Thursday, 20 March 2014

10 ways or Less To Get Musical Sounds From The House

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The nature of this project involved being creative in creating potentially useful musical sounds from household objects so some fairly unusual objects and methods were used to record percussive sounds which I felt could simulate kick, snare and high hat sounds.

 One object that was particularly useful for creating a range of percussive sounds was the domestic rolling pin. The rolling pin was used on various pieces of living room furniture to create sounds close in nature to kick and snare sounds.

 To record the basis for a kick sound, the rolling pin was hit on a sofa cushion which created a deep thump sound similar to the thud and attack of a kick drum. The sofa cushion was close miked with the AKG C1000 and 4 or 5 repeated hits were recorded into Audacity.

By using 4 or 5 different hits on the sofa, the sound would vary slightly. This was a process implemented on all recordings and was done to provide variety in the velocity and nature of each hit so as to provide some variety in the sound when it came to creating percussive loops and one shot hits.

 The intention of this was to keep the samples and loops varied with a wide range of sounds rather than relying on the same instances of the same sound throughout all of the loops.

 A simulation of a snare sound was also created using the rolling pin but this time on an upright leather chair. The same microphone placement technique was used and the resultant sound produced a higher pitched percussive hit, closer in nature to a snare sound.

 The hits were recorded 4 or 5 times to add some variety to the velocity and resultant sounds from the changes in pressure applied. Although the recording of percussive sounds was straightforward and there was plenty of scope within a domestic home for percussive material, finding objects that could produce tones, notes and pitches would be a greater challenge.

Tones Pitches Notes and Chords

To create a sample library that could potentially appeal to as wide a group of artists/producers as possible, it is important to create a library with a variety of sounds ranging from percussive one shot hits to rhythmic loops as well as musical notes , chords, pads, sound effects and atmospherics. Doing this, broadens the appeal of the library and increases its usability for producers. The greatest challenge for the project would be to find and utilize domestic objects that could produce tones , pitches and notes which could later be manipulated into the harmonic and musical material as needed.


It became clear early on that the amount of household objects that could produce notes or tones was fairly limited but this wasn’t necessarily a drawback as long as the tones recorded could be processed creatively. The main objects which were capable of producing some interesting notes were glasses made of crystal a wok and 3 or 4 different sizes of vases which all reacted differently ,creating different sounds when hit.

Crystal glass played with a violin bow and spot placement technique

Another useful discovery at this stage was the sound that could be achieved when dragging a violin bow across the top (crystal glasses in particular).

 This technique created a more sustained note from the object without the percussive attack. Having these different methods of creating basic notes, which could then be edited, looped, processed and pitch and time shifted, would provide enough basic raw audio to develop the harmonic and musical elements of the library.

The microphone techniques for recording these sounds differed from techniques used previously due to the nature and response of the sounds being produced from the glasses and vases.

 These sounds had longer sustained notes developed over a period of time so it seemed appropriate to capture them differently in order to record the full character of these sounds.

 For this purpose, I decided to employ a stereo placement technique which would capture the initial character of the sound as well as the development of the sound over a period of time as it filled the room.

 The technique involved setting up a co incident pair of C1000 microphones placed approximately half a foot from the sound source with about a 120 degree angle between the microphones.

  The general set up for this coincident pair can be seen in the screenshot and in the accompanying picture. 

Overall, this technique captured a much fuller stereo image which suited the nature of the sounds and would build a good foundation to work from where further processing of these sounds would occur.

 The same philosophy of achieving good quality recordings also applied when using the coincident stereo recordings with particular attention being paid to effective gain staging, achieving good levels without clipping and minimizing the level of noise to signal level. Ensuring that the raw audio recordings were of good quality would enhance the project when it came to processing and manipulation of the raw audio files.

Audacity : Processing Harmonic Sounds

Audacity is a useful software tool for recording audio to be used as samples and has some basic processing functions which can manipulate the recorded audio.

 For the purposes of the project, Audacity was used for the initial capture of sounds and for storing and exporting the audio as WAV files which would later be edited, processed and rendered in Reaper. One useful effect which was used on the harmonic audio recordings, was Audacity’s pitch shift function.

 This function would be useful in tuning the raw audio samples to specific notes which could then be left as single notes to be loaded and played into a sampler, or, by using some basic musical theory, full chords could be created in Audacity by pitching a root note and then pitching 2 or 3 other notes differently, blending them together and ultimately creating a chord.

The  Screenshot shows how Audacity was used for this The ability to do this in the project was a major turning point in the project as a whole and solved the problem of how musical notes, chords, atmospheres and pads could be created which would form the building blocks for further musical/harmonic development within the library.

 This would also be a major factor in having a varied range of sounds within the library that might appeal to a wider range of producers. An example of how this approach worked can be expanded upon in the following example where a Cmajor7 chord was created from a single note recording of a bowed crystal glass, which was time stretched and edited to create a 10 second long WAV file consisting of a single B note.

The audio WAV file in its own right was a sound that was interesting and would be employed elsewhere in the library as a playable single note that could be loaded into a sampler, mapped out on a Midi keyboard and physically played.

 The intention with the library is to create a library where a musician /producer can get quick access to a wide range of sounds with variations. Creating full chords for instant use could give the user some immediate inspiration for song ideas and textures, making the library more user friendly.

 The first stage of the process involved loading the recorded audio WAV file into a new Audacity project and changing the note pitch to the C note which would form the root note of the chord. This task is simple to achieve in Audacity by simply highlighting the imported audio using the selector, going to the toolbar menu, selecting the effect drop down menu and selecting the pitch change effect within the effects menu.

 Audacity’s pitch shift effect is simple to use in that it will automatically offer an option list of the notes that the user wants to pitch to. This function was invaluable in the fact that this made it easy to pitch to the C note and then repeat the process for creating the other 3 pitched notes (G, B and E). By blending the 4 pitched audio WAV files together in Audacity, a full sounding and interesting C maj 7 chord was created.

The resultant audio was then selected and exported as a separate stereo WAV file for inclusion in the library. This process was repeated using a variety of single note files to create a variety of different chords ranging from major and minor sevenths to major and minor chords.

The ability to perform these functions within Audacity opened up an area of processing and editing within the project that would provide a great deal of variety in the library as far as musical notes, harmonies and chord progressions was concerned, particularly as this was an area at the outset of the project that I felt would be the biggest challenge to achieve effectively

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