Street Voices

The human voice can evoke so much meaning and emotion.  Therefore, it is an invaluable vehicle for expressing the mood of a location.  As a result, this month’s theme is one of my favourite types of sound effect for creating interesting and evocative soundscapes. 

This theme lies somewhere between ‘exterior crowd’ fx and crowd ADR.  It is not general chat or crowd sounds.  It is more specific than that, and should only consist of one or a few people.  It is not crowd ADR, it is more distant and worldized than that.  The voices need to be raised, if not shouting, in order to carry over this distance.  

These type of recordings are perfect for poking through between dialogue to give a scene character.  Using distant voices in this way is a really effective way of controlling the vibe of an environment –  making it seem anything from intimidating or welcoming to posh or slummy.

A couple arguing in a courtyard; a drunk shouting in an alleyway; noisy scaffolders: a baby’s cries heard from an open window; or a few people talking loudly and laughing in the park – these are the sort of sounds I’m after.

Two important points:  

  1. As usual, it is vital that these recordings contain minimal background noise.  They are not atmospheres, they are fx which need to be able to fade in and out without a surge of traffic noise or other general crowd sounds.  
  2. Distance is crucial.  Too close and you are basically recording those people’s conversation.  Consequently, a can of worms is opened with regards to model release forms and privacy infringement, etc.  Instead, you need to be distant enough so that you are indirectly recording the voices.  If you stick a mic out of your window and someone is shouting down the end of the street then I would say that no privacy is infringed and you are ok to use that recording howsoever you please.  In contrast, if you make a stealth recording of a couple having a private, heated conversation in, say, a cafe, then I would argue that you have perhaps invaded their privacy and it could be unwise to start using that recording in commercial projects.  Common sense will hopefully dictate what is suitable, but a good guide is to consider whether you are recording someone actively or passively / directly or indirectly and whether they are imposing their voice on your environment or you are invading their privacy.  On the flip side, it will not be possible to use the recording as spot fx if the voices are too distant because the accompanying noise of the surrounding environment will surge in and out too much. 

One last point:  Please specify where your recordings were made.  It is vital that the title or metadata of these FX reveal what country they are from (and also mention if the location is somewhere where the language may be other than the native tongue, eg. Chinatown!)  

Other than that, good luck with your shout-hunting and I look forward to hearing the results!

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