Dungeness Field Recordings

A few snippets of some longer recordings I made in Dungeness at the weekend. The landscape is quite strange and there is a sense of entering in to a different dimension as you pass the Army firing range and glimpse the nuclear power station in the distance. These recordings, made using contact microphones, are suitably otherworldly and will no doubt be used within my sound design and music work. I'm looking forward to spending more time in the Dungeness area as there are so many sound gathering opportunities. 

Promax Horror Channel

Nice feature in Promax Daily Brief about the recent Horror Channel branding I worked on with director Chris Turner and Holman & Hunt

The effectiveness of H+H’s Horror Channel rebrand can be boiled down to the following components: 1) A series of 12 stylish, boldly subtle IDs that favor a sense of unease over traditional scare tactics. 2) An extreme minimalist on-screen graphics package driven by frightening red clouds that spread across the screen like a nightmare. And 3) a thrumming, painstakingly crafted soundscape by sound designer Simon James that was made possible because, unlike most channels, Horror does not carry a continuity voiceover.

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 “One of the great things about this project was having the space to do what we wanted with the audio,” (Richard) Holman said, “because sound is so important in enhancing the mood of the uncanny and unnerving.”

Akiha Den Den album

The Akiha Den Den soundtrack album is now available. Really pleased with the work Nick Taylor has done on the design and packaging. Big thanks to Colin at Castles in Space Records for releasing this odd selection of music and sound design. I was devastated by the loss of a close friend whilst working on Akiha Den Den, and the project gave me the perfect place to escape to. 

This vinyl and CD package collects electronic music created for an abandoned space: Akiha Den Den, the crumbling amusement park at the centre of a surreal radio drama, and the setting for a story woven from the very fabric of radio.
Released on a specially requested opaque clear vinyl LP, the physical package also includes a redacted Akiha Den Den booklet (all artwork by Nick Taylor) and a beautiful bonus CD filled with over 70 minutes of Buchla Modular, EMS, drones, dramatics, cassette 4 track abuse and noise from the Akiha Den Den radio series.

CBS Horror Channel branding

Back in January I completed the sound design for a series of 10 second branding idents, directed by Chris Turner, for the Horror Channel. I'm excited to say that they have now launched, so tune in to see/hear them. Sound wise they are a mix of electronic sound design and foley (thanks to Sue Harding for the fire advice) and I had a lot of fun conjuring up suitably dark sounds on the Buchla Electric Music Box and Oberheim OB-6, of which the latter features heavily in this production. 

“When Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson were writing the screenplay for ‘The Shining’ they kept referring to Sigmund Freud’s book ‘The Uncanny’; a book which explores the way an image or scene where something is not quite right can make the skin crawl and quicken the pulse in a much more visceral way than mere shock and gore. We took the same approach. Each of our idents provides the thrill Horror fans love without ever making the source of that emotion explicit.”
— Richard Holman - Holman + Hunt Agency

Ambisonic Recording in Scotland

I had the pleasure of recording on the East coast of Scotland last week for a project for Salesforce Trailhead. I used the brilliant Sennheiser Ambeo microphone, which records 4 channels and allows for post processing in to various stereo microphone configurations, binaural and most versions of surround. Whilst the technique has been around since the '70s, it has gained in popularity in the VR world recently as the positioning can be linked to head movement within a virtual reality environment. It is one of the only microphone systems that records vertical as well as horizontal, and captures a truly immersive sound space.

Below is an excerpt of a longer recording I made in the rock pools near Dunnottar Castle. (you can just make me out in the image below) The microphone was placed so that water was bubbling and moving all around it and lapping against the rocks. This version is encoded in to the binaural format, which requires headphones to fully appreciate the 'surround' effect. 

What is so exciting about this recording technique, is the amount of flexibility once back in the studio. If I wanted to, I could choose to encode this same recording in any number of stereo mic configurations (and directions) or full surround. I'm seriously considering creating some library collections and I'm already planning another trip to Scotland to spend an extended period recording on the West coast. 

Photo by Clive Howard/Blue Canary

Photo by Clive Howard/Blue Canary

Delaware Road at Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker

This July I'll be joining a group of like minded electronic sound experimenters in an immersive night of music in a cold war nuclear bunker in Essex, just off the M25, as part of Alan Gubby's Delaware Road music/theatre/fiction project. The star of the evening is undoubtedly the setting; the dusty, eerie tunnels that lead to rooms filled with (thankfully) unused armageddon paraphernalia and the odd mannequin here and there. A fully equipped BBC studio is one of the many oddities that you'll discover wandering around this tomb of false hope and desperation. 

Kelvedon Hatch is a chilling time capsule of how the other half might have lived after a nuclear war; where the government, or what was left of it, would try to rebuild and start again. 

I doubt they could have imagined the place as a venue to mind expanding electronic music and visuals courtesy of Ian Helliwell, Howlround, DJ Food, Teleplasmiste, Concretism and others, but that is exactly what is happening on Friday 28th July. Tickets (including a an optional bus service) are selling quickly, so don't hang around. 

I'll be there conjuring outer dimensional oscillations, spirit invoking modulations and frequencies to welcome all beings with warmth; exploring the sounds that come from deep inner space as they vibrate around the subterranean and spread to the remotest reaches of outer space. From pulsing strobed rhythms and incantation arousing sequences to glacial tone shards and shapeshifting drones; the vast range of the Buchla Electric Music Box will be shared in a 3hr exploratory performance. Here's a little taster....

Tickets and more info here

Here is a bit of background on the Delaware Road project from DJ Food.

Self Generating Exploration

I use a modular synthesiser called the Buchla 200e Electric Music Box. It crops up in nearly every project I work on and is an endless source of inspiration. Its inventor Don Buchla, whilst a synthesiser pioneer just like the better known Bob Moog, chose a more experimental approach to his designs, preferring to discard traditional interfaces like the common white and black keyboard, and instead creating touch sensitive input panels with layouts that better suited the human anatomy. 

This recording uses the 266e Source of Uncertainty module to drive a self generating composition. Pulses and modulation are randomly generated and control the rhythm, pitch and timbre of a single oscillator with the results being very musical. I could just leave this patch alone and it would play endlessly, but I'm making subtle changes to various settings to interact with the machine music. The original idea for this particular patch came from Todd Barton, Buchla expert and inspiration source for many synthesiser explorers. 

There is one last element to this recording, the Ciat-Lombarde Cocoquantus - which is a cosmic looping machine from another dimension. More about that another time!

Hyperloop

A piece of music from the 'techno thriller' radio drama series Blood Culture, which topped the iTunes podcast charts in its opening weekend, knocking stalwarts The Archers off the top spot.  (update - and is now nominated for a Radio Academy Award)

This particular piece of music underscores a scene from episode 5, and so I can't say too much about what is going on for risk of spoilers, but I can say that it involves violence, a cattle prod and emotional revelations. 

Episode 2 of Blood Culture will be available in two parts soon. As well as music throughout, I also sound designed and mixed this episode. 

Find out more about the series, including how to subscribe, here

Akiha Den Den Bonus OST

As the Akiha Den Den series unravels I've been sharing tracks from the soundtrack in between episodes. I'm also busy putting the finishing touches to the soundtrack album which will be released on vinyl in the new year. Here is a piece of music used to introduce Silph, the thought mining cockroach. It is pure EMS Synthi A magic. 

Video feedback is by Ian Helliwell.

VR Sound

I just completed my first VR project, working with Salesforce on a training experience for their staff. Making sounds for an experience where a talking raccoon guides you around a giant structure made of shipping containers, was certainly one of the more unusual things I've done but I'm not overstating it when I say that the possibilities for sound within VR blow my mind. Since the development of Stereo sound, us audio engineers have been faking it to convince the listener they are within a realistic acoustic space. With my work in radio I spend a lot of time positioning sounds within that stereo space, trying to create realistic (sometimes purposely unrealistic) scenarios. With 3D sound for VR, that job just got a lot more interesting and challenging. 

VR 3D sound map

VR 3D sound map

As you can see from my sound map above, the new canvas is multi-dimensional. Rather than a flat space in which to position sound, where the only choices are Left/Right/Loud/Quiet, we now have a 'real' world where we can place our sounds. As the player moves through the forest, the sounds will shift depending on his movement. A flutter of wings in the tree as a bird takes flight, the whistle of wind at the base of the building growing louder as the player moves towards it, the forest now receding in to the background (using binaural techniques it actually sounds like it is behind). The possibilities are exciting and endless, but with this new power comes new challenges. It is easy to overwhelm and create a muddy mess of sounds. One very useful function of sound in an experience where the player can look anywhere, is to use sound triggers to gently guide the players attention. 

I've spent most of my career making immersive 'worlds of sound', carefully crafting and manipulating sound to enhance stories. With VR I think I've found my spiritual home! I hope to have a video walkthrough of the Dreamhouse VR experience soon, which I'll share here.  

If you are looking for immersive sound design, foley, voice and music for your VR project please get in touch. 

Below is a piece of music I created for the end scene of the VR experience.