Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Recording Session: Audience Sounds!

Here's a dirty little secret: unless you need only the most basic sounds, audience sounds on sound effects libraries stink. So, if you're an intrepid sound designer out to craft a dynamic audience in a period play, what do you do? Well, Stephen Swift, MFA1 at UCI, figured it out: you record your own audience!

Stephen is currently designing Playhouse Creatures at UCI, a play in which a fictional audience plays a large role at times. The audience shifts, often very quickly, from cheers to jeers to applause to stomping feet, and Stephen will have to create all of that in a dynamic fashion (so that he can adjust his cue timing to match the actors slight inconsistencies from night to night). Stephen first sat down and made a list of every aural element he needed to record. He then assembled a small crew of 'audience members' that he could direct. Earlier tonight, the team assembled in Winifred Smith Hall to make the recording.

Here's Stephen focusing his mics. He used a pair of Shure SM-81s for a near-coincident pair and a pair of AKG 414s for a spaced omni pair. During testing, he found that the spaced omni gave him too much room sound, so he changed the polar pattern of the 414s to cardioid. That reduced the amount of room, but still gave him a very wide image. He recorded all four tracks so that he could listen to both tracks later and make a more informed decision.

Here, Stephen, Dr. Keith Fowler (director), and Solia Martinez-Jacobs (Stage Manager) converse about how to direct the talent.

Dr. Fowler directs the 'audience.'

Dr. Fowler & Solia hold up cue cards as Stephen cues the performers.

Dr. Fowler and one of the cast take a break from recording 'You filthy whore!' to hold up an appropriate cue card.

Come see Playhouse Creatures at UCI to hear this terrific audience in action!


  1. Great pictures Vinnie! Listening to the tracks, they certainly each have a unique sound.

  2. Thinking back on this: We did have a ball. The resulting recordings were a rich addition to PLAYHOUSE CREATURES!