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Monday
Jan282013

Analog Synths for Sound Design (with Free SFX Download)

The latest edition of The Tonebenders podcast is now live.  In this episode, 006, I produced a segment on using analog synths for creating noises to mangle in sound design.  The segment is followed up by a discussion involving modular synths as well.  In the podcast I talk about a couple of analog synths in particular, of the ones I currently own.  I thought I would post up a couple pictures of these synths so you can see what it is you are hearing in the podcast.  The segment starts at the 6 minute mark of the podcast and can be heard by going to www.tonebenders.net (follow the instructions under "?" icon to subscribe in iTunes) or by listening to the youtube video above.

The first synth I talk about in the podcast is a Moog MG-1 Concertmate. 

Here are some examples of this synth in action:

 

This little synth is described by vintagesynth.com as follows:

This is the very source of cheap Moog bass! It is a lot like the strap-on Moog Liberation in its design and architecture and also looks and sounds very much like the Moog Rogue. The MG-1 was built by Moog for Realistic (Radio Shack), and was designed specifically for the home market. Very basic and easy to use, this is a nice cheap way to get your hands on Moog sounds!

The MG-1 is a 2-VCO monophonic/polyphonic analog synth with a genuine 24dB/oct Moog filter, however the overall sound is thin. On the MG-1, the VCOs are referred to as 'Tone Generators'. It can produce sawtooth, square and pulse waveforms, and the oscillators are detunable and syncable. A simple ASR (attack, sustain, release) envelope called 'Contour' can be applied to both the amp and the filter. The LFO section provides triangle or square wave patterns as well as Sample-and-Hold. Additionally there is a simple Ring-Mod effect called 'Bell'.

I have spent un-countable hours playing around with this synth.  It was my first analog find and it hooked me in and was somewhat responsible for me falling in love with making noise and going down the career path I have.  It sounds great but it is also so much fun.  

The second synth in the Tonebenders segment is a Cruise made by SIEL.

Here is some of what vintagesynth.com says about this one:

The Cruise was a synthesizer released in 1981 by the Italian Organ makers at Siel to the Italian and European markets. However, it made its way to the USA’s shores when Sequential Circuits, who really wanted to add a compact mono+poly synth to their own product line but lacked the resources to do it on their own, worked with Siel to release their own re-branded and re-painted version of the Cruise known as the Sequential Fugue. In true Italian style, the only difference between the two, was that the Cruise looked good!

The Cruise is two synths in one, combining what is Siel’s Orchestra and Mono synthesizer models into one powerful synthesizer! It features two discrete synthesizer modes or sections: Mono Synthesizer and Poly Synthesizer. The front panel has a lot of graphical information printed on it to clearly designate the Mono section functions from the Poly section features, as well as signal flow charts to help the user understand how the sounds are internally routed. In the middle of the synth is the ‘Masters’ section. This holds master volume sliders for the Mono and Poly synth sections and keyboard split mode options. The keyboard can be split in the middle, and either section of the Crise can be assigned to either split. When not split, the Mono and Poly sounds are played at the same time (assuming both sections are turned on—there are enable buttons for each section), except the Poly sounds are polyphonic while the Mono sounds will follow the low-note or high-note priority setting. There are also separate outputs for the Mono and Poly sections too.

 

The Cruise and the MG-1 are both sitting on the desk next to my main editing rig currently.  I don't use them as much as I would like to.  Hopefully I will stumble across the perfect project to really put them through their paces soon.
Feel free to download a collection of some of the sound effects used in the Tonebenders podcast segment over on the Free SFX Pack Downloads page of this blog.  Included in the zip file are:
  • lasers
  • Alarms
  • Cartoony helicopters
  • Telemetry
  • Static
  • various other sounds
Please also download the End Users Lisence Agreement (EULA) on the same page for details on how you can use the sounds.  Basically use the sounds in any project you want but please don't sell, share or repackage the content.  Have fun with the download, and let me know if you are able to morph/mangle/distort the sounds into any thing cool.
I have a few other analog synths, as well as my toy theremin (check out my blog post on the theremin and the free downloads of it in action). I have lent a few of my analog synths to my friend Jim Guthrie, who is getting a bunch of use out of them in his studio.  Jim Guthrie is best known outside Canada for his award winning score for the game SuperBrothers: Sword and Sworcery, while in Canada he is an indie rock musician of note.
In addition to the analog synth segment, the latest Tonebenders podcast also goes into the subject of moving studio locations and building a new space from scratch.  Both Rene and Dustin, the other hosts of the podcast, have recently gone through this process and they talk over some of the lessons they have learned.
Please take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments section over on the Tonebenders website.

 

 

Friday
Jan182013

Christian Marclay's The Clock and my own little Supercut

Scroll to the bootom to see my Supercut made out of clips from SoundWorks vidoes.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast produced by Slate Magazine called The Culture Gabfest, and one of the topics they discussed was the trend of 'supercuts' popping up everywhere online.  I have to admit I had no idea what a supercut was before I heard the Gabfest discussion.  Yes, apperently I am behind the times.  Of course I had unwittingly seen lots and lots of supercuts but until I heard that podcast I did not know that this form been given a name.  In case you are not sure what I am talking about here is the definition of a supercut, copied from supercut.org no less:

"Supercuts are obsessive-compulsive montages of video clips, meticulously isolating every instance of a single item, usually cliches, phrases, and other tropes."

The phrase was apparently coined in 2008 and has become a meme with thousands upon thousands of supercuts being floated out there for all of us to see.  Perhaps the most famous and I think universally acknowledged as the most ambitious supercut is Christian Marclay's "The Clock."  This is an example of the supercut concept taken to extremes.  "The Clock" is 24 hours long and composed of scenes sourced from the vast history of Hollywood and world cinema.  Every clip features a timepiece or some other reference to time.  The twist is that film is carefully synced so that the time shown on screen always matches the time of day in the real world wherever "The Clock" is presented.  This is one supercut that you won't find online; it plays exclusively in theatres and art galleries.

I was lucky enough to have Marclay's film showing in my hometown of Toronto recently and I saw a few hours of it.  The artist has imposed a 50 person limit on the number of viewers allowed in the screening room at one time, but there is no limit to how long you can stay and watch... I stood in line for nearly 2 hours waiting to take my place in the small audience.

The view from the end of the line when I arrived to see "The Clock"

Was it worth the wait? The experience is hard to describe since it is utterly unlike any cinema outing I have taken part in.  The film tells a compelling, if extremely abstract narrative and subtly pulls you in emotionally while you're trying to spot the time reference in every shot.  In some clips it's obvious: there's a big clock in the background as a couple of Hollywood actors emote for the camera. In others it's far more subtle, and you'll nod in satisfaction when you figure it out.  You are a detective searching for the clock at every new edit point, making for an uncommon yet compelling and interactive theatre experience.

The screenings of The Clock are outfitted with couches so you can settle in for a long time.

It's in my nature to wonder about the sound whenever I'm watching a film and I eventually found this great article from the New Yorker and this one  from The Economist, about how "The Clock" was made, that explain how the sound editorial on the project was handled by Christian Marclay, the artist himself, with some mix and mastering assistance from composer and mixer Quentin Chiappetta. It's the sound editing that makes the whole project work in my opinion.  Picture-wise, besides the mammoth task of sourcing and selecting the footage, the film is technically straightforward, consisting of hard cuts from clip to clip.  The sound edit is far more complex and elegant.  Music from one clip continues into the next, ambiences precede the picture edits by long periods of time, fades are long and lingering.  It is the sound that pulls you along from clip to clip and scene to scene without shocking you out of the experience.  If the sound was edited with hard cuts, like the picture edit, the whole piece would be jarring and lose its flow.  Th soundtrack is the unifying element, drawing together images that on the surface have nothing in common but their cinematic heritage, tying together a staggering 24 hours worth of short cuts.

Inspired by the the whole supercut concept and in awe of the juggernaut that is "The Clock," I decided to try my hand at making a supercut. Since there were a bunch of videos in the SoundWorks Collection archive that I had never got around to watching, I figured I would see what they offered up in for supercut inspiration.  I quickly realized that those videos had a lot of possibilities.  Here is the direction I decided to go:

Now obviously the reason I found so many clips of people saying that "the sound in a film is there to support the story" is because it is 100% true.  I know I have been guilty of letting this cliche pass my own lips on many occasions, especially when talking to people working outside of the audio realm.  There were a few other phrases or ideas that popped up in lots of the SoundWorks videos, like: "It was a great team effort!" or "...leaving room for failure/mistakes..." or "Sound brings the picture to life..." as well as "...using sound to create realistic worlds".  It was a fun exercise for me as it gave me a reason to watch all these great videos and learn a ton of interesting techniques employed by people at the very top of the profession.  This process also let me practice a little bit of picture editing - something I can certainly afford to learn more about. 

Are there any other audio related supercuts out there?  If so let me know, I would love to see them.

Wednesday
Jan162013

Tonebenders Eps. 5

I am a little late in getting this info up on the blog, but better late then never.  The latest episode of the Tonebenders podcast, which I co-host, has been live since January 4th.  In this episode we talk to Dustin Cawood, a sound editor at Skywalker Ranch.  Dustin has worked on a lot of fantastic films including, Super 8, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Toy Story 3, Up, Wall-E and many more.  In 2012 he worked on the films Chasing Ice, a documentary about glacier decline through the photos of nature photographer James Balrog, and the Steven Spielberg historical drama Lincoln.  We had a great talk about these two films and the challenges they both offered.

Following the interview with Dustin, we had Micheal Maroussas sits in for the rest of the podcast.  We talked about his carreer path as well as The Sound Collector's Club.  Michael started the club about 2 years ago and in the podcast we go over its past and what he hopes for it in the future.  Some of the discussion is based on a blog post I wrote in December about the SCC.  The post covers what I think can be done to improve the club from the participants end.  If you have not read that post take a momnet to read it as a companion to the podcast.

As usual you can find The Tonebenders podcast on www.tonebenders.net.  The best way to get updates and find out about new episodes is to follow @thetonebenders on Twitter or join our facebook page.  Although we are still not in the iTunes podcast directory, adding us into your iTunes podcast feed is easy.  Full instructions can be found by clicking on the "?" icon on the tonebenders.net homepage.

If podcasting is not your thing, every episode can also be found on youtube (or in various posts on this blog) through our channel - http://www.youtube.com/user/tonebenderspodcast

 

 

Wednesday
Jan022013

Subway Sounds

 

I am a public transit guy. I didn't get my first car until I was in my mid-thirties. I live and work downtown, where parking is a pain in the neck, making driving more trouble than it's worth. Riding the subway leaves me time to read, listen to podcasts, or generally zone out after a hard day - a benefit I wouldn't have if I had to drive.  During my commute I have time to appreciate the almost emotional range of tones and sounds you can hear there if you really listen. Everything from the soft, calm, and repetitive clickity-clack of a smooth ride, to the tension-filled and cringe-inducing screeches of an old train in its declining years. Sometimes I just have to take out my ear buds and let the subway offer its own score for the ride home.

That's what I was doing recently, on a trip home from a late movie (Skyfall!) when the subway car I was in suddenly started groaning and creaking in a way I had never heard before. It sounded like something was terribly wrong - as if the metal was ripping apart underneath me as the train traveled at full speed through the dark underground tunnels.

 

I ride the subway daily and I hear a lot of weird noises coming from the cars, but this was different because I could FEEL it as well. There was serious stress being put on the bottom of this subway car, and it was vibrating up through the floor and the seats. Looking around, I could see I wasn't the only passenger getting nervous. But with no options other than riding it out until the next stop, we all just sat in a panicky silence. I had another strong feeling though - the one I get whenever I hear something new and strange - "I've got to record this!" I pulled out the only recording device I had at the time - my iPhone5. I opened up the stock app for taking voice memos and hit record. I started roaming around trying to find the best place to record from, but I quickly realized that the sounds were coming from all around us and there was no specific spot at which to point the iPhone’s tiny mic. This is what I was able to capture:

I was actually shocked at how good the recording turned out to be, considering the equipment used. It's true that I would have got a much better recording, with more depth, if I had one of my expensive microphones with me, but I don’t tend to bring a full recording rig with me to the movies. I do normally stash my Sony D-50 in my shoulder bag, but since I was just going to the theatre and straight back home, I didn't bring my bag along. Darn it! 

They say the best microphone is the one you have with you when you need it. Meaning a fantastic $2000 microphone is not worth much if it's locked up at the studio when something worth recording is happening right in front of you. Sometimes inferior technologies are more valuable than you reckoned. I was forced to use my iPhone and I was really impressed with what I got. I will not hesitate to use it in the future if a surprise like this comes along. 

When we pulled into the next station, there was no crew of repairmen and no apparent concern from any subway employees.  Most people got off that subway car and moved over to the next one down. Others stayed put and just kept on reading or playing video games. I was only a few stops from home, so I continued my ride in the noisy, scary subway car and recorded some more.

...And I never did find out what the commotion was all about.

Thursday
Dec132012

Happy Holidays From Azimuth Audio!

 

2013 has been a banner year for Azimuth Audio.  In addition to contributing to many great sound tracks, this year has also seen the debut of the Tonebenders podcast I have been co-producing.  Tonebenders has been getting feedback from around the world and it has been really great to be part of such a positive project. Plus the Azimuth blog was able to stay strong in 2012, I was able to write over 52 articles/reviews/stories/videos and get them posted during the last year. Thanks to everyone I have worked with over the last year, I look forward to colaborating with you all more in 2013.

I hope next year is another great year to be involved in audio.  Talk to you all soon!!