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Thrift stores are terrific places to find great props at low prices.

Recording in the field is terrific for getting sounds in the context of their environments, but sometimes you want materials that are as clean, clear, noise-free, and devoid of ambience as possible. For those situations, studio recording is the way to go.

I record sound effects in two different areas of my studio. When I want a dry, clean sound with as little coloration as possible, I close-mic the source in my vocal booth with a large-diaphragm mic between six inches and two feet from the sound source. If I want a more open sound, I record in my larger room, with the mic placed one to six feet from the source. I also experiment with shotgun mics, lavaliere mics, and anything else I have available.

If you are recording in a bedroom-size space, deaden the surfaces around the recording area with acoustic absorbers and turn off any unnecessary computer fans. Use the nicest, most neutral mic and best mic preamp you have. If you’re recording voice, use a pop filter.

Voice. The most flexible sound generation tool is the human voice. The voice has been used as the basis for a great deal of sound design, and it’s capable of mimicking all sorts of animals and birds, among other strange and surprising sounds. The emotive character of the voice expresses movement and interest no matter how much manipulation it undergoes. Voice sounds great slowed down and reversed, and it can impart a sense of the familiar within a context of nonhuman sounds.

FIG. 4: Human sounds can be used to give nonhuman characters lifelike qualities. The sounds used for the Szlachta character in the game Vampire: The Masquerade started as baby sounds.

One of my favorite uses of voice was in the creation of a creature known as a Szlachta for the game Vampire: The Masquerade (see Fig. 4). I recorded a baby cooing, grumbling, crying, and whining. That material, slowed down and dropped in pitch, became the disturbing gibbers and moans of a misshapen monster. Our natural empathy toward babies evoked an extra shade of pathos for the hideous creature.

Props. When I’m working on sounds in the studio, I tend to record a wide variety of props. I am always on the lookout for items with interesting sounds to add to my collection. Bits of metal, chunks of wood, tools that slide or slip or ratchet, rough pieces of cloth and Velcro, balloons, nails, and sections of chain all can be recorded and manipulated to great effect.

I often think about the physical components that make up an object when I’m imagining how to create its sound. What’s it made of? Does it have bits that rattle? Is it squeaky or smooth? Once I have imagined what the sound should be, I look for props I have that would work as an element. Remember: the prop doesn’t need to look like what it represents; it just has to sound like it. If I don’t have a suitable prop, I head out to find the right thing. Thrift stores are terrific places to find great props at low prices.

Reprinted with permission from Magazine, March, 2001
2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.

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