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Entries in Fireworks (2)

Tuesday
Jan032012

Homemade Upside Down Fireworks!?

My wife's family thinks I am a little weird. In the course of any given long weekend or family holiday one of them always manages to catch me in some corner or other, holding a microphone, recording some sound that doesn't seem worthy of attention.  I am always asking them to be quiet for a moment, and though they always indulge my requests, the eye-rolling is almost audible.  Thankfully, they put up with me, and once in a blue moon I'll uncover a co-conspirator in their midst.

During a stay at the family cottage last summer, while I was setting up to record something, my father-in-law sidled up to me and asked, mysteriously, if I had ever heard his 'homemade upside-down fireworks.' Hesitatingly, I answered that I had not and, for that matter, I had no idea what he was talking about.  With a mischievous smile he told me to follow him outside. I grabbed my mic and recorder and gave chase.

Outside on the gravel driveway he had collected a peculiar kit: a long branch, a bunch of plastic grocery store bags and an acetylene torch.  I had no idea where this was going but I was certainly intrigued.  He wrapped the plastic bags in a big clump around one end of the long stick and then used to the torch to set the bags on fire. 

Once they were really in full flame, he raised the long branch high in the air and the plastic melted apart and started to drip down about ten or twelve feet to the ground.  Suddenly the plastic drops were making the most startling sound.  Kind of a mix between a barking seal, a metal zipper and a whoosh.  Take a listen:

Homemade Upside Down Fireworks Slow by azimuthaudio

I am not exactly sure how melting plastic can make this sound but it was pretty awesome and totally unexpected. I am guessing that one thing that contributes to the sound is that the drops don't seem to fall straight down but rather they fall in a tight spiral.  You can see the spiral in the smoke trail in this picture.

I quickly realized that by using my stereo shotgun microphone (Sanken CSS-5) and turning the mic perpendicular to the ground I could get a pretty strong stereo pass-by as the drips fell past the mic, right to left, on their way down.

Sadly, when all this was happening in the mid-afternoon, the surrounding environment was relatively loud, so the sounds I was getting were not really useable.  There was a heavy rustle of wind through the surrounding trees, bird calls and boat traffic on the nearby river.  So I filed the sound in the back of my mind and waited for a better time to record these Upside Down Fireworks.  

That opportunity came a few weeks ago.  Now that we are entering winter here in Canada all the leaves are off the trees, the birds have mostly fled south, and boat traffic on the river has tapered off as the ice creeps in.  I asked my father-in-law if he could give another demonstration of his homemade fireworks show and he was game.  This time we did the recording session after dark to get the full effect of the of sound and light together.  In the chilly air the plastic drips' volume was amplified and the drips fell at a much faster pace. Here is a section of the faster upside-down fireworks going crazy:

Homemade Upside Down Fireworks Fast by azimuthaudio

In the darkness it was a pretty bizarre sight to behold.  Essentially you could see a ball of flame floating about twelve feet in the air and hundreds of tiny flaming shooting sparks falling down to the ground.  The tail-end of this video will give you an idea of how it all looked on that night.

When I imported the recordings to my workstation I moved on to the challenge of isolating the sound of the falling drips. The second recording session was free of environmental sounds, but the sound of the flaming plastic at the end of the stick remained an obstacle.  The constant flame gave off a hiss but a surprisingly low frequency one and I was able to to almost completely eliminate it with a combo approach involving an EQ and IzotopeRX.  The other sound bothering me while I was  recording was the sound of the dripping plastic landing on the gravel driveway.  I realized that there was no way to minimize this.  If I put something soft down to cushion the impact I would run the risk of the cushion catching on fire.  If I put water there it would sizzle and hiss as the drips made contact.  So I decided to try to embrace the sound and put a mic on the ground near where the drips were landing to see what I would get. Here is a chunk of that recording.

Upside Down Fireworks Ground Impacts by azimuthaudio

I'm not sure what use I'll find for this, but maybe one day I'll need some sort of alien rainfall or something. With a little work I can edit the ground impacts out of the main recording.

These sounds will make great sweeteners on a ton of different things in future projects, I am sure.  Bullet whiz-bys, Sci-fi vehicle moves, CG title sequences... there's a million other possibilities.

 

Thanks to my father-in-law, Don, for sharing his amazing pyrotechnics.

Wednesday
Jun292011

Frozen Fireworks

This Friday, July 1st is Canada Day here in my home land, and Independence Day in the USA is just around the corner - all over North America this weekend, the night skies are going to light up with great fireworks displays.  It's a good opportunity to post my recordings of a fireworks show I both recorded and ignited a few months ago.

Every year at New Year's, it's a tradition in my wife's family to spend the holiday at the cottage. There's actually four cottages in the extended family, all located close together, near the little town of Port Loring, about four hours north of Toronto.  In the summer this area can be active with boat traffic and cottagers, but in the dead of winter our group of about twenty are about the only people that can be found for miles around, and with all the leaves long off the trees and the birds having migrated south, things get pretty quiet. When the wind dies down it is eerily silent, easily as quiet as a studio V/O booth. I was planning to record some winter ambiences while we were up there but once I set up the mics and started recording I realized I was getting a nice long take of nothing.  (I would post an example but it would sound like an empty file.) So, scratch that idea - I put away my recording gear and got out my skates instead, because the frozen lake does make a great outdoor hockey rink. (We are Canadians after all.)

The time to make some serious noise came later.  Part of the cottage tradition is to head out onto the frozen lake at midnight and set off a ton of fireworks to welcome in the new year.  Credit to my wife's family for knowing how to go big: the fireworks show is really quite impressive considering there are only 20 people total within the area watching it.  The last couple years I have been one of the brave souls out on the lake lighting off the fireworks, and I can tell you there's not much to compare with standing out on the frozen lake and seeing the explosions of colour right over your head; it is really amazing. I brought my recording gear out with me to capture what it sounded like. The audience for the fireworks this year included some of the kids who, for the first time, were old enough to stay up until midnight and see the show - so in the background of the pops and whizzes, every once in a while you can hear some distant sounds of the kids cheering from back on the shore. I didn't have the heart to ask them to stay quiet while I was recording; they loved it too much.

Here's a photo of one of the rockets going off. That's me next to it, holding the burning tree branch we were using to light the fuses.

The other great thing about fireworks out in the wilderness is the great delay you get before you hear the sounds echo back to you.  I had the mic (Rode NT4) set up about 40 feet from the launching point of the fireworks, so I didn't get a tight attack on the launch but it worked great for getting the sound of the explosions interacting with the environment.  Since I was on duty setting off the fireworks I wasn't able to run around with the mic to get different perspectives. Next year I think I'll pass the torch as fireworks-lighter and focus on getting better audio coverage of the whole event, especially since I now have a larger array of recorders and mics to work with.

Here is a section of the recording:

  New Years Fireworks EDIT by azimuthaudio

If you're interested, you can download the full recording of over 5 minutes of non-stop fireworks at the following link.  As usual, the recording is for you to do with as you please; have fun with it.  It will only be available to download for the first 40 people.

Update: All 40 downloads have been claimed.

Here are some shots taken up the hill from the lake, looking down on the frozen surface where my father-in-law and I were lighting the fuses.

Here is a link to a previous post about recording sounds under the same frozen lake with a hydrophone.

All photos taken by Ehrin Albright (my super-talented wife.)