Monthly Archives: July 2021

FX011 UI Library

Making ‘hi tech’ electronic UI sounds is so easy now that’s its almost a no-brainer, but what if you want the gentle click & clack of organic sounds? This new MiniFX Library provides a multitude of options, with the potential of using materiality associated with your projects characters, subject or world. Blocks, bones, claves and stones were recorded by performing multiple take/variations of gentle hits, taps and movement….




The sound browser featured in the video is XO

The first rule of CONTACT MIC club

This post is from my MUSIC OF SOUND blog, November 11, 2011 – ten years ago!

“My new HISSandaROAR library is officially released now and as it consists solely of contact mic recordings I thought I’d share some of the most important aspects of recording with a contact mic that I’ve discovered the hard way – through experience….



The first rule of using a CONTACT MIC is not actually about the mic itself, its this:



At a guess I’d say I own over a dozen piezo/contact mics of various forms, bought over the last dozen years, but only three of them deliver seriously useable results. And just one of those three ‘good’ contact mics cost ten times more than all the others combined, simply because the people who created them understood rule number one. Its not ‘just’ a contact mic, because the mic is only as good as what it is plugged into, and the only way to insure you get great results is to also match the preamp, and the only way to do that is to sell both as a package. I’m sure the reasoning behind this is very basic for anyone who has studied electronics but THIS ARTICLE spells it out…


“The problem with piezo guitar pickups and contact mics is that they are not well matched to typical audio inputs. By their nature they can generate a lot of signal, but they cannot drive a 50 kilohm typical line input. The pickup needs to work into a much higher impedance, typically 1 megohm or so.

The reason why these devices often sound tinny is because the piezo sensor presents its signal through a series capacitance which is small, typically 15nF or less. When wired to a normal 50 kilohm line input this forms a 200Hz high-pass filter, which eliminates the bass.

If wired to a consumer plug-in-power microphone input of about 7 kilohms impedance, the result is a 1kHz high-pass filter. Hence the reputation for poor bass performance…..”


YES, Its all about IMPEDANCE

I have seen people suddenly ‘discover’ contact mics. And by ‘discover’ I suspect it tends to mean ‘discover the work of someone else who has used one’ who then heads off to an electronics shop, discover piezo mics cost less than $5, buys one, plugs it in, gets a signal but then wonders why they don’t get the same results…. Well now you know, its all about the IMPEDANCE!!! Re-read that quote from the article above:

“When wired to a normal 50 kilohm line input this forms a 200Hz high-pass filter…”

How many times have I seen a piezo element wired up to a 1/4″ jack plug? Many, many times… And now that you know the above tech to be true, what will the results be? Unintentional high pass filter (aka small speaker syndrome) Take anything you’ve ever recorded or listened to, put a HPF on it set to 200HZ and have a second listen…. It suddenly sounds like its coming from a transistor radio from 1973. Great if that is your intention, but otherwise…..



The second rule of using a contact mic is more practical. The results are often surprising – sometimes I’ve found a prop (this happened last weekend) and thought: “THIS will sound AMAZING with a contact mic” and then hooked it up & been thoroughly underwhelmed. What seems resonant & complex through the air may well be singular & far less interesting with a contact mic. But it’s when the reverse is true that things get exciting.

My old studio at Ropa Lane in Maupuia was originally owned by a metal company (literally, not the music genre) and when I took the lease they left some huge long I-beams in one of my warehouse spaces. When you lightly tap these 5m long beams they rang like bells, I loved them & couldn’t wait to get my contact mics out. But when I did they were WAY less interesting than through the air. I’m sure I’ll work out the pattern at some stage, but in many ways the mystery is actually a pleasant side effect. Not knowing the outcome means when you do stumble across a beautifully resonant body, time slows down… Recording this library for HISSandaROAR I’ve had many moments where through experimenting I’ve stumbled across a sound, and hours have past before I really became conscious again – I had a sore back for three days because of it. The situation generates what calls someone with a complex name I can’t remember calls ‘flow’ and the only other device that does that for me these days is my modular synth, but thats a different kettle of fish – I now know every time I switch it on, three to five hours will pass!



So if there is a rule 2 to CONTACT MIC club it is this:


Keep an open mind & explore. A contact mic makes you look at the world in a different way, and for that alone you should be thankful. The flip side to those I-Beams I mentioned, was another prop I bought for practically nothing and hadn’t found a use for, at all – it was a slightly scodey stainless steel shower tray. The trick with it was suspending it so it was free to resonate, and one listen with a contact mic attached would make you wonder WHAT was creating the beautiful musical tones! It sure wasn’t what the literal description makes you think of, thats for sure!

No doubt I’ll think of more rules at some stage & continue this post, but also when creating the CONTACT MIC library I slowly developed a method for both creating and naming the sounds I was recording. Heres the analogy: when someone plays violin, you could happily define the sound created as consisting of four parts:

1. the human performer
2. the resonant body (the violin)
3. the activator (the bow)
4. the acoustic space

Any HISSandaROAR library you know is me, so I ignored part 1 but one aspect of using a contact mic that bears discussion is rule 3:


Check this video to see what I mean:





Until the drill bit meets the metal surface that the contact mics are attached to, there is no sound. You could hold a contact mic up & scream at it & record nothing! As with the drill that can work to your advantage. You don’t have to worry about extraneous noise – you could be listening to loud music and recording with a contact mic with zero leakage! But it is also a key factor in the use of the sounds – because there is no acoustic to help cue the listener what produced the sound, they appear almost more abstract. But due to their great resonance they work brilliantly as hidden components of complex composite sounds!


Also referring back to that list above, I became fascinated with parts 2 and 3. So maybe rule 4 is this:


With experience I collected up various activators (see photo below) and of course, only some activators would work with some resonant bodies… But it gave me a language & a mental model to use when attempting to identify likely candidates, and equally that is invaluable for the imagination.



Most of the resonant bodies and activators I used in the HISSandaROAR library are shown, briefly, in this video:

SD008 CONTACT MIC Library:



As far as low end goes, you can hear in that video some of whats possible. Heres some recordings of that big yellow half deflated balloon – the low frequencies created are beautifully expressive:



Rule number 5 isn’t really a rule but requires thought:


I use two methods, depending on the resonant body. First I always carry a roll of thin double sided sticky tape which works well if the surface is clean & flat. Its fiddly to apply and can be frustrating if the surface is dirty, because as soona s you move it you have to replace the tape, but when the surface is clean its my preferred method…. The other method I use sometimes is a product called BluTak – its intended for attaching posters to the wall, but it works well when the surface is more irregular or dirty…. It pays to always have both with you when recording, along with the always essential gaffer tape. In some extreme cases I’ve used Blutak between the contact mic and the surface and then wrapped the whole thing in gaffer tape. But you have to be careful as too much tape can deaden the very resonance you are trying to record…


Update 2021
When attaching a contact mic to tensioned long wires, I’ve been using large paper clips which are light but strong. For heavier cables eg transmission tower guy wires, I have used heavier spring clamps.


Rule number 6 is


I’ll list the models below, just so I can forward this article any such emails in the future!

Most of the recordings in the new library were done with two Barcus Berry Planar Wave contact mics combined with & two of their 4000XL preamp. Here is a link to the Barcus Berry product page. I like the 4000 preamps they come with due to them being phantom powered and having a 12dB switchable pad. I could not have cleanly recorded some of the metal shrieks & creaks in the library without that pad!



The other contact mic I own is a Trance Audio Inducer, which appears has been discontinued (incorrect – see update below) but here is a link to the Trance Audio site. Their preamp runs on two 9volt batteries which I like less than phantom power but I prefer Trance Audios actual contact mic capsule. Here is a photo comparing the two:



There are many other types of contact mics out there, the first I ever heard of was the C-Ducer but the contact mic element seems a bit big & awkward for my applications… Feel free to comment with any others you have experience with?


Lastly rule number 7 is


A contact mic is like any microphone, you have to learn to use it… and (hopefully) you never stop learning! So in the meantime here’s a preview of the new library:



check out SD008 CONTACT MIC Library
check out SD018 CONTACT MIC TWO Library








Sound Library Q – why takes per file?

Someone on the VI Forum/SFX asked a question about sound library formatting, specifically about the choice between [1 take per file] and [multiple takes per file]

“One oddity I’ve run into is that sometimes, a wav file in a pack may offer multiple variations of a sound/oneshot/effect within the same file with maybe a second of spacing. Is this usual? The only reason to make use of such a file is to choose a starting point programmatically in software, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t just cut up your variations into multiple files.”


As I had to think through all angles of this question ten years ago when deciding how to deliver the first HISSandaROAR sound library, I wrote a stream of consciousness reply and figured I’d post it here as it may be useful to others…

The short answer is: who is your target user and how do they prefer it?
You mention ‘one-shots’ which is a music term, and not a sound FX/sound design term, so maybe you are talking about music samples and not SFX? I am referring to SFX, since music samples are usually used either via VIs (where individual sounds are not even accessible) or via auditioning & loading singular sounds or presets into a sampler or plugin which is a totally different use case to SFX.

The longer answer: In my experience as both a user, and a library developer the reason for not delivering SFX libaries as [1 take per file] is due to a couple of different and important reasons:

First and very important, that approach does not scale. Second is due to the typical workflow of how SFX are used. So you need to be very clear on the use case. For example, if I search my music sample library in SoundMiner, all the ‘808 kick’ are single takes per file, because that is how they are used by a musician. But if I search my SFX library for ‘punch’, none of the punches are delivered as single take per file. (A “one shot” is a music term and I would expect it to be one take per file.)


Why does a separate take per file not scale, for sound effects?

A simple example, my personal SFX and AMB library has over 500k sounds in it. If those sounds were broken out into separate files for every take, my library would not be 500k sounds, it would be more like 500 million and when I searched for ‘METAL IMPACT’ in SoundMiner I would get 100,000 hits and auditioning my way through all of those is simply not viable – imagine it! This problem won’t be apparent while you work on your own library, but as soon as your library is added to a users personal library containing hundreds of thousands of other sound files, it will become very, very apparent. It’s a similar reason why file names and metadata are so important – on their own, a single library is no problem, but add it to a larger library with thousands of other libraries and if your sounds can’t be efficiently found and identified, they will not be used. But again I mean SFX, not music samples.


The workflow of most professional sound editors & sound designers involves a sound library app (SoundMiner, Basehead, AudioFinder)which makes it very easy to transfer part of a file. So for example, if you audition a file of 20 punches and only want take 3, simply select take 3, transfer & done! In SoundMiners case, the silence between takes can also be used to auto split and load discrete takes into Radium sampler, and the same would apply to many other samplers.


When working in a “linear sound FX editor” fashion, it is also efficient to import a single composite file of 20 punches that you like and want to use and as soon as you have used the first punch you can access variations instantly, avoiding any repeated sounds. Rather than going back and importing another very short soundfile, you can simply stay in your edit session and move to the next take/s within the composite file.


But this approach only applies to variations/takes of the same sound. For AMB libraries every take is usually a different location or time (eg AMB city skyline 1, AMB city skyline 2) and they would are better as separate files because they are not ‘take variations,’ they are entirely different locations.



Some people (especially game audio) may prefer one file per sound, especially when implementing them. With a composite file (X takes in a single file, separated by silence) if someone does prefer 1 take per file, then they can very, very easily split & output that as they wish, due to the silence between takes.

For example in ProTools use strip silence, export, done. Every DAW has such options. But if the reverse is delivered, one take per file, they would have to import 20 seperate files, space them a second part, combine them into a composite file and export it as a single file, likely losing all the metadata along the way.

Considering the various likely use cases, and also thinking how you as a user prefer to work, is what should inform your thinking. While some people might think there isn’t much difference between a music sample library and sound FX library, some very important differences are as per the very question you ask. Also, the use of metadata (absolutely crucial for sound FX/design use) along with consistent file naming, bit & sample rates etc. differ vastly between the two use cases…

Learning to play Kongzhu

Back in 2001 I did a ’round the world’ trip, eventually arriving to Beijing, where my sister was then living. One weekend we were out walking in a park and I heard this strange sound… and I just could not imagine what was creating it!! I first heard it in the distance and we followed the direction of the sound until we came across an old guy using what looked like a double ended spinning top, suspended & spinning on some string between two drum sticks!

Here’s a recording of it, captured on my trusty Tascam DAP-1 DAT machine and a pair of Oktava MK012 mics:

I didn’t know what they were called then, and after much searching a common western name seems to be DIABLO, but that doesn’t apply to the sound making versions… Turns out they are called Kongzhu and the number that is etched on them, seems to relate to the number of sound generating vents aka Helmholtz resonators.

I bought one at the time, and bought a couple more when back home but I have never been good enough at playing it to generate such great sounds as the old geezers in that Beijing Park. So my slow motion plan is to start a daily practice of learning to play them…

When I get good enough I will record a library, as they are such a unique and distinctive sound..
Check the skills of this group: