At RSAudio this year we have been spending a lot of time making a series of surround (5.0) sound recordings across the UK.
The first of these have been compiled into one big pack of 100 ambiences, aptly named ‘UK Ambiences Pack One’.
Following on from our recent release, A Sound Effect kindly invited us to write this guest blog to share our experience creating the pack and pass on any tips and good ideas we picked up along the way. So here it goes!
Though it may seem obvious, perhaps the most important factor contributing to the success of this project was the preparation.
Thorough planning and organisation was absolutely essential for us to maximise what we were able to capture in each recording session.
For each session we identified the locations that we planned to record; the most efficient routes between locations were calculated, and key times where we had to be at specific locations were identified.
It was also important to choose what we wore and carried very carefully. After setting off in the morning, in each session we would be out until midnight and beyond.
As our aching feet will tell you, make sure you’ve got some comfortable footwear – the opportunities to rest your feet can be very infrequent, especially if you are moving round via public transport all day.
It also proved to be a great idea to take some cleaning wipes with us. This not only meant that we could give all the cables a clean after they had been dragging on the floor of the public toilets, but that we could give ourselves a scrub after a pigeon saw fit to evacuate its bowels onto us!
As anyone who has been to the UK knows, the weather here can change drastically from one hour to the next. We kept our eye on the forecast, but we weren’t surprised to find ourselves stood in the rain when we had expected it to be sunny.
So if you are planning an outdoor recording session of your own then be prepared for all weathers… and of course, a cool box with sandwiches is essential!
The Recording Sessions
As with our first sound library, all sounds for UK Ambiences Pack One were captured and delivered as 24Bit / 96Khz. With these settings the file sizes are still manageable while allowing the possibility of manipulating the playback speed without any detriment to the sound quality.
When making the recordings featured in UK Ambiences Pack One, we employed many different forms of transport to reach our destination, and in some cases the transport itself was the destination!
We took cars, buses, underground and overground trains, bicycles, and of course a lot of the travelling was done by foot.
Although we had a set plan for each session, we made sure we stopped and recorded anytime we passed through somewhere that sounded interesting.
Seeing ideas develop in front of you is great, and it is something which we capitalised upon whenever we could.
In terms of equipment, all recordings for UK Ambiences Pack One were made with a Holophone H3-D Surround microphone and a Sound Devices 788T recorder. We found that this provided a great combination of high quality recordings and ease of transportation between locations.
When capturing ambiences it is important to minimise the impact that making the recording has on the environment itself.
However, when recording in the middle of a busy market some people will certainly notice two suspicious looking characters with a lot of recording equipment. Due to its relatively compact size the Holophone helped reduce this, although on a few occasions kids would talk directly into the microphone as they passed by (“Hello Microphone!”).
We were also mistaken for health and safety officials or, despite a lack of video equipment, a film crew. Of course we had anticipated this and so we recorded at least 7 minutes of audio at every location.
This meant that in post-production we had the freedom to edit out discernible conversations and any copyrighted music that might have been playing. Other than this necessary editing, the recordings were left entirely unprocessed giving the end-user the flexibility to use the recordings as they are required.
Permission to record
Since the pack was released we have been asked about the recording process and how we were able to go unnoticed in museums, cafeterias etc.. Well, that’s easy to answer, we weren’t unnoticed.
We simply asked for permission to record.
Sometimes we did this well in advance, and in other cases we did it on the day.
Not only did we have permission to do the recordings, but we found that often staff were very helpful and even enthusiastic in some cases. We occasionally ran into a few dead-ends where permission was not granted, but of course we respected that decision and just moved on.
At times we encountered some slightly frustrating scenarios.
For example when we were recording in a bus station, which we had thought was a public place, we were informed that we had to move along as we weren’t allowed to record there.
That is, move along about 5 metres next to some small posts just outside the bus station where it was “OK” to be. No doubt had we stayed we could have opened a black hole and warped time itself, so they were probably just being careful to avoid that scenario.
After all, we were carrying weapons of mass creation!
Naturally, as audio enthusiasts do, we positioned ourselves within a metre of our designated ‘clear’ borderline and continued to record with the hawk-eye of security still upon us.
Other times we were greeted by private security when recording in public places asking us if we had permission to record. Phone calls were made, but then they realised what we already knew, that we did not need permission as it was not private property.
In terms of staying organised, a recording log was kept matching file numbers with names of location and any relevant notes about the recording.
Every recording was started with an announcement of the location, the time of day and the weather. Making these announcements saved so much time in post-production, and we always had the written log as backup.
We experimented using an electronic online application for keeping the log, but in the later sessions found that the classic 20th century method of paper and a pen is probably more effective.We would, however, advise against leaving your pens on the dashboard of the car with the window open – a lesson we learned the hard way.
One great and very useful method of transport in awkward areas where the car couldn’t go was our trusty mountain bikes.
Armed with a guitar case to carry the mic on our backs and strapped up with the sound recorder, we were mobile and increasing our ever developing efficiency.
It was definitely a good choice to work as a team on this project. As well as the obvious plus points like having less to carry by yourself, it also provides better safety for both yourself and the equipment, pooling of ideas and of course humour in between locations. Although even a good sense of humour can die a bit when you’ve been walking for about 12 hours!
In total, we made something in the region of 150 full length recordings, allowing us to choose only the best 100 files to include in the pack.
How can the ambiences be used?
Of course, if you want to save yourself the hassle of lugging equipment through the countryside and busy cities, our hard work is there for you to take advantage of.
All the walking you need to do is to the front door to pick up the post and to collect your glistening 100 surround recordings (stereo downmixes are also included) on a memory stick! Our feet would probably prefer us to do the same.
As Sound Editors and Mixers, we have already found these recordings to be a great tool when creating suitable ambiences for many different scenes.
We were keen to make the final file lengths as long as possible, and many of them have ended up around the 4 minute mark. This provides the opportunity to tailor the recordings to the specific needs of your project. The train that passes in the distance or the children playing in the street can sometimes be just the sound you need to help tell the story.
One useful workflow is to drop the files on to 5 separate tracks panned to discrete channels in the DAW. This way you can use the faders to balance your levels independently, clearing space in the centre channel for dialogue if required, and adjusting the surround channels to bring the viewer into the scene.
Please check out UK Ambiences Pack One – the stereo version can be purchased right here. If you have any questions about the pack, please do not hesitate to drop us a line.
Finally, thank you to A Sound Effect for this guest blog appearance. Good luck with your projects and happy recording!
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About Richard Simpson and Andrew Kirk:
Richard Simpson is based in London and works freelance in Audio Post Production. He has edited and mixed a variety of Feature and Short films, and provided the Sound Design for the recent BBC Two series wildlife series “The Burrowers: Animals Underground”. For more information please visit http://www.richardsimpsonaudio.com.
Andrew Kirk is a freelance Music Composer, Audio Post-Production Engineer as well as a professional Graphite Realism Artist. He has recently finished an original music score for the forthcoming feature film, ‘The Maid’, as well as working on his own library of original Foley sounds and ambiences. For more information please visit http://www.andrewkirkaudio.com.
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