VideoHelper recording techniques

VideoHelper, a sound production house, has a new library of sounds they call “narrative sound design,” a combination of “experimental” sound designs. You may have already heard some of the sounds from the two-disc collection, “Modules”, as the sounds have popped up in trailers for the likes of Spiderman 3, House of Wax, and Transformers. Since we love strange sound design techniques, though, I was just as interested in the techniques used to record the library, so I asked the boys of VideoHelper to share some of their favorite recording techniques. Sure enough, they’ve got some great examples — ones that might inspire you to go grab your mobile recorder and see what damage you can do.

Chris from VideoHelper searched his memory and mentioned these techniques, some of which even have subliminal political messages (hey, sound is powerful stuff). Some techniques you’ll no doubt know well (BANG THING! BANG THING RECORD WITH MIC! being one of my personal favorites to use), while others may be new. Chris writes that his favorite tips are:

  1. Hitting and smashing everything. Mailboxes, dumpsters, whatever.
  2. Homemade contact mics. $2 worth of parts from Radio Shack and some duct tape. They are piezo mics that can be wired to a 1/4” output and taped to an object.
  3. Dry ice. We’ve bought dry ice and recorded the contact between it and metal cymbals and whatever else is laying around. Makes a squealing sound not unlike fresh sausage hitting a hot skillet.
  4. Recording silence in acoustic spaces. I do this a lot…I’ll record in a big acoustic space (like a subway corridor) and use the files for ambient recordings/sound design. It’s cool b/c it’s not really silence, just nothing in the foreground…also I record at 96K so I get some really subtle sub-harmonic material.
  5. Leave beats on my answering machine and re-record for a breakdown.
  6. If I’m recording a trip-hop track around 100 bpm, I may record 3 half-steps slower, so I can re-pitch up to original tempo.
  7. For my POLITIK score (SH02) I got to plunder our vaults of news music for sampling. The score is a political trip-hop score using some orchestral sounds, concrete elements, fair use bites etc. I used Bush’s 2000 ring modulated acceptance speech as an impulse/input (ala Paul Panhuysen) to a prefaded verb for the ambient element of the piece BIRTH OF A NOTION. I inter-cut Hilter speeches with the cheering from the 2004 RNC. Grabbed audio from protesters in Miami (anti FTAA) and cut up into rhythmic bits…did turntable cuts on police siren “records”. The last piece depicting 9/11 has design made of box-box recordings (CVR) which was difficult to listen to. ENERGY CRISIS has all sound to do with gasoline and auto maintenance. The piece AFGHANI HEROIN has concrete elements from the the floor of the NYSE, as well as Hamid Karzai’s acceptance speech.
  8. Maybe my favorite: I have 1/4” blank audio tape that I buried in a graveyard in Sleepy Hollow over Halloween of 2003. The tape was washed and re-spooled and now I use it to lay off tracks to…also I recorded it back (blank) to a file so you can hear all the dents and pits and whatever other hallucinations you can find on it.
  9. Oh and one more thing talking of acoustic spaces…Flavio and I got the opportunity to record in an empty water tower in my hometown of Hampton Bays (my father-in-law works for the water authority)…the tower was being filled that week but we got to crawl around in it while empty…

VideoHelper has full details on the Modules series, with searchable sounds and previews, at their website. The library includes “modular” cuts that can be edited into full designs, with individual and annual blanket licenses.

VideoHelper Music Production Library

VideoHelper sound design, hitting a chair