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.

Jez Riley French

November’s guest lecture for level 3 audio project students was Jez Riley French. Jez explores the audible and inaudible sounds of natural and built environments. In the session Jez talked about his field-recording work and played some incredible recordings he had made with his self-built contact microphones and hydrophones, These ranged from the sound of ants eating an apricot, to long, complex drones of contact mic recordings of wire fences blowing in the breeze to the sound of razor clams on the sea bed. This fascinating and humorous talk focussed on arguably the most important aspect of audio production – listening.

examples of hydrophones, contact microphones, coil pick-ups & parabolic reflectors by JezrileyFrench

Recording Walsh Gonzalez

Over the summer break I was asked to record a session for Walsh Gonzalez in the University’s studios. John and Lucas are a flamenco/classical guitar duo from Ireland and Argentina. They play nylon-strung acoustic guitars and are both excellent musicians. The aim of the session was to capture a natural sounding performance as possible.

While the guitarists and their instruments were warming up, I listened to them playing in two of the studio’s recording areas. We decided the tone of the instruments sounded better in the less ‘live’ sounding room and, as they were going to be playing together in the same room (without headphones), this also helped cut down on spill into each other’s mics. They set up at either end of the room facing each other, about 3 metres apart.

I decided to use two microphones on each guitar, not to capture a stereo image, but to blend the tones at the body and the neck of the instruments. For this I used a Neumann U87 at the body and a Rode NT5 at the neck of John’s guitar and a AKG C414XLII at the body and Rode NT5 at the neck of Lucas’s. After experimenting with the position of each mic I found the body mics sounded best (full but not boomy) around 30 – 40cm from the back of each guitar, pointing just behind the soundhole. Both mics were set to cardioid and with a flat frequency setting. The Rodes could come a little closer in (around 20cm) and were positioned pointing to where the neck meets the body, here the detail of the performance could be clearly heard. Each pair of mics was checked for phase (both on the mixing desk and in Pro Tools) and were found to be in phase. When the phase on one of the mics in a pair was flipped the comb filtering at the bottom-end was very noticeable.

The musicians replaced the strings on their instruments and bedded them in with another half hour of warm-up play. Each mic was assigned its own track in Pro Tools and all that was left to do was record a number of performances and select the best takes.

Mixing the tracks was pretty straight forward. No compression was used – the two mic tracks for each guitar just needed balancing together. A little EQ was used on John’s Neumann track to shape the low-end. After a lot of experimenting with the pan position of each mic track, I settled on the body mic for John’s guitar being panned left (10 o’clock) and the neck mic panned left (9 o’clock). Lucas’s guitar body mic was panned right (2 o’clock) and the neck mic right (3 o’clock). Possibly a little strange in terms of true stereo imaging but I liked the sound of them in these positions. Both neck mics had a low cut applied and were sent to an aux reverb to give a more natural sound to the mids and highs.

I think the recordings capture the intended aim – a natural sounding performance. However, I have to say this was made so much easier by having musicians who can play well and who know their material. Thanks John and Lucas – I enjoyed it!

Walsh Gonzalez by audioproduction

Traps

Level 2 Audio Production student Luke Pickering’s new band on Bandcamp. All tracked and mixed by Luke at the University’s studios.

Luke’s At It Again!

Level 2 Audio Production student, Luke Pickering has formed a new band with members of his previous, now defunct, two bands! Traps have been recording in the university studios and are currently mixing their latest EP.
Luke says: “Traps formed late 2010 after our bands Prisms/Mute broke up and have been gigging since our first show in Sheffield mid-February. We’ve got a 5 track demo on our soundcloud/myspace for anyone to download which I just did in my bedroom so had some songs to get started with. Now halfway through mixing the EP, which we’ll send to independent labels and promote over a summer tour or two later this year”.
The line-up is:
Luke Pickering – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Ben Wilson – Bass, Vocals
Guy Chater – Drums, Vocals

Listen to the tracks recorded at the university here:
Traps: Nasty Little Man by audioproduction

Traps: Diagnose Me by audioproduction

Myspace
Soundcloud

Pro Tools HD2 Up And Running

I’ve spent the last couple of days in the multitrack studio with our newly appointed Audio Production Learning Advisor Craig Bratley setting up the new Pro Tools HD rig. It consists of a Pro Tools HD2 Accel System which we installed into a new Mac Pro with 8GB RAM, plus a 192 I/O interface and two 96 I/O interfaces. The system was straight forward enough and enjoyable to install and integrates nicely with the studio’s existing equipment giving us a full 24 in/24 out recording system through the Ghost mixing console and, in terms of ease of use, it is actually much simpler to use than the old 003R/LE system as there is no need to patch anything to the group sends – it just works!