Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Special Guest: Son Lux

Yesterday, Trends in Modern Sound Design, my class with the graduate students, had a special guest. Ryan Lott, who creates music under the moniker Son Lux, joined us to talk about his work from a creative and technical point of view. We've been talking about Native Instruments softsampler software Kontakt a lot this quarter, and Ryan uses it extensively in his work. He was more than happy to talk about his philosophy of music and how he uses Kontakt to create music and sound that supports his philosophy.  

Kontakt is a very deep piece of software, and it's easy to get lost in the intricacies of the mechanics. Tracking down keymappings, plug-in settings, pitch changes, keyspan settings, etc. can lead one down a garden path, and Ryan tries very hard to use Kontakt as an organic extension of his musical sensibility, not as a hindrance to it. As he explained these ideas, he also walked us through some of the ways he uses Kontakt; I think we were all excited by how well he was able to keep his music sounding imperfect - we often think our music should sound perfect, so it was nice to see someone struggle and succeed at holding on to the cracks.

Ryan recently worked on the score for the film 'Looper' with composer Nathan Johnson, and some of the work that he showed us and played for us today came from that project. You can check out some videos on the making of the score here, here, and here. Ryan was able to set up a Skype conversation with Nathan, and the students asked him about how he used field recording elements in his score. Here's a shot of that session:

Nathan was Skyping in from his current project, where he was working out of the basement studio of the director.  Shortly into our conversation, as Patricia was asking a question, Nathan was interrupted when the director walked into the studio.  The director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt!  I managed to sneak a quick photo.

Squee factor aside, the visit with Ryan and the brief chat with Nathan were really terrific.  I know that I came away from the morning inspired, and I suspect the students did too.  Thanks, Ryan, for a great morning!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Field recording at Black Star Canyon

Last week, my Trends in Modern Sound Design class (which has all six MFAs and a few other students) got up early to truck out about 40 minutes into the desert-y mountains on the east side of Orange County. The class is a rotating topics course, and this year, we decided to take a field recording trip.  Black Star Canyon is fairly quiet (except for the occasional jet or bird chirp), and we wanted to take advantage of the quiet to record some larger machinery sounds.  We settled on two sets of sounds: an old quirky car and smashing machinery.

I divided the class into four groups: near-field recording, mid-field recording, far-field recording, and special projects (including contact mics). Each group had two students and was tasked with strategizing and assembling everything they'd need to make the recording. They assembled cable, microphones, recorders, batteries, tape (sticky, not magnetic), and other necessaries for their particular responsibility.

On the morning of the session, we assembled on campus and caravanned out to the Canyon. First up was an old (200,000+ miles) car with worn tires and busted shocks.  Then, an old beat-up air conditioner.  Then, a lamp.  Each time, the groups strategized and worked together to get the best recordings they could.

Right now, each group is editing their data, cleaning it up, labeling files, adding metadata. When they're all done, we're going to add the sounds to the UCI Sound Effects Library and make them public for all of you.  Until they're done, however, here's a video diary of our trip to amuse you:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cable length and sound quality

In Critical Listening, we did some intensive evaluation of what cable length does to sound quality -- both at line and speaker levels. The class found the damping factor demonstration to be particularly noticeable (how low DF drastically reduced bass punchiness). Everyone was able to quantify what they heard happening before we discussed the technical reasons (how it's not the cable that is coloring the sound, but rather the way the cable interacts with the electronics and devices at each end).

In this photo you can see the hundreds of feet of cable all strung together:

And the final test was AES digital audio at extreme cable lengths. Dropouts, jitter, pops and muting all came to the party!

Editing Tape!

Yep... in Critical Listening class we actually learned all the alignment, setup, mechanics, operation and editing of reel-to-reel tape.   The format is pretty much headed towards the dead media list but it is such a joy to listen to all that it adds.

In this picture, Matt is experiencing the legitimate, old-school bliss of editing with his ears and not a silly waveform picture on a screen!  Everyone was blown away by just how good a 15i.p.s., 45-degree edit sounds - no pops or clicks - and an auto-magic crossfade. We also listened in great detail to tape compression/saturation and compared it to the Waves Kramer Master Tape plug-in -- of which we were all quite surprised as to just how similar it was to the real thing.