Sound Experiments and Collaborations(Part 1)

February and  March last year involved a lot of  sound  experimentation mainly using audacity software. Now I use audacity practically all the time now largely due to the simplicity of the interface and the ease of accomplishing something with speed, efficiency and minimal frustration. Despite taking a year out, which really hasn’t seemed like taking a year out, I’ve continued with the same working pattern these past few months. I’ve been experimenting with sound(s) on rotoscope animations  where I had previously  used copyrighted sound material.

BBC i-PLAYER RADIO

While researching techniques used by notable sound designers, I found that the documentaries on the BBC i-player radio have a range of interesting, informative and insightful radio documentaries. Last week I came across this great radio documentary, BBC Radio 4 Bleep Bleep Bloop: Music and Video Games  from 2011 (I think). Paul Bennun (video game sound designer) explores the rise of popularity in video game music/sounds. Bennun interviews  Ivor Novello award winner, Joris de Man the composer of the Kill Zone series. I was inspired by the interview!

 

COLLABORATIONS

Demons of the Mind (2014). A collaboration with Simon Smith (fine artist/musician) who incidentally modelled for the animation. After numerous ambient sounds tried and tested, Simon loops audio resembling a police siren which we thought suited the visuals,  I sampled his original sound in audacity with soundbites such as crushed glass and metallic factory sounds.

 

Heat, Light & Shadow (2014). A collaboration with Jonathan Chinchen (sound designer) who previously worked on the Psycho project Don’t Have Nightmares 0.1 2015 (Revised) last year which was finalised earlier this year. For Heat, Light & Shadow I re-worked the audio adding cicada and wind sounds.  Jonny uses samples from two films, he comments: “Sampled from Analogies: Study in the Movement of Time (1977) .  As the rhythm of the sample combined well with the visuals to augment the floating movements of the subject. The audio switches to a sample from the movie “Last House on Dead End Street” to emphasise the heat and intensity of the subject’s stare!”  A dramatic comment! 

 

Colour versions of the above rotoscopes can be seen here

 

Night Dreamer (2013). A collaboration with Jazz pianist, Jeremy Kuhles. It’s a live recording of Jeremy covering Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer. Amplification and noise removal were the only tweaks so not specially a sound collaboration. The original colour animation is used for promotional purposes in gif form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Have Nightmares 2015 (Revised)

Don’t Have Nightmares was an unfinished project back in March, 2015. An installation was to be incorporated but due to complications, I abandon the idea. Also, the audio was never added as the animation remained unfinished. It was a pity, as Jonny (sound engineer) had worked hard on the audio. So, rather than just abandon the project, I found myself being more proactive over the festive period. I continued working on the animation. First, adding motion tweens, then a few stills, then cyan tones and finally the icing on the cake-the audio. Done!

My inspiration came from the books I’m currently reading and the public information film project I’m currently working on. The idea of using the animation (Don’t Have Nightmares) for a public information project was considered back in June/July last year. The books, The Internet is not the Answer by Andrew Keen and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, inspired me to use the animation to interpret the argument that privacy is becoming obsolete. The voyeuristic iconic shower sequence in Psycho where the viewer is allowed to secretly peer in at the subject is akin to the way social media platforms are set up. Facebook being the obvious example. That’s not to say we only use social media for a spying purpose, but there is the temptation to do so. Interestingly, Andrew Keen references another Hitchcock film, Rear Window. In his book, he states that Hitchcock’s narrative parallels Google’s dominance in the digital age. I considered a new working title ‘Are Friends Celebrities?’ However, I ditched the idea to avoid any referencing confusion on my blog. Overall, I’m pleased with the end result and thankfully so is the sound engineer.

Audio information from an earlier post (March 2015):

The original audio was severely revamped. Stock sound fx downloaded and manipulated in pitch or speed. Analogue synthesizer used for simple “heartbeat” pulse. Reverb plug ins used to simulate tiled bathroom ambience. Delay with lfo sweep used to emulate water going down a plughole, swirling psycho effect.  Overall, I was very pleased with Jonny’s work. However, the screams were still too prominent for me so I decided to make amendments in Audacity. I reduced the scream amplification and added much more ‘delay’ effects on screams

 

 

Don’t Have Nightmares 0.1: Psycho (sound Experiment 1)

Recently I have collaborating with a sound engineer (Jonny) on the Don’t Have Nightmares 0.1 rotoscope. To begin, it was decided that a conventional sound piece would be a sensible choice.

Pre-sound discussion/considerations (early March)

The recording will be made by analogue synthesizers. One will be conventional sound effects tied to the visual activity on screen. The second will be sound made by analogue synthesizers which will represent some of the action on screen (shower noise) and screams. Also, there will be some musical representations of motion and emotion (i.e. glissando as her hand slides down the wall). There will be one recurring background sound to represent the growing tension before the attack.

Post-sound discussion/considerations (mid March) 

The original audio was severely revamped. Stock sound fx downloaded and manipulated in pitch or speed. Analogue synthesizer used for simple “heartbeat” pulse. Reverb plug ins used to simulate tiled bathroom ambience. Delay with lfo sweep used to emulate water going down a plughole, swirling psycho effect.  Overall, I was very pleased with Jonny’s work. However, the screams were still too prominent for me so I decided to make amendments in Audacity. I reduced the scream amplification and added much more ‘delay’ effects on screams.

Graphics

To present the sound, originally, I was going to upload a wave file. No, seemed a bit boring. Mmmm and there was me applauding a Will Self article only last week saying that the net is suffering from visual overload! Then, I thought a rotoscoped drawing could be a ‘nice’ spectatorial pleasure for the viewer. After all,  this is a sound piece. After playing around with original footage on a movie editor, I made up my mind. The original (edited) footage is used though subltly. Effects: Contrast and various toners are used for a ‘heated’ visual effect. I thought about making the graphics stronger and denser by blurring the colours so the actual footage would became non-existent. I did and at one point it looked like a Mark Rothko painting.  Before finalising, I decided on typography. First, I typed ‘Don’t Have Nightmares 0.1 about five or six times. No, all the fonts looked plain. Then, I converted the type into Windings 3. The graphic softens the visuals so I decided to use three (Red,Yellow & Black) layers of Windings 3. The graphical element hints at voyeurism. Like looking in on someone through a small space. I bit like what Norman was doing in the film.

As stated in the credits, to REALLY HEAR, headphones are recommended.

 

Don't Have Nightmares 0.1 Psycho- Sound Experiment 1

 

 

Photographic Pop Culture

Back in 2008 pop culture and fashion magazine Vanity Fair featured a series of stylized photographic portraits inspired by Alfred Hitchcock films. An interesting and fun concept, contemporary star actors mimicking classic actors in iconic scenes. Apart from paying homage to Hitchcock, there is a real theatrical quality about these photographs. Apparently, this feature received many positive reviews. The concept could have been triggered by Annie Leibovitz’s celebrity portraits in Disney characters the year before.

Marion Cotillard as Janet Leigh in Psycho by Mark Seliger  

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Vanity Fair’s Hitchcock Classics Photo Spreads …

Creating Suspense

While reading a film theory book on the way into London yesterday.
As most people interested in Hitchcock films are aware, Alfred Hitchcock’s style was largely influenced by the work of the Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein’s montage technique introduced innovative film methods to suggest violence and suspense. For example, Shot A + Shot B (screen shots) = Shot C (the mind of the audience). Hitchcock employs this technique to full effect in the shower scene in Psycho. However, after 40 years working as a studio filmmaker, Hitchcock’s work was known for its invisibility quality. Hollywood cinema in the 20s and 30s were controlled not only by censorship but also by the structure of the film. Films largely focused on narrative and characters. Being restricted, Hitchcock perfected ways to deviate from traditional paths and look for alternatives to create suspense. By using montage, he could perfect his technique using ‘invisible cutting’ (Skerry 2009) where the viewer connected with the character to create tension. Below, we can observe an example of this technique early on in the film Psycho. We see close-ups of Janet Leigh driving, the bright lights causing her to blink. Then, we see clips of her windscreen view. The viewer becomes her and we can identify with her state of mind.

Shot A Shot B Shot C Shot D Shot E Shot F

 

 

Sparky Shower

Over the past few weekends, I’ve been experimenting with animating water. Before I began this project I didn’t really consider animating water in much detail. Before I began, I checked my preparatory notes. A brief summary below:

Figure(s) details: body colour, hair colour, wet hair colour ,dry hair colour, shadow of assailant behind curtain, facial shot close-up, shading, toning, colour gradients ( sketching loosely for rapid movement, line tool for outline).
Background details: tile colour, shower floor, bathroom wall, picture on wall, bathroom door.
Other: curtain colour, shower head (2 angles), shower rail, shower rail holders, plug hole, knife.

No mention of water, so for a few ideas and tips, I began looking at a few animated watery effects and tutorials  on YouTube. First, I used the paintbrush tool as I can rotoscope fairly fast with it.  I achieved some interesting  slushy watery effects. However, I couldn’t find an appropriate sound bite to match the visuals. I even considered omitting animating the water altogether. Therefore, I would put more emphasis on sound to convey  water. I decided to leave everything alone for a few days, think with a clear mind…another day.

Back to the drawing board the following weekend with a new plan of attack. My next approach was to listen through some sound bites. Why have a watery sound? Why not whistling kettle, a hissing cat  or finger scratching a chalk board?  I came across some electric drills and circular saw sound bites. I got mental images of strobes, neon lighting and sparks from a welding tool. I began to practice with more tools in the Flash software until I found a tool which enabled to produce a strobe, sparky effect. After viewing and considering the sound, still I wasn’t satisfied with the overall treatment. The animation appeared TOO mechanical. So, I decided to add splashes (that look like sparks!)  using the paintbrush.

Top left: shower angle 1, line tool (black line) /Top right: shower angle 1, line tool ( white line) / Bottom left: shower angle 2, line tool (white line), edited in online photo editor/ Bottom right: shower angle 2, line tool (white line), edited in online photo editor

1 Black Water.jpg 2 White Water.jpg 3 Grey water White background.jpg 4 Shower 1.jpg

Left: shower  angle 1 with figure ( pen tool/ paint brush) Right: shower angle 2 , (pen tool/ paint brush)

Psycho Shower Scene (frame 91 shower front view) Psycho Shower Scene (frame 132 shower ariel view)

Test 2

Animation Duration: 11 seconds (120 drawings approx) ;  Water effects: shower angle 1, paint brush/ white water. shower angle 2 grey water, white background. Visual effects: ripple effect

 

Lounge Music: Bruno Nicolai-Spy chase ( music ends before animation);  Sound bite: Deafening Whispers (Overdubbed whispering. Very intense. This sample loops seamlessly. Recorded, edited and mixed using Audacity and Zoom H2) ; shower cues sound bite.

 

 

Dont Have Nightmares: Test 2

 

 

 

 

Test 3

Animation Duration: 11 seconds (120 drawings approx); Water effects: shower angle 1,  line tool & paintbrush/ white water. shower angle 2 line tool & paintbrush, white water, grey background.

Lounge Music: Armando Trovajoli- The Getaway (music ends as shower begins);  Sound bite: Machine Band Saw, (sawing hardboard with a band saw). Pack of power tools recorded in carpenter’s workshop in Savijärvi, Tavastia Proper. Zoom H4n. Shower cues sound bite.

 

Dont Have Nightmares: Test 3

 

 

 

Rotoshop experimenting: Step 3

STEP 3: Designing. Over the past week I had been designing the background and considering colour schemes. Originally, the shower area and figure would be white. However, as I will probably animate white water, I altered the shower area to an ash grey. The figure’s hair will be expressive, gradients of chrome auburn red, cobalt blue or emerald green. The colours are not yet decided.

Psycho Shower Scene (frame 1 blue read chrome shower area) Psycho Shower Scene (frame 1 grey chrome shower area) Psycho Shower Scene (frame 1 grey shower area) Psycho Shower Scene (frame 24 multi-coloured hair) Psycho Shower Scene (frame 24 red hair) Psycho Shower Scene (frame 64 blue hair)

Today I rotoscoped about 5 seconds. Below is a test

Rotoshop experimenting begins (Steps 1 and 2)

STEP 1: After finally deciding that I would choose the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho (1960), I scanned various sites to find a HD version of the footage. A HD version helps me during the rotoscoping process as I can map the outlines of the form with more speed and less difficulty. At this stage, I don’t get bogged down with having to improvise objects and movement. From experience, that part of rotoscoping can really slow down the process and the outcome might not be the desired result. On the other hand, improvisations can create unintentional digital masterpieces! Considerations. Below is an audio version of the Psycho shower scene. Time: 2 minutes, 36 seconds

STEP 2: I will be animating at 1 second per 12 frames so my next aim is to edit the footage down to around 1 minute 20 seconds (960 drawings approx. ). I’ve not done very much in the way of film editing since my university days. It will be interesting to see if I can still maintain the impact of the scene though it’s not a pre-requisite. From analysing the footage, I note framing composition, visually very clear and the manner in which the tension builds; subtle edits from animate objects (woman) to inanimate objects (the shower head). The tension manifests in a series of close-ups and montage. I keep track of times, shots and areas in which I could exploit, distort, exaggerate during the post-edit phase. Time: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Early Influences: Edward Hopper

Soir Bleu 1914 by Edward Hopper

Years ago, while researching painters as a component for the A Level Art curriculum, I became very influenced by the work of the American realist painter, Edward Hopper. Hopper’s work was very photographic and minimal. A lot of his later famous paintings were of New York scenes and I was very interested in the way he carefully arranged people in his paintings, notably in works such as Chop Suey (1929) and Nighthawks (1942). The street scenes were very cinematic and had a geometrical quality about them. Famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock paid homage to Hopper and his influences can be seen in the film Psycho. Bates’ Motel is clearly modelled on The House by the Railroad (1925). I was more influenced by his composition and the way his images, especially in his work in the  30s and 40s, seemed uncluttered and stylish. Until I started to broaden my ideas on the Foundation course, I was very photographic in my approach to pictorial art. Pictured is my favourite Hopper painting, Soir Bleu (1914) . I just adore the character study. It’s contrary to a lot of Hoppers work I like as it’s not a street/countryside scene, has more than one person in the scene and was painted when visiting Europe early in his career. It’s been my p.c. wallpaper image for years. I just can’t seem to get bored with it.