Audio Evaluation: Unit 17 – Outcome 3/4

This document aims to evaluate various audio production projects with the aim of establishing how my performance within the group could have been improved and where my strengths were, along with critically evaluating equipment choice and suitability of environment.

The most recent project that we’ve been working on – our final major project about UFOs and extra terrestrial life – has given us a chance to put what we learnt into practice. For the most part we have been using a lav mic, as the locations that we’ve been using have been quite noisy. Due to the studio’s lack of soundproofing we couldn’t use a boom mic as it picks up sound from behind, as was the case when we were filming in the citadel with a constant stream of buses going by. We had certain issues with lav mic placement due to disagreements between crew members but it didn’t prove to be a huge issue, the audio sounds fine. Originally I wanted to focus on sound for this project, I find the freedom and creativity involved in building a soundtrack for a film unique. This didn’t end up happening because there weren’t any volunteer directors of photography which is a role that I’m familiar with, for the benefit of the project I opted to do it.

Last summer I started a YouTube channel for my own enjoyment called Rustybeat Music. I covered songs using all instruments, recording them in sections and layering them up in Studio One. Getting the final tracks to sound how I wanted them to proved an extreme challenge, as I don’t record with a click track; timing the percussion properly for four minutes and remembering every break was something that I’d never had to do before. When playing in bands communication keeps the song together along with an unspoken understanding, recording alone in a sterile environment proved stressful, however I learned a lot from it. I recorded everything through one condenser microphone, which was perfect for vocals and guitar in a room with few reflections – I hung up a suit in-between the wall and the microphone to minimise reverb, which worked well. Recording a drum kit with one condenser mic required some research as I had always been used to seeing kits armed to the teeth with microphones. I discovered a technique that gave a rich even sound by placing the microphone behind the snare pointing to the floor tom, tilting slightly down away from the ride cymbal. I haven’t touched this channel in a long time, but if I were to go back I would use different software. The free version of Studio One has it’s limits and there was a peculiar issue, if the software was open for longer than approximately seven minutes, a distortion would take over the speakers, quietly at first and then overwhelming the entire project, this stopped when the software was restarted. I still have no idea why I tolerated that for so long, but all of these things are lessons regardless of how easy they are to learn.

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Audio Production: Unit 17 – Outcome 1

David Lynch once said, ”Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual.” It is commonly believed that sound is 70% of a film. This being said, it’s important to have an understanding of how sound works that can be put into practice. Acoustics is defined as ‘the branch of physics that deals with sound and sound waves’. When people use the plural form they are referring to how sound behaves in a certain space. The two spaces that have the most obvious differences are inside and outside, both requiring a different approach and a different set of equipment.

When recording sound inside, the room that you choose to use is important, as it will affect the quality of the final recording. If a room is larger than the sound will bounce back off the walls causing echo and reverb unless the room is treated, meaning the process of installing certain materials on the walls of a room to manipulate a sound. Because the walls are further away in a large room, an original sound wave will carry further and take more time to bounce off the wall. The optimum reflection time for a symphony hall is 2.2 seconds, which obviously allows for an echo. Reverb differs from echo because it refers to many reflections as opposed to just one. Reverb is responsible for the tone of a room, e.g. bright or dark. A room is ‘bright’ if it reflects the sound a lot, where a room is darker if the reflections are absorbed, giving a flatter sound. Reverb and echo have been adopted as a creative tool, being used in films like Schindler’s List where the sound of a gunshot is reverberated to add to the drama in the film.

Three adjustments can be made to a surface in order to control the sound once it hits it. These three things are absorption, reflection and diffusion. Absorption is used to stop the sound reflecting from a surface and causing reverb or echo.  The best material to use for absorption is fibreglass panelling, it is cheap and works more efficiently than carpet and synthetic foam because whilst carpet absorbs some frequencies, it reflects others. Reflection is used to direct the sound within a room, in a concert hall to channel it towards the audience, for example. Reflective material is cheaper than absorbent material because it only takes a flat, rigid surface. The bigger the surface is the lower frequencies it can reflect. Materials that diffuse a sound are usually designed mathematically to diffuse acoustic energy. Diffusion is done in order to control or reduce echo without deadening the room, it keeps the energy present; wood or layers of plastic can be used to achieve the desired effect. An obvious place that uses a treated space would be a recording studio. Abbey Road Studios in London have a huge treated room for recording orchestras and choirs; this is because it’s important to consider the acoustics of a space to get a clean recording

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Different types of microphones suit their own situations. Common microphones that we use are boom mics, which are directional, meaning they mainly pick up sound from a forward facing cone, but they do pick some up from behind as well. Lavalieres are small microphones that are designed to fit stealthily on clothing. They are omni-directional but only pick up sound from a small area, generally in front of the chest of the subject. Condenser microphones are powerful mics that often require ‘phantom power’ to use; this is the process of sending DC power to active microphones through cables, often used to power AD boxes too. Condensers are usually used in studios to record foley sound and other things that require a controlled environment. If you were shooting in a busy location that was fairly noisy then it would be advisable to use a boom microphone, as it has a narrow focus on what it picks up, if your subject is moving then a lav mic could be preferable as they are wireless and directional.

When sounds are recorded outside they can sound dead and flat because there are no walls to create natural reverb. It is possible to find echoing locations outside, such as mountainsides and canyons. If it is windy outside there are wind guards available for boom microphones that improve the sound quality by slowing the wind down before it reaches the microphone. To make a studio recording sound as if it was taken on set it’s important to capture the sonic print of the location. The sonic print means the room tone and by having this sound you can lay it under everything when editing the audio so that it acts as a foundation and makes the work sound coherent. An example of why recording outside is less favourable is Hollywood film making. Every performance in the 1979 Mad Max film was dubbed for the US release, except one.