“Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” Podcast

511zyYq9z8L._SL500_.jpg

 

Earlier in 2019 I sound-designed, mixed and co-scored the ten-episode fiction podcast “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” for Audible, which is now available here.  Created by Maeve Higgins and Shaina Feinberg, “Aliens” tells a very timely, character-driven story about the fraught experience of immigrants, refugees, Dreamers and even non-white native-born in New York City.  Co-creator Maeve Higgins, known for hosting the immigrant-centric documentary podcast “Maeve in America” recently visited the Brian Lehrer Show to discuss “Aliens”.

 

Since recording and mixing a never-to-be-released comedy radio show pilot ten years ago, this was my first and long-awaited 100% audio story-telling project, and particularly the largest project I’ve ever mixed, clocking in at about 300 minutes! 

 

Bringing these performances to life, from the early stages of cutting dialog, to recording and building ambient layers, was incredibly satisfying and fun.  I felt like a painter on this one, creating a world around the subjects, giving their story the weight it deserved, and the context it needed to be impactful.  As simple as adding a pause to two characters’ footsteps during a long walk-and-talk scene is enough to convey awkwardness between two characters – a freedom you couldn’t take on a visual piece – but a really effective way to tell their story beyond the dialog, which I feel was precisely what I was there to do. Luckily, working with frequent collaborator Shaina Feinberg on this one, a lot of those choices were encouraged and we’re proud of the result.

 

I’m thrilled to say another long-form fiction podcast for Audible is in the works for Fall of this year.

“Maxxx”

I’m very proud to share “Maxxx”, a short doc I recently had the joy to score and mix for LonelyLeap Films in Brooklyn.  Directed by Stevie Rappa and Nathaniel Vidal, the film follows Drag King Maxxx Pleasure, who finds a home in the Brooklyn drag community, an eclectic group of artists playing freely with gender and identity.  “Maxxx” is all about honesty, connection, mettle, and no-holds-barred self-expression.  It’s very, very satisfying to get to contribute to a story like this with my own musical voice, especially with brilliant collaborators like Stevie and Nathaniel.  I hope it’s the first of many.

Foley Tips

I’m currently in the middle of a foley pass on an indie feature that I’ve been mixing solo. The dialog edit is just about set and most of the sound effects work is in a good spot, but some remain.  The cues that I tend to leave to the end are the ones that require the detailed touch of Foley.

I’ve always really enjoyed the process of Foley and I like to think most sound designers feel the same way because you get to actually perform sound effects.  Sometimes it’s as simple as opening and closing a door several times until you get the right “ka-chunk”, but many times it becomes a creative problem solving exercise where resourcefulness, creativity and psychoacoustic knowledge combine to guide you to the perfect, natural sound.

But that sounds a lot like Mixing in general, so why is Foley different and why do I tend to leave it to the end?  Foley requires a different work mode. Now you’re recording and moving about, not just sitting comfortably in your mix position. The room gets cluttered with props. Sometimes you’re performing the same action over and over again. If you have a lot of distinct cues, you have build sounds with multiple other sounds. And if you have a lot of quiet, subtle sounds, your focus becomes microscopic, which can get tiring.

There are loads of pro secrets out there for creating perfectly stomach-turning gore and bone-splitting, but I wanted to put together a list of tips for the process itself, which I’ve been consciously utilizing in order to help me work quicker and avoid burning out:

Use Playlists To Sort Your Recordings

I use Pro Tools, but I’m sure all DAW’s at this point support multiple playlists within one audio track. I used to record Foley sounds directly to the destination track, but this was mostly out of expedience (laziness) and it gets messy. You also risk over-writing existing work. Now I record everything to a devoted Record track, titled “FOLEY RECORD_”, and create a new playlist for the new sound. Not only is this neater, but it also allows you to recall sounds quickly that you may need to pull from later on, for example, clothing rustle and footsteps.

Proximity Effect Is Your Friend

Proximity Effect is the term for the increase in low frequencies a directional microphone picks up as the audio source moves closer to the mic. A low frequency boost can be an obvious gift when you’re trying to match a sound that benefits from low end punch, but it’s especially helpful if the sound on screen is “close” to the viewer.  Not only will exploiting Proximity Effect save you time EQ’ing the sound with more low end, but the sonic qualities of the high frequencies and everything in between will also get an enhancement.

Use the Whole Room

If the sound cue occurs deep in the frame or was recorded far from the boom op’s mic, consider recording the sound the same exact way.  (This works great for ADR as well.  See below.)

If you have a room with similar reverb qualities as the one on-screen, it’s a no-brainer to record Foley there.  The room tone might match even as well.  I recently had to record items falling off a kitchen counter onto a parquet-like floor.  My first instinct was to record all of these sounds in the pristine isolation of my mix room and process the sounds in Pro tools, but I instantly recalled recording footsteps once on my creaky wood floors in the hallway.  In the end, my kitchen “sounded” like the one on screen (the reverb characteristics and room tone matched pretty closely) and all of the sound effects I recorded there matched impeccably.

Apply ADR Techniques

In ADR, finding out which model microphone was used on set and matching that in post is the first step for experienced ADR engineers.  Consider that Foley is not a whole not different: you may have to record sound effects that already occurred on screen but don’t exist as an isolated clip that can be cut and manipulated easily.  If the movie’s dialog is lav-heavy over the boom, perhaps switch to the lav for clothing rustle; or better yet, combine it with higher quality clothing rustle recorded on a shotgun mic so there’s both sonic continuity in the production track (from the lav), as well as more high-fidelity rustly sound that may sell it more naturally.

Time/Pitch Shift 

Time Shift is a common tool to make Foley recordings work.  The recording isn’t usually dead-on synced up, so a nudge and a slight time shift can help.  Pitch shift is maybe a little less obvious.  As with any Audio Post tool, if you have to use too much of it, you simply didn’t record it right, but a slight pitch shift can do wonders on Foley recordings that are almost there but not quite.

I recently used Pitch Shift with success on the sound of a whiskey-on-the-rocks being handled, drunken, and put down on a table. I didn’t have ice cubes small enough to match the ones on screen and it sounded noticeably different in the recording, but I found that a three-semi-tone pitch shift made big cubes and clink and sing like little ones.

Yet another essay on the importance of listening, from a freelance mixer’s stand-point.

I’ll confess: though I don’t consider myself a beginner mixer anymore, I’m sometimes struck by how new and different each mix feels from the last one.  This is, after all, what makes freelancing worthwhile.  But the reason this is a confession of sorts, rather than just an observation, is that every time I’m struck by the new-ness, it’s usually accompanied by a twinge of regret for not asking enough detailed questions before I’ve begun to work.  It’s kind of like the doctor asking the patient, “So what brings you in today?”.  Don’t we all agree the best doctors are the ones that really listen to us rather than proceed as if they’ve got our condition all figured already?

And this got me thinking:  Technique is arguably *the* marker of one’s prowess in his or her field.  And not just pure skill, I mean raw intuition, i.e. “getting it”, and having a wealth of references and experiences from which to draw inspiration and new ideas.  To be honest, I obsess over this.  I read tons of blogs and facebook conversations by pros, video tutorials, etc.

But this misses a huge point: if you work for people, your technique is only as valuable as your ability to listen.  More specifically, to what they envision but don’t have the technique (or time) to pull off themselves – and that’s exactly where I come in.  Sometimes people aren’t great at this, but luckily for mixers, there’s always the editor’s reference mix.  And I can’t overstate how valuable this reference mix is.

I’ve experienced more and more, quite humbly, that I’m hired to execute a specific vision and nothing more.  My input is obviously always necessary to some degree (obviously of a technical nature) but input doesn’t mean hijacking a mix.  It can just mean having the intuition to ask a question about a particular part of the mix.  It can simply mean knowing something special is needed at a certain part and inquiring about it, rather than plunging into ideas under the assumption that you “get it” or that you can pull off something better than what director would’ve ever thought of.

The irony isn’t lost on me – the “ability to listen” is precisely what I’m paid to do in the first place.  But there’s great maturity in humbly and patiently asking plenty of questions, and holding back the urge to take charge on something.

Of course, that said, plunging into ideas isn’t something I strive to repress – it’s all about the balance between unsolicited input and humble restraint.  What’s the ideal ratio?  Is this a new client?  Did he/she ask for your input in the first place?  All of these questions deserve a lot of thought before any work has even begun.

And back to the doctor analogy – I would concede that the best doctors can actually figure a condition out with minimal questioning, but the fact is, I have years to go before I reach that point, so until then, I’m going to strengthen this habit of listening and asking questions.

The Return of Floodmix

Well, I never really went anywhere, I just got a new font and catch-phrase, and most importantly, a new STUDIO.   I finally have a dedicated mix room in my new apartment in Astoria/LIC, complete with Pro Tools 12 HD, Genelec monitors, a couple extra screens and faders, DIY bass traps (!), some miniature synths, and most importantly – the client couch.  I’ve even built some double plexi-paned sound-proofing panels custom-fitted to my windows to get it nice and quiet in here.  The final project is a formal VO booth.

And I’m officially dedicating myself professionally to Audio Post and Composition.  Yup, it’s official.  Of course I’ll still be still be working on set – I can’t quite say goodbye to Production, I love my long-time clients, and the friendships and experiences that set life brings.  But my ambition now is to put Post on the front burner.

And I’ve set another new goal for myself – weekly posts, either writing something or sharing a recording.  I’ll lean towards recordings over writing, because that’ll be more challenging (and possibly) more interesting.

Talk to you soon and thanks for checking out the renovations!

Nike HypervenomX Training

 

Early this year I was tapped by Brooklyn-based Production Farm to sound design and mix five super stylish and slick instructional short films for one of Nike’s latest soccer product lines, HypervenomX.  The link above is the trailer for the launch of the five videos, and below is my favorite of the five.

 

 

Crossing my fingers I get to spend more time mixing spots like this in 2017.  Thanks for viewing, and feel free to share.

“Mutt” to premiere at SXSW this spring

16463420_10209287268723650_91073208548473154_o.jpg

This winter I had the great joy of working with talented up-and-coming writer/director Erin Sanger, via Ben Altarescu of Bows & Arrows, on the sound editing and mix for her short film “Mutt”.  And I’m thrilled to report it’ll be premiering at SXSW this spring, a first for me.  Centered on a young man whose father and sister plead him to check himself into a rehab clinic once and for all, Mutt is a beautifully-written, -directed and -acted family drama, and with the bonus of a special canine character who reinforces our belief that dogs are just the best.