Tag Archives: ideas

HISSandaROAR Origin Story

If you are a new visitor you might wonder how HISSandaROAR came to be. Who is involved?
And what is their secret agenda?

HISSandaROAR was created by Tim Prebble. So the prehistory of HISSandaROAR is my history and there were a series of events that all accumulated over a period of decades.

Step 1: Finding My Vocation – LIFE ONE

In the mid-1980s I was a student at Canterbury University, in Christchurch, New Zealand, studying towards an Electrical Engineering degree. The further into my studies I got, the less I liked it until in my third year someone helped me realise my future direction in life. A local tech company Tait Electronics would recruit from Engineering School, and so I tagged along with many from my cohort to an interview with their HR person. Thanks to some probing questions, within five minutes he had ascertained I had no desire for EE and we went on to have a conversation about what I did have a passion for: MUSIC!

At this stage I was playing bass guitar in a band, and I had recently applied for a $500 Arts Council Grant to enable our band to record and release a cassette. We couldn’t afford to go into a commercial studio, but our live engineer was a clever guy and he suggested we rent a desk & mics from a PA company, and a 4 track reel to reel from a friend of his. So we proceeded to do exactly that, converting our student house into a makeshift recording studio for a weekend. I learned a lot from this process and it ignited my desire for recording. The drummer in the next band I played in was at Arts School, and he was able to borrow their Nagra 4.2 and MKH416 shotgun mic, so I also began to experiment with field recording and tape splicing. At the time I had a shitty holiday nightshift job at a combined gas station & video rental store, and I still remember some stoners coming in at 2 am to buy munchies, only to find me with the counter covered in bits of 1/4″ tape & the Nagra!

One day I noticed two ads in the newspaper, placed by the Natural History Unit (NZ Government department) and the roles were (1) field recordist for documentaries and (2) sound post audio engineer. I knew I didn’t have enough experience for either but I applied anyway & made a trip down to Dunedin for an interview. I wasn’t surprised I did not get a job offer, but what did surprise me was that a good friend did get the field recordist role! So I got in touch with him to congratulate him & eventually asked the question: why did he get the job? The answer indicated my next step. He had spent the previous year at Film School, training as a production sound recordist. I now knew what I had to do….

Step 2: Film School
I put a CV together & applied to the same Film School, also based in Christchurch and I was invited to come in for an interview. After discussing my background and motivation, they told me that there were over 400 applicants for the course, and only 20 selected. But as discussion continued they revealed out of 400 applicants, I was the only one who specified sound as my core interest. They had a policy of assembling a crew from each intake of students, since we would be making projects during the year. And they needed a sound recordist, so they confirmed me right then & there! Life changing event #1!

Step 3: Finding Work
So I spent all of 1990 as a student again, but pursuing a subject I was profoundly interested in. One of the best aspects of this particular Film School was that it was practical and at the six month point, we had to go & do a week of work experience. I managed to talk my way into visiting a sound post studio in Auckland, who had a stereo Digidesign Sound Tools setup, along with 24 track reel to reel all locked to Umatic video. They were working on a TV series and I found it utterly fascinating to observe how they worked. At the end of the week I thanked them, and asked if I could keep in touch since I would be looking for work when I finished Film School. As luck would have it, the then NZ Labour Government introduced a work scheme where if a new role was created they would pay half the wage for six months, and that was enough: I had my first job, six months as a trainee sound editor!

Step 4: My First Job
1991 I moved from Christchurch to Auckland, just as the studio bought the first ProTools 4 channel system in NZ. I was always good with tech & computers, and I began to edit sound FX and Ambiences for the TV series the studio was working on. Back then, the studio sound library was stored on 1/4″ tape, so if we needed an explosion, we would refer to a printed log and then load the sound library tape, cue it to the sound and record it across to ProTools. Sync and edit it, then record it across to the 24 track.

My first sound library experience: 1992
loading sounds in real time off 1/4″ tape

Around this time the studio got a pro DAT machine with timecode & autolocate. When we finished a TV series and had some down time, my task became to transfer each sound library 1/4″ tape to DAT, logging the timecode as I went. And using a Mac SE30 we also created a FileMaker database. The secondary benefit of this process was that I listened to every sound in the library as it transferred. After a few months, our sound library was all on DAT.

My second sound library experience: 1994
search FileMaker database, real-time load off DAT

A few years later CD Burners became affordable, and my downtime job became doing another transfer: digitising from DAT to ProTools, and saving the sound library to CDROMs. And our FileMaker Database grew a little smarter. At this point I was preparing to start work on the third series of a TV series we had done, and I suddenly came up with a great idea: what if we could Auto conform ambiences? We were using Digidesign PotsConform app to load production sound, and I spent the next month pursuing my idea. First we restored all the ambience sessions from the previous series and I created 2 minute stereo mix downs for each of the recurring locations, laying them off to timecode DATA. I also built a FileMaker database which I would enter in the timecode of each scene cut, and using the timecode log of my AMB premix DAT I got it to generate an EDL (calculating timecode in FileMaker was a fun challenge, but easily solved by converting to frames, doing the maths, and converting back to timecode format eg TV in NZ is 25fps so 01.03.05.22 = 22 + 5*25 + 3*60*25 + 1*60*60*25 = 94647. Converting back to timecode just required division & formatting.)

My third sound library experience: 1996
audition & load off CD-ROM

Around this time I began to compile my own sound library, as I realised that my job as a sound effects editor went much faster and I achieved much more interesting work if I had access to LOTs of sounds. I began to record as much as I could, although the studio still only had a Nagra 4.2 and MKH416 so I was limited by my budget for tape and batteries.

Step 5: Freelance
In 1995 an incredible opportunity appeared on the horizon. Peter Jackson was making his first film funded by a US studio, and due to the scale of the project they asked my boss if he would go to Wellington to work on the film for six weeks, helping while the main kiwi Sound Supervisor Mike Hopkins was finishing another film project. My boss went down for a visit, but as he had a young family & was running his studio he decided he did not want to go, but he asked if I would be keen. OMG HELL YES!!! So I relocated to Wellington and spent six weeks working out at the Film Unit, on Peter Jacksons film THE FRIGHTENERS. This was an amazing learning experience and I also got to meet the NFU mixing staff – Mike Hedges, John Boswell & manager John Neill, along with the other sound editors, especially the sonic genius Brent Burge, who had worked on all of PJs films. But the best was yet to come!
The US Studio who were funding the film insisted on sending an experienced Sound Designer down to NZ to supervise the film, and it turned out to be none other than Randy Thom, with his brilliant assistant Phil Benson. But Randy wasn’t due to arrive for another month, so I was assigned some great sequences to design, including previz versions of the ‘tunnel of light’ in the film. Some of the previz was literally PJ describing what would happen, but I had a ball creating all sorts of designed sounds for the sequences..

At last the day arrived and Randy & Phil moved into their studios at the NFU. As luck would have it, Randy’s studio was right next door to mine, and the sounds I started hearing through the wall were just incredible!! But I was too shy to go & introduce myself, so I just kept my head down & kept working on my sequences… Towards the end of the day there was a knock on my door, and Randy comes & says hi!

I learned so much from even brief observations of Randy & Phils work, but one revelation I will never forget. Randy played a sequence down in his ProTools rig with just the most amazing sounds, I think it might have been ‘Wallpaper Man’¬† – visceral complex sounds that fitted the onscreen action perfectly. I just could not work out how these sounds were being achieved, as when I looked at his PT session (16track PT3 TDM back then?) it wasn’t densely edited… But then he switched to volume graphs/automation! Ah so!!! They were intricately shaping elements using volume graphs as envelopes. Of course!!! But the second revelation came later. After the film was finished, Mike Hopkins archived all the recordings & source material, and it was a pleasure to hear some of the raw sounds that Randy & Phil were working with, some they had recorded in the NFU foley studio. Brilliant!

My fourth sound library experience: 1996
opened my mind to the potential for use of organic sounds used in completely different contexts.
Totally reinforced how invaluable the sound library is. Along with authentic natural sound effects & ambiences,
also strange, unusual, unexpected sound sources, used in clever new contexts.

As the sound team on The Frighteners increased in size, someone had the brilliant idea of a ‘group buy’ so we could all get a field recording setup. So at last I had my own recorder: a Tascam DAP1 portable DAT machine. Soon after I bought my first mics: a pair of Okatava mics with omni & cardioid heads.

Soon after this experience I quit working in the Auckland studio and went freelance. In 1997 I was sound designer on my first feature film (SAVING GRACE by Costa Botes) and I spent the next few years alternating between Auckland and Wellington, travelling to wherever the best work was.

Step 6: My own Studio – SUBSTATION
By 2000 I made the decision to move to Wellington as that’s where most of the work was being done, and I rented warehouse space in Jessie St in central Wellington. Around this time another formative opportunity appeared: PJ was making Lord of the Rings, and Sound Super Mike Hopkins asked if I was keen for 3+ years work on the project. For a lot of people this could be a career defining project but I had other ideas. I was at a stage where I was sound designer for up & coming directors first NZ films, and the manager of the NFU called me to a meeting, and asked what I planned to do, as there would be no freelance soundies available to do any NZ films if LOTR had their way.

The final straw was when I was offered the film TOY LOVE by a favorite indie director Harry Sinclair. I decided that I did not want to be a small cog in a very big wheel, working as a sound effects editor on the LOTR trilogy. I wanted to work directly with NZ directors and so I made the tough decision to not work on LOTR. This is a decision I have never regretted. I rapidly became the default sound designer on NZ films and completed maybe 6 or 7 indie NZ feature films while my soundie friends worked on LOTR. And those directors that I was loyal to, also became loyal to me. So when LOTR was finished & their sound team were burnt out from working insane hours, I just carried on working and having the best time!
I moved studios a couple of times, first to a huge warehouse space in Miramar and then to a studio space across the road from PJs film post facility Park Road Post. Each project enabled me to upgrade equipment, eventually switching to Sound Devices field recorders, and building up my mic collection. Each film project required recording, whether it was vehicles, props or NZ ambiences  but my work as a sound designer also enabled international travel, including field recording trips to Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Japan.

My fifth sound library experience: 2000
sound library on hard drives +
instant access SoundMiner

Around this time I also had another reminder of just how important access to great recordings is. A local sound team were working on a new film, The Adventures of TinTin, and I was asked to help out for a few weeks on some particular VFX sequences which the director was concerned about. The director requested help from sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who wasn’t available as he was on another project. But he offered to help by providing sounds, so I got to work with a big collection of sounds which they had handpicked for the VFX sequences. Excellent sounds and excellent ideas.

Now while there is no way to gain experience without living it, I wondered how could I, as an indie sound designer ever have access to a sound library like Skywalkers. What would it take?

Step 7: LIFE TWO – HISSandaROAR
Three accumulated events proceeded to change the course of my life.

The first event was a slowly accumulated observation: I noticed that each year my film work seemed to be crammed into 8-9 months, and I spent the other 3 months financially treading water, wondering where my next project was coming from.

The second event was also slow: I noticed that I was repeating myself. For example each time we got a film confirmed, I would organise specific prop recording in the studio, as my aspiration was to always be unique. But with some genres of film I noticed some types of sounds were always recurring – horror films is a good example.

The third event was instant and existential – my dear friend Mike Hopkins, who had been my mentor in the early days of film sound & had always encouraged my work died in a freak accident – I know people die in accidents every day, but Hoppy was a role model for me and his death really made me rethink my priorities. What if it had been me? Was I happy with the legacy I would leave?

After much deep thinking I came to the conclusion that I wanted to change modes. I did not want to go to my grave with just a list of credits on other people’s projects. I wanted to create my own projects. So I started to do research.

With the first project I wanted to develop a solution to the two observations ie create something productive to do with my downtime, and find a way to build & share resources, to make my life as a sound designer easier and better. But to also find a way to share it with everyone else.

I knew how to record sounds & build a sound library, and I also knew the shortcomings of CD sound libraries ie limited to 16/44.1 and only enough room for a few takes, leading to the proliferation of cliches. I also had accumulated a long list of sounds to target, based on decades of working in the film industry, having completed 40 feature films by this stage. While I knew WordPress well from running my blog MUSICofSOUND since 2006, it took a lot of work to find a viable Eccomerce solution, that could reliably deliver GBs of audio.

I came up with the name HISSandaROAR after much brainstorming. I knew it had to be ‘catchy’ and memorable – hear it once, never forget it. At one point I even hired a consultant who was recommended to me, who skyped me and helped clarify the core concepts & name.

Slowly all the pieces began to fall into place, and after about 18 months of research & development, the first HISSandaROAR library was ready for release. April 10, 2010, HISSandaROAR release SD001 VEGE VIOLENCE. This was recorded in my studio in Miramar by Park Road Post, using a Sound Devices 722 and Sanken CSS5 shotgun mic. I shot the video with my DV Camera and cut the vid in Final Cut Pro.

After the release, the response was so encouraging. And for anyone reading this who was there at the start, thank you so much for your support. I secretly decided to interpret every purchase of one of my sound libraries as the commissioning of the next one. Psychologically I also noticed a similar phenomena as occurs with my film work: when a project meets its deadline and is finished & released, an incredible change occurs. My brain, psyche & creative energy is suddenly free from that project, and a flood of new ideas arise. So I moved straight into the next library SD002 SEAL VOCALS and researching locations and conditions for recording those cute, stinky little fur seals.

In 2013 I took another major step towards my future, successfully applying for two Artist Residencies. This coincided with my apartment being forcibly pruchased ny NZTA, to demolish it for a roading project. So I put everything in storeage and went to spend 2 months on the island of Shodoshima, Japan followed by two months in Little Huia, Watakerie Ranges, Auckland NZ. This was an incredible experience and I cannot recommend it enough – I wrote about it HERE

On my arrival back to Wellington at the end of 2013, I managed to find & buy a house in Karehana Bay, Plimmerton and that has been my home & studio ever since.

So that is the origin story of HISSandaROAR and five generations of sound library evolution.
In effect, HISSandaROAR was created to solve my own problems i.e. to enable affordable access to creative high quality and high resolution sounds. And to endlessly research & develop unusual sounds!

Step 8: LIFE THREE
Currently in development.