I read a lot of questions along the lines of, “What is your favorite plugin for doing [insert sound here]?”, and would like to start a discussion about ways to accomplish the same thing, sans plug-ins.
These sounds can be almost anything, including whooshes, “spells”, reverbs, electricity, futzes, and many more. These are also all sounds that can created with a microphone, a prop, and a little experimentation. Is it reasonable to think that we in our profession have become too plugin-reliant? What does it mean that everyone can and does go out to buy the same piece of software to create similar sounds? I personally worry that we may devalue our potential creative contribution by reliance upon such tools, but then I, too, run out to acquire them to “because they’re so cool.”
Would you still be able to to do your job if you had no plugins? Would you be able to reasonably utilize a reverb chamber? What if all you had to create whooshes was some fishing line and some kitchen tools? Have you ever cranked a wind machine or made a thunder drum? How many coil springs do you own? Have you ever made a plate reverb or spring reverb? Could you squash dynamic range by bouncing sounds off of tape? Have you ever recorded to tape? Could you create doppler by swinging a cheap (or expensive if you’re crazy) speaker past a stationary mic (or just finding Leslie)?
I’ll start: One of my favorite games to play is “Will it whoosh?” The basic idea is a riff off the old “Will blend” and “Will it shred” series of youtube videos that featured industrial shredding companies putting increasingly more “indestructible” items into their giant shredders. Mayhem ensued.
My game is to put things on fishing line to see what it sounds like. Usually I use heavy multi-braid ocean line that can hold up a lot of weight, but lately I’ve been playing with really light objects and have found monofilament to be of more use. Over time, as I’ve put a stranger and wider variety of objects on string I’ve learned to predict what the result will be. Sometimes I’m still surprised. The latest thing to catch my fancy is a goose feather: https://youtu.be/3ofR64387YM
I’ll apologize for the crappy camera audio, but the idea still comes across.
My favourite two processes – reverse and repitch to half/quarter speed – were achieved via tape manipulation long before plugins or computers existed… Of course EQ/filter, echo, reverb etc were all available via hardware….. I also know a veteran sound editor who came up with the idea of doing volume automation using a head demagnetizer with 35mm sep mag & 1/4″ tape….
If I’m honest, I’m not sure I could do my job without plug-ins, but I think I could do it without third-party plug-ins. The stock plugs that come with Reaper are pretty good for my purposes.
I should use more props though you’re absolutely right and this is an excellent thread! We should get back to making more weird and wonderful noises with unexpected things. I love the goose feather video by the way.
It’s true that some of the most iconic sounds were made without plug-ins – light sabres, blasters and the Tardis from the British series Doctor Who, whose main element is someone scraping a front door key along a piano string.
As a child, I had something called a zoob tube, not quite sure if I’m spelling it right, but anyway it was a tube with a hole in the side with a spring in it. You could put your finger in the hole and twang the spring and it would make an interesting noise. You could also talk into the tube and have your voice sound kind of like that twang, but without the attack of course.
I also had a propeller thing as a child. You pulled the string and the plastic propeller would go whizzing through the air with a wonderful whirring sound.
I also love the sounds those coke straws make when you blow into them, or the sound a McDonald’s straw makes when you blow into it as it’s full of a column of thick milk-shake.
We’ve talked at length about the lovely wobbly water noises you can get from glasses and bottles and things in another thread.
thing is, I don’t think you could work in the digital age without plug-ins, even to pitch things down you need a plug-in, even if you don’t instantiate it in the same way as most others. Reaper uses Elastique for example.
Don’t think I could sound design without at least being able to rate shift and I wouldn’t want to go back to tape.
First of all, the goose feather sound is captivating.
I don’t think I’d be able to do my work without plug-ins. That being said, my policy when designing sound is to do my best to obtain an interesting sound naturally, and only afterward run it through different plug-ins. I don’t like relying on them to actually obtain the interesting base sounds.
Often the plug-in impact is minimal. I had the opportunity to work on a Star Wars fan film recently and whilst I didn’t do the final mix as it was a two-man effort, I did most of the sound design, especially the light sabers.
We had the original sound of the lightsabers, but I wanted to augment them and change them as to better tell our story. For example, at the beginning, the male protagonist is perceived to be the weaker party, so therefore the sound of his lightsaber is subtly affected.
Whilst some plug-ins were indeed used, most of the light saber vocalizations were actually done in a similar way to the original, using feedback! It was an amazing challenge, trying to come even anywhere near the original sound, without the use of plug-ins, and then polishing it slightly afterward.
It really would be interesting (terrifying?) if there ceased to be plug-ins. What would be interesting is that sound post schedules would have to expand again to accommodate time required to experiment and record material sounding right at source. Skill at choosing subjects, mic selection and placements would all come to the forefront again. Presumably, the freelance market would shrink due to the cost of needing hardware to do EQing, Reverbs, Delays etc? Even the space required to create an echo chamber or spring verb that would be usable.
It kind of highlights the change in ‘sound engineering’ over the last two decades. My knowledge of electronics would be pretty basic, more from lack of necessity than anything else. If I had to wire my own EQ or amp together, I’d sure know a lot more. But there’s no real need anymore. Of course, it’s valuable stuff to learn, but I can probably learn more slowly over time, and out of interest that out of work needs.
As premise (and I’ve already mentioned this) I’m not a professional sd, I mean is not my profession, just here enjoying the readings, learning, and I consider myself a hobbist, and more into synth sounds, though I have many personal audio works where instead of producing music I enjoying manipulating sounds to create something more abstract.
But long time before owning my first computer I used to have a couple of cheap mics, a 4 tracks tape recorder, an old flanger pedal by electro-harmonix (used a lot with rust..from the 80’s I guess) and a delay pedal, both in big metal cases, well and I was renting at times a bass amplifier (as was the cheaper one torent at the store 🙂 ) Occasionally my family was renting me a piano and I’ve spent quite a bunch of days back in time opening completely that piano (taking away every possible wooden panel from its forniture) so I was able to reach its strings with whatever (my fingers, some metallic parts, soft mallets, plastic tools) and recording many “interventions” directly on the strings, not playing, at times changing the positions of the mics, or mono, or stereo, or one mic through the flanger and the other through the delay, all kind of stuuf, and as mentioned by Tim here, me too I had fun reversing or slowing down/speeding up with the track recorder knobs the recordings to reverse all this manipulation into another tape recorder (all consumer stuff) and then maybe mixing with some TV static noises recorded on another free track, or randome material recorded arounf the house or in the immediate outdoor, as the recorder needed to be plugged, no batteries.
Unluckily I have no more those tapes, (stuff more than 25 years ago) but I recon to manipulate and create sound scapes just using what you had available, being in an isolated village, was really magic, fun and challenging and, similarly to taking picture only using films, so you don’t know exactly what shoul had been the outcome ot the shooting until you were developing the film, the same romantic flavour and process was given by not knowing exactly what mood the final sounds would had until going to the final mix process done by hand in realtime, or using sends and returns from the tape to re record on another tracks and finally mixing levels and panpot on the go to reverse all onto the other comsumer stereo tape recorder.
Each time I was then listening to the final track it was something magic, like entering into an unknown word. I admitt that while you really enjoy nowadays the depth and easy way of manipulation you can do even for free (many freeware plugins can do great stuff if used properly) that sort of magic. But, hey, for a professional in need to work in a effective and fast way I guess the most of workflow based on plugins is not interchangeable…as long as you don’t meet a client which ask you a different approach and accept the different amount of time needed.