Week 1: Stereo Sound Design Sketch

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Or at least an attempt at one. I’m excited to be taking a class completely outside of my wheelhouse this semester. Listening to TK talk about sound last week, I realized that though I love love love listening to music, I have no idea how to approach it from the perspective of a designer. It reminded me of stepping into a wine or cheese tasting where I marvel at all the many nuanced descriptions and leave appreciating it more, mostly because of the realization that I have much more to learn.

As I dove into our digital audio production tool of choice this week, Reaper, my world of possibility expanded exponentially. After working through the first dozen video tutorials for an overview of the interface and the basics of editing audio tracks, I was blown away by the degree of available customization, not to mention the seemingly limitless ways to engineer sounds.

My first attempt at this week’s sketch to create a story with a sense of “space” ended in a dead end. Maybe because I chose to work with recordings of silence; I have several on my phone from various locations, indoors and out. After applying a handful effects and teasing and pulling the tracks into different vibrations, I ended up with a wall of sound. Not terribly surprising consider that I live here, and even on the quietest of early mornings, there’s a persistent hum …of air conditioners? …of the heart beats of millions? In any case, it’s always there, and I realized I didn’t truly understand how to design a spatial sound story.

Pivot! This video helped me visualize and hear the depth in and between sounds (though I didn’t understand most of the terminology mentioned), and eventually after multiple fits and stops, I found myself with a very literal one minute story about my typical morning.

Here’s an annotated outline noting the required effects:

  • Door Sliding — VST ReaEQ, Close Mic Acoustic preset to make it ya know, sound closer & panned mostly to the right

  • Birds Chirping (& The Great City Hum) — VST ReaEQ High Self type enabled in attempt to make the sounds “brighter” and closer & VST ReaVerb Echo & Reverb Generators to enhance the hum

  • Kettle Whistling — VST ReaPitch adjust sliders to enhance whistle, VST ReaEQ Move to the Back preset, & panned mostly to the left

  • Eggs Sizzling

  • Person Sipping — VST ReaComp Death Metal kick because I like it (see note on compression below), paired with Birds Chirping

  • Heels Clacking — VST ReaDelay small room preset & time stretched to speed up footsteps

  • Door Opening & Closing — VST ReaDelay small room preset

Other notes:

  • Throughout I also adjusted track volume levels to impact a sense of distance from the sounds. (Should I have been using the effects all along for this purpose?)

  • Overall, I couldn’t really tell the difference when adjusting the compression sliders myself but could distinguish between the presets. I couldn’t tell you how, though. I understand that it amplifies the quiet sounds and reduces the level of the louder sounds. However, this made more sense when we learned how to master our sketches in class for final rendering.

  • I also changed my phone recordings from mono to fake stereo.

Class feedback:

  • Gabriel mentioned a surreal quality—almost uncanny valley—and very collage-esque. I like this! The sizzling eggs came off as an incredibly long tea pour that morphs into something strange. It’s true I mostly worked within a very linear format and did not blend as many sounds. (Depending on the desired outcome, sometimes adding in a background track brings everything together.)

  • Marco commented that the “sipping” take sounded very clear. So interesting! I thought otherwise.

  • Very near field, which means recording close to the mic. I learned that this is like shooting in raw in photography.

  • My own observations from listening to classmates’ work: my perception of time changes depending on what I’m hearing. These were one minute pieces but often I perceived them as much longer.

I have a ways to go, but now that I know what I don’t know, and that’s much farther along than when I started this process.

Credits from Freesound.org:
steps in high heels by anagar
Light Hollow Wooden Door Open Close by SpliceSound

All other sounds recorded with my phone.
GIF from giphy