Working With Binaural: Bringer

This post was submitted by level 3 Audio Production student Matt North.

For the first of two audio projects required on the 3rd year of Audio Production, Luke Pickering and I decided to experiment with binaural audio.  What started out as an idea of producing a 5.1 surround sound mix for an animation rapidly developed into writing and producing our own short horror film, which focussed on the binaural soundtrack to induce fear upon the audience.

The main premise for our film is completely unique and takes the form of three short films, each representative of the three character’s first-person perspectives.  We wrote a script based on this idea so that in order to fully understand the entire storyline of the film, all three films need to be viewed at once.  The films are to be exhibited across three screens at the Degree Show, allowing three audience members to experience a character’s involvement in the film and then conversing with the other audience members afterwards to understand what happened in their film.

Luke was aware of an abandoned RAF building on the outskirts of Lincoln, which we visited in an attempt to draw up ideas for the storyline of our film.  The place itself was extremely desolate and had a strong sense of isolation from the city; in other words, it was very creepy.

With our experience in radio drama script writing from the 2nd year, we wrote a script based upon the graffiti within the building and created the fictional storyline of three art fanatics searching for the early work of a popular graffiti artist, Thomas F. Bringer.  We wanted to come up with an original and non-clichéd idea and felt that that we could portray the feeling of horror by manipulating the binaural soundtrack.

Following the guidance of such website as DigDagga.com, a blog on binaural audio, we invested £190 into some in-ear binaural microphones from the USA.  On location, we set our actors up with a digital camera gaffa taped to a sports headband around their head and placed the binaural mics into their ears.  The mics were extremely sensitive and we had to do some rigorous testing to ensure that we would record the best possible signal and not have the gain set too high.

For such scenes as Dan’s attack, we really wanted to play upon the binaural aspect and thought of many ways in which we could inject both realism and fear into the soundtrack.  Upon reflection, the sound of the tape being wrapped around Dan’s head really is horrifying.  We had no problems with the audio upon location until we reviewed that particular scene, when we realised that the gain was incorrectly set to accommodate the screaming and this resulted in heavy clipping.  We both decided that despite it sounding terrible, it actually added to the sense of horror we were trying to convey.

We recorded some binaural Foley on location, such as the coughing up of blood in Dan’s film and also some bangs from the main room that are evident in Ed’s and placed them within the original recorded audio.  Due to them being on location, we didn’t have to worry about matching the reverbs to the room and they slotted into the soundtrack smoothly.  As we wanted everything the audience heard in the film to be binaural, we completed some post-production Foley with the binaural mics as well.  These were then manipulated to add to the sound of Dan’s attack and death, as well as Lisa’s panic attack to give off an extra sense of realism.

After the soundtrack was ready we researched into EQ mapping, which we discovered was necessary to add an extra realism to the films.  This involved playing white noise in the Sound Theatre into the binaural microphones and then using O-Zone’s EQ matching plug-in to read the frequency response of the mics.  This was then inverted to bring the frequency spectrum to a flat level, therefore replicating human hearing as much as possible.  This was essential learning in the use of binaural.

Whilst the majority of binaural experimentation has been through the use of dummy-heads, we attempted with BRINGER to create a realistic and professional binaural soundtrack on a small budget using in-ear binaural mics.  This process has ultimately taught us a lot about recording binaurally and I would recommend anyone to attempt and experiment with the advantages that binaural can bring to a production.

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About David McSherry

Senior Lecturer in Audio Production