About Sound Design

I’ve been working on several interesting projects as a sound designer. I’ll evoke here only a few for two reasons. First of all, very few lines are enough to list the relevant skills ; and second point, I’m focusing with this blog on the musical composition part.

I was always said in my initial training that a sound designer is definitely not a musician. Indeed, if you think as a musician when editing a movie, or worst when designing field recording ; you will have problems. Editing sound is by definition atonal. Induce tone in dialogue editing or designing field recording and you’re off the topic : it won’t sound right. If you can’t hear it, your boss will.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that your inside musician can’t steal a few tricks from the sound designer. That is my main point.

Koursk, un sous-marin en eaux troubles, by Jean Michel Carré (french speaking documentary)

We worked as a team in the French studios of Supersonic Productions (now sadly closed).

Julien Bonvicini / audio restoration
Elise Madec / speech recording
Antoine Piron (your host) / sound design, special effects

I was assigned to design underwater sounds, bombs and all other sounds which didn’t exist on the original tapes. Actually, all images that are pure illustration, not interviews, were so damaged that 80 % of the sound was re-created using sound design. We used the following softwares : SSL Soundscape DAW, and MAGIX Samplitude.

A quick note about explosions : some people think you just have to look for the right sound in your library and just put it at the right place in a software. It’s actually not true in most of cases. An explosion happens in two times, so if you want to give some impact, I would advise to combine two or three sounds together. Using only one sound will sound dull and you’ll even have a chance that somebody heard it somewhere else… which is best to avoid.

Audio restoration, dialogue editing, speech recording, and audio-description

Sound design is not all about creation. Most of the times, you cut and paste different takes of dialogue, you clean damaged parts, and you record speakers accurately.

A quick note about audio description which is a new and quite special exercise. It’s been created in France, within the Association Valentin-Haüy, which I worked for, a non-profit organization which provides services for blind people, including DAISY audio books, and audio-described movies.

Recording an audio-described movie is a quite normal recording process, technically speaking. You’re using an export of the sound track of a movie, and record the voice part, which describes not everything, but only the parts that blind people can’t guess by hearing the original sound track. That’s why you can’t record here what we can call a perfect radio speech, heavily compressed. That voice must be smoothly integrated to the movie, slightly separated from it, so people can distinguish the soundtrack from the commentary. It’s somehow like someone is whispering information relevant to the auditor.

DAISY means Digital Accessible Information System. It is an audio book format, composed of indexed mp3 files. So, you’re guessing that the main part of the work implies a proper cleaning of the source. The main thing is to clean the noise and parasite sounds. Don’t do it and you’ll have ugly robotized artefacts from the mp3 conversion. Besides that part, that’s a normal dialogue editing, where you have to respect the speech’s rythm an you can also slightly cut irrelevant low and high frequencies.

What the sound designer can bring to the musician

Dialogue editing and sound design, speech recording, audio restoration : In which way are they useful to an electronic musician ?

Dialogue editing and audio restoration have a direct use in manipulating sample. Because my first love was hip hop music, the first thing I learnt is to sample anything from any source, even the dirtiest one. Some beatmakers don’t really care about cleaning their audio sources, and they are right within their own use of it. I do care because you can with a clean sample multiply its use. For instance, the fact of having too much noise is a problem. If you duplicate a track, you duplicate the noise. If you put some reverb or delay, you will spread that noise everywhere in your stereo… Do it only if there is an esthetic purpose.

Being a musician that is a sound designer is also useful to save a few hours and money in the mixing process. I know some musicians even have a sound designer that intervenes during their creative process. There is no rule, but technical autonomy is definitely something valuable, especially in the creative area. I wrote about editing but there are many other processes that can save you time and efforts : set up your studio, cable it, record other musicians, quickly learn how to use new machines and softwares, deliver a pre-mixed, mixed, or in some cases, pre-mastered material by yourself.

That’s one way to put it, there are many others ways, which are right too. My point is that to be technically up-to-date is to be freer for creation. For sure, this isn’t the only way, but that one that works for me.

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