Thursday, 3 November 2011

Updating Equipment - Sound Devices 788T

There are always joys of buying new sound equipment...but it can sometime seem to be a painfull process to try and establish what is the best product to buy, what best fits your needs (not only now, but in the future) and what fits your budget.

Mixers and Recorders
Chained 302/442 into PD6 and R4 backup
My location sound kit has always previously been built up around an "electric handbag", as still the vast majority of my location work is done as a single operator, recording / mixing / booming. The most important considerations have always been being able to use the equipment in a variety of scenarios - essentially ensuring that every item offered the best "bang for the buck".

This has meant that moving over to a trolley for the increasing amount of drama work has been a bit of a compromise: chaining the Sound Devices 302 and 442  together to give 7 input channels, with 4 direct outputs (usually for the radio mics); this then feeds into the stereo mix of the Fostex PD6, tracks 1&2 usually split stereo (booms left / radios right) with the additional tracks taking the post fade iso tracks.

Clearly (well, clearly to me anyway) the next logical progression would be to improve the mixing and routing capability whilst working on the sound trolley - but this would mean investing in a flat bed mixer that could "only" be used whilst working on the trolley. The down side here is that still most of my work is  "over the shoulder", and so the mixer would potentially not earning its keep for most jobs. This meant looking into alternatives, and admitting that the PD6 is, (although a more than capable production recorder), a bit long in the tooth these days.

Control Surface vs Mixer

After a lot of pricing things up, and some lengthy conversations with the lovely Simon Bishop, it became clear that the way forward was not to get a dedicated flat bed mixer, but to update the recorder to one that would allow the use of a control surface - this gave two options the Sound Devices 788T with the CL9 / CL8 or the Zaxcom Nomad with the Mix 8. Essentially both the prices came in very similar, but in essence the decision was simple: I already own, and have regularly rented, Sound Devices kit and I rate it very highly - and a number of my colleagues own the 788T and rate its I bought the whole set up: The 788T, CL8 and CL9: and it is truely amazing.

A 12 channel timecoded recorder with 8 inputs, multiple outputs, capability to write to the internal hard drive, CF card and multiple external drives simulatenously. The CL8 offers an "in the handbag" set of 8 rotary faders and additional controls. The CL9 offers 8 linear faders with  quicker access to the recorders functions and giving multiple additional functionality such as an eq on each channel, more controlled pan functions and additional comms returns.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Current News - October 2011

I can't believe my last post was June 2nd, but then it has been rather busy recently.

June and July were both nicely booked up with a combination of corporate location work (Nike, Western Power Distribution, Astra Zenica), Post Production (I Can Smell the Cordite - another documentary from Any Taylor Smith / Jasmine - from Sonia Castang) and recording studio work (Sing UK!)

Bert and Dickie

In hand bag mode on the Thames - Bert and Dickie
August was spent in London working on the BBC Drama "Bert and Dickie" as production sound mixer, working with Boom Op Phil Cape and Sound Assistant Sarah Howe. It really was a super job to work on, once again working with the Director David Blair (The Street, The Accused, Best Laid Plans), and with actors Matt Smith and Sam Hoare playing the leads. All recorded on the Fostex PD6 and (due to the regular use of 2 cameras) often needing a combination of 2 booms and multiple radio microphones. One of the additional challenges was that the story is about the Olympic Gold Medal pairing of Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell in the Double Sculls - meaning dialogue taking place on the river Thames in some beautifully built 1948 replica sculls....a challenge...

Phil Cape jamming timecode on a new BBC Cam

September and (the rapidly disappearing) October have once again been a combination of location work and audio post production: this time on location with a very wide range of clients (from a full Japanese crew for a Yakult promotion, to working with One Box Television on a round table discussion on the "Dream" Manchester United Eleven). Post production has been on another Andy Taylor Smith documentary "If Himmler Played Guitar" - which I'm sure is going to cause a great commotion where ever viewed, as it really questions "judgement" - both of the character within the documentary and the viewer. Also been working on a series of TV commercials (in Arabic no less) for STC phones, as well as the excellent Peekaboo (starring Shaun Dooley and Leslie Sharpe) by Debbie Howard, which addresses the unpoken issues of still birth and miscarriage.

The rest of the year, and the start of next is going to be taken up working as Production Sound Mixer on the second series of the BBC drama "The Accused"; once again working with director David Blair and written by Jimmy McGovern.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Fire Rises

Well this really is quite an interesting morning in the audio potting shed. Thanks to my good friend Tristan Ofield, I've seen and heard a nice piece of viral marketing for the next Batman film (The Dark Knight Rises).

He passed over a link to a piece of audio that is for on the current Dark Knight website, and Tris told me to run it through a spectral analyser, and behold there is a visual message hidden within the spectrogram. #TheFireRises.

The audio for the chant essentially all sits below about 5kHz, and ontop of that is the synthesised audio data that reveals itself as words in the spectrogram. This particular band of audio is between 7kHz and 10kHz - completely within the audible spectrum - but plays on the fact that our ears have become so accustomed to bad MP3 (style) compression, that we accept the high frequency warbling that is there the throughout the audio. Just listening to the 7-10kHz band, reminded me somewhat of my old Sinclair Spectrum loading, or a really really bad MP3 style news report. When I originally got the email, I was hoping that it was going to be a bit more cunning, and use something like temporal masking of the text message with the main audio content - that said, it's still a nice trick for this time on a Thursday morning.

Right at the end of the message, there is a distinct audio shift and the chant fades, and the "text message" drops down into the lower audio frequency range - and you can see on the spectral plot that the message does the same.

Picture to Sound

There have been numberous bits of software in the past that have taken images and generated control functionals for synths - Televonator, JaVoice - and I'm sure there's another that's escaping me - but this is a nice viral application of similar technology - but how many out there will have spectral analaysis software? Until of course, someone post's it in a blog...ahem (cough).

Apparently for those that Tweet #TheFireRises (hence the hash tag in the message, and my spurious tweets this morning) are rewarded with a nice picture of the lovely Tom Hardy (top chap, worked with him on Bronson) as Bane. For the link to the full story and final image click here - which I only read after I'd written this entry!! (honest guv').

2 June 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Microphone Selection

Microphone selection has a huge impact on the quality of captured sound. Through the ever continuing years of learning, it was always drilled into me that the relative positioning of the microphone was paramount (and it is!) but selecting the right microphone for the job is even more important.

Dynamic Results

Filming next to a major road can be a real problem, as the sound of the traffic can just over power the dialogue.  A great example I've recorded this morning - (for some form of visual perspective this is a single carriage A road in the country side, 40mph limit, quite windy morning) - on a reporters style stick mic and a conventional tie clip / lavalier. When I made the recording, it was originally to a split stereo file with the stick mic panned left, and the lavalier panned right - the files below are now mono files from each microphone. The stick mic was held in the usual "reporters" position, and the lavallier was positioned outside of my clothes, just with the conventional Tram wind cover on.

Dialogue next to A Road - Tram TR50 by Grant Bridgeman

Dialogue next to A Road - Beyerdynamic M58 by Grant Bridgeman

And it is amazing just how much difference there is between a dynamic microphone (in this case a Beyerdynamic M58) and a tie clip mic (in this case a Tram TR50 via a micron explorer) in this location. It makes complete sense from the design of the microphones, and it really shows the effects of suiting the microphone to the application and environment.  The downside is whether having a stick mic in shot is suitable to the production...let's be frank its not something you'd use in a drama...but for news reports, some interviews and some corporates, it's ideal.

Local Boundaries

The Sanken Cub 01 - boundary mic
Another related incident I had recently was when filming two characters shouting at each other through a closed doorway. We started by using the usual selection of boom mic - but the sound was really awful, due to the early reflections off of the closed door, making it sound incredibly phasey. As soon as we used a boundary microphone on the door itself (nicely mounted out of shot), the step change was really incredible.

Even just having a simple selection of microphone types can dramatically improve the quality of the captured sound - the art is in listening, and knowing when the sound can be improved by taking a different approach that will be acceptable to the production.


23rd May 2011

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Cinnamon pancakes

No, really. No, euphemism's, or technical jargon. Just my recipe for the Saturday morning pancake ritual my family has been following for probably around a year now.

Like most freelances, and especially those in the media industry, it can be quite hard to have anything approaching a routine, which can be quite tricky when you have a family that lives in the real world. IE one with regular hours, paid holiday and understands the concept of weekends.

So, whenever we can, we make pancakes on Saturday for breakfast - Cinnamon Pancakes

This recipe gives you slightly thicker pancakes with a bit more body to them, than the conventional Shrove Tuesday pancakes espoused by Deilia. That said, this is something of a combination of her recipe and one from a (very) old Bero pastry book. This recipe gives us 6 -7 pancakes.

50g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
1 egg
Teaspoon of cinnamon
300ml Semi / skimmed milk.

Small Mixing Bowl
10" crepe pan
Hand whisk
Palette Knife
Silicone Pastry Brush


1. Weigh flour out and sieve into bowl, add the cinnamon.
2. Add Egg, mix in slowly with fork
3. Add Milk, slowly, mix in with fork slowly then whisk gently until there is a nice aerated foam on the top.
4. Heat pan to very hot! Should just start to smoke....literally!!
5. Brush onto the pan a small amount of butter using the pastry brush (be quick!) - an even covering.
6. Pour in a ladle's worth of batter - enough to cover the base of the crepe pan.
7. Let one side cook for no more than 30 seconds - and use the palette knife to lift the pancake off of the crepe pan base, before giving it the ceremonial flip to do the other side.
8. Again, no more than 30 seconds for the second side.
9. Keep warm - we keep them in the oven until they are all ready....
10 Repeat steps 5 - 9 until you are out of batter, occasionally whisking the batter to keep it light.

To Serve:

We have a cornucopia of delights: Usually whilst I'm flipping the pancakes, my son is chopping up and washing fresh fruit: Bananas, Strawberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries etc. Our favourite serving is a smudge of Nutella on the pancake, then covered in fruit, and a squeeze of orange juice. Mrs B, just prefers lashings of sugar. Or even Golden syrup....

Ah well, back to the studio...

27th April 2011

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Location Audio Kit Announced at NAB 2011 (a summary)

Firstly let me stress that I'm not at NAB, I'm at home (filling a skip if you must know, but I'm not bitter). So all the information I'm pulling together here, is a summary of the Tweets, RSS feeds, Press Announcements and Viscous Rumours that I've read / heard over the past week or so that relate to location audio equipment being announced during the NAB show; Apologies for those sections that are apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.

So, in no particular order...and I know I've mentioned Sound Devices and Sennheiser before, but I've included them in here for completeness.

Fostex DC-R302 - Compact 3 input mixer, 2 channel SD recorder designed to fit underneath DSLR's.

Sound Devices Mix Pre D - Compact 2 channel mixer, USB Interface, AES Digital outs, fits under DSLR. Mention has to be made here of the new image recorder released by Sound Devices...

Sanken CS1e - A new revision of the sanken CS1 shotgun mic, improved low end, improved off axis rejection, and a bit lighter - (video clip courtesy of Trew Audio - nothing on the Sanken site yet).

Shure VP89 Modular Shotgun - Now this does look RF condenser from Shure, that looks like it is modular in construction and offering 3 capsule designs and various response patterns, offering increasing directionality.

Zaxcom Nomad -  (Not sure if this was released pre NAB) Zaxcom enter the over the shoulder field recorder  market with an incredibly well specified machine. Various build options from 4 tracks / 6 inputs upwards, offering more tracks via the digital inputs. This includes fully featured timecode, making it look a great machine to have on the trolley, and then pick up and run with. Interesting to see the "power" specifications were that it only quotes 1-3 hours of usage from 6AA - other powering options via the Switchcraft L712 input from a standard NP1 style battery power range (8 to 18 Vdc).  Mixer panel looks a little sparse, assuming all controls like LF cut / Panning etc are menu driven for each channel.

Aeta 4Minx -  A new mixer recorder from the French company Aeta. I reviewed their 3 channel mixer a fair few years ago (the Mixy) and I really got on with it quite well - and it did sound good.   The 4Minx looks a little similar, but now a 4 channel recoder (or is it 4 channels + 2 mix channels, description on the web site seems inconsistent?) with many many connections for interconnectivity. Certainly looks like a flexible beastie and there is the usual 5 pin lemo for timecode connection.

Sennheiser MKH8060 / MKH8070 - New development of the MKH60 / 70, now in the modular 8000 series

Countryman B2D - a very VERY small lavaliere mic from Countryman. Cardioid response pattern, with additional grill that can change it to hypercardioid.

Huge "Hats off" must go to Trew Audio who've covered the event on their site, and using lots of media formats to promote the show and themselves very well. There's bound to be more stuff that I've missed from the press cuttings so...I'll edit this page and add if I'm aware over the next couple of days.

G - 13-April-2011

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New Location Microphones from Sennheiser

I'm a bit of a fan of Sennheiser location microphones, so it's always good to hear that they have once again advanced and broadened their equipment range. One of the reasons I like them so much is that their condensers work on the RF principle (explained here and here) which makes them inherently more resistant to moisture - which is a prime consideration when working out in the field.

The two new microphones are from the recent 8000 series, which are based on a modular design. The new 8060 and 8070 capsules are designed specifically for location audio work, both being based on the successful  MKH 60 and 70; the 60 being the original successor to the "industry standard" MKH 416.
MKH 8060 capsule

The 8060 is the physically shorter of the two new capsules - short shot gun -  and has a wider acceptance angle, a tight hypercardioid if you will. The original improvements of the 60 over 416 changed the frequency response of the off axis sounds, making it a much nicer microphone to use indoor (due to reflections) - and slightly less harsh, as the presence hump had been lessened. As the 8060 is modular, this is just the capsule that would then need attaching to an XLR adapter for a complete conventional microphone; however with the 8000 series design there is the option for an LF Cut / attenuator module, AES 42 digital converter module (making a digital microphone), or remote attachment of just the capsule using a lightweight cable - useful for reducing weight and length - a definite consideration in tight corners when booming or mounting on top of a camera.

MKH 8070 capsule
The MKH 8070 is the long shot gun microphone, with a much tighter pickup pattern, and extreme directionality. Designed for much more remote placement. Again, though as modular, connects to all the other modules I've just mentioned.

Although the 'sound' of the Sennheiser range is sometimes said to be inferior to the Schoeps or DPA - there are very few recordists that I know that don't have a Sennheiser microphone in their kit - purely because of the reliability. When I bought my first "proper" location microphone, I bought the MKH 416, because I asked a number of my far more experienced colleagues:  "If you could only own one microphone, what would it be?" - and the answer was either the MKH60 or MKH 416.

I hope that the 8060 continues this pedegree, with the additional benefits that the modular design of the 8000 series has to offer - I look forward to hearing them.


12 April 2011

Friday, 8 April 2011

We don't have to worry about sound....we have a sound recordist

All weathers ...
Because I work with sound everyday, I still get surprised at some comments I hear regarding audio when on location for film, (and by film I'm using "film" as a very generalised term to mean everything from film, through video tape, to digital; whether the content is drama, documentary, commercial or corporate and whether the final medium be the magic of the silver screen or the only slightly less majestic t'interweb). So, I thought I'd write a little bit that was in response to a comment I had on a corporate shoot a few years ago:

"We don't have to worry about sound, Grant's here"

 I knew where the sentiment came from: those normally self shooting, such that a director/DOP that has to potentially think about the camera, the shot, the style, the content and performance, and the sound; which - although undoubtedly cost effective - means that everything will be somewhat compromised (You only have to have watched Channel 5's Brighton Beach Patrol to hear / see what I mean), so having a sound recordist there, is actually a nice weight off of the shoulders.

But the phrase felt far more like (and somewhat unfortunetly proved) "he is here to solve all of the sound problems we'll have today, including that quiet interview I've arranged on the foot bridge over the M1".

Location, Location, Location

Often the choice of location has a huge effect on the sound of shoot, and there may be very little the recordist can do, other than flag the issue. The worst possible situation is when the source of the audio (a road for example) never appears in shot so there is no context for the invasive / distracting sound. Unfortunately because of the energy and nature of sound waves, there is no simple equivalent to "blacking out the windows" for sound. Don't get me wrong though, with documentary style work, the location is often quintessential to the story; I'm mainly referring to corporate videos and short films with low budgets where any issues with sound at the locations feel like they have sometimes not even been thought of.

Good microphone selection and placement, and / or use of a personal (lavaliere / wireless) microphone can certainly help in these conditions, getting the microphone as close to the voice as the shot allows.

Sennheiser MKH 60 Frequency Response
The problem with noisy backgrounds may not really raise its true head until the edit, when two different shots are cut together with very different background sounds, and that harsh transition pulls the audience out of the film. For example, that transition could be something like the sound of a whining scooter passing in one shot, and then a bus driving past on the second.

If the background sound is somewhat constant then the issue is somewhat lessened - but only slightly so. The reason this does not solve the problem is that microphones have different frequency response patterns, so as the microphone position changes in respect to the background sound (with a change in shot or following dialogue), the recorded tonality of that background sound changes. This is one of the reasons why it's always preferable to have fridges and air conditioning systems (et al) off - even though the background sound signature may appear to be somewhat constant to our ears.

"We'll Fix it in Post."

ARRRRGGGGG! (Sorry) But I do find this phrase one of the most annoying on the planet, especially when it is spoken by someone who has absolutely no idea about the capabilities of audio manipulation in post production - or even if there is any dedicated audio post production on the specific job. Fewer and fewer jobs are going for a dedicated dub now, with the audio work being done in picture editing software. 

Full-on audio post production does have a great many tools to improve sound from location; but let's be frank here, most corporate videos don't really have this as an option. The general option is usually to use noisy shots as a mute shot, and then overlay the image with music or a VO - which is absolutely fine, but don't forget to tell your sound recordist this might be an option... instead of them spending half an hour talking to building control trying to turn off the air conditioning system - ;-)

As the budgets and scale of jobs increase, there can occasionally be a very definite argument for letting sound "be" fixed in post - and that is when getting the performance or the 'moment' is more important. Sometimes the sound just can't be done well enough on set, be it a stunt, two camera's, visual effects (wind machines etc), etc - But even then, the attempt is made to get the very best guide audio (and even wild tracks if possible) so that the job of the editor and audio post production is made as easy as possible.

So that's what I'm there for...

I know I'm over egging the cake somewhat, but I think the presence of a sound recordist does more than ensure the best location sound; it gives the project more gravitas on set and gives a more professional appearance; as well as a welcome additional pair of hands...Watch about 2 minutes in of this BBC video on location sound advice - and of course you don't have to worry about the sound..;-)

8th April 2011