First New Theme for 2013-14


It’s been a long time coming but finally I bring you the first new theme of the 2013-14 season!

I was going to go with a member’s recent suggestion, or a more summer-influenced theme this month but then I got inspired by a new editing / sound design technique I picked up from Douglas Murray on the Designing Sound website the other week, which led me to thinking of applying it to our latest theme.

As you’ll see from the link, the tip shows you how to create endless fill, or tone, from a tiny sample of an original recording.  As a post sound dialogue editor this technique is a lifesaver for when you’re struggling to find clean bits of ‘air’ from sync sound to connect lines of dialogue together in a scene.  However, Douglas also mentions he uses it for sound design tasks too, which got me to thinking how it could be useful to bear this trick in mind as we collect our room tone recordings.

Basically, I primarily want us to build up a standard collection of room tones as you’d expect:  I’d say anything between a minute and a half to five minutes is a sufficient duration.  Recordings need to be neutral, in the same way as was required for the City Skylines collection – this is the indoor equivalent.  No bumps, bangs, voices, car horns, etc – just neutral indoor air to be used as a sound bed in a scene.  There can be a sense of distant traffic but once again, as with the City Skylines collection, it must be a wash rather than contain any specific vehicle details.  Level-wise, bear in mind what volume these recordings will be used at – you don’t want to have to pull the volume down loads on the recording every time you use it, but you also don’t want to have to boost it loads either.  Think about the volume it plays back at when played at unity.  Ideally, when prepping a scene, I like to have to pull atmos beds like room tone down by about 5-10 dB from their recorded level.

Other than that, all I can add is – be as adventurous or as unimaginative as you like!  If you can get recordings of unusual spaces then that is fantastic but even if you just get a recording of your living room, bathroom or kitchen then that’s still really useful – all spaces vary slightly in character plus the particular  way you record it will give it it’s own feel too (e.g. wider or narrower stereo image, closer to the window, etc. plus everyone’s own ‘outside world’ inevitably influences the indoor tone even when it’s very quiet).

I’ll re-emphasize an important point though:  make sure your room tones are quiet!  No-one wants to have to go through tracks editing out bumps and bangs, tap drips, car passes, etc. – make sure these recordings are nice and clean!  I’ll also add that this is not the ideal theme to use handheld recorders or cheaper equipment for, due to the inherent hiss that will be likely to show up in these quieter recordings.

Now for the twist:  many times I’ve been recording in an interesting building (or in underground spaces, or quite busy places, for example) and got all kinds of interesting short sounds but often, for one reason or another (such as you’re not really meant to be recording there!), I’ve simply not been able to get more than about 5-10 seconds of clean room tone, so I end up not bothering because 5-10 seconds of tone is a bit of a pain to try and use as an atmos bed in a scene.  However, Douglas’ great trick opens up the possibility of now making use of these short snippets of sound to create endless tone from them.  Therefore, I’m suggesting, as a subfolder within this collection, that we have a collection pot for any snippets or scraps of room tone from interesting spaces that you’ve recorded in but only managed to get short recordings of clean tone from.  By sharing these, we hopefully will also have a folder of bits ‘n’ bobs that we can create endless other room tones from.  I don’t normally let the club stray into the field of sound design, but this method of room tone creation is so dependant on it’s original source material that I thought it was worth starting a sub-collection of our field recordings to support it’s practice.

Please read Douglas’ article carefully though please – he gives a very thorough description of how to make this technique work best.  Please don’t share tiny 1 frame or 1 second samples – I would say that anything between 5 to 30 seconds is most appropriate.  As Douglas explains, the slightest movement or change in sound  creates a different tone so give enough of the recording to enable others to choose which fraction of it works best.

Important point:  you can only contribute to this ‘snippets pot’ if you’ve contributed a standard, long duration room tone recording to the collection.  This ‘twist’ to the collection is simply a fun add-on, not the main focus of the collection – it may not even really work out, in which case I’ll ditch the idea, but I thought it was worth experimenting with.

Any thoughts or suggestions below – now, let’s get back to collecting!  Thank you all for your patience while new themes have been put on hold while I’ve been digging myself out of the admin hell that was switching cloud servers from Sugarsync to Google Drive – hopefully that hard work will be worth it in the long run.

All the best,


New Theme!

Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 21.11.27Big thanks to all members for their patience over the past couple of months while I’ve been snowed under with a sound supervising gig on a film project in Budapest.  I am actually a fan of occasionally skipping a month here and there so that we can try and stock up our existing themes rather than having lots of smaller or untouched collections.  However, I’m not going to pretend my radio silence was a deliberate strategy!  Workload combined with the foreign travel has consumed all my spare time these past few weeks so that even managing to upload new contributions has been a bit of a struggle.  I don’t see this being a regular problem – it was quite an unusual set of circumstances – but I have decided to set up a contingency plan to avoid disruption of the club’s momentum should a similar scenario occur again in the future.  More news as and when………

Right, back to the theme:

‘City Skylines’ has been chosen by London-based Sound FX Editor / Designer, Tony Gibson, who I was happy to welcome to the club for the first time earlier this year.

Tony has won an RTS award in 2009-10 & a Music and Sound award in 2011 for his work on the popular TV series, Misfits.  He also picked up ‘TV Sound Editor of the Year’ award at this year’s Conch Awards in the UK.  He currently works for the post facility, Molinare in London.

Here’s Tony’s brief for our latest theme:

“Underneath every great audio tracklay is something that to most people goes unnoticed.  But to the people who work in our field they are the bed that everything is built up from.City Skylines are very important to the our work, they help to create a base for all of our dialogue, effects and sound design to blend together and create our overall sound track.These are none specific in nature but are very indispensable to what we do.”


I’ll second the importance that these recordings are non-specific atmos beds rather than a collection of traffic passes.  My personal view is that different senses of space are useful so perhaps we can experiment with different stereo or quad, etc. recordings.  On the flip side of that, corresponding mono recordings are also useful for helping fill the centre speaker on occasion – but maybe that’s the dialogue editor in me talking!

My experience of collecting this type of recording is that it’s best to go high:  Tops of buildings or other raised viewpoints over an area of the city gives you the necessary distance from the urban melee of traffic and people so that you get that generic ‘roar’ rather than any sense of specific details.  If you simply stand on a street corner, you’ll pick up too many close sounds like footfalls and car passes.

Any further input from fellow sound collectors is more than welcome in the comments below.  Good to be back and thanks again to all of you for your patience!