It’s a good time to be a sound designer.

Impulse responses are recordings of an impulse made in a reverberant (which is really any) space.  The sound engineer/designer uses these responses in convolution reverb software to simulate the sound of the space for the recordings or source material that he or she wishes to present.  Using these impulse responses can result in, say, placing footsteps inside a particular grain silo, church or other strange environment.  For example, Balance Mastering recorded a series of impulse responses inside Berlin’s Teufelsberg, a cold war listening station for the US and its allies to monitor East German radio transmissions (there’s an excellent tour of Teufelsberg hosted by the always irreverent, slightly aggravating but always interesting Vice magazine here).  As is often the case, I found these responses through a post on the excellent blog Create Digital Music.

Of course, one can use impulse responses and convolution reverb in lots of different ways.  I’m an autodidact, so I don’t quite understand all the physics behind how it all works, but you can warp these software tools to create strange and otherworldly effects on audio material, sounds that are organic to begin with but end up being almost beyond imagination.

While I enjoy the nuts and bolts work of making sure that door slam or footsteps take place in precisely the right acoustic environment – in fact, I love it and am slightly obsessive about finding the right reverb, I have to say – I am excited by the potential of using tools in unorthodox ways to come up with something I haven’t even thought of (even as I write this my imagination is piqued, and I am taking notes of ideas for some upcoming plays I’ll be designing this year with director Alan Dilworth).

These constructions of imaginary spaces are very powerful storytelling tools, and I love finding them.  “Finding” here is the correct word – for me, it is a matter of taking the first step on the path, going down the rabbit hole of working in my studio, unearthing and vaguely remembering some ideas or effects chains I wanted to try out, until….there it is.  The sound that will spark, energize and focus the project.

I never know when it might show up, but I welcome it when it does.