Annoying Noises

Everyone has experienced the cringey horribleness of scraping noises like fingernails on a blackboard. But Izzy Thomlinson noticed that while some people find these noises unbearable, other people are hardly affected at all.

In her So You Want to Be a Scientist experiment she aims to find out who is most affected by these noises. For example, do people’s responses vary with age? Or gender?

Listen to BBC Radio 4’s Material World programme here

Visit Izzy’s Horrible Noises Facebook page here.

Guest Lecture – Grant Bridgeman

This month’s guest lecture for level 3 audio projects was given by sound recordist Grant Bridgeman.

As this talk was for students who will be leaving us this summer, Grant focussed on the day to day realities of being a freelancer. From filling in tax forms, to buying new equipment, to dealing with job calls, to managing accounts, to travelling to and from jobs, in fact, everything but the sound. Indeed, this was the title of Grant’s lecture.

Grant also talked us through some of the key scenes in two of my favourite films of recent times; Control and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

For a comprehensive overview of Grant’s credits, visit his IMDB page here.

Contact Grant on Twitter.

The Theremin

In 1929 a Russian inventor brought an electronic musical instrument to the USA.

His name was Leon Theremin, and at the time many people thought it would revolutionise music making.

He taught Lydia Kavina to play it when she was a child.

Photo: Leon Theremin and Lydia Kavina.

Listen to the BBC World Service programme:

here

Is a record played at 3 rpm art?

Vinyl records were designed to be played at 33, 45 or 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) but at a gallery in Newcastle, they are being played at just three rpm as part of a “slow arts” festival.

The BBC’s Ian Youngs reports from the AV Festival which hopes to provide a refuge from the hectic pace of modern life.

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme report here: 3rpm

The 12 Inch Single

From the mid-1970s the humble 7 inch vinyl single was joined by a much grander relative – the 12 inch single. It reached its peak in 1983 with Blue Monday by New Order, probably the biggest selling 12 inch single of all time.

Music Journalist and co-founder of ZTT Records, Paul Morley visits the Factory Club in Manchester to talk to Peter Hook of New Order about how Blue Monday was written and to designer Peter Saville about the famous sleeve.

Paul explores the origins of the 12 inch single as a potentially higher quality format than the 7 inch single and visits Abbey Road studios to watch an engineer cutting a 12 inch single; does it really sound better?

And he meets music producer Trevor Horn at Sarm Studios, home of ZTT records, to discuss the Frankie Goes to Hollywood 12 inch singles. ZTT released so many different versions of Two Tribes on 12 inch that the chart rules were changed – so was the record buyer getting value for money? And what does the 12 inch single tell us about 1980s excesses?

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme here:

Paul Morley on the 12 inch single

Guest Speaker – Stephen Mallinder

For this month’s audio project guest lecture I was very pleased to introduce one of my musical heroes. Stephen Mallinder is a founder member of Sheffield’s Cabaret Voltaire who’s approach to music production (cut-up technique, found sounds, tape loops, experimental electronics blended with the rhythms of early American techno and house) was an enormous influence on me and informed my own approach to music making.

Stephen’s talk was both interesting and enlightening – he’s a very engaging speaker. He spoke about music production with reference to his own work and also the work of artists such as Lee Scratch Perry, Marshall Jefferson and Kraftwerk and how his music connects with art movements such as Dada and Bauhaus. Referring to his PhD thesis Movement, Modernity and The Beat, Stephen also discussed the musical connections of club culture, graphic design and film-making.

With a long and varied career in many aspects of the music industry (running a record label, live promotion and hosting a radio show in Perth, Australia), along with his academic interests, Stephen’s talk was very valuable to our students and highlighted the importance of connecting your own work to many other creative outlets and industries.

The Cabaret Voltaire fan club* sat in the front row enjoyed it too.

*middle-aged male academics from the Lincoln School of Media 🙂

US Intern, Neal Stein

During the month of February we have the pleasure of Neal Stein’s company. Neal is a student of audio and music at Minnesota State University, Moorhead and is with us to complete his internship credit as is required by his course. Neal’s duties include mentoring student projects, assistance during seminars and workshops along with the transfer of skills and knowledge.

Neal’s specialism is music production after spending time playing guitar in rock and metal bands – his chief interest is tracking. He says: ‘My main working philosophy revolves around getting a good sound at the source. I also believe in the importance of maintaining a good atmosphere for musicians to stay inspired while tracking. The studio can freak out even seasoned performers since things can sound so different compared to playing on a stage’. Neal has also recorded jazz projects and plays 5 string banjo in a folk group.

Neal seems to be enjoying the relative warmth of 0˚C Lincoln after the recent -25˚C of Fargo. Hopefully it will be a lot warmer when he welcomes the arrival of a group level 3 Audio Production students to Moorhead in March.

You can hear Neal’s work here: Soundcloud.

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.

Dave Harries – From Abbey Road to British Grove

I’ve just spent a very enjoyable hour or so in the company of Dave Harries. I met Dave on a visit to the accreditation body JAMES a couple of months ago when Dave asked if he could come up to Lincoln to have a look at our recording studios.

Dave has had a very interesting career in the recorded music industry starting out as a technical engineer at Abbey Road studios where he worked with Sir George Martin and Geoff Emerick and recorded the first version of Strawberry Fields Forever with The Beatles. He later worked as the Technical Director at Air Studios (recording and mixing Pink Floyd’s Meddle), then on to Air in Monserrat, Decca and is currently the Technical Consultant at Mark Knopfler’s British Grove studios. Dave has worked with The Beach Boys, Donovan and The Temptations to name but a few.

With such a trusted pair of ears giving our studios the once-over, it was great to hear Dave praise our set-up here in Lincoln and he gave me some excellent advice on how to improve the acoustic treatment of the recording areas. We also discussed work experience opportunities for our students at British Grove. With that in mind, I asked Dave for advice to students hoping to work in the recording studio world. He answered: ‘Be prepared to work all the hours that God sends and be approachable and friendly.’

Dave has kindly offered to return the favour and I’ll be visiting British Grove early in the new year. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be giving them any advice on how to improve the acoustics of their studios.