Glowing Sounds

I was once asked in a job interview, “What kind of sounds aren’t you good at making which you’d like to improve upon?” It was a fair question but one I never expected (I was waiting for the more generic, “What is your greatest fault?” interview question). It took me a minute or two, literally (never be afraid to take your time in an interview to find the right answer), but then it hit me. “Love. Hope. Home. Warmth. Kindness. Heaven.”

Sound effect people get asked to make Hell all the time. Guns, zombies, goopy mud, blood curdling screams, explosions. If it’s violent, terrifying, or freakish, that’s our time to shine. The warmer moments (few and far between in games) usually go to the composers. Still, I was being honest in the interview--I had had trouble making such feelings come out in the past. Just because a composer saved my butt once doesn’t mean they’ll do so again. As an artist I feel much more comfortable tackling my weaknesses than I do avoiding them. (And come on, it’s way more fun to operate outside of your comfort zone anyway!)

When I think of the words described above, I hear ringing. I hear it as a note & chords, as chimes, bells, and other types of harmonious ringing. One of the tools I’ve picked up since the interview to achieve this type of sound is the tibetan bowl. For those who aren’t familiar,
Tibetan Bowl Used as a Warm Ringing Sound
it’s a standing bell that can be struck or played by rubbing a mallet around the edge to produce a wonderfully complex singing-type sound.

Below you’ll hear a recording I took time to do one day with Larry Peackock manning the console. First is the bell ring. Second is playing of the bowl. Finally, I’ve included a texture I made using some surround panning (the online version is a 2 track fold down), pitch shifting, and delay tools (not sure what anymore but I’d bet on the SoundToys Crystallizer). The hardest part of recording the bowl is keeping the mallet from striking the bowl while rubbing. It takes a steady hand and a good surface on which the bowl can rest without spinning yet doesn’t stifle resonation. You’ll hear that we didn’t get it perfect.

TibetanBowl3Takes by dsteinwedel

Wineglass used for both ringing and strained sounds
Another choice for making a ringing sound is the crystal wineglass. Fill a glass with liquid, get your finger wet, and rub it around the rim with just the right amount of friction to excite the glass and get it to hum. Altering the volume of liquid in the glass changes the pitch. It took me a long time to be able to pull this off and I’m not sure why. It’s kind of like whistling: I couldn’t do it until I could do it and now I couldn’t give you the faintest idea how I go about doing it. Unfortunately, this glass didn’t respond with an exciting glow. It did, however, give a nasty, struggling, squeaky, strained call when muting the glass while resonating it--not the emotion I was trying for but a very nice sound indeed.

WineGlass by dsteinwedel

To the practical uses: Eventually I was asked to make an entire level that was meant to be a little slice of heaven. I had to pull about every
“Nice” sound I’ve ever recorded, made, or run across in a library to get the job done. I also didn’t have the luxury of plastering music across the whole level--so no composer butt-saving this time. :) Fortunately, the end result turned out well with lots of cool winds, warm tones, glowing textures, and was a stark contrast to the dripping, creaking soundscape in the rest of the game. One of my favorite sounds from this level was the fire. Using a combination of real fire and some kind of ringing (I don’t remember if it was the Tibetan Bowl, chimes, or something else entirely), I created a blend of the two that feels as if the fire is sparkling. The effect was achieved using a touch of Izotope’s Spectron Morphing tool & good old fashioned layering.

Recording Geek Notes: The above sounds were recorded in dual mono, using a Peluso and Neumann KRM 81 into a Focusrite preamp to Nuendo at 24/48.