21 December 2007

Do I Hear 4.6 Billion?

From Wired Business News: FCC Releases 700-MHz Auction Bidder List.

As promised, the FCC released a list late Tuesday night of what turns out to be 266 potential applicants who are all seeking to bid in the upcoming 700 MHz auction scheduled for January 24. The FCC released no further information about how much each company will fork over to the government or even what portion of the 700 MHz spectrum they are bidding on, due to auction rules set up previously.

Google, a company that has already admitted it will be putting up at least $4.6 billion of its own money for the highly sought after "C" block, had its application accepted and is bidding under the name Google Airwaves.

"Google Airwaves", eh? With the impending release of Android, Google has made their interest in the wireless market quite evident. If they win the spectrum, I'll be curious to see if they can make OTA internet connectivity a viable option.

Many people will be vary of one company having so much control over the information we consume, from search results to the very carrier medium by which it reaches us. Think about it: if this were Microsoft instead of the big G, the pundits would be up in arms yelling about monopolistic practices.

I'm hoping it works out for two reasons:

A) If we as audio professionals are going to have our tool sets limited, it better be for a good reason. As I've stated before, I believe in the power of information and education. If a "free" (i.e. probably ad-supported) internet service becomes available in metropolitan areas, it would help to close the digital divide. Low-income folks will have access to online resources without having to be limited to public library hours and locations, allowing them the opportunity for self-education via straight research or online school courses.

B) It will press existing internet providers to either drop their prices or significantly increase their bandwidth offerings. I've read in a few places that the US pales in comparison to Europe and especially South Korea for what we call "broadband". If our options are between decent gratis wireless, or a screaming fat pipe for a monthly fee, we can choose what's best for our needs.

We shall see...

Link, via wired.com.

18 December 2007

Consider Me Timbers Shivered

Avast ye scurvy dogs, and be sure to check out Recording "The Morning Light", an article about handling documentary audio on a ship in the middle of a 2300 mile race. Snip:
Tasked with capturing the audio for the Morning Light project, Production Sound Mixer David McJunkin faced a series of formidable obstacles during the lengthy preparations leading up to the actual race that forced him to implement some highly unique solutions in recording the production tracks.

Wind, salt water, and the unpredictability of daily life on board a sailing boat in open water were just a few of the problems Dave had to overcome during this film that chronicles the year-long run-up to the race.

Hardcore. Makes my prior sea excursion seem like a canoe trip.

Link, via locationsound.com.

14 December 2007

The Noise Has Already Been Broughten

Hey, kids.

Today's treat comes from DV Magazine, in the form of a brief overview entitled Bring the Noise — Simple Steps To Ensure Solid Sound Recording On Location. The author, Jay Holben, is a former cinematographer, but we'll overlook that, as he has the right idea. Snip:
General audiences will forgive poor images, but they will rarely forgive poor sound, especially if they can’t clearly hear what the subjects onscreen are saying. Obtaining good sound just takes time, consideration and a willingness to get it right—adding artistic talent to the mix can then make it great.

See? Even DP's can be taught. :)

Link, via dv.com.

11 December 2007

And Away We Go....

This just in from Lectrosonics, via prolocationsound.com:

Lectrosonics Update

Lectrosonics Reblocked

Wireless frequencies are about to undergo some necessary shuffling, due to the FCC auction of the spectrum above 700 mHz, which will take effect February 2009. Lectrosonics is no exception, making Block 27, 28, and 29 no longer available except by special order in 2008 and entirely unavailable thereafter. To compensate, Lectro will be expanding the blocks available on the lower end of the spectrum. Blocks 19 and 20, pending FCC approval, will roll out first quarter 2008, with a possibility of further expansion later. In addition, more products will be added using block 944.

Thanks for the heads up, Whitney.

10 December 2007

More Alphabet Soup RE: RF Spectrum

The folks over at Coffey Sound have posted podcasts (that's MP3s to you and me, Rusty) and PDF's of the CAS/695 RF Seminar: FCC Spectrum Sell-Off, the White Spaces Left and You. Here's an interesting snip:

• Public Safety bands will allow for various agencies to communicate with each other
• Services in balance of 700 MHz band largely unknown
• In both cases, wireless microphones will likely lose secondary broadcast rights above TV channel 51 sometime after end of DTV transition
•• Current and future system purchases should all be in frequency bands below 698 MHz!

(The exclamation point is theirs, but I agree with it.)

To do audio professionally, it isn't enough anymore to know acoustics, microphones, and levels; we are now expected to be radio engineers as well.

Not to moan too much, but consider that it would be the equivalent of expecting your DP to also be responsible for a wireless video feed on every project, in addition to framing, focus and lighting the shot. Yet another bullet point in a long line of items that differentiate ours from other departments.

That being said, there's still nothing else I'd rather do, and I've been lucky enough to make a living at it, so c'est la vie. :)

Link to the seminar, via coffeysound.com.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock....

So goes the digitally-emulated sound of a mechanical clock ticking down on the 700 MHz spectrum. Snip:

The bidding begins on January 24th with a minimum of $4.6 billion required for the open-access C Block. Wake the kids, phone the neighbors, it's going to get ugly fast.

Google has officially stated its intentions to bid on that particular block. Them airwaves are about to become a wee bit crowded.

Gee, is it too late to bring TV and film production back to hard-wired mics?

(cue crickets)


Link to engagdet post.

27 November 2007

On the Level

In the current installment of Trew Audio's tech column Audio Flow, Skylor Morgan covers the myriad forms of line level encountered in pro audio. Snip:

What is the difference in line level, mic level, tape level, consumer level, +4, and -10? Some are the same, some are louder. Clear it up for you? I didn’t think so.

Audio levels are measured in decibels. Tons of logarithmic math can explain this, and many others have explained the topic extremely well. Google “decibel” and you’ll find a wealth of information on the topic. So in this session there are few things I’ll just ask you to accept.

Link to column.

P.S. I'm using downtime on my current gig for a certain athletic shoe company to blog while waiting for the next interview. Ain't technology grand? :)

21 November 2007

The Rendering Times, They Are a-Changin'

Seems like a bit of change is in the air.

First up, Mike Curtis of hdforindies.com has a new additional blogging gig over at boxoffice.com. In a recent post, he waxes philosophic about the digital transition in the printing world, and how it portends to emerging trends in media post-production. Snip:
So I think that the the post house industry is heading the same way that service bureaus did in the nineties. To me, this means:

-as bread and butter tasks are stripped away because they can be done by the clients themselves due to falling costs and simplified technology, there will be a smaller revenue base available.

As software comes out that enables more to be done in-house, that will hasten this process. Statistically, virtually nobody can do serious color correction on their own outside of a post house right now. But look at how Photoshop has become an economy of its own. The same way their were Photoshop kids doing great work for $50/hr 10 years ago, there will be Apple Color whizzes doing quality stuff for $100/hr within a year or two I'll bet.

Video post houses will shrink and/or consolidate and/or go out of business - it'll be a tough time for them. But with fewer places where they can justify their existence, how can it be any other way?

The remaining post houses will have three areas to stay competitive in - knowledge, service, and high end capabilities.

Also, check out this press release from Avid, concerning a shift in their 2008 strategy. Snip:

Based on extensive market research, Avid plans to announce a series of customer-focused initiatives in 2008 – all of which will be designed to make it easier for customers, prospects and the media to interact with the company...The company also announced that it will not have an exhibition booth at the 2008 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention, but plans to be in Las Vegas next April to meet with customers.

So, no big booth at NAB, but a more customer-focused presence. Facing the onslaught of Apple's marketeers (really, the Apple booth I remember from NAB 2004 was almost like a Disney ride), it makes sense to spend that money elsewhere, but exactly where will be interesting to see, especially in light of this thread over at avid.com's boards:

A bunch of us were invited to a conference call with Graham Sharp (he's the V.P of the Video Division) this morning and he outlined Avid's strategy for the next year. I have to tell you that he talked big. Real big. He said that Avid had gone quiet for the last year in order to do one thing; get its collective act together. He said that they have spent time and effort to get their products back to the relative stability that the company once offered with Meridian.

Now that they are on the road to achieving THAT goal, Graham said that 2008 will be the year that they take the fight to the competition.

As well as this quote from Sharp himself, via creativecow.net:
"We found much better results by going directly to our customers,” he told us. “We took the money we would have spent on a tradeshow stand and visited many times more customers, with a much more personal experience."

So why am I yammering about video editing software in an audio blog? Two reasons: First, post is converging upon itself. Eventually, there will only be one post program, rather than separate applications for picture, sound, VFX, etc. You will ingest your raw material, open the post app, and select the picture cutting mode (or pane, or whatever). The app will only show you picture editing-related menu items and functionality.

Once you've gotten close to a picture lock, you switch to audio mode; video controls and filters switch to sound manipulation tools, and you go to work on your mix.

And so on, through VFX compositing, color grading, and finally compression/ media authoring, all different functions of the same app.

We're taking the first steps already, with tighter integration between applications in the three major post bundles from Apple, Adobe and Avid. Closer still is Sony's Vegas, which features 5.1 surround mixing and editing right in the main video timeline.

Which brings me to reason 2: The only reason any of us involved with production ever get out of bed and stumble onto set is to create raw material for post, full stop.

Films and documentaries and shorts and television are not made in the field, they are made in the edit suite. Production is merely one-albeit crucial (and expensive)-stage in the entire process, and not an end in itself.

Field production folks need to pay attention to these sea changes. Post is becoming more of an IT animal, which is already affecting the way that we shoot (witness edit-ready solid state media in the form of Panasonic's P2 cards, and the plethora of CF and hard-drive recorders for field audio). The same market forces that make computers a commodity will continue to influence post in both cost and accessibility.

And when a company like Avid, with its legacy of being a fore-runner in non-linear editing and being firmly entrenched in both broadcast and feature worlds says that it's got major changes in mind for the next year, we should all pay attention.

Link to Mike's post at boxoffice.com.
Link to Mike's post about Avid.
Link to Avid's press release.
Link to avid.com's forum.
Link to Studio Daily Blog's post.
Link to Creative Cow post.

14 November 2007

Field Sounds

In my second New Zealand-related post today, I'd like to introduce you to Field Sounds: A Portal for Film and TV Recording. Mixer Ande Schurr has amassed a considerable link list of tutorials and advice for novices and veterans alike. (Disclosure: I found out about it after he linked to my post about working with the Coast Guard).


Q: What do I need to know?

Attitude for Beginners : Sit down last - Stand up first; Listen first - Talk last; Laugh at jokes - Don't tell them; Arrive First - Leave last; As a new person no one will need your education but they will appreciate a humble, WORKer. Don't dress to impress or distract (You get this or you don't...); Don't smoke near non-smokers or gear or food or at all if possible; Learn everyone's name (this is big); Be especially nice to support services, security etc - it will pay off when you need a favour or info in a hurry; "Please, Thank You, Excuse Me" - always; When your are bored out of your skull, don't read a book, talk on cell phone etc. (Learn to hide like the rest of us); When you are given boring /miserable tasks, just do it and come back for more; ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for details if you don't understand a task; Don't rely on someone else to finish an assigned task - YOU will look stupid when they don't; If you are unsafe, you are fired. If you speed, you are fired. If you are drunk/stoned etc..... DO go for a beer if invited - DO NOT get drunk and try to out talk the old timers. Avoid set politics - let everyone slag people/departments while you remain neutral. When you move up the ladder, be especially nice to people below you.

This kind of aggregated information is invaluable to newer folks and those of us who live outside of the Major Markets (ie LA and NY), and thus can't necessarily network face-to-face with more established mixers. If you don't have the opportunity to apprentice under someone (as I did not), you end up learning a lot the hard way, unless you can benefit from resources like this, along with forums like jwsound.net and R.A.M.P.S., to name a couple.

Visit early and often, kids. If I'd known about this when I'd first started out, I'd have saved my self a small fortune in Tums.


Vibrating Air Molecules

Blog buddy Emon forwarded this to me:

The Music of Sound is an audio blog by Kiwi mixer Tim Prebble. Snip:

Tim Prebble is a film sound designer & supervising sound editor
based in Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand.

While most of his waking hours are spent working on film soundtracks
other interests include making ambient/alaetorical music, collecting
records, playing double bass, making electronic dub infused beats,
planting sunflowers & wishing he was on holiday in Japan.

Be sure to check out this post and his amazing field recordings captured with a $200 (!) recorder. The price may seem amateur, but the sound quality says otherwise. As he says in the post: "Trust your ears, only." Sage advice.

Link, via emonome.com.

13 November 2007

Audio Gangster

Filmsound Daily! has just posted an interview with William Sarokin, talking about his experience mixing production sound for American Gangster. Snip:

FSD: We all know that getting in early is important for any film craft. In sound, if you're lucky you get hired before location scouting commences. How often have you been involved in that process? Why doesn't this happen more often?

WS: I'm never hired before the location scouting begins. I usually have 4-5 days prep on most films while the location manager starts months before production begins. My prep consists of 2-3 days of tech scouting, a day for the production meeting and a day for the equipment load in so often the best I can do is damage control. Often the UPM will call me weeks in advance if there is a question about a location they want to use but are concerned about sound issues, but that is pretty rare.

And why is this so rare? I mean, yes, I know it's all about the budget, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish, since having your mixer on the location scout can save you time (ie money) up front by offering solutions to sound issues before you even get to set (I've ranted about this previously).

But I have to say, as a relative newbie, I feel a bit better hearing that even seasoned pro's still run into problems with things like limited wireless range and multi-camera scene coverage. This lets me know that I'm at least on the right track, and not to give myself an ulcer about it.

In theory. :)


09 November 2007

In Another Shocking Development...

A bit OT, via gizmodo et al: A short video clip of the theme from Super Mario Brothers being reproduced by two Tesla coils, as part of the Lightning on the Lawn Telsathon 2007. Snip:

The music that you hear is coming from the sparks that these two identical high power solid state Tesla coils are generating. There are no speakers involved...The coils are controlled over a fiber optic link by a single laptop computer. Each coil is assigned to a midi channel which it responds to by playing notes that are programed into the computer software.

Please to enjoy:

Link to making-of pix.

25 October 2007

Cape Disappointment

Hey there, kiddos.

Today, we're going to talk about mic technique in the field, and by in the field, I mean hours from a major city, and thus, any hope of replacement gear.

Recently, I was tasked with wiring Coast Guard crew members as they went on training maneuvers off of Cape Disappointment, Washington. Typically, they plow through ten to fifteen foot waves, with cold seawater showering them, which necessitates wearing a dry survival suit. These suits are just a few degrees removed from space suits, and thus provided their own challenge.

The Mustang Swift Water Rescue Dry Suit

I knew this in advance, a luxury in my field. So I spent most of the preceding evening working out a strategy to keep my mics and transmitters dry. Of course, as soon as I got there and saw the suits and the conditions first hand, I threw out 80% of what I'd come up with, and ended up doing the same thing I always do in such circumstances: I MacGuyvered it.

The Countryman B3 lav mics are already known for their water-resistant qualities, but this was seawater flying over the bow of a boat (which, having gone out in it myself, is like being splashed in the face by a bucket every thirty seconds). To reinforce the mics, I cut a bit of latex from some generic exam gloves (available at any drugstore), and fit those over each capsule, like a miniature bathing cap.

After fitting the mic's cap over the latex, I ran some electrical tape around the edge, making it completely waterproof down to the connector jack.

I then rolled up some gaffer's tape into the trusty "football" triangles. This can be one of the most fool-proof ways to wire someone and ensure that the mic isn't going anywhere for the remainder of the day. While it can be bulky and less-than-discreet under civilian clothes, it would be perfect under the heavy layers of the suits.

But now I had to deal with wind, and not just the occasional errant breeze; we were talking full on winds, some of which gusted up to 30 mph. For this, I used a Rycote Overcover.

The Overcover is essentially a small, lav-sized cutout from the "dead cat" windjammer cover, used in full-sized mic wind screens. It is meant to be sandwiched against a Sticky, which is a pre-cut, double-stick tab included with the Overcovers. Since we were in harsher conditions than what it was intended for, I crossed my fingers that the gaff tape would hold it all in place.

After placing the Overcover near the top of one triangle, I set the mic capsule half-way along the pad.

After folding the Overcover in half over the mic, I placed the other gaff triangle on top, sandwiching the mic and the cover. I now had heavy wind protection, as well as extra water resistance.

Finally, it came down to placing the mics. The survival suits are water and wind-proof, meaning that they're also essentially sound proof, so the old stand-bys of miking at the center of the chest were out. Normally, my next go-to would be at the neck, but the suits are equipped with a rubber gasket at the collar. Eventually, I settled on strapping the transmitter packs around the mid-section with a wireless belt, then running the mic up and out the gasket, along the side of the neck. Since the mic cable is so thin, little to no water slipped into the suit. I then fit the mic-tape-sandwich between the lapel and the survival vest. Not only did this hide the mic, it also held it in place even after the tape lost adhesion in the sea spray.

Due to the logistics of the boat layout and the fact that the A-camera was in a waterproof bag, we settled on a wireless hop directly from talent, bypassing a mixer altogether, utilizing Sennheiser G2's. This also meant that no one would be monitoring audio during the shoot. Since it was a promo, and thus not intended for broadcast, the producer was very understanding about the set-up, reassuring me that "it is what it is."

After the boat returned, we did a playback check, using a small DV camera's internal speaker. I was pleasantly surprised to hear very usable dialogue, even with wind, rain, sea spray, and a powerful diesel engine chugging along in the background.

Your intrepid audio reporter, ready to face the treacherous seas...from the the safety of the dock.

So we did it, and we lived to talk about it. This was the toughest rig I've encountered so far, though I'm sure that someday soon I'll consider it a stroll in the park...if the park had, say, gale-force winds on a daily basis.

C.A.S. RF Spectrum Seminar

On November 5th, the C.A.S. is hosting a seminar on the upcoming spectrum auction . Snip:
Expert speakers will provide an interesting and informative learning experience for everyone about impending issues with the FCC’s policies as well as the general principals of wireless applications.

Link, via coffeysound.com.

15 October 2007

AES 2007 Tour Video

The good folks over at Coffey Sound have posted a video tour of AES 2007. Items of note include the new SR-2 Stereo Receiver from Lectrosonics, as well as the first-ever glimpse of Fostex's new PD-606. Please to enjoy:

Link to higher quality WMV, via coffeysound.com.

11 October 2007

There Are Some Enterprises in Which a Careful Disorderliness Is the True Method

Electronic music artist Moby is now offering royalty-free song downloads for non-commercial, non-profit use. Snip:

'film music', is for independent and non-profit filmmakers, film students, and anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short.
if you want to use it in a commercial film or short then you can apply for an easy license, with any money that's generated being given to the humane society.

Link, via studiodaily.com

08 October 2007

Ice Cream Social (only without the ice cream)

Jeff Wexler, who has done a movie or two, has created CinemaSound, the first (AFAIK) social networking site specifically for "those who do sound for image". Snip:

I read the article this morning in the L.A. Times about Marc Andreessen starting this social networking site called Ning. I have not been a fan of MySpace or Facepage or any of the others, but this Ning thing seems quite a bit classier. Since most of the world seems to be heading in this direction, where Internet based "communities" are replacing face-to-face interactions, I felt it was important to explore these things. I have been quite pleased with my Discussion Group and now I am going to give this a try as well.

- Jeff Wexler

I'm with him as far as other social sites are concerned. While getting a peek at another mixer's personality is one thing, I might treat their opinion as suspect if I find out that their "fav movie was totally Chairman of the Board, bra. I mean, Carrot Top: what can I say? Jeanius."


07 October 2007

Mr. T (Power)

Finally, it seems like people are starting to catch on to the comparative lack of info for production audio, relative to the reams available about video. To that end, Skylor Morgan, Product Specialist over at Trew Audio, has started a monthly tech column. Snip:

Since I receive calls from around the world with questions from basic to complex, my mind is quickly filling with technical jargon, model numbers, specs, history, and techniques of audio recording. Trew Audio, Inc. has decided that my somewhat delusional self-conversations and mumblings are more useful if I share them with you. Periodically, I'll write about a topic in the audio profession. From the most basic "how microphones work" to complicated "timecode pull-up frame rate" chaos, I'll try to cover it all.

Since Skylor works for a dealer, obviously there will be numerous references to Trew audio, but the info is still valid and useful. To that end, I'm choosing to link first to an older post about T-power, which explains it in a very accessible way:

The T in T power is Tonaderspeisung. Let’s break this German compound word into its parts…

Ton- Tone or sound

Ader- vein, artery

Speisung- Supply

Simply stated T- power is sound line supply power.

The engineers accomplish this feet sending the voltage up the same lines the audio came down. During the last 50+ years, the polarity of the voltage has switched pins as did the Nagra. Pins 2 and 3 carry the voltages through a 180 Ohm resister, and the audio is carried back down the same lines. The ground is not involved in the powering circuit.

Link to post, via trewaudio.com.

29 September 2007

New Sound Mixer Blog

Whitney Ince, pro sound mixer, has started a sound-for-picture blog, prolocationsound.com.

The interwebs could certainly use more in-depth coverage of production sound and gear. To that end, Whitney has a ringing endorsement of iPower rechargeable batteries. Snip:
For anyone who hasn’t tried these rechargeable batteries they are a must. I use them as my primary battery in all my 200c and 250c Tx with zero issues. On my last project I saved over $1000.00 over using standard


The 700 Club

On January 28th, 2008, a chunk of the sky is going away.

The FCC will officially open bidding on this date for the 700 Mhz band of the RF broadcast spectrum. Since the US is mandated to finish transitioning to a digital broadcast infrastructure by 2009 (yes, this means that your ol' Zenith nineteen-incher will no longer work without a set-top box), the folks in charge of something invisible, weightless and tasteless have decided to sell it.

What does this mean for the world of audio? Plenty, if you have Sennheiser wireless in the C block, or Lectrosonics in blocks 27-31 (which is quite a few folks out there). By all accounts, either the effective range will be greatly diminished or unusable in urban areas.

What happens to big shows that depend on a lot of wireless? Either they'll have to redesign how the show is shot (unlikely, given that many of these programs are popular and very profitable due to their low production costs), or audio companies will have to get more innovative with their wireless technologies.

Already, some companies (notably Zaxcom and Ricsonix) are developing digital systems, some of which operate in the 2.4 GHz range, using the Bluetooth protocol (yes, the same tech in your little Borg-style phone earpiece) or a similar variant, and Audio Technica recently announced a new, wide-band analog RF system that skirts the issue altogether.

What's being put in its place? A portion of the band has been allocated to emergency communications, but a good chunk is up for grabs (if you happen to have, say, $15 billion or so just laying around). Obviously, major telco companies are jockeying for position, looking to gain a foothold in the ever-expanding mobile wireless market, especially as people get used to having things like the interwebs and media delivered directly to their phones. Others, including Google, want to extend wireless internet access in metropolitan areas, via a "third-pipe" (alongside the traditional channels of broadband cable and DSL).

Now, I'm lucky enough to make a living as a freelance sound mixer, but I personally believe that every person on the planet should have internet access (along with, you know, clean drinking water, food, shelter, etc. But we're talking tech here, so..:). If that means that I have to get new gear, or come up with a more creative solution to limited available spectrum, so be it.

Having better access to the greatest repository of information since the Library of Alexandria can only help people; I, for one, greatly benefited from the internet. I never went to film school, but having access to volumes of information about sound and audio electronics gave me a foundation to begin the career I have today. If you ask any working professional out there, they'll tell you that they've learned a thing or two by having access to industry veterans, by way of online forums and the like.

Would things be easier if we could keep the freq's as they are? You betcha. But Uncle Sam says they're going away, and we all have to plan accordingly. As with all things, the only constant is change; this axiom is no more relevant than in a technology-based industry such as ours.

Article round up:

Ars-Technica; Wired's FAQ; Shure's White Space Info (very in-depth); Sports Video Group's press release (explains considerable use of wireless by pro sports); Apple Eyes Wireless Auction (via businessweek.com); What DTV Means to Wireless Microphone Users.

But this blog takes the cake for spectrum info: publicknowledge.org.

20 September 2007

Illogical, Captain

Apple has announced the long-awaited update to Logic, its high-end music-composition and recording application.

Snip from the press release:
Logic Pro 8 now features an intuitive, single-window interface for instant access to powerful music creation and production functions. New audio production tools have been added to speed up common tasks. And surround production capabilities have been enhanced with support for True Surround software instruments and effects.

Along with a nearly 50% price cut, Apple has included Soundtrack Pro 2, enabling a full-fledged post audio workflow.

What I find interesting is the quote in the release from sound designer Frank Serafine, who has done quite a few big movies:
It is a very sophisticated new way of editing sound and I am currently switching over my Pro Tools|HD rigs to do all the post production sound, dialogue editing, sound effects editing and the final mix all on the Soundtrack Pro platform for my next movie project and future projects.

Now, I do field mixing for a living, but I also do post for short films, and hope to expand that area of my repertoire in the future. It would behoove any production sound mixer to familiarize themselves with post; it is, after all, the whole reason we do any of this in the first place. In-depth knowledge of the needs and capabilities of audio post can only make you a better field mixer.

The quote caught my attention because, until now, Pro Tools has been considered the only game in town for serious audio post (notable exceptions being Nuendo and Fairlight's own consoles), and is widely accepted as an industry standard. Hearing that someone like Serafine is willing to trade out his rigs for SP2 is kind of a big deal. I'll be very interested in seeing if anyone else follows suit.

Link, via postmagazine.com.

11 September 2007

A Stitch in Time (code)


I'm enjoying unencumbered breathing again, now that the uncharacteristically hot, dry winds of the past two days have blown by Portland, and have taken all of their evil alien allergen spores with them.

Which brings me to something else frustrating but inescapable: time code. If you deal in any sort of motion imaging, you will encounter it sooner or later.

From wikipedia: time code is a sequence of numeric codes generated at regular intervals by a timing system [and is] used extensively for synchronization, and for logging material in recorded media.

One place to start is this tech newsletter from B & H Photo Video, found over at Self-Reliant Film. Snip:

Time code synchronization is still a big mystery for many audio and video professionals, and as today's Audio and Video technologies continue to integrate, having a basic understanding of time code has become more and more essential for both studio and field production.

Trust me, someday you will be up at 4 am banging your head against the wall of the post suite (or, if you only do field audio, having your head banged for you by the editor) because of a time code issue. The sooner you get it down, the better you will fare with the inevitable multi-car pile up of cascading sync errors.

Link to Self-Reliant post; direct link to newsletter.

If you really want to sink your teeth into it, try this primer, for sale over at SPARS.

06 September 2007

A Star of Audio Tracks and Field Recordings

You know, kids, I initially started this blog because I felt that sound for picture got less consideration than other departments in the coverage of media production; indeed, one can usually only find articles, or sections, rather than entire magazines devoted to the subject.

Since this is especially true of production sound, I decided to make it my main focus, along with articles about post written with the student, audio newbie or indie filmmaker in mind.

Another sound blog, Film Sound Daily! (which I've mentioned before) covers the "big boy" movies, and has incredible access to folks who normally aren't addressed in the traditional coverage. In their most recent post, they talk to recordist Rob Nokes about field recording for post during production.

Anytime a movie has a unique situation involving crowds or machines it makes sense to capture the original on location as the costs to re-stage unique events are usually cost prohibitive.

Link, via Film Sound Daily!.

01 September 2007

Remember, Shop Smart...Shop "S" Mart.

When I sat down to begin this review of the new Rycote "S" Series Microphone Suspension System, I found myself tempted to pile on the puns (you know: "Don't let me keep you in suspense; Gee, you know what I'm a big fan of? Suspension bridges...", et cetera...).

Instead, I decided to be serious (One: no one reads equipment reviews for comedy, and B: suspension jokes aren't funny to anyone but me). So after taking off my "arrow-through-the-head" prop and emptying my squirting lapel flower, I put fingers to keys.

The "S' Series feels like a mid line product, bridging the gap between the entry-level Softie, and the full modular suspension system, and features a new design philosophy for Rycote. Most modular wind screen systems follow more or less the same concept of a mounting bracket fitted with two shock-absorbing clips to hold the mic; a fabric-lined, zeppelin-shaped plastic windscreen that slides onto the bracket; and a furry slip-on cover for even heavier wind reduction.

The "S" utilizes a central ring into which the two "pods" lock, forming a complete zeppelin-style cover. The pods themselves are fully integrated windscreens with permanent fur, albeit shorter fur than most slip-on covers. The end-caps are unique, in that they are formed from coarse open-celled foam, rather than a continuation of the plastic frame. One the one hand, you can say goodbye to dented zepps (common occurrence), but the foam comes with its own caveats (discussed later).

On the mounting bracket itself, the "S" comes with two flexible plastic clips, as well as two wire dress clips. The clips can be moved along the bracket quite easily to fit most mic sizes, requiring only a pinch on the mounting tabs to release them.

It also comes with Rycote's new re-designed pistol grip, now standard to every model in their line. Touted to be 40% lighter than previous models, it's lined with a rubberized grip, and includes a space for an XLR connector.

Get a grip. (Get it? Oh, how do I do it...)


The mic clips can accept mics anywhere from 3/4" to 1" in diameter. This can be advantageous to folks on a budget, as you can get one set-up to use with multiple mics, and not have to worry about clip sizing. The clips are said to be "unaffected by temperature and all-but unbreakable", according to the website. While whipping the mic about in my living room, I heard a bit of mechanical handling noise. In practice, however, I never heard a thing under fairly normal production conditions, from a film on location to run'n'gun gigs, indoors and out.

Another issue I found was that while they fared well with short shotguns (indeed, the choice of the intended market), they struggled a bit with the Audio Technica AT-835B, a longer, heavier mic. The clips' unique architecture seemed to work against them here, as the inner armature bottomed out against the outer armature with quick cuing. After some experimentation, I ended up lining the arm of the clip with a bit of Moleskin, ameliorating most of the noise (and again, this never came up in real-world conditions, just my torture-tests). I found them to be very good, but not quite as flexible and shock-absorbing as rubber-band style mounts. But as you may well know, rubber bands have their own issues, such as sensitivity to temperature and "dry rot" over time, necessitating replacement.

An additional concern is mic length. Most mics will mount cleanly (Rycote has an in-depth mic size guide for the line), but the aforementioned foam end caps may be problematic for longer mics. The foam takes up more room than the end of a standard plastic frame (about 1-1.5"), so while the pod may appear long enough externally, you lose some internal clearance, Clarence. This forces you to shift the mic further back along the axis of the suspension, in a bit of a "T" configuration. While there's nothing really wrong with this per se, the weight of the mic has been shifted from its traditional position of capsule-heavy to connector-heavy, requiring an extra bit of grip to keep the mic pointed downwards when booming from above.


In addition to film-style, I used the "S" on some run'n'gun shoots, essentially in lieu of a Softie-type set-up. Moving from outside to indoors was easy, as it took just seconds to twist and detach the pods and use the suspension bare (with a foam windscreen over the capsule, natch). While I could stuff the pods into the side pockets of my gear back pack, it wasn't the most elegant of solutions, making things a bit awkward with elevator ingress/egress, for example. If you have a place to stage your gear, however, it's a non-issue.

Without the pods, the pistol grip and suspension are very light, and easily boomable with one hand. While the main bracket ring is detachable, I prefer to leave it mounted, as a physical mic shield.

Pros: perfect for short shotguns, the mainstay of the target market; quick change from indoors to outdoors; more affordable than full modular kits; offers plenty of wind protection in most circumstances; light enough for one-handed booming; clip system offers versatile mounting options .

Cons: clips tended to bottom out with heavier mics; longer mics may not have enough clearance with the pods; a bit unwieldy to carry pods after taking them off; heaviest gusts will exceed wind protection; "T" orientation makes the unit back heavy with longer mics, requiring a grip to keep it pointed.

The "S" Series strikes me as the perfect compromise among cost, performance and features. It will accept numerous mics (assuming you have the appropriately-sized pods), is light and versatile enough for ENG, but offers enough wind protection and noise insulation to be suitable for most film work.

Creed Spencer, booming during rehearsals for the movie Trainmaster with the "S" suspension.

As I need the gear in my kit to skirt both the ENG and indie film worlds and not break the bank, the "S" made the most sense for me.

Rycote "S" Series Microphone Suspension System


25 August 2007

In a world...

This isn't exactly new, but still funny (at least to film dorks like moi).

Don LaFontaine, a.k.a. The Voice, is pretty much the guy when it comes to trailer voice-overs. For The Hollywood Reporter 26th Annual Key Art Awards, he and four other top voice-over artists made this intro video parodying some film trailer cliches:

If you enjoyed that, be sure to check out this brilliant trailer for the movie Comedian.

24 August 2007

The Evolution Will Be Televised (no, really...)

I'm tired.

Just back from a few days on a run'n'gun reality gig. Most of what that show requires for audio is wireless lavs, and lots of them, with only occasional booming. They use Lectrosonics 400 series for the talent, with the 200 series employed for wireless camera hop.

Lectros are generally considered an industry standard, and rightly so. They sound great, are tough as nails, and are about as ubiquitous as Sony 7506 headphones. But, damn, are they spendy.

Luckily, there are now high-quality alternatives available for the newbie mixer and independent filmmaker. One such option is the Sennheiser G2 Evolution Wireless system, which I chose for my kit.

The ENG enchilada

The G2s come in two flavors. The standard package includes with a transmitter, receiver, omni lav mic, windscreen, alligator clip, belt clips, mini-to-mini cable, and mini-to-XLR cable. The ENG package adds a plug-on transmitter, turning any mic wireless, among other uses.

The G2s are compact, smaller than a deck of playing cards. The units have a metal body with a hard plastic flip cover that protects both the battery compartment as well as the menu and select buttons. Being a non-diversity system, each unit sports a single, flexible, permanent antenna.

See? Small. You like? You like?

In addition to the size being reduced from the previous model, Sennheiser has also eschewed 9 volt batteries for AA, as have many manufacturers. While AAs are gaining as the new standard, you have no option to power the units from an NP1 battery, through a battery distribution system (trust me, once you've powered up your entire bag by either plugging in one NP1 or, with some models, flipping a switch, it's hard to go back to turning every single thing on one-at-a-time).

Each unit has an LCD display screen that is easily readable even in direct sunlight, with a nuclear-green back-light. The menus are fairly straight-forward (check out this video that I've blogged about before), and easy to step through. However, since the displays are face-mounted (ie parallel to the belt clips), they can't be seen with the units mounted in an audio bag without reaching in and twisting each one up to face you directly. While this may not be an issue most of the time, it can be frustrating if you have a lot of mics to check in a hurry.

The Evolution systems are frequency-agile, meaning that you can make changes on-the-fly if you encounter interference, which is a boon to any wireless set-up. In the old days, if you had issues, that was it: no soup for you. Now, you can use the scanning function to see which out of 1440 different frequencies are available, and hopefully avoid any problems before you roll.

I ended up choosing two standard kits along with two ENG kits. I figured that this would grant me some flexibility depending on the needs of the scene: four wireless lavs while being hard-wired to camera; two wireless lavs with a wireless hop to camera; or a wireless boom set up.

The Mics

I mentioned earlier that the kits come with the Sennheiser ME 2 omni lav mic, but I opted to replace these with the Countryman B3, mainly due to the fact that the Sennheiser is about the diameter of a pen, and thus not so easy to hide on talent. I keep the Sennheisers as back-ups, but so far haven't had a single problem with the B3s, even with the dust and sweat encountered on a hot location.

I said I needed a lav, not a light...

The B3 is an omni lav, available in many different colors. It's about .2 of an inch in diameter, and thus easily concealable (for one scene, wardrobe cut a very small hole in the handkerchief pocket of a man's suit coat, allowing us to place the mic in plain sight). The mic can accept interchangeable caps that tune its frequency response; I was satisfied with the standard flat response caps that came with the mics .

If you get a different mic for the system, you need to have it pinned out for the G2 transmitter, which uses a locking 1/8-inch (3.5mm) TRS connector (think small headphone jack). The fact that they chose a locking collar means that even in the event that one of the units goes flying, it won't go far. However, the narrow threads also mean that mic changes don't happen as fluidly or quickly as other wireless options.

One unexpected benefit of the mini-jack connector is its compatibility with headphone jacks.This enabled us to employ one wireless system as an ad-hoc IFB, sending audio out of one channel of my mixer to a plug-on transmitter, and then having my boom op plug his cans into the corresponding receiver. The pin assignments only allowed him to hear in one ear, but it was enough to get the job done.

In conjunction with his monitor, we rigged the plug-on transmitter to the boom (the mic was self-powered), allowing him complete freedom around the set. Not the most elegant of solutions, but it worked.

The wireless boom/IFB setup...

The Sound

Like many wireless systems, the G2s employ a companding noise reduction system. While it's a proven technology, you can occasionally hear "pumping", an artifact common to companders. It was especially noticeable when comparing the sound of a hard-wired boom and the wireless, but was still perfectly usable.

Beyond that, they sound great. The Countrymans came through loud and clear, and the level adjustments available on both the transmitters and receivers gave us plenty of leeway when switching a mic between a loud, stage-trained veteran and a shy, child actor.

The B3s sounded great, even in moving vehicles

The Reception

Where we repeatedly banged our heads against the wall was RF interference. While I'm still a novice when it comes to wireless, I can generally make things work with the help of the manual and the internets, but I ran into things I had absolutely no solution for on this movie.

We had a good many issues out on an actual multi-track railroad line. I wonder if the the steel of the rails, in addition to the stationary metal cars used for background, may have been absorbing quite a bit of signal, reducing our effective transmitting range.

The big hunk'o'steel...

Other times, we had spurious noises that I suspect were caused by either undue tension on the transmitter antennae, contact between the antenna and sweaty skin, or both. Since the interference was sporadic, all we could do was make adjustments and cross our fingers for the next take.

I've since used the G2s in a run'n'gun TV sports shoot. There, our issues were mainly interference from other wireless transmitters (booth hawkers with wireless PA mics; walkie-talkies; other wireless for the network crews covering the event). In some instances, we would encounter drop-outs on walk-and-talk shots. I would scan the chosen bank of open frequencies at the start, and most, if not all would be clear. But as we moved (sometimes not more than fifty feet), we ran into trouble, and would have to cut, re-set the mics, and pick up the shot from there. Luckily, the producers were very understanding about how difficult the environment proved to be.

Pros: small; light (makes a huge difference when you're bagged up all day); affordable; frequency-agile; easy to use, even for novices; can easily obtain alternative compatible lav mics; runs on ubiquitous AAs; great sound for the price.

Cons: permanent antennae (non user-replaceable); non-diversity; included lav is rather large; no way to power from NP1/BDS system; can't simply look down into bag to check wireless status.

All in all, I like them, especially for the price. But you get what you pay for, and the Sennheisers weren't nearly so bullet-proof as the Lectros that I've used in the past (of course, I'm still getting my feet wet, so I'm sure we could chalk some of it up to operator error:).

The Sennheiser G2s would be a great choice for someone starting out or on a budget.

MSRP for wireless: $825 for standard kit; $1135 for ENG; can be found much cheaper on the street.
MSRP for Countryman B3s: @ $200


06 August 2007

Papa's Got a Brand New Audio Bag

Back in the land of the living.

22 days, all on location, from farmhouses to miniature steam train parks to operating trestle bridges to decommissioned nuclear power stations, in sun and rain and dust. But we survived, mainly by the graces of sunscreen and Red Bull.

Day two of locomotive process shots.

Which brings me to My First Product Review TM, for the Petrol Sound Knapsack. Petrol are well known for their production bags and harnesses; this is their first dedicated back-pack.

At first glance, it looks and feels like a standard back pack with water-retention issues, but once you yank on one of the the heavy-duty zippers, your MacGuyver-o-meter should peg its needles deep into the red.

In true Petrol fashion, The Knapsack is constructed of blue and black Cordura and ballistic nylon, with an orange fleece-like lining that easily mates with hook and loop connectors, and heavily padded and ergonomically shaped shoulder straps.

Inside, the bag is designed from the ground up for modern production, with three main compartments: one thoroughly padded and smoothly lined, large enough to accept a 17 inch laptop.

Another, more open space for the included organizing bags, each made of black neoprene with a zippered clear vinyl lid, allowing at-a-glance confidence of each bag's contents.

The outermost compartment has more traditional pockets and dividers for things like sunglasses, keys, pens, and the like.

I used my sample as my wireless bag, employing the more square-shaped bags for my four Sennheiser Evolution sets. Each bag was able to hold a transmitter, receiver, coiled lav mic, and body pouch with room to spare.

The nifty finger loops allowed me to yank another mic set out of the bag quickly if the needs of the scene changed.

In the eight variably-sized containers, you can keep a multitude of gear handy. There are two more rectangular bags in which we kept our boom mic capsules, switching between the cardioid for interiors and the short-shotgun for exteriors.

The biggest pouch ended up being a perfect fit for the Sony cans.

Seriously, I can't say enough good things about these pouch thingies. Keeping your stuff compartmentalized in a soft-shell container means that you stay organized, but have the flexibility to deal with the dynamics of field production. The fact that you can take them out to wire someone up on set without either bringing the whole backpack or just awkwardly pocketing a wireless set is nearly worth the price of admission alone.

Since the mixer bag I had initially bought was back-ordered, I resorted to using the laptop compartment to carry my Sound Devices 442 to and from set. There was more than enough room for the mixer along with a break-away cable and extension.

In the outermost pocket, I kept my sunglasses case, sunscreen (boy, was I popular on set for having that stuff...), and a small plastic kit with all of our "wiring" goodies: Transpore, Topstick, moleskin, and scissors. A vertically oriented space meant that I had quick-draw ability with the wiring kit, ready to re-mount a mic whose tape had succumbed to the sweat of the talent (yeah, I got into movies for the "glamour", folks:).

The bag also comes adorned with a very solid rubber Petrol badge that rests right between the shoulder blades. At first, I thought that this would be extremely uncomfortable, but the bag is so heavily padded in the back that I never once felt it, even when the bag was fully loaded.

The outside of the bag also has four smaller zippered pockets, each of which was big enough to hold two bricks of industrial AA batteries a piece. These pockets flanked a small net pocket, intended for boom poles, although it's closed at the bottom and only about eight inches deep. It felt like the pocket would be better suited to carrying a water bottle, although you'd have to take the pack off to reach it, so it wouldn't be very practical for that use. I also found myself using the neck of the net pouch as a handle to pick the bag up more often than not, even though Petrol included a very nice gel-padded handle across the top of the bag.

We did the majority of the movie cart-style, but certain locations proved to be inaccessible to anything other that foot traffic. In these instances, the bag proved indispensable, allowing us to quickly run in and get our shots without worrying about improperly packed gear bouncing around.

One issue that gave me pause was the doubling-up of the straps if you use the bag with a sturdier audio harness (Petrol's or otherwise), which, when mixing run'n'gun stuff by myself, I will certainly be doing. While it can be done, you end up with about three to four inches of padded straps across your frame, which can feel a bit unwieldy. I guess a possible solution to that would be a modular system (a la some tactical harnesses), where you have a central harness that you clip things to, e.g.: mixer bag in front, wireless bag in the back, etc.

Pros: tough; well- padded; room for days; pockets for everything and then some; those awesome pouches; ergonomic; very tech-cool looking.

Cons: no water bottle carriers; boom pole "pocket" a little funky (feels like it would be better to include two hook and loop straps to lash the pole, like on their other audio bags); solo operators may find doubling up of harness and pack cumbersome.

All in all, I was very impressed. Once I stashed all of my wireless in their respective pouches, wiring and adjustments became a breeze. No more digging around in a dark carry-all for the one vampire clip, no more crossing my fingers that my mics will survive being stuffed into a book-bag for the hike out to location. Moving to the next set-up was made that much more efficient by being able to simply shoulder half the kit, leaving my hands free for other gear.

The Sound Knapsack is a valuable tool for anyone who needs to keep an ENG/indie film audio kit organized and in good working order.

MSRP: $219.


22 July 2007


Ladies and gents, I am booked.

I'm now ten days into a twenty-two day shoot in and around Portland, Oregon for the movie Trainmaster, directed by Phil Branson.

I'm production sound mixer on my first full feature (I've only day-played before). We're shooting single-system (yeah, I know...), with two Panasonic HVX-200's, utilizing both P2 and Firestore hard drives.

It's long days in hot rooms with sweaty people. Luckily, everyone's cool and I have an awesome boom op in the form of Creed Spencer. Actually having someone who is more of a teammate rather than an intern has made an incredible difference in the efficiency and quality of the work that we've been able to produce.

Plus, I finally got my kit.

Things happened in a hurry. I was asked to come on board about ten days before we started shooting, so I had to make it all happen post-haste. Since I'd been refining my wish list for the past two years, it was only a matter of calling in the order and getting it shipped in time. As it turned out, I used the kit for the first time on the first day of shooting (after having diligently tested everything at home the night before, natch:). A full review of each piece will be forth coming sometime after we finish.

This is what we're working with:

Sound Devices 442 mixer
Sennheiser G2 Evolution wireless
Countryman B3 lav mics
K-tek boom pole
Rycote S-Series suspension
Petrol PEGZ-1F audio bag
AKG Blueline modular mic system with SE-300b amp body, CK-93 hyper-cardioid capsule, and CK-98 short shotgun capsule

We're slated to wrap in early August. Until then, quiet on set. :)


04 July 2007

Two Snaps Up.

Happy 4th, y'all (and I'm sure that you're all wearing hearing protection with those fireworks, right?:).

Today's post is about soundsnap.com, a new website that offers free sound effects and music loops for download, as well as creating an online community for artists to upload and share their own recordings.

From the website:
What is Soundsnap?

Soundsnap is the best platform to find and share free sound effects and loops- legally. It is a collection of original sounds made or recorded by its users, and not songs or sound FX found on commercial libraries or sample CD's.

What Soundsnap is NOT:

* An alternative to Myspace, Limewire or BitTorrent.

* A place to upload your band's songs or your favourite mp3's. Soundsnap is only for sound effects and loops.

* A place you can upload or find sounds from commercial libraries. All sounds here are original- made or recorded by its users.

Soundsnap is the brainchild of 25 year old Tasos Frantzolas, a sound designer and musician who recently returned to his home country of Greece to launch the website.

From Creative Cow News:
He started Soundsnap in order to fulfill a need for a library of high quality, on-demand free sounds. He gathered a talented team of contributing sound designers, producers, web designers and developers to start the Soundsnap community.

I've covered one other open-source SFX website before, but Soundsnap takes things a bit further, wrapping everything in a very pleasant AJAX-y interface, complete with very high-quality Flash previews of each sound. For download, MP3 is offered alongside uncompressed PCM, in either WAV or AIFF format, depending.

Along with the slick visuals, Soundsnap is very intuitive and easy to use. Samples are tagged, allowing quick keyword search, as well as more traditional categories, such as Human, Film and Comic FX, and Science Fiction. There's even a tag cloud, showing quantities of samples relative to one another.

As I've said before, there's often no substitute for a professionally recorded and produced FX library. But for those on a budget, or just on the lookout for something new and fresh, I heartily recommend giving Soundsnap a try.

Link to soundsnap.com.
Link to Creative Cow News article.

01 July 2007

Free Guide to Audio Meters

Via ProSoundNews Online Daily: DK-Technologies Debuts Audio Metering Guide.


Have you ever wondered why engineers measure audio levels? Or why they use the dB scale? Or what Leq and Dynamic Scales are?

Audio Levels and Readings offers engineers a basic insight into the world of audio levels and metering and covers many topics, from the basics such as what is an audio signal and how does one measure level, through to more complex issues such as Loudness, A-Weighting and how analog levels relate to digital scales.

Link to DK-Technologies website with download; direct link to PDF.

29 June 2007

AfterEffects: Working With Audio

Over at Creative Cow, Aharon Rabinowitz has posted a video tutorial entitled AE Workflow Tips #8: Working With Audio.

Link to the flash movie. For those who have trouble with playback of that particular file (as I did), here is a link to a video podcast in mp4.