Asbjoern Andersen


The art of field recording has been around for ages, but now, Halfdan Auðrifýur and Ingi Hjálmtýr – two Icelandic sound designers – are looking to fundamentally change how sound effects are created. Their method involves technology, location and cunning – and I spoke with Ingi Hjálmtýr about the ambitious duo’s fascinating undertaking. NB: Please note the posting date :)
 

Just what is wrong with sound effects these days?

There’s nothing wrong with sound effects per se – but a few years ago we realized that hearing the same old recordings over and over again was simply getting too much. Everyone uses the same sound effect libraries, and frankly, they’re getting REALLY long in the tooth. So I joined forces with Halfdan Auðrifýur to create the LiveSFX plugin.
 

What exactly is the LiveSFX plugin?

It’s a plugin that, in our humble opinion, can change the very understanding of what a sound effect is.

When you think about it, most sound effect libraries these days are all recordings of stuff like wind, birds, water sounds etc. They’re all the same. And they’re old. So what if you want something a bit fresher – something truly unique? What if someone could get you those sounds, recorded LIVE as you needed them?

That’s exactly what our LiveSFX plugin is all about.

We’ve spent the last three years building a complex, yet intuitive system that connects DAWs running the plugin directly with our team of field recordists (Auðrifýur and myself), live on Iceland. You tell us what you need – through the plugin -, and we’ll be out there, recording it real-time and sending it back via email.

But why Iceland? Well, A) because we live here, and B) think about those wind sounds etc I mentioned earlier. What would be a great – LIVE – source for all those? That’s right. Iceland.

We’ve got hot springs for bubbly sounds

We’ve got lots of shoreline, we’ve got wind, we’ve got hot springs for bubbly sounds, sea lions for Chewbacca sounds – and even volcanoes, for when you need those crazy explosions.
 

So what’s your process?

The process is actually quite simple, at least for the end-user: Using the plugin’s UI and a microphone, you simply shout the name of the sound you’re looking for; ‘EAGLE!’, for example. This request is then beamed up to our Reykjavík HQ, where we swiftly engage our entire team of field recordists (Auðrifýur and myself).

Finding an eagle is the easy part

Finding an eagle is the easy part

In response, we promptly throw our recording equipment in the 4WD, drive around the island and do our very best to track down a fitting source. Once we find our target eagle, we start recording while you listen in.

If you need it to cry a bit louder – or just differently -, you simply tell that to the field recordist on the scene, via the plugin. He’ll then try to direct, or “coach”, the eagle accordingly.

The field recordist also comes carrying speakers, so you can talk directly to your target via the plugin, in case that works better.

We haven’t actually gotten this bit to work quite yet – but we envision that, using a combination of praise, scolding and reason, you’ll be able to almost “play” targets like the eagle, as a kind of living virtual instrument.

The recorded sounds are then sent directly to your email in real-time, ready to be used in the project you’re working on. Simple as that.
 


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How about the pricing?

To us, it’s not the duration or number of sounds that matter. We simply charge by the distance we need to travel to get you a particular sound. Say you need a recording of an Atlantic Puffin, and we need to drive 3 kilometers to get that. That’ll be three dollars, then.
 

Does your system always work?

Halfdan Auðrifýur does some amazing bird impressions, and his elk sounds are simply breathtaking.

Well, if it’s really lousy weather, we’d rather stay in, to be honest. Halfdan Auðrifýur does some amazing bird impressions, and his elk sounds are simply breathtaking.
Personally, I’m quite the expert at imitating the sound of glass. We use those as fall-back sounds when we’re in a tight spot, or if it rains too hard.

 

What’s next for your project?
an A.F. Drone with Very Long Boom and WHA Tech installed.

An early prototype of an A.F. Drone with Very Long Boom and WHA Tech installed. This could be the future of field recording

We’ll likely go open source with the project around April 1st next year – and through that platform, we want to create a global army of field recordists that can be dispatched within minutes anywhere in the world.

Also, space is a goal for us. There’s a huge market for sci-fi sounds in movies and games, so having having one or several recordists out there doing live recording is obviously a no-brainer.

Long-term, we’d like to get rid of the human element altogether and simply replace the recordists with drones. And, using a device called an A.F.D., or ‘Autonomous Field Drone’, experiments are already well underway.

 


Thanks to Ingi Hjálmtýr and Halfdan Auðrifýur for sharing their insights. The LiveSFX VST plugin will go into beta next month – and as mentioned, there are plans to make it open source, allowing field recordists everywhere to take full advantage of their local surroundings and wildlife.

 

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3 thoughts on “Here’s how two Icelandic sound designers could change sound effects – forever

  1. Hmmm… I’m all for recording new sounds as often as possible, though as anyone who records sound in the field knows, the best sound you record on a field trip is rarely the sound you thought you went there to record. In other words, the accidental encounters with sounds are usually the best encounters. The downside is that those sounds, cool as they are, are often not useful on the current project. So they are not valuable to the project that hired you to make the field trip. Another problem I have with this model for getting sound effects is that “freshness” is a nice characteristic in a sound, but it is not the only, and maybe not even the most important characteristic. Filling your project with “brand new” sounds is fine, but if they are brand new mediocre, not particularly interesting, or noisy sounds… that’s not so fine. Most of the sounds we record in the field are not full of life, and they aren’t particularly evocative. Only a few have magic. We gradually acquire those year by year, and we often find unexpected and fresh ways to use them.

    Let’s say I ask you to go record an eagle for me tomorrow. With some luck you can find an eagle. With some luck the eagle will vocalize. With some luck that vocal won’t be obliterated by wind, rain, another bird, etc. With an incredible amount of luck that vocal will be the kind of vocal actually need for the project.

    Basically my point is that field recording of sounds is ALWAYS unpredictable. Being in Iceland, or at a Ranch in northern California, doesn’t guarantee anything except that there will probably be fewer ambient noise problems than there would be in an urban area. But it could be windy, or rainy, or undesirable flocks of birds or swarms of insects may interfere. Sure, go out to the ice field and try to record the eagle for me, but I expect you’ll tell me the best sound you got was the demonically squealing fan belt on the old Land Cruiser you encountered at the gas station. And unfortunately, I don’t need that sound for my film.

    Best,
    Randy

  2. Goodness gracious… I was reading this today and I was a way through the article when I realized, “How can this be profitable at $1/km?” HAHAHAHA.

    Might be sci-fi now, but just like people are readily using hobbyist quadcopter drone cameras to take impressive videos and panoramas, many sounds could be cultivated from those environs! Even the thought of taking robots into environmentally hazardous areas to record unique ambience.

    And to have Randy Thom weigh in too… what a day!

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