Archives For Resources

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It’s a fact cherished by sound effect editors: out of 122 minutes of running time, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men comprises only 16 minutes of music.

Why is such an obscure fact interesting? Well, a lot of sonic ingredients blend to complete a feature film: dialogue, music, ADR, Foley, sound effects, and more. Each of these elements must be skillfully balanced by engineers. Invariably, though, creative choices are made that favour some elements and exclude others. On a good day, a sound effect editor's work is in the spotlight. On other days, it understandably takes a back seat to support other elements of the film.

This is why No Country For Old Men is particularly notable. There is almost no music in the film at all. Instead, the sound effect track takes centre stage. Sound legend Skip Lievsay uses the wind, the birds, and the weather to create a minimalist soundtrack that conveys mood and atmosphere. Often a handful of sounds create a subliminal, off-screen story in parallel to the onscreen drama. It's an incredibly rare technique that Lievsay and the Coen brothers use in varying degrees for all of their films, and one that warms the hearts of sound fx editors worldwide.

This is why I became quite curious when I discovered last summer that a good friend was wrapping up editing duties on the second season of FX's widely acclaimed TV series, Fargo. Paul Shikata is a sound effects editor with almost three decades of post production experience. Paul mentioned to me that he was working on Noah Hawley's television series, which is inspired by the Coen brothers' 1996 film.

I had known Paul produces excellent soundtracks. And, to my delight, I found he was in charge of crafting evocative background atmospheres for the episodes. I was curious to learn if showrunner Noah Hawley (Bones) and sound supervisor Nick Forshager (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) adopted Lievsay's and the Coen brothers' technique. Did the television series highlight the sound fx track? Did they encourage the use of atmospheres to tell a story? After all, the Coen brothers themselves had produced the series. I asked Paul Shikata if he would like to share his experiences with us. He kindly agreed.

So, Paul and I sat down to chat about the second season of Fargo. In today's article, Paul shares his experiences working on the crew of Fargo. He describes his technique of creating, choosing, and crafting backgrounds and "background specifics" with one mission in mind: to build a composition to create tension.

Please note: this post contains plot spoilers.

Also note: this article explores Paul’s experiences in depth. It should take you about 17 minutes to read. If you like, click the button below to email it to yourself to read later.


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Best Posts of 2016

2017/01/04

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Every year I summarize the most popular posts from the year before. I also include a few favourites I’ve enjoyed writing.

Let’s take a look.

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Recording Jet Airliners in the UK

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Earlier this month I released the free Jet Fly Bys sound effects library over on Airborne Sound. I explained that I had captured those field recordings when I found myself living beneath the flight path of an international airport.

A reader recently wrote me to tell me he tried the same technique after reading the post here. Chris Procopiou lives near Heathrow Airport outside of London, England. He described his experience recording his own jet airliners in a post on his blog. And here's a bonus: he's offering them to the community free of charge. Check them out!

Read the article on Chris' blog and download the sound library.

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Today I am very happy to feature a special surprise final guest to the “A Month of Field Recordist” series.

Frank Bry has been field recording for game audio and sound fx publishers since the 1990s. He has been an inspiration for the field recording community. He has generously described techniques for capturing tricky sound effect subjects on his blog and on Designing Sound. He shares his work in pristine sound fx libraries hosted on his Web shop. He has been a pioneer of the indie sound effect library movement that has reshaped the way sound effects are shared worldwide.

Frank kindly shared his thoughts on field recording here on the blog back in 2013. Today he graciously agreed to describe his kit and the workflow he uses to capture his field recordings.

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A New Giveaway: Discuss Field Recording. Win Prizes

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For the entire month of December the Designing Sound news site is offering prizes for asking and answering questions about field recording or sound design on their new forum, Designing Sound Exchange.

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Imagine: soothing waves creeping onto a beach, then retreating with a sandy hiss. Hear distant thunder rippling as it rolls over a mountain. Imagine quiet, evening rain pattering on fallen autumn leaves.

Wilderness field recordings are some of the most loved sound effects. The sound of nature has a universal appeal.

However, nature field recordings are some of the most difficult sound effects to capture. Finding pure wilderness locations is difficult. Atmospheres are constantly invaded by air traffic and distant delivery trucks. The sound of rural industry travels for miles and overlaps even remote conservation areas. Sonic purity seems incredibly elusive. And, when field recordists do find a few moments of peace, wind, rain, and snow make field recording a challenge.

Perhaps that is why it is hard to find knowledge about recording these tricky sound effects. A handful of weekend workshops introduce fans to wilderness field recording. However, the most precious soundscapes are beyond the reach of a weekend retreat. They require descending into canyons or hiking into deserts, or month-long expeditions deep into jungles. The process is difficult, and few have returned to share their experiences recording there. So, knowledge of how to gather these field recordings simply does not exist.

Thankfully, collecting sound from these stunning locations is within our grasp. Just last week a new guide was released to help you gather field recordings in almost every conceivable wilderness environment: Gordon Hempton’s Earth is a Solar Powered Jukebox.

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New: A Sound FX Library Sale & Discount Listing Page

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A quick update: I’ve added a new page to my independent sound effects library search engine, Sound Effect Search. The page is a community service that lists sound fx sales, discounts, and bundles from indie sound fx library publishers. Just click the links there to visit the Web shop and save on cool sound fx.

Since it’s American Thanksgiving weekend, there are many sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Check them out!

I update the list every time I spot a new sale, so you can bookmark the page and check back for new deals. You’re also welcome to follow Sound Effects Search on Twitter, or subscribe to the free email newsletter or RSS feed.

Do you own a Web shop? Launching a sale soon? Add sound fx library discounts and coupon codes.





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Ian Rawes

Field recordings are often compared to photography. Why? Well, many feel sound effect recordings are an “audio snapshot,” a focused study of a specific event beyond the studio. Field recordist Des Coulam has written about this, as has Cities and Memory’s Stewart Fowkes.

There’s one key difference, though. It’s pretty easy to ground a photograph to a specific place on the planet after the fact – simply match the locations by eye. Audio tracks are more nebulous. Was that market recorded in northern Bangkok, or in the centre? For an inexperienced listener, that’s almost impossible to determine from sound alone. Field recordings are a more difficult to pin to location.

Relating a sound to a specific place isn’t a simple task, though. What’s the best way to show a sound clip in a space? A GPS list? A Google map? And what’s the best way for listeners to experience them? One field recordist has been a pioneer exploring these questions: Ian Rawes.

Rawes is the mind and ears behind the London Sound Survey. Since 2009, that website has plotted field recordings on a map of the English capital. Ian Rawes and his website have been featured on a number of publications including The Wire magazine, the BBC, The Guardian, and others.

I have admired Ian Rawes, his work, and his website for many years. In addition to adding field recordings on the London Sound Survey and sharing them with others, Rawes has explored the nature of sound maps themselves with fresh, interesting ideas.

I asked Ian Rawes if he would be interested in an interview about this, and the gear he uses to capture his field recordings. He kindly agreed. So, today Ian shares his ideas on sound maps as well as another provoking thought: how field recordings become a wormhole to transport a listener to another time and place.

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What skills are required to become a field recordist?

You may think it is a thorough knowledge of acoustics. Perhaps it is a complete familiarity of equipment and signal flow. It could be a network of contacts that allow you access to precious field recording subjects.

Yes, all of those skills combine to help a sound pro capture excellent sound effects.

There are other, less obvious skills needed to capture field recordings. Today’s guest reveals another talent successful recordists require. In today’s post, Stosh Tuszynski reflects upon the differences between recording designed effects in the studio and gathering ambiences in the streets of Chicago. He describes how his field recording craft has evolved, and details his carefully considered minimalist kit. And, most importantly, he shares with us a unique experience capturing an iconic sound from the Windy City that illustrates a hidden, yet important skill every field recordist requires: balancing opportunity with patience.

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A while ago I saw a new birdsong library appear on my Twitter feed. I auditioned the preview. The birdsong was masterfully isolated and particularly clear. That’s not easy for any field recordist accomplish.

That was my first introduction to George Vlad’s field recordings. What was even more interesting was when I learned Vlad’s experience followed an arc from sound design to nature field recording. He regularly posts images from his travels into the Scottish wilderness. He generously shares free sounds on the sound effects libraries subreddit. I was eager to learn more about his approach to field recording, and the equipment he chooses for the job.

So, today, George Vlad reveals a provocative idea through a special field recording captured in the Pentland hills near Edinburg: how every sound pro can find value being in quiet places, become inspired, and capture better sound fx by listening more, and recording much less.

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