Archives For Interviews

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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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How does one start field recording? What background do you need begin?

Diane Hope

Many have followed a path from post production, game audio, or music. Others have discovered field recording from their work in production sound.

There is always a story hidden in each sound pro’s journey to capturing sound beyond the studio. That’s part of what this series is about. It’s especially interesting when a sound pro arrives at field recording from an unorthodox discipline.

Diane Hope’s story is one of these: her field recording career evolved from nearly a decade spent in academics. And that was only the beginning. Since then she has followed a varied career nature recording for radio, podcasts, audio guides, museums, as well as for a journey to the other side of the globe.

I was fascinated by these rare field recording projects. I reached out to Diane to learn more. She kindly spent an hour with me on Skype speaking about her experiences.

So, in today’s post Diane Hope shares how a pivotal moment in Arizona led her to field recording dragons on the opposite side of the planet.

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The State of Indie Sound Effects: New Podcast Episode Available

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You may have noticed there haven’t been many new articles on the site recently. The blog isn’t dead. I’ve just been on a bit of a sabbatical from writing about field recording. I have many articles nearing completion, and I’m excited to share them with you when I return.

I haven’t stopped thinking about field recording and sound effects while away from the site, though. So, I was quite excited when I was kindly invited to share those thoughts with the gentlemen from the A Sound Effect podcast.

Last year I had completed an indie sound fx library search engine website, Sound Effects Search. A Sound Effect’s Asbjoern Andersen asked me my thoughts on the state of indie sound bundles on the inaugural episode after adding over 800 collections to the new search engine.

Sound Effects Search website

Sound Effects Search website

The team had the interesting idea to check in on the concept, one year later. So, last month they graciously asked me my impressions of community sound bundles now. I sat down with Christian Hagelskjaer From, who served up some intriguing questions. In the podcast we share ideas about how the sound clip landscape has changed, and what that means. What I especially liked about Christian’s questions was that they were aimed towards helping new people contribute packages with fresh angles and ideas.

That gave me an opportunity to ramble on about one of my favourite subjects: how sound pros can move beyond stats and tech specs to create exceptional sound libraries. It was interesting that the discussion moved away from a report to an exchange of ideas of how sound pros can share meaningful sound clips with the community.

Do you capture field recordings or create sound libraries? If so, you may find the podcast interesting. It’s my hope that the questions will do for you what they did for me: to consider how I can capture and share more meaningful field recordings the next time I press “record.”

Check out Episode 3 of the A Sound Effect Podcast.

Read more on the A Sound Effect blog post.

My thanks to the A Sound Effect team for inviting me to be a part of their podcast.





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Nature Oasis

Early last month we met a fascinating sound recordist. Peter Handford was was a pioneer of the craft of field recording. The post focused on one of his most notable accomplishments: documenting the vanishing sounds of steam trains. He is deeply respected for the breadth of sound he gathered of a subject few of us will ever hear in person again.

Every day new technologies make older ones extinct. What other sounds are at risk? Only last month the Western Black Rhino was considered extinct. The World Wildlife Fund lists dozens of endangered animals. Without care, these animals, as well as the sounds they make, will be at risk.

One organization has dedicated itself to preserving sounds like these: the British Library. Its Wildlife and Environmental Sound Archive gathers, catalogs, and shares bird, animal, and atmospheric nature sounds from across the globe. Wildlife sounds curator Cheryl Tipp has the important task of managing these field recordings.

I’ve been curious about the British Library’s Sound Archive for quite some time. I reached out to Cheryl Tipp to see if she would like to speak about her work and the archive itself. She kindly agreed.

So, today we have a very special Q&A. Cheryl Tipp provides a fascinating look at documenting, preserving, and sharing sound recordings from the archive. She shares special clips from the archive, insight on bird and wildlife recordings from the collection, as well as bonus advice: tips to help you record wildlife sounds and organize a sound library collection of your own.

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Imagine you are sitting in the darkness of a mixing theatre. You’re attending a spotting session for a television series. The current episode features a gun battle. The director stops the playback and shares notes for a World War II flashback-style sequence. He is imagining a sound design tableau of explosions.

As the director explains, it begins to dawn on you what he wants: a dramatic swell of hundreds of explosions that surround the listener in a 5.1 soundscape.

You begin planning the edit in your mind. You’ll need to find and cut each explosion, spread them out on dozens of tracks, then pray there’s enough time in the premix to place them around the soundstage.

You glance at the calendar. You feel your stomach drop. The episode is due in two days. You just won’t have enough time.

Thankfully, there’s software that can solve this problem simply and creatively, in only a few minutes. Today I’ll share details about the software and tips for using it, as well as interview with its creator.

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Interview about Field Recording, Gear, and Creativity on The Audio Spotlight

The Audio Spotlight

Earlier this year I met Zdravko Djordjevic and Pasi Pitkänen. You may know them as the founders of The Audio Spotlight. That’s a pro audio news site with broad coverage of independent sound libraries, samplers, software, composers, reviews, and more. I’m especially a fan of their expansive books section.

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IDCD - 1 - Album Cover

How do we improve our field recording skills? Sometimes it requires us to leave our comfort zone to record unfamiliar subjects, or travel to strange places. Another aspect that helps is the idea of accountability.

The idea behind accountability is that you’ll be inspired to produce more or better work when there’s a responsibility to share it. This can give us the push we need to create our very best work and deliver it to others.

Accountability while field recording can take many forms. It may be an article you post about your field recording experiences. You may share tracks on SoundCloud. Another option is to exchange clips with a group. Two excellent examples are The Sound Collector’s Club, and sound forum Audible Worlds’ Crowdsourced Projects.

Another opportunity appeared earlier this year. German field recording website fieldrecording.de planned an ambitious project: an album of nature field recordings gathered from across the globe on International Dawn Chorus Day (IDCD), 2015. They encouraged recordists to strike out in the early hours of May 5th to gather nature and bird sounds at dawn. It was an invaluable opportunity for a field recordist to invest themselves to gather sound effects within a specific environment, and have accountability to field recording fans, worldwide.

I asked website owner Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen about the project. He graciously explained the idea behind the website, and how the project came to be. This post also shares info about the album, and about International Dawn Chorus Day.

The next post will feature a special interview with a community field recordist who took part in the International Dawn Chorus Day album project.

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Introducing a New Sound Effects Podcast

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A few years ago I posted a Q & A with Asbjoern Andersen, owner of the independent sound library sharing website, A Sound Effect.

At that time (2013!), his website had just launched. A Sound Effect has changed quite a bit since then. They now sell sound libraries directly (including some of mine). Just today they added a new feature: a podcast devoted entirely to independent sound effects libraries.

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Cities and Memory

I’ve written earlier about my love of recording immersive foreign atmospheres. What’s cool about these sound fx?

Well, like any creative field, working in a new environment ignites your senses. It will shock your ears. You’ll hear new sounds, and your creativity will respond with fresh ideas. It’s a challenge. A dramatically different location, such as being in a new country, amplifies this. Also, the best ambiences have potential to transport listeners to a place they’ve never been, via sound alone.

A new website, Cities and Memory, focuses on these types of field recordings, and adds a twist. I spoke with its curator, Stuart Fowkes, about a new way for you to share your sound effects, grow your craft, and embrace a new type of creativity.

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Shaun Farley and Tortoise

A sound effect may last minutes, or mere seconds. Its life has a longer arc, however. It begins with research, and then, after many hours and countless steps, ends by sharing it with listeners and fans.

Field recordists need many skills to help usher a sound along this journey. Some of these are similar: editing and mastering, for example. Others, like sharing sound, require completely different mastery.

Shaun Farley is someone who has led his sound effects along this path. Farley is a sound editor and mixer based in Washington, D.C.. He is known for his extensive knowledge of sound theory, equipment, and software, which he shares on his blog at dynamicinterference.com, on Twitter, and forums such as socialsounddesign.com. He has guest starred on the Tonebenders podcast. He is also contributing editor at the world’s most popular sound design and field recording blog, designingsound.org.

Most recently, though, Farley branched into a new realm: sharing sound effects. Last month he released a sound effects bundle. It is his first collection, named Fabric. It’s an impressive offering: over 9,000 files in 6.5 gigabytes.

I’ve been discussing sharing sound here for a while. I’ve been interested how field recording and sharing sound intersect. When I saw Shaun had released his first collection, I was immediately curious. I was interested to learn about his experience sharing sound with the community. He kindly took time to share with me his thoughts and experiences taking his field recordings, and sharing them worldwide.

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