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Map The Sounds of Chicago: A Location Sound Project

December 13, 2013 Audio Production, Experimental Audio, Now Sound Comments Off

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Inspired by a 2009 Japanese film title, Map The Sounds Of Chicago is an ongoing project between myself and other audio professionals to document the unique soundscapes found in the Chicago area, from city life, suburban centers.

Through sound, we document growth and expansion, decay and change, travel, and secrets. All of this is recorded, documented and will be presented as a gallery installation with further documentation in the form of CDs, DVDs and digital downloads. The recording portion of the project takes place during the entire year of 2014.

The idea we’re pursuing is not a new concept–the most notable example is Cabaret Voltaire co-founder Chris Watson’s project Inside The Circle Of Fire: A Sheffield Sound Map at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery. We are after the same kind of thing–recordings that show the uniqueness of Chicago, soundscapes that cannot be heard in quite the same way anywhere else. This is a location-specific art and sound design project focusing on a geographic area that has incredible diversity from the forest preserves found in the western suburbs to the numbered streets of the inner city.

Map The Sounds Of Chicago is a collaborative project done without public funding or private backing of any kind. It is self-financed through freelance work and personal investment. If you are interested in contributing sounds to the project or learning more, get in touch by e-mail: joe@joe-wallaceaudio.com.

Our New Venture–Sound Effects For Sale

October 25, 2013 Now Sound, Sound Effects Comments Off

NOW-SOUND-Chicago-storm-sou

Here’s the first of a very long line of sound effects offerings Now-Sound.com will be presenting in the coming weeks and months. I’ve been gathering a large number of field recordings and sound effects capture sessions for some time now, and I’m now offering these for sale as royalty-free downloads for any use you choose with the exception of selling these sounds on their own. In other words, as long as you combine these sound effects with any other media, you can do whatever you wish with them once you’ve paid and downloaded the files.

This first clip is nearly six minutes long and features a thunderstorm rolling into the Chicago area, with the sounds of cicadas coming in and out over the duration of the clip. This track was recorded in early Autumn 2013 as a 24/48 .wav and is downloadable in the same format as a zipped file.

You can purchase and download this Chicago thunderstorm sound effects clip via Tradebit.

You can also preview this sound effects clip at Soundcloud.

Location Audio Gear, Burning Questions, and Making Good Choices

September 18, 2013 Gear, Production, Sound for Film Comments Off

Audio ramblings ahead.

Here’s a scenario. You’re called in at the last minute to do location sound on an indie film project. You have one director, two cameras, and a cast of six. What gear do you bring?

That’s such a loaded, open-ended question you don’t know where to start. If you’re new to the freelance audio game, you should have a mental checklist of standard questions to run down before deciding to accept the project or not. How much grief you get depends on whether the answers to these questions are right or wrong.

What kind of cameras is the production using? Are you familiar with them? What kinds of audio inputs do they take? Does the director want your audio fed into the camera or are you doing external capture?

Here’s a question you absolutely should get answered as quickly as possible: “Can I have a copy of the script?”

The short-subject, single actor monologue shoot (which you won’t be getting) may only require a guide track that will replace a voiceover later, leaving you free to explore ambiences, natural sound, and other fun things is an entire galaxy away from the shoot with seven people in the cast who are all gathered together in a small room so they can all talk at once.

Yes, that happens.

How many wireless mics will you need? What are the locations like? Do you need more than one boom? Yes, that happens. People who have never written a film before tend to overlook things when they’re putting together their great American movie. Like the fact that you have to find a way to realize your big visions. Writing a new action-packed movie full of car chases and gunplay is cool. Getting permission to drive like a maniac on your local rural roads and paying off-duty policemen to supervise and protect you when you’re recording the big gunfight scene? Not as easy as writing the scenes.

But you can be put into these situations where the big idea actually starts coming together in front of an independent lens. And when all those people start doing lines (and shooting at each other with blanks) in a big ambitious master shot, who gets your wireless mics? An indie production isn’t going to have seven of them without deep pockets.

Talking to your director about coverage in these cases is a very good idea.

Ambitious low budget film and video work is about expectation management right from the beginning. Don’t count on your non-audio indie peers to always understand the limitations of a two-wireless mic setup on a four-person scene heavy on the dialog. You’ll have to explain it to them sometimes–cutaways, two-shots, over-the-shoulder shots and other takes become your best friends when it comes to doing location audio right. And if you don’t understand what the editor has to deal with in the editing room you might just overlook some of those important things in the heat of the location audio battle…

..but on an indie film with a low budget, it might just be YOU getting drafted to do the post work. Then you’ll wish you’d had those conversations, believe me.

Joe Wallace is a freelance audio professional in Chicago. His recent projects include video game sound effects and soundtrack work for Shedd Aquarium, location sound, dialog editing, and post production sound for the pending web series Family Values, and location audio for the Chicago indie feature, Still.

Contact him via e-mail: jwallace@joe-wallace.com.

Advice For Indie Directors Hiring Location Sound Pros

September 8, 2013 Audio Production, Sound for Film Comments Off

Directors and PAs with plenty of experience working with sound people don’t necessarily need this advice, but newcomers to film making and anyone in training to coordinate crews on a film project should definitely keep a few important issues in mind when hiring sound folks.

Give Plenty Of Tech Specs

Location sound people need a lot of information. Does the director want sound fed to the camera or will external capture suffice? A newcomer might not know that this is even an issue, but if you want to tie your sound crew to the camera, they need to know that, but also what kind of camera gear you’re using, the connectors required, and how elaborate your camera movements might get. All that helps the sound crew come to the set ready to make the director happy.

At this stage some might ask, “Since these people are sound professionals, shouldn’t they be prepared for any contingency with regard to connectors and other issues?” That may be true, but your audio crew may know about existing issues with some film and video gear that you don’t that could affect the decision on how to capture the sound.

Also, newcomers to the film and video game may not be able to afford to hire the most highly experienced professionals available, so it makes sense to assume that a budget production might need to turn to less-experienced, but still-competent-and-dedicated audio people to do the work. Help these people help you, give them as much information as possible to avoid last-minute problems and oversights.

And let’s not forget, a young and hungry audio pro making her or his way up in the business is quite anxious to make the director as happy as possible. Again, help them to help YOU!

Indoors, Outdoors?

Some shoots are simple. An all-indoors story that is dialogue heavy as opposed to a more kinetic, visual storytelling style is a lot easier to do sound on in many ways. But if you’re moving from indoors to outdoors on the same shoot day, or if you anticipate weather, hostile conditions including mud, snow, etc. let your sound crew know what to prepare for on shoot day.

This sounds like a no-brainer to an experienced director or PA, but to the newcomer, this is the sort of thing that gets lost in all the other details.

Speaking of Hostile Conditions…

Is your film a bloody horror movie? Do you expect a lot of flying debris, liquids, and other hazards to equipment? Everyone on set should know about any such conditions, but especially your sound crew.

Mics get severely damaged by moisture, and everyone seems to understand that…until it’s time for a new director to plan the big bloody sequence that audio is required for because of all the screaming and chainsaw noises. Your audio crew will appreciate any early warnings possible about such a working environment.

Location Scouting

Include your audio crew in any location scouting for your shoot. Your location audio person will want to see what sorts of potential interference might exist for your shoot–a time-traveling medieval costume comedy would be utterly ruined by the sound of your local airport, commuter train, highway noises or that big construction project that just started two blocks away from the forest preserve.

The director, PA, and location scout might not even HEAR the hum of that nearby power station…but your location audio person WILL. You may be FORCED to use a less-than-ideal location for your shoot because of interfering sound, but at least you can have a conversation with your audio pros about how to deal with the issue best.

–Joe Wallace

Gear Wanted

April 13, 2013 Gear Comments Off

by Joe Wallace

I have been doing more work in location audio and sound effects capture as of late and am putting together a collection of field recording gear. If you have used gear you’re interested in selling, please get in touch as I am assembling multiple bags for field work.

It might seem odd that I’m collecting gear to run more than one field bag, but I’m farming out some of my work to other freelancers (who are also friends) and am assembling a small gear locker. I am in search of  mics, blimps and suspensions, field mixers and field recorders.

So if you have shotgun mics (particularly Sennheiser 416s, ME 66s, etc) field mixers like the Sound Devices 302, or recorders (the Sound Devices 744T is a favorite), and you are looking to sell, please get in touch with your contact information, what state you live in, etc. I would be happy to talk with you about purchasing your used gear.

You can drop me a line at:

jwallace242@gmail.com

And please include any price lists you might have. Many thanks in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Building a Studio…

December 11, 2012 Audio Production, Gear, Music Comments Off

…one piece at a time. I’ve been down the rabbit hole, as it were, assembling a studio from various pieces and upgrades in the last few months. A Focusrite Saffire Pro40 interface, a few new amps (including the ultra-portable MarkBass Mini CMD 121P) and a variety of mics including the AKG D112, M-Audio Luna, and a handful of SM 57s/58s. I’ve also added a NI Maschine which needs serious exploration along with an old Command 8 control surface.

What I’ve got is a solid little recording space complete with some vintage synths (Juno 106, Korg 01/W and a few other lovely pieces) and a variety of gear cobbled together over the years finally coming into more extensive use. I mention all this not to inspire gear envy, but rather to remind myself not to try and put together an entire working setup in a matter of weeks.

As my coursework at Tribeca Flashpoint rolls on, I’ve been paying particular attention to the gear list and other technical details, trying to put together a list of to-purchase things that work for me and keep things moving forward. I’ve been working on three album projects at once, trying to get a line on submitting music for licensing and placement, and hatching schemes to connect with indie filmmakers who need soundtrack work–especially horror-related and suspense type material. I’m a huge fan of the 60s/70s era Morricone stuff, so I’d be very happy to work on a film or three with those aesthetics in mind.

But the music releases do beckon so expect to see more details about them in this space. It occurs to me that this is a very good place to flog those releases and soundtrack work in general, so I suppose Now-Sound could start mutating soon into a place where you can buy tracks, contact me about freelance soundtrack work and other projects. I’ve been writing electronic and synth-based music steadily since 1992…it’s likely about time to start moving it into new areas of opportunity.

Solving Your Aux Sends Problems in Pro Tools

November 16, 2012 Production Comments Off

One of the trickier parts of learning Pro Tools, at least for me and several of my colleagues, was sorting out the proper use and routing of aux sends. For a newcomer to DAWs, this can provide a challenge, but learning how to manage aux sends gives a better understanding of how to do other things in Pro Tools. Seeing how the dominoes fall, so to speak, in this area unlocks understanding in other areas.

This Pro Tools tutorial video, by Jonathan Owens, will help you get well on your way to using aux sends in Pro Tools. It should be pointed out that this clip is NOT for Pro Tools HD users per se, it’s aimed at an entry level user of Pro Tools LE, hence the lack of discussions of grouping, master tracks and other features. I ran across this clip while searching for various audio resources on Pro Tools and thought quite useful–nice work, Jonathan!



Studio Recording: Old Versus New

November 9, 2012 Audio Production Comments Off

Danger–studio nerd rambling ahead:

The image you see here is from a recording session at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Academy, where a reggae band called Hurricane Reggae was laying tracks this week. Yep, that’s a room full of students learning the craft. You can barely see the lights from the rack of mic pres–a lovely collection of Wunder Audio, Great River, API, and John Hardy mic preamps.

Once upon a time, I was working in radio and television production using the oldest rotary pot boards for radio to some of the most state-of-the-art broadcast consoles, all hardwired and racked to the max with signal processors, Studer reel-to-reel machines and other analog tools. What the kids are learning today is that it’s all control surfaces now–your mixing board looks a lot like the old ones with some flashy updated interfaces and controls, but not a single sound passes through that board.

Old news to the experienced pro, not so much for the people in this picture.

Frank Zappa, that pioneer of the elaborate home studio–he had one in his Laurel Canyon home and simply went to bed when he was done recording and mixing for the day instead of commuting–used to complain about the piles and piles of tape hiss and other analog sound problems faced by the recording pro. Today, the folks in this picture are setting their input levels at the mic pre, removing a bit of unwanted audio mange via peak/shelf EQ and finding their bigger challenges in making the right choices at the mixing desk.

Not that mixing was ever EASY, but it’s just less complicated by tape hiss and other issues than back in Zappa’s day. I’m talking in huge oversimplifications, but you get the idea.

What’s fascinating is being able to observe the learning process in people who have never touched this equipment before. There’s a real gear nerdiness required to excel in these environments, and you can start seeing people separating themselves from the pack in terms of drive, eagerness to learn and other factors. Who are the hobbyists and who are the pros? Who are the no-hopers and who are tomorrow’s go-to engineers? You can see it beginning here….it’s fascinating. It’s just as interesting as configuring a Blumlein array or deciding which mics and pres sound best together on a bass cabinet.

If you’re a newcomer to all this interested in diving in with both feet, all the gear, terminology and the learning curve can be very intimidating. But it doesn’t take long for a dedicated learning to discover what they’re interested in and start moving towards it. Don’t let the tidal wave of technical talk hold you back from getting in to sound, recording, editing, mixing, performing. There’s just one place you need to start–with your own interests and projects. Follow your muse and teach yourself along the way. When you get into a more formal training environment you can still learn a great deal even as a self-taught studio nerd. It’s a big field, and you need to start SOMEWHERE. As the computer types say, “hack your own life first”.

The Business Of Audio Engineering by Dave Hampton

November 5, 2012 Audio Production Comments Off

Newcomers to the business of audio engineering should take note of this book by Dave Hampton, who has definitely been around the block in the industry and then some. The Business of Audio Engineering is packed full of Hampton’s experience including excellent examples of what TO do and what NOT to do in conducting business as an audio professional.

This book is not a tech manual where you learn how to be an engineer. Instead, this is a book written for freelance and potential salaried staff members on how to do business as an audio professional–that’s a critical distinction to make.

You can be the best engineer on the block, but if you don’t know how to handle your taxes, how to negotiate, and how to manage yourself as an audio pro, your skills might not get you very far.

This book is a worthy addition to any professional library. To give you an idea of how much clout this book has, consider the fact that it’s on the required reading list for audio professional schools like Tribeca Flashpoint Media Academy…if you want to learn from an industry insider who has not only seen it all but knows how to keep it in perspective, get The Business of Audio Engineering. It’s available in a standard print format and as a Kindle download.

Darren Callahan On Sound For Film

October 23, 2012 Now Sound, Sound Blog, Sound Design For Artists/Galleries Comments Off

Darren Callahan runs Phantom Soundtracks, a label that releases soundtracks to imaginary films; some might call them “non-existent” movies, but the idea is to imagine the movie while listening to the soundtrack, so that description falls far short of the intent of the label.

Callahan is also active behind the camera–collaborating with Glass City Films on the amazingly fun trailer “Children of the Invisible Man plus he directed the short horror film, Under The Table (also with Glass City Films).

In part two of our interview, Darren Callahan talks about doing sound for film, soundtrack recording, and much more…

Composing a soundtrack and doing overall sound design for a film are two completely different things–describe the learning curve you had managing sound issues for film outside composing.

I know a great deal about the use of sound from radio dramas. I won an award from NPR for my audio drama, “Uncle Ant,” and that led to writing a lot of thirty minute plays for other outlets. Plus, I’m just naturally a headphone guy, so I appreciate really tricked out sound. I’ve produced over half of my own records and also produced albums for other bands, such as SEVEN SPEED VORTEX.

I’ve never mixed my own sound for film, unless you count “Children of the Invisible Man,” where I mixed the voiceover and the music. I was very lucky on “Under The Table,” as Matt Oliva, who is this amazing young sound designer for Glass City Films, just knocked it out of the park.

You can always tell a low-budget film by the quality of sound. I like to do little-to-no looping (ADR) and I also like a lot of room ambience – but those are tough things on a tight schedule. So, like I said, I got lucky with Matt Oliva.

I do “hear” movies, though, and always appreciate really experimental sound design. For example, “THX1138” – you could listen to that movie and not even see the picture; it’s like a symphony. I also love bold choices, like in “Punch Drunk Love” where Adam Sandler trashes that restaurant bathroom and the sound is completely distorted. Or the climax of “The Parallax View,” with just the convention center sound.

I’m also a big fan of the extremes – loud, or layered, or silent – and “The House That Screamed” is a cool example of that, even though it’s all overdubbed from Spanish. Oh, and “Timecrimes” has great sound, speaking of Spanish flicks.

Let’s get technical. What gear did you use to do the sound on Under The Table and how did you bringyour sound design plans to your satisfaction in the editing room with foley, creating sound effects forthe horror sequences, etc.?

Matt used a Edirol R-4 pro 4 channel recorder, two Sennheiser wireless mics with Sanken Cos-11 lavs and a Schopes CMIT shotgun mic. All sound was edited with Soundtrack Pro and Pro Tools.

For the score, I recorded everything at a studio in Chicago to 24” analog Grand Master Gold tape from the mid-1990s then dumped to digital through analog Italian pre-amps. All the synths were analog or analog modeling. The piano is a real 9’ Steinway through an Electro-Harmonix Cathedral stereo reverb pedal, which I manually dialed while playing piano live to tape. I think we used a Wurlitzer on the dinner music and there are some Yamaha CP70 electric piano overdubs in the main titles.

The CP70 is my favorite instrument of all time – this baby grand electric only made in the mid-70s with a great hammer sound. Peter Gabriel used it a ton on his earlier, more exciting records. Now the bands KEANE and COLDPLAY have brought ‘em back in vogue, so you can’t get ‘em anymore.

I dumped a few tracks to Tascam 464 four-track cassette and still others to TEAC 4070G reel-to-reel to make things really dirty. It was the same techniques I used on the soundtrack for “Spikes,” which worked very well for horror. Allthe music was all mixed in AcidPro 7 with Sound Forge as the editor. It was mastered in Pro Tools before being laid into the mix at 48K.

(The film’s soundtrack is available for free download at http://www.darrencallahan.com/under_the_table_soundtrack/index.html)

Good sound is so important to a film, yet so many filmmakers take it for granted–what has been your most important lesson moving into the director’s chair in this area?

Sound, to me, is even more important than picture. I think “Under The Table” has a great visual sense and DP John Klein did a fantastic job (42 set-ups in one night!) But, what makes it seem more like a big budget movie, aside from the choice of 2:35:1 and very wide lenses, would be the crystal clear sound and very exciting mix.

The first part of the film is intentionally static and the combination of elements makes the tension rise beautifully. Then, the latter half, which is all screaming and blood, really pays off with some jumps and unusual choices – like the Goblin-esque music cue as the waiter goes in with the knife.

One hard lesson for many indie filmmakers with regard to sound has to do with playback at festivals and in public vs. playback in the studio. For a studio pro these issues are pretty obvious, but what advice do you have for a filmmaker without much audio recording/engineering/mastering experience who wants to make her indie movie and start entering it into film festivals, but doesn’t want to get burned by a lack of technical knowledge about good audio when it comes to optimizing their work for playback at festivals and screenings?

I recently read a David Lynch interview from the 1990s where he talked about mixing sound for “Twin Peaks.” He was used to mixing for big theaters. Then, he has to start mixing for television. The first few shows had a great mix, or so he thought, but no one could hear anything on tiny TV speakers. He realized two things…

First, decide what is the most likely viewing experience? If you’re going straight to DVD and just doing small festivals, don’t spend much money and just go for as exciting a combination of sounds as you can get which will play back in those environments.

Second, check out your mix on as many televisions, sound systems, headphones and speakers as possible. Each one will be different, but look for bad spots – like not being able to hear the dialog.And, if you’re in trouble with your sound – it just didn’t turn out good at all – do what the Italians did. Just overdub the entire thing from scratch.

If you’re worried you don’t have the skills or money to do it, watch “Carnival of Souls” – a classic low-budget horror film from the 1960s. That has some pretty shady dubbing in it, but man it totally works in its favor. Half the film only has a pipe organ playing and you never notice. Try and turn a weakness into a strength. Check out the overdubbing in the $7,000 movie “Primer” – this fantastic time travel movie from 2005. So good.

My Demo Reel

Contact: jwallace@turntabling.net or (773) 275 8602 or view my resume page.

Listen to the DJ Paisley Babylon demo mix of RetroMod and book today! Contact: jwallace (at) turntabling (dot) net.