The Art of Noise – Sound recording


For the past few years filed recordings has been the name of the game, but to be honest this is merely the tip of an iceberg. Apart from field recording we also have those Buchla wizards who deliver astonishing sound creations. However, what we are up for today is going back to the roots of the real handicraft of sound recording and, not to forget, sound manipulation.

VICE headed to the recording facilities at Netherrealm Studios in Chicago, who worked on the game’s foley track, and spoke with Senior Sound Designer Stephen Schappler. Now, you may or may not get the chance to make your own violent game soundtrack, but the thoughts here are some added sonic inspiration to try new experiments with a mic.

If you twist a bell pepper in just the right way, it sounds like someone’s chest cavity being ripped open. A lot of non-gamers may not be aware that Mortal Kombat is still being produced. In the early 90s, the game was at the bleeding edge of realistic digitized violence, and the franchise was so controversial that Congress held hearings about it. Believe it or not, the series has only gotten more violent since then. The most recent installment, Mortal Kombat 11, features zoomed-in sequences where characters can break spines, bite out chunks of brain, or gouge out eyes. But try playing it, and it’s not just the sights that will make you ill – it’s the sounds. Really, the unsung artists’ heroes of Mortal Kombat might just be the sound designers who sit in a room for hours, trying to smash household objects, fruits, and vegetables together in a way that sounds like a convincing disembowelment.

It’s not that long ago when recordists and researchers working with sound thought of it as a mechanism through which objectivity could be transmitted. One needs to listen no further than early ethnomusicology and mid-century wildlife recording for examples of this attitude. The pretence to being objective brought with it an inferred negation of agency, that somehow the recordist was simply capturing moments of the real when they started the tape rolling. The idea of objective recording in the field, thankfully now problematised and rejected, still lingers though like a spectre haunting the ways many listeners consider recordings. It is as if, somehow, because of where they are recorded they are true. The issue for anyone who undertakes field recording as part of their practice is to recognise that agency and ultimately a kind of creative subjective listening is vital if the work is to transmit, as Szendy puts it, the listener’s listening.

Once the sound recording is in place you’re in for the fun part – manipulation. Using Reaper as the main DAW some magic is being created using things like layering tools and the like.

S-Layer sampler instrument for Native Instruments Reaktor 5 creates playable and unique sound combinations by layering samples. S-LAYER is a sound creation tool that allows you to create, edit and play new sound combinations by taking samples and layering them together using an eight part sampler and an intuitive cell layout.  By combining sounds from the included sample map or your existing sample library, S-LAYER facilitates the discovery of new oneshots, sound effects and loops from pre-existing sample content. Whether you’re looking for a new way to create thick drum samples for hip-hop or a massive impact sound effect for game, S-LAYER delivers. With S-LAYER, up to eight parts are played back and manipulated simultaneously using an advanced layered sampler engine, where each layer remains independent and can be surgically edited.  Time-tested sound design techniques such as reversing, pitching, modulating and mixing sounds together can be quickly achieved by randomizing and fine-tuning with sliders and knobs. In addition to the on-board granular, filter and time-based effects, you can also connect your own effects using the insert/send system or by using the direct outputs.  Once you’ve found a sound combination that you like, you can store it on-the-fly in one of eight ‘Scenes’ which can be dynamically played backed and controlled using MIDI.