Written by Bret Johns
Elephants In The Room will be a professionally recorded sound effects library, sourced from dozens of elephants in various locations throughout Chiang Mai Province. This will be the first independent elephant sound effects library available to the public recorded at 192kHz/24bit.
I had the idea for this library a few years ago while I was working on Marvel Heroes MMO. I knew how important animal sounds were for my work and I loved the elephant vocals I was able to get a hold of. The problem was that I wasn’t happy about the quality or diversity of what was out there.
I wanted a large variety of vocals that had plenty of variations
I wanted elephant vocals that were more than just a single growl or roar. I wanted a large variety of vocals that had plenty of variations. I also wanted vocals that were recorded at a high enough resolution to withstand extreme pitch bending without introducing artifacts and noise. It wasn’t and still isn’t available to the public. Knowing what was missing was one of the first steps to solving the problem.
Bret Johns is running a Kickstarter campaign to help make the library a reality – find out more about the campaign, and support the project if you want to help out, here.
For a project of this magnitude and sounds this rare, I wanted to have access to as many elephants as possible for as long as possible. In researching cost and availability around the world, I decided that Thailand would be the best place for me to explore.
I knew I couldn’t just arrive with a bunch of gear with no contacts or context and ask where I should set it up. So for my first trip I brought a Zoom H6 and a shotgun mic with the hopes of recording whatever I could. My most important goals in terms of the library at that time were to 1) meet people face to face and start a working relationship, and 2) see how I might execute my recording sessions for the following trip.
The people I met in Thailand were extremely helpful and are to this day. I’ve sent over links and recordings of the types of sounds I’m interested in and we’re mapping out our recording sessions from there.
I’ve used the lexicon and examples from elephantvoices.org as well as various recordings and links I’ve come across over the last year to communicate the specific sounds we’ll be recording. Those are broken down into the categories and subcategories below:
Sounds originating in the larynx are referred to as laryngeal calls and include rumbles, revs, roars, cries, grunts, barks and husky-cries.
Trunk calls are produced when an elephant sends an explosive exhalation of air through the trunk. Subcategories include trumpet, nasal trumpet (like a trumpet but less forceful) and snort.
Imitated and Novel Calls:
Many vocalizations that elephants produce are specific to certain elephants and their circumstances. They’ve been known to croak, squelch, chirp, purr, whistle, and even imitate human speech! One of the sanctuary owners says that he has at least 5 elephants lined up that make extraordinary sounds that don’t fit any of the above categories. That’s one of the greatest things about elephants; their vocals can be as varied as their mahouts in character and you never know what cool things they might have to say!
I’ve allotted 2 weeks worth of recording time in Chiang Mai. I’ll be recording elephants one by one for particular sounds on command with variations. We’ve talked extensively about the vocals I’m interested in so that we have an “elephant casting” of sorts from the “talent” in the area. Some elephants will be booked by the day or half day and others by the hour. For the on command sounds the elephants are given a reward for making each sound repeatedly.
Some of the most intense and emotional sounds will come from our sessions with wild elephants
Another part of our sessions will involve recording elephants during their daily routine. They’re extremely social creatures and have a lot to say to each other. This might involve eating, greeting, playing or even complaining when something isn’t going their way. For example the baby elephants get particularly cranky if mom moves away for any reason while nursing.
Some of the most intense and emotional sounds will come from our sessions with wild elephants. I’m told that the wild ones are skittish around humans and make a number of protest cries and roars. I’ve also been told that with adequate protection from them, I should be able to get as close as 20 meters!
The wild elephant recordings will be taking place in the jungle. I’ll be sleeping in a treehouse there and coming down to record in that general area. The other sessions will take place in a few different elephant camps in Chiang Mai as well as an elephant sanctuary, and possibly an elephant hospital.
My main contact in this area is coordinating our recording sessions among the local villages to help facilitate the sounds that we need. I took this video last year on a day I spent near the river. This Mahout was with these elephants the entire day.
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Mics and Recorder:
I’ll be recording with a Sound Devices 702T, and using a mid-side microphone configuration with a Sennheiser MKH 8050 and a Sennheiser MKH 30 for stereo recordings. For wild elephants I’ll be using a Sennheiser MKH 8060 shotgun mic.
Challenges and Goals
A project this large takes a lot of patience, planning and persistence. When I first started I had more questions than answers. Each step has presented new challenges and new insights. I didn’t know anyone in Thailand and didn’t speak the language. I’d never planned an exotic animal recording session, and had no idea how I’d go about getting the elephant vocals I wanted. The one thing I did know was that if I kept working, eventually the answers would present themselves.
When I first started I had more questions than answers
Since then, everything has come together in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. I’m incredibly grateful for all of the support, advice and feedback I’ve received from the audio community as well as friends and family who I’ve driven completely crazy with my elephant library obsession.
My Kickstarter campaign is one of the last steps in pre-production. I launched my campaign on March 1st and so far I’ve received over 55% funding; most of which funded within the first 48 hours.
I’m offering the full library on Kickstarter for $99 (over 100 off the expected retail price.) I’m also including the wild elephant recordings which won’t be available in the retail release.
I’m in a unique position to move this forward, but I need your help to bring it over the finish line.High quality elephant recordings are extremely rare and useful and I’m excited to get back to Thailand and start recording! I hope you’ll pledge today and help make it happen. Thank you!
Elephants In The Room will be the first library to launch under the Sonic Shepherd label. My first exposure to a high quality sound effects library date back to my roots at Soundelux in Hollywood, California. I could get lost for days listening to the collection they had on that server. As an independent sound designer I’ve had to take some creative steps to do more with less, but it was easy to see the advantage they had with such an incredible library. Creativity still plays a large role in the work that I do today, but I’ve learned that clean, inspirational, unique recordings help shape that creativity and make my job much easier. My goal for this and all future Sonic Shepherd projects is to produce sound libraries for other sound designers with that perspective in mind.
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