Some of his gear almost didn’t survive his quest for excellent rock recordings in the mountains – but thankfully, he did, and now he’s ready to share the story behind Rocks Momentum:
Hi Mattia, welcome to A Sound Effect – please introduce yourself:
Hi there, my name is Mattia Cellotto, I am a sound designer with a passion for field recording and placing microphones where they are likely to get destroyed.
I currently work for a game company based in the UK, although I’m originally from Italy. I like RPG games, cats and cactuses.
What’s your Rocks Momentum all about – and what are some of the sounds included?
Rocks Momentum is about carefully placing your mics in between the sandwiches you prepared in your backpack before an excursion. That’s probably the best way to describe the library as all of the material was recorded during long walks in the Italian Alps.
It’s about having all of your equipment always with you, especially when you have no idea of your destination or its potential. Despite its name, the library features all sorts of recordings I was able to gather during these excursions: from stone debris to cement blocks impacts, roofing tiles shattering on marble, wood logs smashes and water splashes.
Of course, the majority of the material features rocks, from small to large sizes, from sedentary to metamorphic, from rolls to scrapes to finish of course on impacts, even airborne hits.
What was your approach and recording setup for the library?
I started unknowingly working on the library about 4 months ago during a walk on a wildlife path near Inverness (Scotland). There I found a number of eradicated trees with large stones trapped in their roots. I started hitting the dense soil holding the stones together, getting the blocks to crumble down bit by bit. At the time I ended up spending only a couple of hours gathering material, which left me wanting way more.
I started unknowingly working on the library about 4 months ago during a walk on a wildlife path near Inverness, Scotland
Last month I finally had a chance to expand the collection during a two weeks long holiday in the Italian Alps. I packed my old Fostex FR2 along with a Sennheiser MKH 8040 plus a MKH 416 and carried the setup with me during every hike. Sadly stands would not fit in my backpack so I often had to make do with whatever the surroundings offered, which resulted in a guerrilla setup more often than not.
In one occasion I had to secure both microphones into a couple of wood chairs, the mechanical transmission made up for some unexpected bass. The biggest sounding rocks in the library were smaller than you’d imagine. To sum it up, while the gear itself remained the same throughout the different recording sessions, lots of different mic placement styles and setups were used to be able to gather sounds in each location.
All sounds in the library feature the signal of the MKH 416 and 8040 respectively on left and right channels. I created a stereo image without mixing the content gathered by the two microphones so that the MKH 8040 could be manipulated separately for extreme pitch shifting.
Initially I wasn’t too sure the format would have worked but the final results surprised me: the stereo image holds up pretty well even when both channels are pitched, which was a big concern initially.
Mattia Cellotto, recording the Rocks Momentum SFX library
What made the Italian Alps such a well-suited location for the recordings?
Part of it is the relationship I’ve built with the area throughout the years. I’ve been spending almost all of my summers in that area since I met my girlfriend, and that was ten years ago! Having known the area for that long helps you decide what to bring during each walk, from cables length to microphones, although as surroundings often offer unexpected surprises it’s always worth carrying that extra piece of gear.
When trekking at high altitudes, the soundscape tends to radically change every 30 minutes, but in many occasions the surroundings are nearly silent
Another reason why the Alps are good for recording is the noise floor of course. When trekking at high altitudes the soundscape tends to radically change every 30 minutes, but in many occasions the surroundings are nearly silent.
That is one of the rare cases in field recording where your preamps are what ultimately sets a quality limit to your recordings and not the environment itself.
One of the best recording sessions took place at 4:00 AM. I don’t recall hearing that much silence in an outdoor environment before, I almost felt guilty as the sound of smashed cement blocks and roofing tiles echoed in the valley.
Another reason that made me choose the Alps is the presence of old, crumbled stone houses spread across most paths. The fact that most structures are destroyed helps you ask yourself less questions while destroying further.
Lastly, the Alps are beautiful, the walks relaxing and the food amazing.
What was the most exciting part about making the library – and do you have any favorite sounds in there?
The most exciting part in making the library was to create its “designed assets” section.
This is something I started doing recently to put myself in the position where I can test how flexible my recordings are, if they hold up well when stretched, tweaked and manipulated in all sorts of ways. It helps me understand the quality of the product I am delivering, putting myself in the client’s shoes for that task.
You can probably gather I had fun doing that by watching the presentation video, the designed section is right at the end.
The library has a hand-drawn cover image, which is somewhat unusual for independent SFX libraries. What’s the story behind that image?
The cover of the library is the work of an Italian artist, Vittorio Sezzella. It represents two huge rocks diverging at the pace of tectonic plates. Given the name of the library and where it was recorded I found his work to be perfectly fitting the theme. Apart from all the heavy rock impacts and the loud stone scrapes, this library’s best feature is probably the deep silence after each event, which in some way I see in Vittorio’s work.
This is your fourth SFX library – any lessons learned from making the previous ones that you could use here? And any words of advice for other current and upcoming SFX library creators out there?
One lesson I’ve learned recently is that if you place a DR-05 inside a car sized metal lift and then you start jumping on it for a good hour, chances are your recorder will look more or less like this when extracted from the lift:
I believe this image can go under the definition of “uberproximity effect”, I’m glad I found that out before easing down a 8040 inside a live volcano.
It’s really hard not to lose your sense of preservation for things when you are recording, sometimes even self-preservation goes missing for a while. When it comes back you might find yourself walking on the surface of a frozen lake, not quite sure if the ice layer under your feet will hold for much longer.
As far as refining techniques and improving as a recordist goes, the first step I took was to reference what I consider to be top notch material, aiming to reach that quality through each library I’ve released. Once the bar is set, I try to find something unique to add to my library, in the case of “Metal Groans and Slams” I experimented with feedback loops in between contact microphones and vibration speakers, which helped me record some whacky sounds.
I took about 2000 sounds to the mastering stage, but in the last selection pass I discarded about 900 sounds which I felt didn’t bring much to the table
For “Rocks Momentum”, I wanted to create a library with loads of variations, sizes and textures. Every asset needed to be as characterful as possible. I carried about 2000 sounds to the mastering stage, but in the last selection pass I discarded about 900 sounds which I felt didn’t bring much to the table.
One last thing that I changed over time is my approach to grouping sounds and naming files. I used to create 1 file per sound, but then found that most professionals prefer to have more takes per clip for less drag and drops, so I have recently started grouping an average of 7 sounds per file. With “Metal Groans and Slams” I’ve also started adding metadata to my libraries, keeping part of the information redundant in the file name for those that do not own the common browsing tools.
For all starters in this field my main suggestion is to make things happen. I used to believe environments could limit one’s chance to record good material, when with the right microphone any place can be the perfect place to gather awesomeness.
So to all of you that feel the need to capture sounds 24 7, start now, record wherever, record whenever, put your microphone anywhwere, just not under a car sized metal lift.