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.

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.