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Organic House & Techno’ and ‘Abstract Flavour’.



The world of sound design is a vast and ever-expanding discipline whereby individuals from both artistic and engineering backgrounds collide their various audio capture techniques, programming and reproduction to create new or novel reinterpretations of sound.

Embarking on a sample pack design project can be viewed as a focused task, whereby there may be several sounds required for a library, specific purpose or project. While this may be the case, a sample collection could also be required to be versatile, accessible, translatable and usable. This requirement is so that a producer would be able to implement the assets into their work efficiently while also choosing to alternate or conduct further editing (ASoundEffect, 2016; Bull, 2018). 

The audio sample market increases every year, and, similar to music, the choice is sometimes overwhelming and saturated (Raman, 2016). In order to justify my projects, I felt I wanted to explore the practice of collecting found sounds from my immediate environments and use a combination of light and heavy manipulation to create organic, original sounding samples and fuse an analogue and synthesised style alongside. During the discussions of the pitch of the design projects with my tutor, we realised that two sample packs could be achievable and would demonstrate various applicability while originating from the same sources. I believe that this complemented my vision for the projects and presented an exciting new direction.

Although limited, research suggested the term ‘organic’ can have a very subjective meaning to both the listener and producer (Earle, 2018; Nolan, 2019; Dowden, 2021) and could subsequently cause confusion. However, for the case of these projects, guidance by established producer Remillard (2019) was considered most reliable as he states the term ‘organic’ can compose of characteristics such as “controlled transients that are not aggressive.”, “a “real” sounding feel.” or “clear low end, very rounded.”, providing a more straightforward narrative that a producer may expect from the audio. With these points in mind and following research of commercially released ‘organic’ sample packs, the direction of the projects would be initialised by conducting field recordings with a portable recorder to form the basis of the sonic themes. Upon reflection, further research could have been undertaken to explore the narratives of a broader range of released music and production techniques to clarify this ambiguity of terminology. However, given time constraints, I believe the references obtained provided a justifiable framework.

The options available to the modern field recordist are vast and can be overwhelming. Both projects required detailed recordings that also captured the natural ambiences and stereo width. Despite options being available to the professional, I encountered limitations such as location and equipment access, budget and time constraints. The available equipment, a Zoom H2n, offers four different recording modes: X/Y, Mid-Side (M-S), 2-channel-surround and 4-channel-surround. According to Deity Microphones (2019), the X/Y technique is favourable for sound effects but may not be suitable for large outdoor spaces.



In contrast, Houghton (2020) states, “M-S is one of the most flexible and forgiving of stereo recording techniques, making it really beginner-friendly.” while Huber et al. (2018.p144) explains that the “monaural compatibility” allows the engineer to dial in mid or side signals to taste. Both techniques offered varied recordings; however, after importing and editing the raw recordings, I discovered that the M-S technique consistently presented more sonically focused results over the more expansive recordings of X/Y. In hindsight, scheduling additional time to conduct recording experiments with both methods would offer greater depth of knowledge and experience, resulting in choosing the more suitable technique for a specific recording.

Following a recording session, editing the captured audio for later use is considered an industry-standard step. The ToneBenders (2012) podcast supports this practice by stating that utilising specialist software such as iZotope’s RX is often the only step between the “master file” and the desired output sample. Techniques such as noise reduction, audio region editing, de-clipping, normalisation, format exporting and recording assessment were all utilised to deliver a professional standard of audio. Due to industry advice and the research above evidencing the applicability of this software and method of cleaning up audio, I found that investing in and experimenting with RX proved to be a reliable and efficient process to treat and edit the raw recordings.



When approaching sound design from an abstract viewpoint, anything can be useful in the right scenario and pushing audio tools to their limits is part of the process. I found this mindset to be challenging to comprehend as previous experience with mixing and mastering disciplines all focus on the subtlety of processing. In contrast, sound design favours the opposite; Glasper (2010) supports this view by saying, “this is the great thing about sound design, all of the rules that usually apply to using effects are void, and the word ‘subtle’ doesn’t even come into it.” One such exaggerated processing technique is time stretching. Time stretching and pitch shifting are considered fundamental tools for a sound designer to achieve unique and original sounds (Felton, 2018; Huber, et al., 2018; Sinclair, 2020), which may not otherwise be achievable. PaulXStretch was used to experiment with this technique by increasing the sample recording lengths to generate unusual tones, atmospheres, and ambiences. The eventual results did provide unique and vast sounding soundscapes, which were used to form textures and ambiences throughout both projects. Although interesting samples resulted, its applicability to other categories was limited. Through additional research, I found an approach that deconstructs a sound into; high, mid and low-end (Sinclair, 2020), which gives a template to work from when creating a specific sound, such as a cymbal. This method assisted in decision-making and sample construction. Additionally, it influenced subsequent recordings whereby I was conscious of capturing a range of frequencies and not being restricted at the editing/design stage. I believe that the sound design throughout both projects represents my highest standard of work to date. However, it has also inspired me to develop and continue exploring this approach and the various recording techniques to design a range of content.



Despite the theme of ‘organic’ being a fundamental aspect, I found that it presented a restriction on the explorative sound design. It could be argued that to obtain an ‘organic’ aesthetic, one would have to use field or instrument recordings exclusively. However, from the reference packs and artists, it can be seen that these combine both electronic and acoustic elements to curate a natural-sounding soundscape or rhythm, which underpins some modern composition aesthetics. An example of this is Alcachofa by Ricardo Villalobos. ‘Easy Lee’ features a heavily processed and vocoded vocal accompanying acoustic percussion and analogue synth-fills. This example does revisit the challenge of ‘organic’ subjectivity; however, during production, I found that recording and producing sustaining/tonal sounds suitable for categories such as ‘Bass’ or ‘Melodics’ was difficult. Therefore, to achieve the production of such sounds, two soft-synths (Monark and Voltage Modular) were chosen, and custom patches were programmed. This incorporation allowed the generation of analogue, tonal qualities that I felt were lacking and were prevalent within the references (ECM Records, 2014; Earle, 2018).



Well-translatable metadata can be seen as a fundamental factor when choosing professional samples. Initially, I thought that my metadata would consist of custom-file names; as I progressed, I discovered that basic metadata could prove helpful for myself and the target audience. Paul Virostek supports this view for the independent sound library industry (ToneBenders, 2012; ASoundEffect, 2016). In order to achieve this, researching file naming and metadata conventions assisted with understanding how to complete the metadata elements to an industry standard. However, the research also uncovered the sample-rate/bit-depth requirement standards; the consensus for sample rate within the music production sphere is 44.1kh/z with a 24 bit/rate. While in contrast, the abstract sample pack aimed at audio editors and sound designers, the research suggests having access to higher sample rates where possible (e.g. 92kh/z with 24 bit/rate) is desirable in pro audio. It is acknowledged that the future relevance of this format is debatable as sample rate requirements are likely to increase (Raman, 2016; Huber et al., 2018; Bull, 2018; Angus, 2019).

The capture, editing and librarian work of a sample pack producer is a meticulous and artistic affair, with the combined challenge of ensuring both unique and usable material is created. I found the music-focused pack benefited from referring to genre-specific material. For example, when producing a bass or melodic line abstract, it often drifted into becoming its one identity or out of time/key. However, when combined with a sample from the references, the context was clear. Contrastingly, the abstract project benefited from accompanying videos that enhanced the experience of both the visual and audio stimuli as a result. Nevertheless, the aim of my projects was not to be conventional, instead to offer original material that did not fully conform to a particular format or genre. Raman (2016) supports with, “don’t be bounded by what sample packs are already out there.” As I undertake future sample-based projects, I believe requirements to reference content/context will reduce and my sonic development continue to individualise itself.

From the research, field recording, and studio sessions, it became apparent that sound design possibilities are endless, and time can often become the limiting factor over creativity. This limitation can be framed as a positive. It does encourage one to be decisive and revisit their objectives rather than remain in an abstract, experimental form. How arbitrary the sound design process can be and why one must be open to the inadvertent events of the process, is a mindset that I suggest a sound designer must embrace. To quote Oscar Wilde (1893), “to expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.”


References

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ECM Records. (2014). Ricardo Villalobos / Max Loderbauer talk about “Re: ECM” (Interview) | ECM Records. Available: <https://youtu.be/hxMWIrbWmsM?t=120>.

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