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.
I am in the theatre for a show opening next week, doing sound levels. For those of you that don’t know, the process of getting everything going in the theatre for a play involves each design department (sound, set, video, lights) having some dedicated time in the theatre to do their thing*. In my case, it involves making sure the speakers are hung in the correct locations (based on a speaker plot I submit beforehand), having the PA tuned and rung out, the microphones (if there are any) checked and the sound cues set to a level that will work for the actors (usually this gets tweaked as we work through “tech week” and previews before the show opens in earnest).
The sound tech is in the amp room downstairs and there is no one in the building. And yet the sound is ever present – the ventilation systems, electrical dinguses, and who knows what else. It is always disappointing to me to re-discover that silence does not lie outside ourselves. But then I tune into my environment and enjoy the sounds that are present – besides these systems there is traffic outside, a streetcar going past, 2 friends talking that I hear as a murmur.
There are compromises in this world, ones we negotiate and internalize everyday, without even knowing it. The best thing I guess is to just embrace them, work with them, allow them to be part of the dance of your experience. I’ll be practicing this today.
I’m spending a lot of time in the theatre this year, with many great collaborators, doing plays, performance art/dance pieces, and contemporary dance performance myself (luckily, I will not be dancing but playing percussion). It’s going to be a lively schedule and even more is in the pipeline.
As i work on the various pieces, often all at once (as is the fate of the full time artist trying to make a living) I find myself having to split my mind into many pieces – or rather, access that piece of my creative mind that is tuned to the project I currently have booted up and running on my computer.
With the many years experience I have accumulated, this is not as difficult as it used to be, but only because of one thing – when I take something on, I spend a lot of time trying to understand it, to put my finger and ear on the central tenet of what the thing is supposed to be. In this I am helped by my many collaborators but principally the directors and choreographers, but I find that that understanding I seek before starting to construct the sound can come from anywhere – a movement, a word, a picture, or perhaps the set. The important thing is to remain open and welcoming to that one piece or moment that will guide me.
i’m working at tarragon theatre these days, sound designing a double bill of amazing plays by hanna mocovitch with john gzowski. as always in the theatre, i am struck by how the interplay of text and sound can go so right, and also so wrong.
we had a lot of ideas ready to go when we started, and then of course discarded most of them. this is a good sign — it makes me think we are doing something right, supporting the words instead of restricting them. the text of these plays is so natural, so perfect. every “uh” and pause, every change of thought is scripted (and the actors are doing a terrific job of executing them, by the way). there isn’t one superfluous utterance – every ellipsis in the script has a purpose. it is quite sublime.
apparently this post has wandered away from sound. but i betcha i’m going to think about this the next time i make an audio piece.
what struck me most about the evening is that, for whatever way you want to talk about it, what connects us to each other online is not “branding” or “targeted market” or any of the other terms we might use: it is the fact that we share stories about each other. that each link and word we post is actually about ourselves. and if we keep that in mind then of course we are going to connect, to grow, and to build on what we have, and be greater/better/deeper that what we could be alone.
busy in the studio, sound design for the tarragon theatre (with john gzowski) on 2 beautifully written, chilling plays by hannah moscovitch. working on a remount of when the gods came down to earth, a video installation directed by srinivas krishna. more composition and planning for a new series of audio works.
i’ve always been of the opinion that to know something, you really need direct experience. not a controversial statement, i admit, but one i seem to invoke nearly daily in this age of ready information. so when i decided i needed to document some of my performance projects i was wary — what does that mean then, to document? how does it work? how can documentation become a part of the creative foundation of the project?
there is a lot about digital sound, a particular kind of sound world that holds much fascination for me. in many ways the fascination is expressed in the act or process of making the sound around us audible, the exposure of the mystery that is in our atmosphere all around us, every day.
but being a musician, and maybe more so a percussionist, also demands a kind of engagement when i make and construct this sound into a work. and in the end, the process is fulfilling but not visceral—an important part of my connection to creating sound is lost through the keyboard, the midi controller, the mouse.
which is why i am so happy to have built tetsuo kogawa‘s radio transmitters, thanks to the help of naisa and hector centeno. for the first time in many years i have direct access to working with this world, a way to engage my whole being in the exploration of this mysterious realm.