Category Archives: EDU

Wise Words 001

“The metaphoric use of sound is one of the most fruitful, flexible and inexpensive means: by choosing carefully what to eliminate, and then adding back sounds that seem at first hearing to be somewhat at odds with the accompanying image, the filmmaker can open up a perceptual vacuum into which the mind of the audience must inevitably rush.
Every successful re-association is a kind of metaphor, and every metaphor is seen momentarily as a mistake, but then suddenly as a deeper truth about the thing named and our relationship to it. The greater the stretch between the “thing” and the “name,” the deeper the potential truth.”

Walter Murch

StartUp Cows

It was my Dads 93rd birthday last Sunday, so to celebrate here is one of the excellent life lessons he gave me.

A friend is going through tough times (is losing his hearing, but cannot afford to get hearing aids) and to try and encourage him to not let a short term problem (can’t afford today) stop him from achieving long term goal (get hearing aids) I recounted a few times in my life where I had to overcome a similar issue.

One of the most important was in my youth, and is 100% down to good parenting. My Dad taught me a simple lesson that set me up with a very specific attitude for life, which has informed almost everything I do. So I will recount it here… And yes, it involved cows.

 

 

So I grew up on a farm, and as much as I loved living on a farm I did not want to become a farmer. My older brother did, but I was more of a dreamer. I loved music, and wanted to play in a band. And the final decision was made when I started secondary school: I sat a bursary test and it turned out I had a reasonably high IQ. The teachers discussed with my parents and advised I should not study agriculture (my default at that point), but instead should study Latin. (WTF!?)

So a year or two into high school and I started to learn guitar. But everyone was a guitarist and I liked playing bass more, so one day I asked my Dad if he would buy me a bass guitar and amp. Back then I needed about $1000 for a decent secondhand bass guitar and an amp, so it wasn’t an insignificant amount of money, especially at a young age. Guess what my Dad said?

 

He offered to buy me five calves. He said if I was prepared to raise the calves, he would let me graze them on the farm for free and in a year or three I could sell them & I would have enough for my bass and amp. Clever right?

 

If you’ve never raised a calf then maybe this sounds like fun, like raising a kitten or something. But what it actually means is that twice a day, every day without miss, I had to go mix some milk powder up in a bucket and feed one bucket to each of my five calves. Didn’t matter if it was raining, the calves had to be fed. I can still remember the smell of the milk powder.

This carried on for months, until they were big enough to eat grass.
But even then they were still my responsibility. If they broke out of a paddock, it was me who got on the motorbike and got them back to where they were meant to be. Now I knew these calves were going to be slaughtered at some point, so I didn’t get too attached to them, and for some reason I decided to call them all Mogey. Mogey 1, Mogey 2, Mogey 3, Mogey 4, and Mogey 5. (Mogey as in “Moe Ghee”)

 

A year or three passes, and I still want that bass guitar and amp. My Dad advises me the market is good now and the Mogeys are at their prime, so off they go to become steak and hamburgers.
I could not believe it – I got $3,000 for them! So I bought a better bass guitar than I was planning, and a better amp. And still had funds left over.

Over the following decade I had some of the best times of my life, playing bass in bands.
All thanks to the Mogeys!

 

So what is it, that my Dad actually did?

1. He taught me that being self motivated to work, with a specific goal, provides rewards that may not otherwise be achievable. Short term pain for long term gain.

2. He taught me when making big purchases it is better to wait and make sure that the big thing you want is a permanent desire, and not just a whim.

3. He taught me to value what I had worked hard to achieve. I took care of that bass guitar and amp.

4. He taught me the solution to a problem often lies outside the world of the problem.

5. He taught me to invest time and effort into creating something, that over time would grow in value.
He taught me to be an entrepreneur!

 

 

Thanks to rampant capitalism I suspect a lot of people think they are expressing their love by being extremely generous with gifts to their kids. The latest iPhone, Playstation etc..
What a missed opportunity!

 

Thanks Dad!

 

 

 

Working with Silence

Working as a film sound designer, over the years I slowly developed lots of ideas to help clarify the directors intent for the soundtrack during our first spotting session, and one I used to really enjoy was I would ask them what they thought the loudest moment in the entire film would be. They would usually have no trouble identifying loud moments/scenes as they were usually based in action, and action scenes take a lot of planning & shooting…

Next I’d ask them what they thought the quietest moment might be. This often made them pause to think much harder. I had often already come up with a few potential moments and I would pitch them, with the aim that we not just have quiet moments but aim to reach complete silence, motivated by character & emotion… And in many, many films I worked on, we found a moment of silence in the final mix. And later, reliving and experiencing that effect with an audience is so powerful.

One favourite was in a film by Gaylene Preston ‘Perfect Strangers’ (2003) and we went from the loudest moment in the film to silence across a single action sequence where a fishing boat is swamped at sea during a storm… It took a lot of work in the final mix to shape all the elements and slowly deconstruct the soundtrack but OMG that moment hits emotionally like a ton of bricks!

In a later film O le Tulafale (The Orator) (2011) I had some ideas about where we could push to silence but the director and I hadn’t committed to any… But the FX mixer came up with an idea and again it was near a very dramatic loud moment: the hero is digging a grave for his wife, hoping to bury her body before her family come & try to take her body back… The shot is from deep in the grave watching him work digging, and a spot of rain hits. For a moment all falls silent – no ambience, foley, nothing. (This makes the audience suddenly listen like the protagonist… what is coming?) Then one of those torrrential storms begins that you only get in the Pacific islands (they sound like a freight train!) and he proceeds to fight for his life as the grave fills with water & starts to collapse around him.

Of course, having a brief moment of silence before an explosion is also an overused film sound technique, but for different reasons (ie briefly relieving your ear, to maximise dynamics)

It still amuses me but many years ago I mentioned this approach in a ‘sound design’ forum and received a lot of unwanted and misguided advice and I realised people are almost afraid of silence eg “You can’t go to complete silence – people will think its a mistake” Me: FFS, no one is randomly cutting to silence. Rerecording mixers are artists and they can make anything happen, given the right resources and a director who is open to such approaches. The transition as a dense soundtrack is stripped away with a form & shape that makes emotional & story sense, is what I consider some of the best work I’ve ever been involved with.

But I also noticed it with music. Also many years ago I was in Japan and saw a fantastic lineup of what I considered some of the leading minimalist touring musicians (not Japanese) so I went to the gig with great expectations, and left somewhat disappointed: every track by every artist started, varied and ended. And at no point was silence even approached, let alone engaged. All spaces were filled. I wondered if this aversion was more a practical issue/fear live eg will people think this track is over if I place silence in it? idk.

One last anecdote: I remember reading Jim Morrison talking about The Doors and with that song When the Musics Over and how when they played it live they would keep extending the gap just before the crescendo… and the greater that gap became, the crazier the audience became…

“We want the world and we want it…

NOW!”

In film sound design silence is perhaps ‘easier’ to engage, as there is no master tempo telling you when the next note or bar should fall… With that Doors song, you would expect the gap to be x beats long, and extending that is potentially breaking tempo and delaying the instant gratification of a crescendo that every fan knows…

powerful psyops!!

Current Field Recording Setup


Kahurangi National Park, Karamea – at the end of the road, by Box Canyon Cave

As people often ask what mic stands etc I’m using I thought I would document my current field recording setup. I came across the photo above & while its from before the pandemic, it shows all of my mics & stands etc..

For a long time now I have been using the Manfrotto Nano stands – in the photo above, the big Sennheiser MKH70 mics are on Manfrotto 5001b stands which have longer legs making them more stable.

The MKH8050, MKH8040x2 and MKH8020x2 are all on Manfrotto 156 stands which have a smaller footprint & work fine other than in strong wind…

For the Sanken CUX100K mics (not in the photo) I bought a pair of the new Nano MS049c carbon fibre stands which have as much reach and stability as the big 5001 stands, but being carbon fibre are lighter… & inevitably, a bit more expensive…

My Sound Devices MixPre10-II recorder lives in a Petrol PS602 bag which it seems are no longer made. I’ve had this bag for ages, as I used to fit a SD744T + SD722 + 302 preamp in it. And while the MixPre10 is small enough it could fit in a much smaller bag, I also need to safely store batteries (I use 2 x NP75) and headphones, sometimes contact mics + preamp or hydrophones, and I also have eight mic cables permanently connected, routed, ID’d and safely coiled & attached to the bag with velcro cable ties, such that I can hike with it all securely.

To carry the mics & stands I use a Peak Design 65Litre Travel Duffelpack – thanks to Hide Aoki at AntiNode Design for the tip on this. The Peak bag has zips which makes it expandable, and also has both backpack straps & a normal duffel bag carry handles. It can fit all my mics, stands & camera tripod, so I can hike from car to location in one trip:

Totaranui Beach, Takaka

Both bags have rain covers, so if I get caught out I’ll get wet but the gear will be fine!

Baschet – The Transfiguration of Daily Life

Baschet: The Transfiguration of Daily Life (sous-titres en français)

An excerpt from the 2003 documentary by Eric Marin