Theme Brief

New Theme: Bodyfalls

Finally a new theme!

As most of us are probably in lockdown at the moment, I thought it best not to pick a subject that requires straying too far from home but, on the other hand, as it’s been aaaaaages since the last theme, I thought it’d be a bit of an anticlimax to pick some mundane domestic sound to record.

I keep a note of any theme suggestions that get proposed by members and, checking back, I came across ‘Bodyfalls’, suggested by Rene Coronado a few years back on the Club’s Evernote page, which seems perfect: Can be recorded in the garden, park or even indoors but is also quite a challenge – it’s quite a tricky sound to get right I think. It’s a sound that often gets questioned in a mix – i.e. Is it big enough? Does it sound real? Does the surface sound right? etc. Perhaps this is because we’re often torn between achieving the comedy in a fall, or the action movie ‘beef’ of it (as with punches) but also have to make it believable as a realistic event that’s just happened in a real environment.

There’s also another obstacle in achieving a good bodyfall sound – falling over hurts. Unfortunately, falling over gently doesn’t really make much of a sound, so we have to find a way of creating a big impact on a ground surface which sounds like a human body but doesn’t cause one of us to end up in A&E at probably the least convenient moment in our lifetimes.

So you’ll need to come up with your own solutions, but I basically thought of three avenues to explore. Firstly, I’ve been out playing football with my son, 1 v 1, quite a lot recently and because it’s been so wet one of us inevitably slips over now and again. I absolutely stacked it a couple of days ago but because the park’s so muddy it didn’t really hurt at all, so I’ve already had a go at the direct route of trying to do a hard fall myself on a nice soft muddy patch of grass. However, this solution isn’t exactly practical for getting any cool tarmac or interior hard floor bodyfalls though…..

Second opportunity that struck me was that, whatever games my kids play in the garden, 90% of them seem to involve them throwing themselves around to make saves, catch balls, etc. So I might leave a mic out there next time they’re going berserk and see if I get lucky. I have to be careful with this option though, as if I tell them what the recording’s for they’ll start diving around the garden with even greater gusto, which leads back to the previous caveat regarding this not being the greatest moment in time to end up in A&E. Plus my wife’s banned me from involving the kids in any kind of sound fx recording ever since my youngest bruised his eardrum doing underwater screams for me a few years back….but I digress…in any case, this option won’t provide me with big ‘action movie’ bodyfalls, just the lighter, more realistic ones.

The last option I could think of is the foley prop route – maybe I can find some object that, unlike me, is unbreakable (or at least, it doesn’t matter if it breaks) so that I can throw it with force upon different surfaces, possibly from a decent height. Maybe a big densely packed hessian sandbag? A big bag of compost? Can’t be in a plastic bag though otherwise I reckon it’d sound wrong. I could then perhaps supplement that big object impact with one of my lighter but realistic human bodyfalls and together they’d hopefully sound great? I’ll have to work on this one though as I don’t currently have any human-sized hessian bags of sand lying around….

I’ve also experimented with parallel compression on the real bodyfalls I did – to see if I could keep the realism of the untreated fall but supercharge it a bit with the compressed version. I’ll let you know how I got on in another post soon. Thinking it through like this and starting to have a go at the theme has made me think this should perhaps be the first collection where rather than just submitting one natural recording to the collection, we have the option to present our work as ‘kits’ if necessary. As you can see from my ideas above, I may not get the sounds I’m after from just one sound, but from a couple of different recordings plus maybe a little bit of processing. So it may be better to present our recordings a bit like this when necessary:

I’ve provided my original recording in a separate folder, just in case, but also an ‘edited’ version in another folder, in which the falls are cut tighter, with the compressed version to played alongside it. Both tracks are exactly the same length so it’s easy to sync them. I may still add another layer when I try my other ideas, if it adds something to the sound. By the way, the only reason I did an RX pass on the original was that it was really windy yesterday so the falls would have been unusable otherwise due to blowing on the mic – I didn’t use it to augment the sound in any way.

It’s important to point out: THIS IS NOT A SOUND DESIGN CHALLENGE! We need to get the best original recordings of real bodyfalls that we can possibly get. If you’re smarter than me (or have tackled this problem before) and can get great bodyfall sounds completely au naturel in one recording then great; don’t over-complicate it with layers of extra sounds or processing. I don’t want us all reaching straight for our arsenals of plugins to get the sounds we’re after rather than trying to achieve them in our actual recording. In fact I might only allow parallel compression to be used, as this means we can keep the sound natural, but beef it up a bit to our own taste by increasing / decreasing the volume of the accompanying compressed track if needed.

What’s more, this is just my own thought process on how to get the best sounding bodyfall – maybe some of you can think of a better way of tackling this challenge that I’ve not mentioned: Go for it, I look forward to hearing the results. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions too, as this theme in particular may need a little working out as we go along – and as we discover what’s possible. Good luck and stay safe!