Read on for my interview with him on his approach to library creation, recording – and the making of an earth-shattering sfx library.
Hi Mikkel, please introduce yourself and Sonic Salute
Hi all. Mikkel Nielsen, sound effect recordist here. I’m the owner of the Sonicsalute.com site, where I’m distributing sound effects of all sorts. They range from studio recordings to real-life noisy environments, like junkyards, shipyards, pig farms, and so on.
A big part of my working life is spent on recording and editing sound effects and atmospheres for features, docs, and TV series. Mostly Danish productions, but a few foreign ones also come by now and then.
What sound projects are you working on at the moment?
Well, things are incredibly busy. I’ve just delivered sounds to Rob Nokes and Sounddogs. I’m also layering tracks and editing the ambience track for a US indie movie. At the same time, I’m working on documentaries and three different Danish features, which Peter Albrechtsen is sound designing.
Finally I’ve planned some large recording sessions with muskets and cannons for Nino Jacobsen, to be used in director Ole Bornedal’s war drama ‘1864’.
When my ears are not stuck between a pair of headphones, and when I’m not editing audio material (which by the way, always seems to pile up faster than I can follow), I’m the father of two fantastic boys aging from 4-8. So I got my hands full!
How do you come up with ideas for new sound effect libraries? What inspires you?
Most of the time the ideas for new libraries come from the fact that I need certain sounds myself to fill in on a scene – or when I’m approached by editors and designers needing particular sounds. From there I lay down a plan, and start to contact places etc., asking for permission to record the place, machine, animals and so on.Recording one place might evolve into the idea of recording something similar in another place, or recording more of the same type of sounds. This process inspires me a lot.
And sometimes I go with it and create a whole SFX library around that one idea. The latest Car Doors Open/Close library is quite a good example of this.
I would sure like to have the ideas just pop up in my mind every morning I wake up, but unfortunately my head doesn’t always work that way.
The small amount of “hey, I got a brilliant idea for a new SFX library” stuff happens when I do a lot of listening to things. When I grab a toy or similar, I always stick it close to my ear and listen to the sound of it. It’s sort of like a curse. Ask my family about it. It drives them mad when going to museums etc.
What’s your recording setup?
I’m using the Sound Devices 7 series recorders. They are built like tanks and just don’t care what you throw at them.
For mics I use a set of Sennheiser Mkh 8020, a Sennheiser 416 with an Ambient Emesser on top, and two sets of DPA 4060 and 4061. The DPA lavs I use for easy mounting interior or exterior on cars, and for stealth recordings. Everything tugged into Rycotes.
I also have a set of JrF contact mics and a hydrophone, which I have a lot of fun with.
Some of your sound libraries are very unique – like the Shake, Rattle and Rumble library. What’s the story behind that one?
Peter needed the sound of a whole house shaking. He talked about what it would feel like (and sound like) if the walls were shaking, the floors were moving, and you were standing in the middle of it.
This one would prove to be a bit more difficult to record live rather than creating or designing it. At least, that’s what I thought for a while.
So I struggled a lot with coming up with an idea on how and where to record this. I called demolition teams and whatnot, but didn’t come up with a solution that would work.
One weekend, I was visiting Sweden by ferry, and as the ferry was docking, the big engine was put in reverse. This made the entire structure shake and bend. It sounded terrible.
Wine bottles and candy were thrown off the shelves, and metal plates in the ceiling were rattling like crazy. It only lasted for a short while and then stopped.
I immediately knew that this was the sound I needed. Next problem was to make the chaotic sound last for several minutes, as I wanted to record as many different spots on the ferry as possible.
I contacted the company sailing the route, and they invited me on board a day of my choosing. I took a late departure in January where there were a minimum of passengers. To my luck it was pretty windy that night.
The ferry started sailing, and as soon as it had left the harbor, the crazy sounds began.
I got my several minutes, and even got a great big bump from the ferry coming into the harbor a bit too hard, hitting the dock. It was great!
From there on, I thought it would be nice to have a complete library of sounds like this, big and small, and lots of them too.
I approached the process by recording more ferry rumble type sounds, like a van on a bumpy road (there goes the suspension), and me physically shaking stuff like cupboards, boxes, beds etc. That, by the way, is a great deal harder to do than one should think.
I also put metal trays, porcelain, cutlery, etc. on a subwoofer and sent a controlled deep tone through the speaker. I got this great idea from Jean-Edourd Miclot, who helped me set up a prototype in Kyma where I would control the tone with a Wacom pen. I had so much fun!
The hardest part of this library was the sounds recorded with my hands and legs doing the shaking. Moving a big, old and heavy cupboard back and forth for a few minutes was extremely tiring. I found myself having completely dead arms really fast, and actually thought it would never work this way.
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My only way around it was to pause, sit down for a while, and start over again. Keep in mind that I had to keep a natural rhythm, like a real earthquake was happening, and furthermore not do the exact same rhythm for all the tracks. I wanted to keep things varied and exciting.
So overall, this one was both challenging and a lot of fun to do – and I think I managed to capture some pretty unique sounds in the process. You can get the final result here.
What are your three most essential tools when it comes to sound design work?
First tools must be my recorder and mics. Having good/clean/rich source material makes the designing process a lot easier.
Second one is my Protools rig. It’s the only DAW I have ever used. I love the stability, especially from Protools 10 and on. I find the sound and session workflow to be great.
Last tool: To dare, and to have the imagination to use any particular sound for anything really.
What excites you about recording?
The recording process: Listening to the surroundings, deciding on the mic placements, pressing REC and shutting up – that’s actually what I love most about my work. It’s like yoga for my mind.
Any tips for the readers on how to make the most of your sound libraries?
Pitch them, stretch them, reverse them, and layer them!
And finally: When are we going to see a new Sonic Salute SFX library?
I just started the first recordings for a new one this summer. This will, sound-wise, build a bridge with one of my other libraries. It’s still in the beginning of the recording sessions phase, and will take some time to finish – but it will be well worth it though, I’m quite sure!
Thanks a lot to Mikkel Nielsen for taking the time for this interview.
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