Listening to Spaces: Adventures in Binaural field recording!

I bought a pair Roland cs-10em microphones a couple months ago to use as part of the My Other Half mixed reality project, and I realised with all the business of getting resettled after being out of the country for a year, I hadn’t used them for much else. They sound pretty good, especially with the custom windscreens I made for them (basically faux fur on some thin netting, a bit of thread, and some hot glue ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), and I decided I should start recording more with them. I was in Sooke this weekend, so I wondered down to Whiffen Spit to record some waves.

The interesting thing I find about field recording is the expectation versus the reality of sounds. I had in my mind that I was going to record some calm binaural waves, but in reality, there was a lot of boat traffic going in an out of the Sooke Basin this weekend that can clearly be heard to the left, going around the spit, in and out of the marina. I hadn’t considered boat traffic at all, but sitting on the beach with microphones in my ears, it was all I could focus on. I hadn’t considered or even noticed the boats as being obtrusive to the soundscape until I sat down and listened.

This is why I find the practise of “sound walking” so interesting. We seldom focus on what we are hearing, and become used to the sounds that occupy our daily spaces. But, when you focus on just the sounds, you realise how much of an impact things have on the acoustic environment.

You can take a listen below (use headphones!) and I’ll try and add some more to this account. Also note, these were recorded in *my* ears, so if the effect doesn’t sound quiet right, ours ears are probably shaped pretty differently. That’s one of the big challenges of binaural in general!

 

 

A week at Infinitistudios with Bridal Party

mixing console at Inifiniti Studios

My desk this week ๐Ÿ˜‰

This post comes at the end of 7.5 days of hard work, laughs, and great sounding tracks that will make up part of the debut LP for Victoria/Vancouver based band, Bridal Party. It felt good to be back in a studio this week and especially to be working with pop-style group after a year of almost entirely jazz and classical recordings.

I’d been to Infinitistudios once before with my recording class back when I was in university. It was fun to return not just as an observing student, but as the session engineer on a project. We had some great toys to play with too, including some great vintage mics and one of my new favourite discoveries, the Shadow Hills Equinox, which became a quick favourite as a vocal preamp for its depth and clarity.

Bridal Party recently finished up their first cross Canada tour and is already gearing up for their fall shows in Victoria, Vancouver, and Nanaimo. Their songs are catchy and energetic, musically interesting, and totally original– I can’t wait to hear the finished album. It already sounds incredible.

You can check out Bridal Party’s current discography on Bandcamp and follow them on the Facebook.

Cheers,

S.

Toontrack releases Superior Drummer 3!

During my internship at Galaxy Studios, one of the busiest days we had was a press event for Toontrack’s new Superior Drummer 3. Up until now, I haven’t been able to talk about the software; but, now that it’s been officially announced I can tell you it’s incredible (as are the people behind it).

I wasn’t in Belgium for the recording, but we did have to recreate the recording setup to demonstrate how the sounds were captured. There was also a lot of technical setup behind the presentations and demos that took place in nearly every room at Galaxy. Along with the team from Toontrack and writers from all the major audio magazines, George Massenburg, who produced the sample recordings, was there to prepare for the event and present the software. It was really amazing to meet such an industry legend and he definitely knows a thing or two about sound!

The new Superior Drummer has a sample library capable of not only stereo playback, but also multi-channel playback– all the way up to 11.1! Having heard the 11.1 capabilities, I can tell you it sounds great and will be very useful for game/audio/VR applications.

Probably the most exciting feature of Superior Drummer 3 is called “Tracker”. This sound recognition AI allows you to input an audio file and it will then pick out the individual hi-hat, kick, snare, tom, ride, and cymbal hits with a great deal of accuracy. Great if you want to replace the drum track of an old recording or if you want to isolate the drum line of one of your favourite songs. During the press event, they used Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” as an example and isolated Neil Peart’s drum line. It sounded great and was a good way to win over my Canadian heart!

You can view the press event in the video above (you’ll see a cameo of yours truly around 1:17!). To check out more about what Superior Drummer 3 has to offer, check out: https://www.toontrack.com/superior-drummer-3-announcement/.

Cheers,

S.

MR Theatre: My Other Half

I’m back home on the west coast and boy does it feel nice. Looking back on this past year feels surreal and I feel very privileged to have met so many great people and learned so much!

I’m already getting busy and I just finished up the mix for Nebula Company Theatre‘s show “My Other Half”, which will play at SKAMpede in Victoria this weekend. The show features a mixed reality experience including a binaural audio track combined with sound played on speakers while two participants walk down a path guided by one of these mysterious beings below!

Two space beings stand on an outdoor path

Can you help these two find each other?

But watch close… these beings can’t been seen by the human eye, so you’ll have to watch through a view finder (or “iPad”) to follow them!

Check out all the shows at this year’s SKAMpede here: https://www.skam.ca/skampede/

-S.

Guten Tag, VR!

A room full of people earing headphones listening to a binaural demo

There was a lot of headphone wearing this convention!

I’m in Berlin again for the first time in 8 years which means three things:

  1. They let me out of Galaxy Studios for a bit
  2. I’ve already eaten far more currywurst than is reasonable
  3. It’s AES time!!!

This week is the 142nd AES Convention and marks my second time attending (my first time was the 139th convention in New York city). It has been great to see some familiar faces including some of my friends from Norway and some of the rerecording engineers that have come into Galaxy during my time there.

This convention is much smaller than the one in New York City; but, there are no shortage of talks, especially in regards to ambisonics, binarual audio, multichannel audio and object based audio. In particular, Avid is showing off their new native Atmos mixing for Protools HD, which includes a heap of features. I have to say, the integration makes it more streamlined and seemingly easier to setup than the Auro 3D plugins; but, I still find Atmos limiting. The restriction to a 48kHzย  sample rate and inability to place channel based audio in the top channels in very limiting for immersive music content, which is the greatest strength of Auro. For music, especially in film and games/VR, I strongly feel that Auro 3D is better; however, Atmos definitely has a lot of good applications particularly for broadcast. The fact that it can be rendered at play time to any system setup, and that certain objects can be switched out for user customization is really compelling and there are great examples of that being shown here by the BBC and Radio France in particular. It would be great to properly work with it someday!

Sennheiser also had a lot of talks promoting their new AMBEO line, which includes an ambisonics microphone and the KU 100 binaural microphone/dummy head. Dr. Jรถrg Sennheiser himself delivered the Heyser lecture, which outlined the journal of audio from mono applications to the modern day and beyond.

In fact, the whole event felt very future leaning, with many talks looking at the trials and tribulations of working with audio for VR, 360 video, and new approaches and applications for binaural recording including broadcast, enhancing descriptive video services, and improving monitoring systems for conductors. It’s started to get me thinking a lot more about when I’m done at Galaxy– I really love working with immersive audio, but the practicality is that it has to work on headphones– there aren’t many people that are able to set up a 9.1 studio in their home. I definitely can’t afford to myself, so if I want to listen to any of my 9.1 mixes again, I’ll need to render it on headphones!

This has all gotten me thinking a lot more about working with 360 video and VR as well. I think it’s time I dig into my computer science background and pull out those coding skills ๐Ÿ˜‰

Cheers,

S.

The Belgian Detour

Scoring session for Madurodam theme park!

Scoring session for Madurodam theme park. Recording in 9.1

Sometimes, it’s tremendously funny to look back and see where we’ve ended up.

Back in October 2015, I walked into the 139th AES Convention in New York City and heard the term “immersive audio” for the first time. Now, a year and a half later, I found myself interning at one of it’s key players: Galaxy Studios, the home of the Auro 3D format.

I had been feeling unhappy in the program I was enrolled in in Norway, and on the advice of my friend at Sonovo mastering, I send an email to Galaxy Studios seeing if they needed an intern. And low and behold, the timing was right! So at the end of March, I packed up my bags and moved from Norway to Belgium where I’ll be living in (yes *in*) Galaxy for the better part of the next three months.

I’ve never been in a studio like this in my life. All of the control rooms are suspended on springs, and there is 9cm thick glass in the main hall and between the control rooms making everything totally isolated and soundproof. There is a video documenting the construction of the studio and in it, Wilfried van Baelen, who co-founded the studio with his brother, Guy, fires a blank in the hall while others stand in one of the control rooms. They can’t here the gun go off.

The hall itself is near silent and has a very nice sound that can be modified with curtains. The Steinway piano it houses is one of the most beautiful sounding pianos I’ve ever heard. I try playing it when no one’s around, but I’m definitely not doing it justice.

There are two main control rooms, a digital and an analog room. The digital room, used for most of the recordings in the hall, hosts a Neve 88D. It’s definitely easy to see why a digital console is so convenient for these large scoring projects– you can store and recall all your settings easily! The analog room contains an API Vision console which I’m already in love with. It has a great sound and despite the convenience of the digital board, I’m a sucker for patch bays and knobs. This board in particular was a prototype and apparently one of the first boards capable of mixing in 5.1! I’ve been using it to remix some of my 9.1 recordings from Norway earlier this year. There is also a really beautiful mastering room where Darcy Proper used to work, but I’m told it’s seldom used anymore which is really a pity.

A photo of the API Vision console at Galaxy Studios

The API Vision — This is my new favourite place.

Outside of the music department there is one more really amazing room– the Aurotorium. This room is a full sized dubbing stage equipt with the ability to playback up to 22.1! The first time I heard the Auro demo in this room I was blown away. It’s a rare thing to be able to hear content played back this way!

So far things have started out a bit slow here, but it’s still great to be in this facility for the next 3 months. I’ve been adopted by the post production department mostly to help with editing so far, which I’m happy to do. There are some larger scale film projects happening here and it’s interesting to sit in on projects of this scale. On the music side we just finished recording music for a new attraction at Madurodam, a theme park in the Netherlands. We have a couple of musicals coming up and at least one film scoring session. Should be fun!

-S.

A Semester in Norway

A photo of the coast of Stavanger with a ferry in background. The sun is setting.

It’s been 5 months since I posted that I was moving half-way across the world to Stavanger, Norway, to do an audio post-bacc at the University of Stavanger, so I felt that I should give a little update.

The city of Stavanger reminds me a lot of home. Like Victoria, it is a coastal city known for it’s old streets and wet weather. Sometimes, when I’m out for a jog, I forgot entirely that I’m not in British Columbia… and then my ears turn to the different sounds– the language, the soundscape– and I am reminded that that’s not the case.

Stavanger is a known for its street art which is celebration at the NuArt festival each fall. Wandering through the city there are playful and challenging images everywhere in all sizes– from the size of your thumb to the entire side of a a building. Mixed with the traditional white wooden Norwegian houses, it creates a city vibe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This has mostly been my impression of Norwegians in general. Nothing is so serious. Just enjoy.

The audio engineering program itself has not been entirely what I’ve expected. There is a lack of structure to the program which in some ways is creatively liberating; but, in other ways, is uninspiring. No one is telling you what to explore; but, no one is guiding you to be better. Because of this, it’s been difficult to fully engage with the research I’ve wanted to do and I haven’t felt as challenged as I’d like. That’s not to say I haven’t found some great opportunities while I have been here. I have worked with some extremely talented student musicians, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, and visiting performing artist Julis Smack. In addition, I have been working along with Sonovo Mastering in experimenting with 9.1 recording (I’ve linked my project report here), and also getting an insiders view of the world of mastering audio. In December, I started working with the Norsk Lydinstitutt (Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound) in digitizing some of their massive collection of audio, which is one of the largest of it’s kind in Europe.

I’ve also had the privilege of being exposed to a global group of engineers and producers– my class itself is made up of people from Iran, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, United States, Norway, Colombia, Serbia, and Mexico. Anything I’ve learned here so far has been from my classmates– whether about audio or about life– and it’s been great to collaborate with a diverse group of people. It’s also been great to get back into working with music.

We’ll have to see what 2017 has in store… but hopefully this is all leading somewhere.

S.A street in Stavanger, Norway. The sun is setting in the background.

Stavanger Symphony Orchestra — CD Sessions

CD recording with the SSO

I’ve had a really amazing opportunity this past week to sit in with tonmeister Ulrike Schwartz and professor/engineer Jim Anderson while they record the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO’s) next CD release. Being around engineers with so much experience is really amazing, plus the symphony and hall are world class. It’s a real treat.

I’ve also had the opportunity to listen the last album they recorded with the SSOย  of Brahms Symphony No 2 in 5.1. The surround channels really add a lot to the overall sound, especially considering how great the hall is. They did record it (and are recording this time as well) in 9.1, but a 9.1 version has yet to be released. The setup for the 9.1 is different from what I’ve seen before. We are using a traditional decca tree with surround mics, but we are only recording the height channels for the front here, and even those are not directly above the LCR. The rear channels are being recorded at the 3rd row of the symphony, above the room microphones. We only have a 5.1 playback in the control room, but I’m really curious to see how this sounds with the microphones so spread out. I suspect it will create a natural rear reverb. It would be interesting to try this and compare it with using an AB cube like the one 2L is using.

I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about the music they are recording as the CD won’t be out for a while, but it is a symphony by a Norwegian composer and more modern than Brahms. We are using over 40 microphones in total with some very nice ones including TLM50s on the decca. Most of the spots are KM 140s and 84s which I found surprising because I expected more diversity between the choices for winds and brass, etc; however, it did make our lives much easier when we had to strike everything in the middle of the week and then reset it the next day because of another event in the hall. Also, the gear was rented and brought in, so this makes sense.

I can’t wait to hear the finished result. I’m just helping out with setup and running around as needed, but watching the interplay between the composer, engineer, tonmeister, and Pyramix operator is really interesting. Also, there are lots of gummy bears, which if you ask me, are super important for any audio work ;).

Cheers,

S.

That’s A Wrap!

Happy to say I’ve just finished up working on cutting the dialogue for Canada’s first ever season of The Bachelorette (all the way from Norway)! Produced by Good Human Productions, meet Jasmine on her quest for love and self-growth.

If you haven’t tuned in already, catch it on W Network!

S.

SoundGirls: Sound System Optimization Training

I feel like I just got to Norway, but I couldn’t pass up a opportunity to meet some fellow sound ladies an hour and twenty minute plane ride away. Women from Denmark, Norway, the UK, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and myself met up at Amager Bio in Copenhagen for two fun and informative days of Sound System Optimization Training hosted by SoundGirls.org. While most of the attendees were predominantly live sound technicians, I still found a lot of the information useful and applicable to recording work. Particularly, I wanted to learn more about Smaart and brush up on my digital signal processing skills.

Over two days, our amazing instructors Theis Romme and Rasmus Rosenberg walked us through using Smaart and the technical considerations of sound system optimization. We had lots of time to listen and get our hands dirty moving the measurement microphones around the room, adjusting the speakers, changing the EQ and SPL of the system, and seeing how our adjustments affected how we heard music tracks of different styles in different parts of the room. Ultimately, everything was (as it always is) a compromise. There is a never a perfect solution for everything, but you can get pretty close.

I learned a lot in terms of thinking and listening, in particular to phase and how it effects the spread in the room; but, the best part was spending two days with other female engineers. I have never been around so many other women that love audio in one place. We did a lot of talking shop, but also about our unique experiences in the industry. I can’t wait to do it again sometime!

S.

UPDATE: Check out the Soundgirls.org blog post here! http://www.soundgirls.org/soundgirls-sound-system-optimization-workshop-denmark/