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Type in Mr Wiggles to Google and what do you get? A load of entries for the rap artist Mr Wiggles. However the penultimate entry on page one of Google – last time I looked – refers to another Mr Wiggles. This is far more interesting – to me at any rate.

Mr Wiggles is a Swindon-based short film, written and directed by Steve Ware and co-directed by Steph Palmer. In late 2011 Steve asked me if I’d be able to spare some time over a couple of weekends to record the location sound for the film and to act as sound supervisor on the project. As with all ‘no/lo-budget’ projects I was naturally skeptical, so I asked Steve for a draft script so I could read what it was all about. First read and I was hooked by this powerful family drama and simply had to be involved.

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I went to recce the location with Steve and Steph a month or so before filming so I could get my bearings on the situation – this being a large run-down farmhouse on the side of an A-road and an accompanying large barn, open at the sides. My immediate impression was the sound of the road nearby. As a sound recordist I’m always thinking about the final product when making decisions on sound. Thinking about what I can get away with in terms of dialogue and how I can perhaps ‘cover’ up the sound of passing traffic if need be, especially for the exterior barn shots. Lot’s of close-up shots come in handy here, where I can get the boom in a close as possible to maximise the signal (dialogue) to noise (passing traffic) ratio.

During the recce I made some atmos and room tone recordings which I could later use in the film. I also recorded the sounds of the farm animals as I expected to be using some of these during the post production process. After all, the sound of a snorting pig pitched down can be quite dramatic!! I also ended up banging and hitting various farm implements, including a large rusty spring on the back of a grass cutter, which was later pitched and used in the trailer for effect.

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Main shooting of the film took place over two consecutive weekends in November 2011. The first weekend turned out to be very cold with near or sub-zero temperatures for most of the time due to to a constant wind entering the open side of the barn we were filming in. Lots of layers, hats, balaclavas, scarves and gloves were required, as well as plenty of hot drinks! As sound recordist I was ably assisted on boom by Samantha and 2nd sound assistant, Shannon to record notes for each take. We were lucky to have such a comprehensive crew on this film, whose unyielding efforts really contributed to the quality of the final product.

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The second weekend’s shooting was a little easier as many more of the shots were in the house so less effected by traffic noise and a lot warmer too!

Following a very intense but ultimately successful shoot we were now into post production. Initially I had offered to compose the music for the film, as well as doing the sound design, edit and mix. This initially seemed like a good idea and my first composition was some original music for a music box which is featured heavily in the film. Steve was keen that we have an original score for this which I duly delivered. The main music score was a different proposition and I was feeling under pressure to deliver as well as keeping my regular paying clients happy. Fortunately around this time I was introduced to composer Michelle Eaton through a mutual friend. I was immediately impressed by her compositions and asked if she might like to get involved in the film. She said yes! I’d been messing about with a couple of ideas, which basically consisted of a series of nine notes!! A catchy riff but very far from a proper film score. I played these to Michelle and a week later she had transformed my initial idea into something wonderful and immediately engaging. A few tweaks later and we had a main score for the film. From this Michelle composed a series of moods to go with the unfolding of the film.

The last music track in the film was written and performed by Daniella Faircloth and Matthew Mordak. I recorded and mixed the music at Dreambase Studios and a music video was later created for the song at the film’s location.

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At this time the picture edit was more or less complete so I was editing/processing the dialogue and adding fx and atmospheres to the soundtrack. I’d already completed a short teaser trailer for the film with some temp music, which was later changed using Michelle’s score. Michelle’s music was the last element to be laid up to the main project and this is pretty usual for most films. Ideally the composer would be bought onto a project at pre-production stage but logistically this doesn’t always happen. The music was track-layed using Michelle’s notes and with some further editing and mixing we were approaching a theatrical mix which could be played back in the local multiplex for the premiere. We had a couple of evening sessions at the studio with the core team to go through the soundtrack and get approval before it was mastered out and married with the graded picture, ready for the first showing. When the crew actually have tears in their eyes in the studio you know you’ve done a god job; emotions were running high – in a good way!!

Next event was the screening in the local multiplex cinema. I had mixed the film knowing it was going to be re-played in this environment so was pretty confident everything would be played back at the right level and all the dialogue would be understood. The sold-out charity premiere was a superb night and marked the end of the first stage of the film’s progress.

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Mr Wiggles has so far been shown on the festival circuit in Asia and is currently showing in America.  I wish it all the very best, especially given the hard work, commitment and attention to detail from everyone involved.

You can keep updated on Mr Wiggles via the Facebook page here.

Mr Wiggles is about the imaginative distraction we all desperately desire from reality. The film takes the lives of two young children’s desperate escape, into a world created for protection. But for Amber and Nathan, it’s only a matter of time before reality, catches up.

I’ve always preferred to be behind an instrument or digital audio workstation rather than a microphone. However Lay It On The Line sees me recording a duet with Sarah for the first time.

The music for LIOTL one came from one of a selection of compositions I wrote for a corporate promo. This composition wasn’t used for the promo in the end but I decided to use the chords as an idea for a song. I took the chords and penned some lyrics one afternoon along with a basic melody. I played the demo to Sarah and she offered to sing with me on it. I’d imagined she would sing it solo but she persuaded me to duet with her in the end.

Now I’m out of my comfort zone!

We decided to sing the same melody, albeit an octave apart as our voices seemed to compliment each other without resort to harmony. I also added a little orchestration to fill out the transitions a little and hopefully add some interest.

At 2:52 LIOTL is short in length but we hope it will form the basis of something a little more adventurous in a more elaborate version to follow!

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LIOTL is available to buy on iTunes or you can listen to a low quality preview on Soundcloud.

All material copyright © 2013 Hudd Sounds.

Following our first collaboration on Experienced Eyes, Sarah and I are delighted to release a followup single this week called You Me?.

We’ve got a lower paced 80’s electronica vibe going here (I hope!), with the drums programmed on the classic Roland R8, combined with a solid flanged bass line throughout the song.

The song also making use of a Moogerfooger Low Pass Filter along with multi-tap echo effects on the guitars.

The Roland R8 supplies a couple of other effects through the course of the song, pitched using the Roland R8’s own pitch function.

You have to be patient with this one – Sarah’s vocals don’t appear until 1:26 – just enjoy the guitar filtering effects up until then! When the vocals do come in they are deliberately sparse to leave you wanting more… There’s a little ‘vibe’ effect on Sarah’s voice at the end of certain lines too. And why not!

You Me? is available on iTunes to buy but you can also preview and listen to a lower quality version of it on Soundcloud.

We hope you enjoy it – if you do please share!

Thanks.

You Me? front cover artwork

You Me? front cover artwork

You Me? back cover artwork

You Me? back cover artwork

I’m renovating the house at the moment, so the place is littered with all manner of related detritus: brochures, drawings, B&Q receipts. And paint charts.

I also write songs, and inspiration comes from a variety of sources: people, events, people, the news, people, the weather – OK, mostly people!

My songwriting technique often revolves around a guitar or piano riff and a bit of interplay with another guitar, or bass line. I then mumble along a rough melody to the hook and the words start forming from there. Usually this might be mixed with some phrases I’ve read in a book or newspaper; or perhaps something I’ve overheard or remembered from a conversation, meeting or other event.

I’m rarely stuck for ideas (luckily), but the other evening I was looking at paint charts – like you do – and to my surprise they were full of potential lyrics and ideas for songs.

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I thought the Crown charts above were quite mainstream but the Farrow & Ball paint charts I also looked at would perhaps be more use for folk songs, with names like: Blackened, Lamp Room Gray, Pigeon, Cinder Rose, Borrowed Light, Litchen, Railings and Arsenic to name a few.

So from now on if I ever need a little inspiration to complete a song, the first place I’ll turn to is a Farrow & Ball or Crown paint chart – depending on the style of music, of course…

This week Hudd Sounds released a new music track called Experienced Eyes. It’s a collaboration between myself and talented singer/songwriter Sarah Ryan, with whom I also perform in NewQuay Times.

As well as vocal performances on Experienced Eyes, Sarah also wrote the the lyrics for the track. When I was playing around with initial ideas for the song on the guitar and bass back in April 2012 I called it Experienced Eyes as a working title. Sarah took this cue, penned the rest of the lyrics, and the title stuck.

Me and Sarah at the studio

Me and Sarah at the studio

Instruments

Drums and strings play a major part in the music composition. I also have a little double-tracked 12-string guitar in there to emphasise some of the transitions. Synth bass plus upright double bass complete the low end section. In addition there are cymbals, a gong, and some scratching effects in there too. The song is based on a Fmaj7 / G6 repetition with ever-changing bass notes for a circular progression. Sarah’s powerful voice was tracked on it’s own except for the end section where we double tracked the vocal for a little harmony on the repeats.

Production

Experienced Eyes is a combination of midi instruments and recorded drum/cymbal loops. Sarah’s voice was recorded via a Neumann TLM-103 and TL Audio valve processor. I used my old favourite Logic Pro workstation and RME interface to record, arrange, mix, and master the track at Dreambase Studios. Adam Audio speakers were used to monitor, but I tend to check the mix in a variety of locations before the final mix – car, laptop, phone, headphones, ghetto-blaster, etc.

Artwork

I took the photo below whilst walking the dog on an industrial estate one afternoon. This became the front cover for Experienced Eyes. The font is Bauhaus Med BT.

Experienced Eyes cover art

Copyright © 2013 Hudd Sounds

Sarah Ryan

I first met Sarah when she was performing in the play Be My Baby at the local ‘theatre in a pub’. A few weeks later I was contacted by Sarah’s father to ask me if I’d like to play drums and write songs for a new band he was setting up with Sarah and and bassist Stu. We all met one evening at a local pub and had a first practice. I was immediately taken with Sarah’s dynamic delivery, coupled with a wide vocal range that made her performances seem almost effortless. From there the aforementioned NewQuay Times was born.

Sarah is a regular performer in the Swindon Young Musicians Jazz Orchestra and is a soprano in the senior choir at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy. She has also had a number of acting roles, both in school and with professional theatre groups.

Release

Experienced Eyes is released via download for now in all the usual stores such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. We hope to have a video to go with it soon.

Look out for further electronica/dance collaborations in the near future…

All Material Copyright © 2013 Hudd Sounds  E&OE

I recently completed sound design and mix at Dreambase Studios on a teaser for a new animated TV series called Elizabeth Avenue, created by Amanda Evans.

Produced by Martyn Niman of Elstree-based King Bee Entertainment, the series is based in a beautiful London street, lined with grand Victorian houses. It follows the adventures of a select pack of unpredictable, yet charming cats and dogs, each with their own distinctive characters, designed by Rafi Nizam and animated by King Bee Entertainment.

The big streets of London are bought to life through the antics of Lucy, Alfie, Ron, Reg and and a host of other characters as they go about their daily discoveries.

I sound designed and mixed the TV project, which includes music specially composed for the series by Barrington Pheloung.

Full details of the project can be seen by visiting the Elizabeth Avenue Site but for now here’s the teaser:

I haven’t written here for a little while due to to other projects, including a house move. However I watched ‘Parade’s End’ last week and then, a day later, the comments regarding the sound of some of the dialogue. As a result I just have to speak in defence of the entire sound crew and point the blame to other areas.

In fact, some of the comments regarding the sound quality such as bad mix, levels too low, etc., underline how little many understand about sound – even that of their own voices. In my opinion the main problem here was the slightly inconsistent performance from Benedict Cumberbatch (in the main). He was dealing with a tricky-to-deliver accent and at some points I thought the voice was simply too theatrical. This led to certain sentences, particularly at important moments being delivered in a less than clear manner. Cumberbatch is a fine actor, but in this role he looked a little uneasy with the character I thought. The movement of his mouth was also restricted, I suspect, due to the accent and characterisation here. This certainly doesn’t help with our understanding of the dialogue, regardless of it’s overall level.

I’m sure the sound was recorded and prod mixed correctly from the outset via boom and/or radio mic, but if the performance is mumbled, etc. there’s little that can be done to help it. Dialogue delivery isn’t just about level – it’s the attack, sustain and decay that’s important too. One option would be to ADR (dialogue replacement) certain sections but not all directors/producers are keen on this method as the loss of adrenaline in the recording studio can lead to a less than impassioned performance. There was ADR in this episode, as there is in many productions, and most people don’t notice post sync dialogue anyway and would assume it was done during the recording of the scene on set.

In any case sound often gets the lowest attention on a typical production. Why, when it constitutes more than 50%* of the finished article? Sound adds the emotion to the picture so why are budgets and time being reduced on the sound side. Crafting a convincing soundtrack (i.e. one that no one notices but thoroughly enjoys) takes time, effort and great understanding from the entire sound crew. So please can we all, from Directors and Producers, to the viewing public please remember the love and effort thats gone into creating the soundtracks that we all take for granted these days.

*OK, so I’m slightly biased!

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author.

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