Editing the Sounds of Europe


Dave and I in Scotland

It has been 2 weeks since we returned from out adventure to Europe and I’m finally back in the swing of sound editing.

Just to recap. We were in Europe for a month and a half. Two weeks in the UK, two weeks in Ibiza, three days in Barcelona and then three weeks in Switzerland. We were supposed to only be there two weeks, but when I sprained my ankle badly, we were waylaid. We then missed out on the last segment of our planned trip in France, Germany, Norway and Denmark.

A little bit disappointing to say the least, but after spending a quiet week in the studio reflecting on the sounds we recorded, I am truly grateful for the time we had on such an amazing adventure.

We recorded everyday and as such walked away with about 360Gigs of raw sound material. I have only just started sifting through this.

I’m about halfway through looking at the UK stuff and have just spent the weekend chopping up the Ibiza material. So beautiful! One of my biggest challenges is going to be identification of bird species. I just can’t memorise all the different calls and tell them apart. Unfortunately, I think in the description field of these files, there will be a few question marks, but who knows, maybe some wise listener will be able to help me identify some.

Over the next wee while, I will hopefully add blogposts to document some of the places we went and the different things we recorded. There were some moments of pure sonic bliss. However, one of my biggest realisations is how lucky we have it here in New Zealand. There was so few places we went in our travels where we could escape man-made noise. The biggest killer is air traffic. New Zealand is blessed to be so isolated from international flightpaths. No one flies over us to get anywhere besides here.

I strive to craft these recorded sounds to give the impression that the locations were more pristine than they are. I remove man-made sounds, trimming out the planes and cars etc, but I’m aware that as time goes by and cities become busier, this gets harder to do. We have to record long slabs of time in a place, sometimes hours, just to walk away with a few minutes of solid tranquility.

I’ll be discussing this more on this blog, but for now, I must get on with the chopping. Once I’ve sifted through the first pass I will then hand them over to Dave for him to have a look through and use some of his magic talents to make the sounds truly shine.

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Arrival–Sound Design

I’m pretty proud to have been a part of this film. For anyone who is curious about what we did, here is a little making-of teaser that features interviews with my partner Dave Whitehead and I. It is such a gift to work on projects where the director cares so much about sound. Denis Villeneuve is an amazing film-maker.

A few days ago, Sylvain Bellemare, Claude La Haye and Bernard Gariépy Strobl, our colleagues in Montreal, received a BAFTA award for their tremendous work putting the sound-track together. Although Dave and I would have loved to have been there, our work commitments made it too hard to make the voyage to the UK. We wish the team the best of luck though as next week they’ll be in the US, with a shot at the Oscars!

Go team Arrival!

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Arrival at the Oscars!






Oscar season is an exciting time in the film industry.  This year things are more exciting than usual for Dave and I. Arrival, the wonderful film we worked on last year is up for a number of awards, including best sound editing!

We were incredibly grateful to be  involved with this fantastic project. Denis Villeneuve  is a brilliant director and an inspiration to work with. Joe Walker, the awesome picture editor, has a great sensibility for the role of sound in film and we worked very closely with him on this project.

Sylvain Bellemare and the rest of the team in Montréal did a fantastic job on the sound too. Dave and I  didn’t get to see their work until we saw the film in the cinema. There were moments of sound that literally took my breath away, so my hat is off to them. They certainly deserve all the praise they are receiving for their work.

Dave and I were working remotely from New Zealand and actually started work very early in the production. We were fortunate to be given the exciting task of designing the language for the aliens, which is like being asked to decorate an incredibly delicious cake. There was so much scope for creativity in this job and since we started early on the project, much of our sound design influenced the VFX and the movement of the aliens.

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music was incredible, as always. We were lucky enough to have access to the score at an early stage, so we were able to wrap our sound around the music. This makes a huge difference when you are designing sound that is very tonal in its nature. Often as a sound designer, you have to stay away from making sounds too tonal as they can clash with the music. However, we were able to create tonal sounds in a way that meshed with the score cohesively.

Designing sounds for creatures is one of my favourite things to do as a sound designer. At the moment, I am busy making a lot of robotic sci-fi sounds for the exciting game that I’m working on, so making organic creature sounds for Arrival was a nice change of pace.

The Heptapods in Arrival were such amazing aliens. Denis wanted their language to be unlike anything else. More than anything he wanted them to sound grand and sacred. At times they should sound intimidating and almost aggressive, without ever sounding ‘monster-like’. So our approach was a bit different than creating sounds for orcs or dragons. I thought of them as being like giant redwood trees, awe-inspiring and ancient. Although you might not think a tree can talk, you can get a sense of what they ‘feel’, and the immense sense of time that they represent.

This is the first time I have worked on the film that has been nominated for an Oscar for best sound so this is a huge step for me in my career. The film has also been nominated for best sound in the BAFTA awards as wall as the MPSE’s. Dave and I are hugely disappointed that we can’t go over to be there for the award ceremonies. We’re busy on other projects that have deadlines coming up, but we will be cheering for Sylvain from our home in New Zealand. We will also be sending luck to Denis and Joe and all those nominated for awards in other categories for this remarkable film.


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White Noise Sound Libraries Online

Hi guys, It’s been a while.

There has been a lot happening here. I’ve been busy helping Dave get the first of our commercial sound libraries up for sale online. After working in the film industry on other people’s projects for so long, it’s great to finally start making stuff for ourselves.

The first library, Summer Forest is online now, and more should be following soon. You can check them out on Dave’s website.

Dave is currently on a mission gathering new sounds, so no doubt I’ll have a fresh batch of sounds to cut when he returns.


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A Leap of Magic


I’m working on a game, that much I have said.

I’ve held off talking about this for a long time, but interest is growing on the social media networks, so perhaps it is time I admitted what I was up to? It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, but much of that has to do with the fact that I can’t talk about the project I’m working on at all.

It’s going to be a while still before anything changes on that front, which is a shame because it’s so terribly exciting. However, I can talk about the company responsible for the game. Magic Leap.

When I first heard about them, over 3 years ago, they sounded so conceptual and so secret and elusive. They’re like a great big unicorn that no one can see, but you know it’s there. So after 3 years what has changed? A lot, but the unicorn just keeps getting bigger and bigger and the eagerness for the public to see the unicorn is growing also.

So I’ve been working with them since 2012, though at the beginning I was only doing demo material for a couple of weeks. Now it’s getting close to full-scale production and I’m getting even more excited.

OK, so I haven’t really said anything in this post have I?

Well, that’s the spirit of the magic unicorn I guess.

Here, read this article, I’m sure they can tell you more.

Be warned, the whole world will change once this unicorn is finally unleashed.


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Working on Games: A New Horizon


It’s been a while, so I feel like it’s time for an update.

I’ve been working on a game this year, which has been a nice change from working on films. Though I’ve done a few short projects as well because it’s nice to mix it up.
Unlike films, games are totally non-linear. Well, at least this one is. So, ordinarily, I would spend a lot of time shaping my soundscape around the rhythm of the picture cut. Splicing and layering sounds like textures on a canvas till the sonic world transports you into the visual realm on screen. (At least that is the intention 🙂 ). But with games, you don’t have the luxury of making things smooth and pristine. Nor do you have 300 audio tracks available to build upon. No. In games, the smaller, the shorter, the uglier, the better. Not to say that my goal is not still making awesome sounds that transport you, it’s just that there are more rules, constricting your output.

So in general, everything has to be tight and concise and still pack a punch. In fact, it needs to be much punchier. Games are loud. I normally monitor my film sound tracks at 82SPL (sound pressure level), but with games, I’m constantly backing it off to about 65-70.

Yet also there are in some ways more freedoms working in games as opposed to flims. It’s a lot more fluid and all of my sounds are triggered by game play. The emphasis is on enabling interaction with the game-world rather than simply letting you sit back and observe, like we do with films.
Also, nothing needs to be locked into place, so there is a lot less concern with getting things absolutely in sync. Let’s face it, if a characters lips are moving at all in a game, that is amazing, getting them in sync with the dialogue is almost irrelevant. Well, for me, it’s completely irrelevant at the moment because all my characters are robots, just about. And who cares what they are saying…shoot them! Shoot them!

It is awesome fun working on this game, a real pioneering adventure. The team is great and it’s certainly an interesting notch to add to my belt.

It even gives me a bit more time so I can get to work on our sound library. Dave is busy composing for a TV series at the moment, so the library has hit a bit of a stand still. But that is sure to change soon as we head out of winter and start planning our next record mission.

Anyway, I have some ray-gun sounds to make.


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Vietnam in the Studio

Hi there people! Today we are in the studio editing the M10 recordings Dave took from his trip to Vietnam!

One of the trickiest things about a process like this, is figuring out how to name and ID files, when you were not there. When I chop and load sounds that I was present at the recording of, it’s not only easier to name the files, but it puts you right back in that moment. It’s kind of like reading a book that you have already seen the movie of, your brain doesn’t need to do as much work to invent the world and the characters. Though,with that analogy, people usually add that seeing the movie first ruins the book! However, I’m getting side-tracked. It’s often fun and exciting listening to a recording that you weren’t present for, as you have to invent that world in your mind, so in this regard it is like reading a book that has had no Hollywood spoilers. The only downside is that more often than not, Dave has been too busy or too restricted to properly ID the files.

Lesson for the day: Always ID your files with as much info as you can. Preferably at the start of the record, but at the end is just as good. Heck, even in the middle is better than nothing. We simply verbalise what is going on. It’s much easier than writing stuff down and trying to find it later.

The type of things you should say in a recording ID:
– Where you are.
– What time it is.
– What are you recording.
– Which microphone.
– What position the mic is to the object being recorded.
– Who you are (if you plan on giving your files to someone else to chop).
– Why. It’s not always obvious to the person in the studio what is important about a recording and sometimes we record things with a different intention to how they might be used. i.e I might be recording a plane flying past, with the intention of turning it into a spaceship, so I might note that in the record so that the person editing it won’t think it’s an ambience file and chop out the plane!

A lot of these files Dave hasn’t ID’d because he was in places where he wanted to keep the fact that he was recording hidden, either to not draw attention to his microphone in case of thieves, or simply to get the most out of the location without disturbing the locals.

So, time for some detective work to name these files.

Right now, I’m on a rickety train somewhere between Sapa and Hanoi. I can hear the carriages rumble and clunk together, I feel when the train speeds up, slows down etc. This train is full of character. Creaks, moans, screeching, rattles, bumps and clangs! It may well be the best train recording I have ever heard. Even though it was only recorded with the little hand-held M10, it’s another example of catching what you can get.

So if I had recorded this file I might have ID’d it with something like: “OK, I’m on the Sapa express, headed from Sapa to Hanoi. It’s 2 am, so it’s very quiet, no people about. I’m in a passenger car and I’ve put the M10 up by the windowsill because there’s a really nice rattle coming from there.”

Since Dave is usually somewhere nearby, I’ll ask him directly what the locations were like, so that our ID’s for the library are as close as it can get.

This train sounds pretty wicked, right now, I’m expecting it to fly off the tracks. I wouldn’t be suprised if Dave said it was actually the mine cart chase sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

Can’t wait to share it with the world.

Till next time!


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January Record Trip – Back in the Studio

It has been over two months since our January record mission and I am now in the studio, editing the sounds. Actually, I’ve been editing them for the last two months…in between other bits and pieces of work.

When we were recording, we always kept the Schoeps MS rig on the first 2 tracks of the 744, while the other 2 channels we alternated between pairs of Sennheiser 8040’s, 8020’s and a pair of MKH416’s. Then there was the little old Sony M10 running the whole time.

A lot of sounds are just extra recording rubbish that I had to filter through. We had the mics rolling as we were setting up…you know…incase a magic phantom-bird, or mystical monster-beast materialised and did some amazing song. Mostly we just recorded more of us making noise setting up our gear, but you never know when those rare creatures will appear.

We collected 28 hours of raw sound, across 9-10 microphones. I don’t even want to line them up separately to see how much there is in total running time. But it was more than one Pro-tools session could handle. I edited it in 2 separate Pro-Tools sessions and have finally finished my initial processing pass!

In total we have 145 gigs of processed sound. That is epic, no wonder it took me so long to go through.

It’s not over yet though. We need to go through it all and do a full clean. Imagine it’s like cleaning a house. All I have done so far is go through and pick up all the junk off the floor and put things back in the right spots. Now it’s time for the feather duster, the vacuum cleaner and the mop. In some places I’ll need to use gloves and a face mask to get the slime off!

Jokes – anything that filthy I have already scrapped.

I removed mic bumps and all our jabbering nonsense like, “Hey Dave, where do you want this mic?”, or “I’m thirsty, can we go home…” but mostly…”Did you press record?”. You can never ask that question enough.

Anyway, I’m taking a break from the bush and heading into loading Dave’s sounds recorded from his trip to Germany a few years back.

Also, this is my first week on a very exciting new game project, which I’m sure I’ll have more to say about very soon. Making sounds for games is something I’m pretty new to, but it’s an exciting new direction with exciting new challenges…did I mention that it’s all just a little bit EXCITING? Anyway, more on that later…

Catch you soon!


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January Record Trip Overview: Turangi, Taupo, Waikato and Mapara

Dave and I have returned from our first recording mission of the year. Though we have been on many record trips together, this is the first time that we have been purely off our own steam and with no attachment to a particular film or project.

Typically, we only get away from our dark studios when we have specific sounds we need to gather. Such as with our trip down to Invercargill and the Caitlins in 2011 to collect ambiences from locations specific to the film Dave was working on at the time, Two Little Boys. Though that was a fantastic trip and we got some great stuff for our library of sounds, it was still all about what we needed to achieve for the film.

This time, it was all about us. We had no plan, we simply set off and took each day as it came, not knowing what we would end up with. We spend so much time working on other peoples art, it is about time that we use our skills to make art for ourselves. So in a way, it feels like this is our first real record together that is just for us. The start of a new beginning that is all about a more personally invested mindset towards our art.

Our idea to start selling sound libraries is coming from a place that is more about enjoying the process of what we do and sharing the sounds we love, than it is about trying to make money. Having said that, sound is our business, so whatever we eventually put together as a saleable product will be nothing but the best we have to offer. Dave and I are committed to our craft and I can’t wait to see what we can create together.

I’m still figuring out how to run the journal side of the process. As I sat listening to the spaces we recorded I started taking notes on my phone. These were both technical notes, detailing what we were capturing and the mic array used, but I also jotted down little ideas and thought processes I was having at each location. My hope is to be able to use the blog to share some of these thoughts with you.

There is no activity quite like recording sound. (Activity may be the wrong word, given that it involves more sloth-like sitting positions as well as comments like; ‘my leg has gone to sleep,’ or ‘my bum is numb.’)

Sitting still, trying to be as silent as you can, while actively listening to the world around you makes for some very inspirational, introspective and sometime downright loopy daydreams. I often say that our work in dark studios, working long hours is balanced only by the moments of zen contemplation offered by going out to record sounds. Hopefully this year there will be more of that balance in our lives.

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Record Mission: January 23, Pureora Forest, Mapara – Hunt for the Kokako day 3

Day 7 of our record trip. We are heading home today, but first…we totally smashed that mountain of Doom. Three days in a row, we have gone up that massive hill, and we are feeling pretty fit now…but also totally bushed. (Sorry about the pun.)
Here are my journal entries from the last Kokako hunting hike.

Location 1

6:55am – We woke up early this time and hiked straight to the location where we saw Kokako yesterday and it’s gold once more. Probably started rolling about 15 mins ago and got a whole lot of close range Kokako. Little bit of BG traffic and some other birds were crowding the show, but no magpie and no crop duster. Very exciting. Now they have moved on and we’re getting a bit of distance stuff before we head to the other side of the valley.

*I did not take this photo, though I wish I had.


Location 2

7:40am – We’re in our favourite pretty sounding glade, elevated in the canopy with a nice drop off each side to deep forest. Several kokako are swooping through the canopy singing and just generally being amazing. So now we have close and open air recoding and a good chunk of under canopy calls. They are so amazing. They look like bandits with their little masks and they move like ninja’s. Their song is amazing. It’s like how I’d imagine a ghost monkey to sound. So haunting and beautiful. Its like sine-waves with a perfect fade in and out. It even sounds like they have some sort of built in reverb to make them sound just more awesome!
8am now and first cicada chirp of the day. Oh and a blackbird. At least the magpies have backed off today. We hear the occasional Maggie call, but the Kokakos have held their ground. The sun here is beautiful and I am elated.
Funny, I think the closer one can come to understanding and experiencing chaos, the closer they can also come to understanding peace. To be able to put yourself into an experience that is horrible, painful, uncomfortable, cruel… whether from memory or from imagination, then you can better understand the value of the moments of serenity. Right now, I’m here in this lovely forest, but at other times, I’ve wished with all my soul to be somewhere like this. Being able to recall a place like this helps in those darker times. Conversely, remembering days that were harder or more stressful, makes days like this feel all the more satisfying.

On the way back down the hill we found what had made that catastrophic crash the evening before. A tree had fallen in the forest. Naturally, we decided to smash it a bit and record it. 🙂

Well, it turned out to be a long day. We cleaned up our gear, checked out of the lodge and drove back to Wellington, stopping only to have a half hour nap on the long 5 hour drive home.
A very successful and fruitful trip…though I know it will mean many many hours in the studio to chop it all up.
Till next time,
This is Shell from team White Noise, signing off.


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