AUS220 Week 2: Sound Recording Masterclass
This week started with an intensive within an intensive as we were joined by Nick, a working sound recordist, who took us through a day on set through the eyes of the sound department. We got hands-on experience with all of the film department sound recording equipment, with Nick taking us through the setup, use, and pack down of each piece. It was invaluable information, and equipment and know-how we have not yet been exposed to. Not only did Nick give us technical advice, he took the time to give us in-depth tips and tools to making it in the industry.
For me personally, and I'm sure the others too, I was so eager to pick Nick's brain on this topic. It was great to finally see how it all happens on the set. First, we set up all the equipment. We had shotgun mics with boom poles, radio lapel mics, a film camera and of course the field recording units. We got to unpack it all, insert batteries and memory cards, check settings, sync everything up and get it all levelling. It was a lot of fun and we were all grateful for the information. Once we had everything set up, Nick took us through the intricacies of the field recorder, the unit that all microphone signals are sent to be recorded via XLR ports. We hooked up the boom mics directly and then learned how to sync up the transmitters and receivers for the radio mics. We went through all the possible settings and parameters on the recording unit, including the EQ, phase inverters, phantom power settings and level monitoring. Nick also gave us really helpful fact sheets on the equipment so we could further study in our own time. Then, we went through operating the booms. This involved a lot more than one might expect, so it was a real eye-opener. We then mock recorded a few takes as if we were really on set. We took turns at the different roles like camera operator, sound recorders, director and slate holder. It was a great way to fully immerse our selves and see the process truly. I think the one thing that really hit home for me was how much responsibility is on the shoulders of the sound person, pun not intended. The importance of concentration, preparation and professionalism were made really clear to me. The thought of making a mistake and missing a great performance or moment that can't be recreated is scary, but also speaks volumes to the respect that must be paid to the craft.
After lunch, it was back into the studio to start on Foley. Arguably the most fun part of the process, we were really looking forward to this, but at the same time nervous about just how we were going to make the sounds accurately come to life. We split up and hit the halls of SAE to acquire anything and everything we could. The only requirement was that it made a sound. Our first effort was recreating the sound of old-timey typewriter keys. We tried an old phone, both the dials and the hangup receiver, which didn't quite hit the mark for us. We then tried several other random objects until Tristan suggested trying a pair of tongs we had found. Jack was in the booth, trying multiple hand positions, ring positions and velocities until we all agreed we had found 'the sound'. It was interesting to see how crucial out-of-the-box thinking is to recording Foley. Sure, there is the skill needed to perform, edit and mix the sound in time with the picture, but the real skill lies in being able to think laterally about objects and noises and to see a potential for similarities between completely separate things. Tristan gave us some great guidance with this, especially reminding us to think of the sounds in terms of qualities, not so much literally. Does it sound hard, heavy or fast? Is it sharp, thin or fluid? These questions start your mind on the right track to come up with the solutions needed. It was nice to see us a group being able to come up with some truly accurate sounds with the limited amount of objects we had. We made a good start during this session, but we have a long way to go.
During the session, Elysha, Sam and I left the others in the Tascam studio and set up the D-Command console to clean up the vocal takes we had from our previous meeting. We top and tailed all the clips, sorted out any clip gain issues, and perfectly lined up all the clips to fit the frames of the film. This was fiddly and intricate work, but important and good to know it is done. We also did some effects editing to create some high pitched phone gargle necessary for one of the scenes. It was great to get some more time on the D-Command. It's a brand new toy for us, so getting our head around it took some time, but Tristan was there to point us in the right direction.
I think the phrase sound is bigger than music is never truer than it is in relation to film. It is amazing how little the general public knows about the work that goes into creating sounds for film, but you can guarantee everyone would notice the minute it was taken away. The aid of sound to the story is undeniable. The information relayed through sound is so important, sometimes even more than the images themselves. Think about what you can know from hearing different types of footsteps (heavy, slow, loud), or even wind and waves. We, as people, can make very accurate assumptions about the immediate future from what we hear, and any storyteller in any discipline would be a fool not to exploit it fully.
How do you feel about all of the different projects that you have to manage between now and the end of the trimester?
In a word, overwhelmed. But excited too. There's not a single project that I'm not looking forward to sinking my teeth into, and although it is a lot of work and will take a lot of my time and effort, I know that at the end I'll be a better practitioner for it. So sure, it's a big workload, and is definitely intensive, but I'm certainly not complaining.