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Great interview with Dave Whitehead

Thu, 04 Sep 2014 16:05:08 +0000


As you may know I am the co-host of a podcast on sound design called Tonebenders.  We have just released an episode that features an interview with Dave Whitehead.  If you are not familiar with Mr. Whitehead he is the sound designer on the Hobbit trilogy, District 9, Snowpiercer and many, many other films.  If you have an interest at all in sound design or sound editing this episode should be considered a must listen.

Check it out at The Tonebenders website or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.  It is also available on Stitcher Radio.

N.A.B. Round Up

Fri, 16 May 2014 15:26:15 +0000

I was lucky enough to get to Las Vegas this spring for the annual National Association of Broadcasters conference, better known as N.A.B.  It was my second time attending the conference but with a a gap of ten years between my two appearances. I am of two minds about attending conferences like this, given the current world of total digital access that we now live in. Fifteen years ago this kind of tradeshow/conference was where you had to go to really get useful information about what was new and exciting in the audio world, but now that is not so much the case.  These days, at the same moment that a company is introducing a new product on the show floor, the company’s website is rolling out just about all the information you could need, with video tutorials and tech specs, all accessible from your comfy couch at home. You can go online and swap opinions and observations about new stuff with other audio nerds via blogs and user forums. Plus almost all software has some sort of demo available for download before purchase, so you don’t need to be on site to get a firsthand try at it.  As a sound editor, attending N.A.B. to get a handle on what's new is no longer a must.   On the other hand, attendees with big spending budgets can get a lot accomplished on the show floor.  High-end hardware, like consoles and outboard gear, are only easily demo'ed where there's dealers - so mostly only in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. If you're from a smaller place, coming to Vegas is your big chance to get your hands on all the gear at once.  As an example, while the new Avid S6 control surface is well represented on AVID’s website, it was a different experience to see it in person and watch it get put through its paces on the show floor. The N.A.B. show is massive and it takes a lot of seemingly endless walking to get through the whole show.  Granted, large sections of the conference are of no interest at all to the average audio pro, but I found almost all of the exhibits interesting on some level.  I try to use some of my time there to get a sense of the industry as a whole.  For the purposes of this post though, I will stick to a few audio-related discoveries that I found especially interesting.   First up: swag! The prize for best bit of swag from the show? The Izotope RX3 hand sanitizer.  This is a clever little play on the software’s audio cleaning capabilities.  I picked up about 30 pens and a bunch of USB stick drives from other companies  - stuff that I might end up actually using more, but the Izotope freebie is the one that I really remember.  Blastwave had a booth that was manned by Ric Viers - obviously - it's his company - as well as Colin Hart of Hart FX.  I talked a bit with both of them and they were super nice guys. Blastwave announced the third edition of its flagship product in Sonopedia 3.0.  I learned that I had been pronouncing the name of this SFX collection wrong for a long time; the proper way is so the beginning sounds like sonar.  Version 3.0 has 40,000 sounds, up from the 30,000 SFX you got with version 2.0. That basic info was readily available.  What I learned from talking to Ric in person was that version 3.0 first carved out 7000 older SFX and actually added 17,000 new sounds to get to the final 40,000.  Meaning that if you already own Sonopedia 2.0, as I do, upgrading to the latest version means you are actually ending up with 47,000 total SFX, because you would already own the sounds they carved out of 3.0.  That is a little complicated to describe in a press release (or a blog post for that matter.) It's the kind of thing you learn on the show floor by actually talking to the guy who's responsible. Klover Products had a small booth that I stumbled across while I was wandering around lost, looking for another company.  They make parabolic microphone dishes, and seem like they really know what they are doing. The owner is a design [...]

Circuit Bending on Designing Sound

Tue, 06 May 2014 18:34:59 +0000


The fantastic website recently featured an interview I was a part of on their site.  Each month they have a theme and invite the sound design community to contribute articles, essays, or anything else that pertains to the theme. For April 2014 their theme was "broken".  The podcast I co-produce on audio post production recorded an interview with the performance duo named Roth Mobot.  They use exclusively circuit bent instruments when they compose music.  In the interview they talk about the history of circuit bending, the best practices to get crazy results, and suggest references on how to find out more on the subject.  Since you have to basically break into the electronics of something to circuit bend it, we thought this would fit into the Designing Sound theme perfectly.

Take a listen and see if you might want to explore the craft of circuit bending further.

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You can visit or subscibe via the iTunes podcast directory to hear other Tonebenders episodes.

Recordings I did for Noah

Sun, 13 Apr 2014 17:15:00 +0000

I just saw the film Noah at my local multiplex.  It was in one of the giant theatres with a large screen, and it was really really LOUD!  I actually found myself covering my ears during a few of the busier action sequences.  Although it was loud, it sounded great.  Some really amazing sound work was done on this film.   One of the reasons I was so eager to see/hear Noah was that I contributed some recordings to the sound track.  Some recordings that are very close to my heart.  The screams and squawks of my infant son when he was a brand new baby.  Here is how it all came to be. Last spring the Tonebenders podcast I co-produce and co-host about sound design, did an episode with Coll Anderson as our guest.  Coll was gracious enough to talk to us about the soundtrack he sound supervised for the great film Martha Marcy May Marlene.  After we finished recording the episode he phoned my house, to go over getting some recordings of the specific sounds we spoke about in the interview.  I was holding my newborn son who was making the odd peep while we talked. Coll inquired as to the age of my boy and when I told him the baby was brand spankin’ new he quickly asked me for a favour.  He was working on the sound edit for a film that featured babies immediately after they were born and asked if I could record my son crying and send him the audio files.  They had tried to cut in the sounds of an older baby but it just did not sound right.  The cry of a new born is dryer and has more crackle then even a 2 month old, so they were on the hunt for some new recordings of really new babies.   Luckily for Coll, and his project, I had a son who was no stranger to crying in his early days.  I had already recorded a lot of him just losing his mind with screams and yells.  In order to let my wife get some sleep after a long, complicated labour, I was spending a lot of time hidden away in my basement studio with my son.  Since I was recording in an ideal environment, my recordings were super clean as well.  After all if you are a sound effects editor and you have a crying baby in your studio, you sure as hell better be rolling right? So I quickly culled down my recordings to about 20 minutes of some of my son’s greatest yelps, cries and wails and sent them off to Coll.  At this point I had no idea what film Coll was working on, other then it was directed by Darren Aronofsky.  Coll Anderson had done me a solid by being on our podcast, so I was happy to do him a favour in return.  Then life rolled on and I mostly forgot about all this. A couple months ago the PR machine started winding up for Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s new film.  This triggered my memory and I asked Coll, via email, if he had ended up using the sounds that my son and I had provided.  It turns out he did and the project was, in fact, Noah. Not only are my son’s screams and cries in the film - but they are in the most pivotal scene of the entire film.  There are about 40 seconds in the film where there is no other dialog, only the the sound of my kid, just wailing away full tilt.   It was pretty cool to hear my son, and by extension my recordings, blasting out of the massive sound system at the multiplex with a packed house in attendance.  Kudos to Coll and the rest of the sound team on the film because my clean studio recordings fit in perfect with the rest of the mix.  Almost as if they were recorded on a giant arc, thousands of years ago.   Here is a quick snippet of the cries from my son, if you go see the film keep an ear out for them. width="100%" height="450" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="">  [...]

New York Times Op-Doc

Wed, 12 Mar 2014 03:36:42 +0000

Last year I mixed a 40 minute film by a local film maker named Kelly O'Brien called Softening.  It was a really powerful film about how a family learns to live with a son born with severe cerebral palsy.  The film is a roller coaster of emotion that breaks your heart at times, while also making you laugh out loud at others.  

The sound mix for the film was sometimes a challenge for me because Kelly wanted it to be a really sparse soundtrack.  Long stretches of the film were supported with only multi-layered ambiences, and music was left for only special select sequences.  My first pass at the sound edit was much busier then what we ended up with.  But after some trial and error we pulled everything way back.  In the end this approach was exactly what the film needed.  The quiet sequences allow a lot of the heavy content to settle over the audience.

The film made the rounds in the festival circut and was really well recieved where ever it played.  As a result it found its way to the editors of the New York Times Op-Docs series.  At their request Kelly re-cut parts of the film down to make a 5 minute version of the film that focues on the perspective of the 6 year sister in the family.  After remixing this new version, it is now up on the Times site for all to see.

If you have a spare 5 minutes please take the time to watch this touching short film.  I don't think you will regret it.

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The Peculiarities of Audio Shop Talk

Sun, 20 Oct 2013 02:20:32 +0000

This world of professional audio requires us to have a handle on of a lot of different makes and model numbers for all the many items of gear we use to make great sounds.  Most manufacturers will have different versions of the same basic product, so with each new release announcement, you have one more little detail to file away in your brain - often it's something like the difference between the 6032 and the 6042 or some other seemingly random sequence of numbers.  Recalling specific model numbers is not one of my strengths - I can rhyme off the differences between different models fairly easily, but I'm not so good at keeping the numbers straight. And you might think proper names would be better, but anyone who's needed to consult Google to remind themselves which species of cat they are currently running as an OS will know that it's not really a more intuitive solution.   This whole make and model thing can be problematic because this is a business where normal educational milestones are sometimes not as important as one's fluency in shop-talk.  I imagine that a job interview in the standard business world might involve at least an acknowledgment of one's degrees and diplomas and some school name-dropping.  Not in this game though.  I have never been asked what degree I have or where I went to college - it's just not nearly as important as what projects I have worked on and who I know.  A familiar job interview scenario involves a studio owner throwing gear names around to see if the prospective hire can follow along or, better yet, has their own opinions on which model/version of "widget X" they prefer.  This is something I have been tripped up by in the past, getting confused over which version is which during a conversation.  Given a minute or two, I usually manage to prove that it is my memory for names that's a bit weak and not my overall knowledge of the gear in question. The industry seems to thrive on building up it's own language that outsiders don't really understand and that distinguishes the old pros from the newbies. I'm sure everyone's experienced this embarrassing moment before: the mispronounced product name. There are a number of audio brands that are pronounced differently in different countries.  For instance: when I was in college we recorded all the sync sound for our student films on Nagra reel-to-reel recorders.  I loved those wonderful workhorses and had great fun learning to use them.  They are built like tanks and can be relied on to get the job done.  The malfunctions came later when I graduated and started interacting with the international audio community.  Here in Toronto we pronounce it "NA-gra" with an "a" like "apple" - but in other cities and countries, particularly in the US, it is pronounced "NAW-gruh".  Not different enough to cause confusion, but evidently different enough to raise some eyebrows.  Same goes for the "mogue" vs "mooo-g" pronounciation of the synth manufacturer Moog.  I've been pronouncing it wrong since the 80s.  I found out that I was incorrect because I heard straight from Bob Moog himself how it should be pronounced: width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> My excuse? When I was a kid, I was an avid fan of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and they had a goalie named Andy Moog; the play by play announcers always called him out as "Mooo-g" and I'm sure that's why I latched on to saying the name that way as well. I later learned that Andy also prefers the "mogue" way of saying it.   I also suspect that living in close proximity to Niagara Falls has influenced people in this area to say Nagra in a similar way, with a "na" instead of "naw". How they pronounce it at the Kudelski HQ in Switzerland? No idea, but I'm almost positive it's neither[...]

Going for a Skate..... with Microphones!

Wed, 03 Jul 2013 23:34:00 +0000

Canadian-ness is often an underlying theme of my blog posts. Any international readers out there will have had the chance to learn a little something about Canadian wildlife, our winter weather, even local politics... hey, you name it. The sounds I've collected and write about are often things that are specific to this part of the world, and for that reason, aren't well represented in commercial sound effects libraries that are designed to sell in the U.S.A. or in the world market. I go and record new sounds because I can't find what I need in my library, but also because I like to get out and explore and document in sound the spaces I live in.  Now, I bet if you took a poll, either inside this country or out of it, people would say that the most Canadian space of all is an ice-rink or a hockey arena. And because hockey and skating are such a big part of our culture, there's often a call for skating effects for TV shows and films produced here. With that in mind, and because I've actually spent a lot of my non-working time on the ice playing hockey, I decided I really ought to get around to recording some good new skating sounds - bringing together two of my big interests into one, hopefully fun, project.  Ice rinks can be loud places.  It's rare to have access to a quiet indoor sheet of ice.  The buildings have loud vents pumping in cold air and compressors are running to keep the ice frozen.  Arenas are often not built with acoustics in mind so they are big echoey open spaces.  Then you normally have lots of people skating around making noise while others mill about in the corridors and dressing rooms just off the ice.  So recording the detailed sounds of ice skating was going to require some kind of strategy to get myself alone on the ice. My first idea was to get some time in an arena when no one else would be around.  Rink-time at an arena is certainly available for rent, but it's not cheap. An hour of ice time would put me in the hole about $300 - definitely not in my budget (which was closer to $0.) So I tried to find a time when I could get on the ice for free during a quiet time.  I figured that a good time might be first thing in the morning when an arena first opens for the day. In Canada it's pretty common for kids and adults to play hockey early in the morning prior to going to school or work.  The arenas open a bit in advance of the first game to let everyone get their gear on and settle in before anyone actually takes the ice, so my plan was to be there right when the rink opened, throw on a pair of skates super fast and hit the ice with my recording gear before anyone else arrived. My plan worked pretty well actually. I picked an arena that I knew would be amenable, and I was alone on the ice for about 20 minutes skating around with my shotgun mic pointed at my feet. Turns out it's kind of tricky to skate really fast while hunched over pointing a mic at your feet. I was actually surprised at how clean these recordings turned out.  You can hear natural reverb from the space but it is actually not too imposing.  The buzzing of the rink compressors is pretty muted too. Take a listen:  width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src=""> Still, I was looking for a really tight detailed sound of the skates cutting into the ice as they propelled forward.  The best way to cut down on the environmental sounds of an arena was to avoid arenas entirely.  Since I live in a cold weather country it's possible to skate outdoors on rivers and lakes for about 3 months a year.  Skating on a river would eliminate the machine noise and echo of an enclosed building, but would introduce nature sounds into the equation.  After a few tests, I found that natural ice was not[...]

Tonebenders Homework Assignment

Fri, 28 Jun 2013 16:44:26 +0000

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The latest episode of the Tonebenders Podcast is live.  In this episode we answer some listener questions and then listen in as co-host Rene Coronado builds a sci-fi cannon from scratch by layering sounds, both sampled and synthesized.  While he creates, Dustin Camillari and myself grill Rene on his creative process and we all throw in our two cents.  It was a fun one to be a part of.

We also announced our first homework assignment for the listeners of the podcast - to watch (or re-watch) the film "Marcy Mary May Marlene" in the next week or so.  In our next episode we will have a special guest on the show, Coll Anderson, who was the sound designer and re-recording engineer on this film.  Coll has agreed to take part in a discussion about his work on the film.  Mr. Anderson is a very accomplished sound pro with a lot of fantastic films on his resume and we are really excited to have him on the show.

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So your assignment after watching "Marcy Mary May Marlene" is to please send us in questions that we can pass on to Coll as we discuss the film over the coarse of the next podcast episode.  You can send in your questions through email to info-at-tonebenders-dot-net.  If you are feeling really enthusiastic it would be fantastic if you could record yourself asking the question and then send us in an MP3, that way we can play it to Coll straight from the horses mouth.  You can also send in short questions via twitter to @thetonebenders

It would be great to have as much community involvement as possible, so please if you are interested in sound jump in on this discussion.  In order to get the questions in before we record the next episode it would be great to have the questions in by July 5th.

If you have not yet seen the film "Marcy Mary May Marlene" you are in for something new, unique and great.  The film is available via Netflix, the iTunes store for rent, and was a big enough release that you should be able to find it in most any video rental store too.   To entice a bit more here the films theatrical trailer and a couple other resources you can read.

First up is Coll Anderson's own blog post that he wrote immediately after finishing the mix.

Mr. Anderson's IMDB Page

Designing sound also recently did a post on the the use of sound to highlight time shifts in the film.



 So please take part and send in questions, hopefully this can be the start of many case studies to be featured on the podcast.  Also if you know of another film you think we should disect in the future let us know.

Now go out and enjoy the film!

Break Over

Fri, 21 Jun 2013 14:56:32 +0000

It has been a while since I lasted posted anything new to this blog.  Time has slipped away from me over the last two months.  I have been supser busy with work , while getting two animated series up and running in my role as supervising sound editor.  So far, so good though, as the projects and the people I am working with on these shows have been really great so far.  In particular, one of the series had a need for a lot of recurring, plot significant, signature sounds that were a lot of fun to design.  After a few rounds back and forth with the director, we seem to be settling into a really great sounding world for these characters to inhabit.

In addition to the intense work load, my wife also gave birth to our first baby.  So it has been a crazy couple months since my last blog post......  to put it mildly.  I seem to be getting my feet back under me now though.  So hopefully this blog will start winding back up to feature regular new content once again.

For obvious reasons I have been listening to a lot of baby noises and screams, frequently in the middle of the night.  It has lead me to do a lot of thinking on baby vocalizations and their use in sound design.  Baby screams can be incredibly useful sounds in SFX editing.  Obviously they are needed in scenes with an actual baby up on the  screen but I have found them to be really effective when used to fill out ambiences in public spaces.  Inserting a distant baby crying can add a subtle level of tension to a scene, even when no baby appears on the screen.  When a baby is really losing its cool, these screams are really handy in creature vocal design too, throw some pitch shifting and modulation on these and you will have a terrifying space creature in no time.  

I was going to post some of the crazier sounds my kid makes as free download for everyone to grab.  Then I thought twice.  I earned the great sounds I have recorded from this little SFX machine of child, by losing lots of sleep and basically all my free time.  So I am keeping these sounds all to my self this time.  Sorry.....

(image) This is what my brain feels like currently

Remembering Patrick

Thu, 11 Apr 2013 14:25:05 +0000

I have written a few times about my former boss and friend Patrick Spence-Thomas.  He was my first boss out of college and a big influence in my career path.  Sadly he passed away a few years ago, but every year on his birthday those that knew him all gather at his favourite watering hole in downtown Toronto to raise our glasses and tell stories of his great adventures.  Recently family and friends met for what would have been Patrick's 80th birthday and it was a fantastic night filled with stories of all the crazy ways he got himself into and out of sticky situations. Patrick with his field recording gear back in the day.Patrick was a sought after field recordist and traveled the world recording battlefields and historical moments on his trusted Nagra, but he was also a talented audio engineer in the studio.  He helped a lot of Canadian film makers get their start.  Strangely amongst all the projects Patrick worked on, the one that gets talked about most is possibly the worst film he ever worked on.  In fact there are many people who would argue this film is in the running for the very worst film ever made.  Patrick mixed and did voice over work on "Death Bed: The Bed That Eats", a truly horrible and damn near unwatchable film.  Deathbed was finished in 1977 with a minuscule budget. The antagonist in the film is a wooden four post king size bed. When people fall asleep on the bed it somehow sucks the victim into its acidic underbelly and dissolves their bodies.  With a concept this bad it makes sense that funding would be hard to find. The film was recently featured by Rotten Tomatoes on their list of "25 Movies So Bad They're Unmissable" and it has headlined festivals dedicated to horrible film making around the world.  Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is truly a spectacularly bad film.  When George Barry, the film's American director, arrived at Patrick's studio he had little money and a giant mess of a film on his hands.  The film did not make sense at all.  With no money to go back and further edit the film, Patrick and George made an attempt to save the film by adding new narration and ADR.  Since this was decided so late in the process Patrick was quickly cast as the voice of "The Artist" simply because he was already present in the room.  I can not even imagine a film arriving for mix in such bad shape that the director asked me to get in the booth and narrate what was supposed to be happening on screen.  Patrick also performed the voice of the Deathbed itself (uncredited!!!) when the bed would snore or laugh after a "nice snack", as Patrick himself would say. Patrick's "acting" credit in the closing credits. Other lines were added in post, with much of the ADR occurring while the actor's mouths were fully on screen and closed.  This lead to Patrick adding an odd audio treatment that implies characters have ESP powers and can talk to each other without speaking....... but only sometimes........ and for no discernible reason within the plot.  What an amazing mess this film is! To really get an idea of kind of film Death Bed is here is a synopsis from wikipedia: A large, black, four-poster bed, possessed by a demon, is passed from owner to owner. The Demon was a tree, who became a breeze and seemingly fell in love with a woman he blew past. The demon then took human form and conjured up a bed. While he was making love with the woman she died and his eyes bled onto the bed, causing it to become possessed. Those who come into contact with the bed are frequently consumed by it (victims are pulled into what is apparently a large chamber of digestive fluids beneath the sheets). The bed demonstrates a malevolent intelligence as well as some psychokinetic and limited telepathic a[...]