Wind is a pain in the butt to record. While we hear it all the time, finding and isolating a source from background noise is near impossible in today’s hustle & bustle world. Even if you do find such a place, because wind and microphones are ancient adversaries, being in a position to physically record it without getting your mic pounded requires creative planning, perseverance, and luck.

Fortunately, I live in a building where the windows are so poorly made that wind seeps right through! Lying in bed in the morning I can actually see the plants in front of my windows fluttering around as the wind whips in from the ocean and through the gaps where my window will never seal. This gives me the perfect position not only to capture the wind, but to control its sound by adjusting said gap. Just this weekend I had such an opportunity when my neighborhood experienced a heavy storm with sustained gusts at 40mph.

Wind Sample by dsteinwedel

Since I’m attempting to give an idea of how I’ve used the recordings presented here in actual projects and this recording is a scant 3 days old, I’ll change focus a little bit and talk about some methods to eek more out of a recording like this. Now you might be saying to yourself, “But David, that sound is already AWESOME!!” And yes, it’s nice, but we can make it do so much more.

The next track is the same sound twice, raw and then with a small round of polishing. While the recording picked up a lot of nice wails and moans, there’s also a steady hiss throughout. To pull that back I used a high-shelf EQ, with a low Q to drop the high end and remove some of the hiss. Next, it’s too narrow for my tastes. In games, wind is often a BG element attached to the player, not placed in space as a 3d object. So it needs to be widened. A Stereo Enhancement plugin will do the trick. If you don’t have one, a chorus or other delay type effect that lets you set Left and Right delays independently will work. A touch of verb at the end will help round things out. Every effect I used the next recording is a stock Nuendo plug.

Hard Wind Duo by dsteinwedel

The difference isn’t all that dramatic but for 5 minutes worth of work it’s not so bad. To really get this right, automating the EQ will go a long way as each character of whistle needs its own settings.

Taking things a step further, here’s a sample that’s pitched down 2 octaves. The first octave is done without time correction and the second with.

Wind Pitched Two Ocatves by dsteinwedel


Finally, we can take things very far. In the following sample, a single EQ band has been isolated and boosted, noise reduction applied, and the same Stereo Ehancer/Reverb combo as before slapped on the tail.

Noisy Wind Duo by dsteinwedel

You can hear that all the junk (the birds and some exterior banging) is gone and we’re left with a spooky, ringing sound that has a humanistic vocal quality to it.


Recording Geek Notes: Neumann RSM 191 (sans wind protection) direct to a Fostex FR-2.

Mouth Flutter Bys

This week’s entry is a fun exercise and something you’ve probably already done thousands of times in your life. Mouth effects are used by children, adults, and sound editors around the world. Whether pretending to fart, imitating a car, or punctuating a point with a solid “Wha-CHA!”, the mouth effect is here to stay.

One of my favorite things to do with my mouth is the Flutter. At its most basic level, the Flutter is just blowing air through your lips. You can change the feel and character of what’s coming out by biting on parts of your mouth, blowing from a different part of your throat, blowing into a different part of your mouth, or changing how intensely you blow. At the advanced level, you can blow air into two parts of your mouth simultaneously, alternate where the air goes, or add in other mouth and vocal effects with the fluttering.

The Flutter By is an extension of the Flutter. It involves making a flutter sound and whipping your head by a stationary mic (or, having a friend whip-pan a mic by your mouth). In the sample below, you can hear different styles of Flutter moving past the mic.

FlutteryBy Various by dsteinwedel

The hardest part of such an exercise is physical and occurs when the mouth dries out causing you to lose the flutter while moving. For some reason, moving your head quickly makes it much harder to keep a flutter going. Many of my takes have been thrown away for sounding like “PbPbPbPbPbPbPbthhhhhhhhhh.”

FlutteryBy Fail by dsteinwedel

The Flutter By has tons of uses. Need a big bug that flies around? Mouth Flutters. Have an explosion pass by the camera? Mouth Flutters make a great texture element that give the feel of a shockwave passing over you. Cartoon cars? Check. Raspberries? Check. Bullet Bys? If you can get one going fast enough it works for those too (though you’ll want to use your voice to add some doppler while you’re at it).

Below is a clip from Bioshock 2 (Spoiler Alert if you haven’t played it!) and around :12 in you’ll hear a nice, fat, mouth flutter by.

Recording Geek Notes: Neumann 191 -> SD 302 -> ProTools.

Fleet Week

I always like to take advantage of my surroundings. Living in the City, I have no shortage of traffic, sirens, horns, walla, drum circles, or guys trying to sell me weed as I walk through the park. Unfortunately little of this comes in handy when trying to record effects. From time to time, living here offers great opportunities to gather sounds that are otherwise prohibitively expensive or just can’t be found elsewhere.

Every November, San Francisco holds an annual Fleet Week. For 4 days (2 practice, 2 shows), the city is treated to the tearing, ripping roars that are modern fighter jets. The Blue Angels fly low across the landscape, giving little warning of their impending approach. Shock and Awe is an apt description. If you don’t know they’ll be about, Terror’s not bad either.

I realized early on in my life in San Francisco that this was an opportunity which would otherwise cost me tens of thousands of dollars or require me to be working on the type of film which only comes around once every year or so. Therefore, I spend two days of most years gathering material.

Recording this type of material presents a few problems. First, spectators come out in force whether or not it’s an official show day. Finding a suitable location to record from is paramount. I started off on a pier with talkative oglers and a fisherman sporting a chorus of plastic bags blowing in he wind. Fortunately, after a little searching I found the perfect location almost dead center on the Fleet Week course. I ended up with a recordists dream--no people, no traffic. And no, I am not sharing.

The second is that, as far as I can tell, the sound of a jet comes from considerably behind the actual plane. After watching them go by at various distances and speeds for a few hours I found I was able to better localize the sound and point my mic with my headphones off. This isn’t much of a problem in itself (unless something in your chain goes bad, so it’s best to check from time to time) except when you get buzzed at 100 feet by what has to be the loudest man made sound on earth and your headphones, which double as ear protection, are around your neck.

FA18s by dsteinwedel

Even with 6 Navy fighters performing death defying stunts for my amusement, my favorite sound came from the prop planes flying in the stunt races. These puppies have a voice all their own, something that says, “I’m feisty and fun yet you don’t want to mess with me.”

StuntProp by dsteinwedel

As for practical uses, the jets have gone into numerous sounds and projects I’ve created. Their first and home was as the original ‘Sprint’ sound in Hellgate: London. I tacked a nice BOOM on the front and let the jet wash trail out as the character sprinted on screen. It was immediately loved by the entire studio--but the more we listened the more tired it became. The effect had too much punch and cut through too well for a skill that was used over and over and over. The final ‘Sprint’ sound was much more subdued, airy, and washy. The jets are also good for depicting movement during slow motion. The prop plane bys once became the base of sword whoosh set (along with some bees), that’s one I’m still pretty proud of.

Toy Tops

Toy stores are a good source for finding things that make interesting sounds. As such, I try and stop in from time to time (this has nothing to do with my love for Legos, I swear). At one point, I found a pair of tops (made of metal) which made an interesting hum when spinning. Each top had a different quality to its hum, instantly cementing my double purchase. What I thought would be a quick recording session turned into two full days as I experimented and was able to consistently milk more and more interesting sounds from these puppies.

The first set (Tops_01) includes Pumps, Hums, Contact Spins, & Hanging Spins. The Pumps are pretty explanatory, that’s simply the pumping of the top to set it spinning. The Hum is the sound made when the top was left to spin on its own. The tonality of the hum could be modified by closing off a series of holes around the edge of the top. Contact Spins were a spontaneous find and occur when letting objects rub against the spinning top. These required the closing of all holes on the top to keep any hum from occurring--which also led to the top slowing down at a much more rapid rate and made getting long, loopable takes difficult. The recording here is one of the cooler sounds I pulled from that part of the session. Finally, Hanging Spins were made by pumping the top to a high speed and then holding it off the ground by the pump and letting the top spin freely in the air.

Toy Tops 01 by dsteinwedel

The second set (Tops_02) were made by attaching stuff to the top as if it had helicopter blades. The first few attempts were unsuccessful--I tried only attaching one or two blades which set the top off balance and caused it to crash. However, once I got 4 blades evenly spaced, the sounds coming out were fantastic. In this set you’ll hear velcro, zip ties, paperclips, and fishing line used as the blade source.

Toy Tops 02 by dsteinwedel

These sounds have been used all over projects I’ve done. The humming is great for looping and attaching to projectiles. The helicopter spinning (I label them as Spin Downs in my library) provide great texture and can be reversed to indicate a fast startup. I last used them as part of a sound for the upcoming XCom: Enemy Unknown. I remember the Contact Spins being used by Pam Aronoff on a project to make some awesome magic effects.

Recording Geek Notes: Neumann RSM 191 direct to ProTools via a Sound Devices 302 @ 24/48.