hard work and deadlines, its nice to see your own name as part of a team that helped to create something wonderful.
The “something wonderful” in question is the forthcoming, third instalment of the Green Street series, Green Street 3: Never Back Down (a.k.a Green Street Hooligans: Underground).
The film was written by Ronnie Thompson and Directed by James Nunn, featuring performances from Scott Adkins, Kacey Barnfield & Jack Doolan. I was only involved in the film for several weeks at the start of the year but loved every single fist-fighting minute of it! Being given my first official role for a live action feature was by far the best possible way I could’ve started the new year! 😀 My responsibilities as an Assistant Sound Editor involved laying up spot fx throughout the duration of the film; things like doors, punches (YES i got to work on a fight scene!!!) and the occasional squeaky pub sign.
Going through bit-by-bit, these sounds were then delivered to my supervisor for the film, Her Royal Maj, The Foley Queen, Louise Brown 😀 I’m sure regular readers will know by now how much i respect and enjoy working with Louise, and this film was no exception! I would just like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone on the Creativity Media team involved with this film for welcoming me on board and being incredibly encouraging and patient with me while I found my feet. Particularly, Louise, who taught me one of the most valuable lessons to date!…
If you’re working on an individual part of a project, i.e. Background ambiences, make sure you TRIM YOUR SESSION FAT, excluding everything BUT you’re own work, before sending that session folder across to your supervisor on a Friday evening….Otherwise she might not receive it until monday morning…inside 21 WeTransfer packets….to then be consolidated a few hours before presenting the team’s work to the project mixer…
….Yes….I did put Louise through that…
So THANK YOU LOUISE! for handling my rookie teething problems with such patience and offering me such kind guidance! 🙂
But I do think this is a good point worth remembering for any new beginners out there, it’s a dangerous pitfall, one which I will not soon be forgetting.
Anyway, the film is due to be released at the end of October, it’s a great film so please go see it and listen out for my SPOTS! 😀
As always Thank YOU for reading this blog and a VERY BIG Thank You to everyone who was involved in the making of Green Street 3: Never Back Down and for letting me be a part of it!