Monthly Archives: June 2022

UNDERWATER sound design

A reblog from MUSIC OF SOUND: Underwater

Someone asked about making underwater sounds so I thought I’d post a few examples of approaches I’ve tried that worked to varying degrees. And an escape clause before you listen to anything: while physics is fascinating, unless you are working on a documentary about how sound is heard underwater, then the aim is to evoke the feeling of being underwater. Often when I hear hydrophone recordings I think that isn’t how I remember underwater sounding. Now my memory is partly based on decades of hearing underwater sounds in scuba documentaries and films, but I don’t think thats actually what makes me think this, its more visceral than that. My memory comes from going for a swim – in a pool or in the sea. And what I hear from hydrophones doesn’t tend to remind me of my own underwater experiences…. But that isn’t to say you cannot get interesting sounds from a hydrophone as plenty of people have. But for the project that I needed underwater sounds for, using a hydrophone was not on the top of my list…

A few years back I worked on a short film called WATER, directed by Chris Graham. The basic premise is that there is a leaky tap in someones house & no one notices except a young girl who tells her family, but they all ignore her. Slowly the house fills with water, until the family are all swimming around the house, seemingly oblivious… Its a not hugely subtle meditation on global warming & people living in denial, but anyway they went to great lengths to make it work visually – literally sawing a house in half so they could slowly lower it into a swimming pool. Accordingly making appropriate water sounds was vital, especially for the climax, much of which was underwater….

So I tried a lot of different approaches – we had some great wildtracks from production sound of people moving in water within the half submerged house. And for a previous film I had done a lot of recording at an exterior swimming pool, exhausting a poor swimmer getting him do things like dive to the bottom of the pool, release all his air & then surface…. I also dug through my library for interesting sea, lake & mud sounds… So the main starting point for me was a lot of great recordings and armed with all this source material I started trying different processes with them…

First I tried doing pitch sweeps in Metasynth – parts of this file are very useful and other parts aren’t (ie when the grain starts to show)

Next I tried vocoding, back then I had the Digidesign Orange vocoder plugin which has the usual cheesy synth built in for when you want to sound like bad euro synth pop, but you could disable it and use a second audio file as the source. So this file I was taking sounds like those swimming pool water bubbles and vocoding them against explosions….

And just for fun I tried vocoding some of the dialogue guidetrack from the film against waterlapping sounds

Strange Cargo

Back in the year 2000, I moved my life & work from Auckland to Wellington. In Auckland my studio had been in a building as part of The Inside Track, where I helped complete a few TV series and films. The move was made a little more challenging, due to breaking my leg at 2am on New Years morning. When I was checked into the hospital, the doc who saw me said something like ‘Ahar! First bone break of the new millennium!”
Imagine having to pack up your house & studio, and move cities, all while on crutches!

Anyway, I moved into a warehouse space in Jessie St, central city Wellington… And we started work on a TV series and a film, Stickmen, both of which motivated the relocation. We’d been working on the TV series, Street Legal, for about 2 months when a courier package arrived, addressed to me. It felt quite heavy, and seemed odd as I was not expecting anything… Turns out it was very odd! This was entire the contents of the courier bag:

Who sends someone a brick, with a doll bound to it by rope!? There was no name or return address on the courier bag. I asked everyone I knew and apart from absurd theories, no one had any idea that lead anywhere… So I stuck it on a shelf at the back of my studio, and kinda forgot about it….

Months pass, and we are getting to the last episode of the TV series…
And guess what?

In the final episode, a creepy villain throws a brick through a window…
And guess what’s attached to the brick?
That freaking doll!

I rang the producer, to ask WTF…

He held the phone up & I could hear the entire production office having a laugh!

“We thought you might need it for sound FX recording”

Thank you very much!


EDITION TWO – RAIN PATTERNS, an album of processed field recordings is now released at Bandcamp
Also streamable via soundcloud

Long-form field recordings x Indeterminate music.

Three inverted metal trashcans, with microphones hidden inside. Strategically placed beneath a steady stream of rain drops, from a cracked porch roof. Who composed this? Ask the rain.

Overall intensity is governed by passing showers of rain. Hypnotic, gravity powered rhythms appear indeterminant, polyphonically-decoupled and ever drifting..

From over fourteen hours of multitrack recordings, a thirty minute selection became the source for experimentation. Versions were processed and mixed using harmonic resonators, filters, multitap delay, tuned reverb and time dilation.
The recordings were also analysed & auto-transcribed, with the resulting pulse map performed by a trio of percussion robots, playing gongs, timpani and rototom. Performance transferred, from raindrops on metal, to aleatoric percussion on skin & steel.

Short MAKING OF video:


released June 1, 2022
Original recording by Tim Prebble 5th February 2022
Sound Devices 788T Recorder
Sennheiser MKH80X0 Microphones

Processed and mixed by Tim Prebble May 2022
Avid ProTools, Mutable Instruments Rings x3, Beads,
Tritik Moodal, Cytomic The Drop, Serato Pitch ‘n Time,
K-Devices TTAP, Zynaptiq Adaptiverb and 2C Audio Aether.
Analysis via Celemony Melodyne and Unfiltered Audio G8.
Reperformed by Polyend PercPro Percussion Robots
Vietnamese Gongs x2, and Norman Gadd Gong
Timpani x2, and Rototom.

All rights reserved.
℗ & © copyright 2022 Tim Prebble HISSandaROAR.
Karehana Bay, Aotearoa, New Zealand.