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