The Outer Hebrides and other Hydrophone News

Recording a close perspective on one of Julie Brook's Firestacks. (© 2017  Julie Brook )

Recording a close perspective on one of Julie Brook's Firestacks. (© 2017 Julie Brook)

Its been a year since our first trip to the Outer Hebrides in the Winter of 2017, where we recorded the sounds of Julie Brook's fascinating Firestacks. Six months later in the Summer of 2017, we were lucky enough to revisit this stunning corner of the world, on a follow-up assignment; this is a brief account of the experience.

Waiting for a boat ride to complete the last leg of travels to reach the work location.

Waiting for a boat ride to complete the last leg of travels to reach the work location.

The main focus of these field recording trips is to document the life-cycle of the Firestack; from building, to firing, to extinction, as well as its environment. An important perspective that Julie has always been keen on capturing is the underwater one - what does it sound like under the surface when the tidal waves engulf the Firestacks?

On the first trip we had the privilege to work with a pair of Ambient ASF-1 Hydrophones, which we absolutely loved. The second time round we used a H27S Stereo Hydophone from Monkey Sound - an artisan contact mics manufacturer based in Spain - as well as our old faithful JrF D-Series Hydrophones. The H27S caught our attention because it comes in one casing. Given the rough seas we faced the first time round, it seemed like a practical feature in terms of retrieving the mic planted in the Firestack after the tide has covered it (Firestacks are around 1.5 meters tall at their highest point). These clips give you an idea of the colour and stereo field of this neat, relatively new, hydro-mic on the market.

You can download longer versions of these recordings here (free to use under the Sound Ark License Agreement).

Here's a few more sights and sounds we recorded - hope you enjoy them on your device as much as we enjoyed them in the field.

These are cold long days in a remote bay on the Western-most part of Lewis, and that's what makes it so special. There is practically no shelter, the nature is bare and the exposure to the elements constant. There is virtually no noise pollution, very little chatting between the crew and so the day becomes mostly a long introspective moment. It's a positive experience - you are immersed in the surroundings, constantly active, albeit completely still a lot of the time. The hours fly and before you know it (plus a 40-minute hike) you are back at the bothy, lighting the fire and regaining your extrovert self with the help of a dram of Scotch whisky.

Without a doubt one of the most inspiring assignments we have had the pleasure to work on so far, looking forward to round 3!

What's the most inspirational recording or filming location you have worked in? We'd love to hear your stories, especially if the location was free from noise pollution or on the contrary extremely noisy - you can leave us a comment below.

Designed For Sound | March 16

Every week we highlight a movie with outstanding sound, whether that’s for it’s importance to cinematic history, it’s creative use of sound or the sheer audio enjoyment factor of the film.

Raging Bull (1980)

© 1980 MGM 

Raging Bull got Robert De Niro his only Oscar win in a leading role. His portrayal of real-life boxer Jake Lamotta - for which he famously gained 60 pounds (27kg) in the space of four months - is often described as one of the best performances of all time, and rightly so.

Hollywood sound effects legend Frank Warner was in charge of the soundtrack on this one. He used a plethora of powerful sound recordings such as animal screams
interspersed in the fight scenes, gun shots instead of camera flashes, random bass drums, and a good dose of (here it is again) silence, to give the story all its emotional depth. Frank then went on to destroy, as he always did, all his original recordings as a form of respect towards the film and towards his work, so that he wouldn't re-use material on future projects. A bold resolution for a bold film about a bold character.

 

Wall-E (2008)

© 2008 Disney/PIXAR

Animated films are ideal grounds for sound to flourish, and science fiction is the perfect genre for cool sound design. Sound wizard Ben Burtt had just finished working on Star Wars III and famously told his family he would never do another robots movie again, but the opportunity to be involved early in pre-production is so rare in sound that he couldn't resist the temptation. He was hired by Pixar as their first ever in-house sound designer and worked on Wall-E over a span of three years. 

The main characters voices alone took a solid nine months to create. Burtt would develop his sonic ideas and run them periodically by director Andrew Stanton. Each sound was discussed and refined as the animation took shape. He ended up creating 2600 new sounds - that's two and a half times more than your average Star Wars movie, to give you an idea of the task at hand.

Wall-E is a gem for film sound lovers in many ways. Our favourite fact is that for the first 30 minutes, the story is driven by sound and some music. The first machine to machine conversation occurs at 22 minutes and the first human dialogue at a staggering 39 minutes. A real treat for the senses.

 

Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)

© 2003 Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc

Quite possibly our all-time favourite, and one that has virtually no dialogue. The Triplettes of Belleville (as it is known in English) tells the story of Madame Souza and her dog Bruno, as they team up with the Belleville Sisters trio to rescue her grandson Champion, who has been kidnapped by a criminal gang during a mountain stage of the Tour de France.

In The Triplettes all is communicated through sound. Every squeak, creak, grunt, bark and wonky mechanism has been carefully selected and musically arranged in the audio visual canvas by director Sylvain Chomet and his sound team. So much that one of the best musical moments is in fact a piece entirely made from sounds; when Mme Souza and the Triplettes play at a club in New York using a newspaper, a fridge, a hoover and the spokes of a wheel to create a really funky tune. It is precisely the lack of dialogues that makes this film so enjoyable and immersive.

Your senses are constantly involved in reading the messages and following the story. Added to this is the beautifully imperfect style of the animation. All in all a very engaging surrealist film that you'll remember forever.

Designed For Sound | February 16

Every week we highlight a movie with outstanding sound, whether that’s for it’s importance to cinematic history, it’s creative use of sound or the sheer audio enjoyment factor of the film. Some might be obvious but we’ll be unearthing hidden gems too.

The Conversation (1974)

© 2003 Paramount Pictures

We kicked off February with one of the finest Hollywood thrillers of the 70s: The Conversation (1974) - written, directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. 

It won the Palme D'Or in Cannes that year and only lost the 1975 Best Picture and Best Writing Oscars to The Godfather Part II, the other Coppola movie in contention in that year. The film follows the life of surveillance expert and lone wolf Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), in his attempts to solve an assignment he is working on. Its about social detachment; the increasingly relevant issue of surveillance in modern societies; and its about really listening as opposed to just hearing. All throughout the movie sound is used as a running commentary on what is going on in the mind of our secretive and increasingly isolated character. Sound is so central to this movie in many layers that we could consider it a character. Without giving anything away, the whole movie revolves around one line of dialogue that sound genius Walter Murch captured on set whilst recording wild tracks for post production. The Conversation is a brilliant example of the power that sound has in influencing what we see.

 

Barton Fink (1991)

© Twentieth Century Fox

The Cohen brothers are releasing this month. Hail, Caesar! starring George Clooney was opening the 66th Berlinale yesterday. This week's #DesignedForSound movie is Barton Fink (1991). Outstanding at storytelling, the Cohens have understood and exploited the subtle power of sound as a narrative device like very few director/writers in history. They also strongly believe in early collaboration with and between their music and sound departments, something unfortunately rare in the fast-paced budget-ridden film industry. Barton Fink is about a playwright who suffers a creative impasse as he moves from New York to California to write for the movies. His naivety combined with a failure to understand people and be understood drive the events. The whole film is presented through his perspective and therefore all we see and hear is rarely what is expected and often something deeper. Composer Carter Burwell and Supervising Sound Editor Skip Lievsay sat down and spotted the film together. Scene by scene they discussed who would take care of what and how. They came up with a scheme where they would share the frequency spectrum so if sound was focusing on lower/bassy content the music would play higher notes and so on. The result is a faultless, smooth, coherent and interesting soundtrack, and a massively entertaining film.

 

No Country For Old Men (2007)

We continue with the Cohen's because their work ethic is exemplary. No Country For Old Men (2007) - easily on our top 10 favourite films. So much to say about this flick so we'll (try and) keep it simple. Based on the book of the same name by Cormack McCarthy, NCFOM is a crime thriller/ drama/ western/ horror/ comedy/ noir/ road trip/ Cohens-style movie, set in the arid Texan borderlands. A drug deal gone wrong leaves a stash of cash that sets off a triangular chase between a Vietnam war veteran that finds it (Brolin), a mightily scary hitman (Bardem) and a soon-to-be retired sheriff (Jones). The soundtrack to NCFOM is an exercise in restraint. All the elements from Foley to backgrounds, to fx, to dialogues are dancing around moments of silence. There are a mere 11 minutes of composed music, so subliminal (drones from tibetan singing bowls) that you barely notice it. Suspenseful, incredibly dynamic, sparse and rich in detail, the mix is a pleasure ride to the ears. There isn't much dialogue either but it's sharp, full of meaning and delivered with strong accents -very Cohens. Not a wasted or boring scene here. From the opening voice over, delivered in deep rugged texan by Tommy Lee Jones, layered upon shots of deserted landscapes and dry whispy winds, you know it's going to be a good one.