Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sound Design and Score: An Indie Film Round Table

I'm honored to guest on this episode of Composer Quest, a podcast by the immensely talented Charlie McCarron.

In this episode we discuss our audio process on the feature film Twin Cites with director Dave Ash and editor/ producer Jason P. Schumacher, touching on various aspects of the post process as well as our favorite film scores. McCarron also goes in-depth on how he created some of the music for the film.


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Monday, June 27, 2016

"You Don't Know Anything About Anything": What Jen's Been Saying In Her Sleep, June 2016

Plenty of imperative this time around, mostly the usual encouragement to do ill-defined things. The undercurrent of hostility appears to be creeping back in as well.

"You've got a lot going on with the cat situation... The cats are probably running their own booth... They're having all the people talk about different stuff... Stuff that's not important except to another kitty."

"You're not what I'm talking to."

"What about all the things you're doing? You're playing politics to the masses."

Jen: "Kitty walks to the store."
Me: "What does kitty buy at the store?"
Jen [indignantly]: "It buys the things it needs. It's not the same every time."

Jen: "Get you a snow cone."
Me: "Why?"
Jen: "Because you ordered that. It's not very substantial, but you could have it."

"That's where you go. Right after the exclamation point."

Me: "I love you."
Jen: "Yeah, you should comment on that."

Jen: "Three or four thousand."
Me: "Three or four thousand what?"
Jen: "I don't know. You should read the guidelines."

"You're gonna change out the program with the people. I don't know what it's called though... sometimes all the issues get put in a blender."

"All of it makes a square... All of the different shapes that you make... It's what you've got going on. 'Cause you don't know anything about anything."

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

In Depth: Sound Design For Animation: "Infestation" by Cable Hardin

I've blogged about "Infestation" before, but I thought I'd get into the specifics of the sound design a little more in this entry.

First of all, here's the completed film, an experimental animated short by Cable Hardin:

Hardin developed "Infestation" by cutting together assorted test footage, intending the result specifically for entry into screenings of extremely short films.

I was attracted to the irony of the imagery, which tells a story almost accidentally. Given the subdued color palette and papery textures I used as much raw, unadorned sound as I could. I wanted it to come across like a documentary, as if all the audio had been captured on location while the footage was "shot".

I recorded a fair amount of voiceover for this film: my vocal performances (sped up) provide the voice of the cockroach, the buzzing of the flies and mosquitoes, and the sound of the ants scuttling up over the foot at about :24. The ambience in the foot shot is a recording of my back yard in the south Minneapolis neighborhood where I used to live.

The indoor ambience we hear when we see the walking figure (or just his feet, early on) I recorded from about the third floor atrium of a public building in downtown Minneapolis. The footsteps are samples of me walking in my basement wearing formal shoes.

The interstitial cuts to "black" (cloudy dark grey, anyway) are accompanied by a spooky drone I achieved by slowing the sound of my mom's dishwasher way, way, way down.

The massive impact of the bug's foot at :43 is a library sound effect. In that particular shot I slowed down some restaurant ambience (a recording I made while dining at a local pho place) to blend in with the more echoey atrium audio, speeding up the cafe sound to achieve its normal rate of playback where we see the fly sitting in the coffee shop (at least I decided it was in a coffee shop, rather than at home). When the fly flicks the guy off the table, I used not a wilhelm, but a library vocalization that sounds like a wilhelm-- an ersatz wilhelm, if you will.

As of this writing "Infestation" has screened at a very cool festival in Italy, and appears bound for more festival screenings as well. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016


My wife is a North Korea aficionado, and she made sure to alert me to the existence of the film "Pulgasari" after reading about it in "A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power". I obtained a DVD copy of the film and gave it to her for our anniversary this year, because nothing bespeaks commitment like the gift of a North Korean kaiju film made by a hostage director, and we watched it soon thereafter as part of her birthday celebration. In terms of being pretty much the puzzling artifact we expected, it did not disappoint.

While the behind-the-scenes tale is a somewhat long and convoluted story, the basics are that Kim Jong-Il fancied himself a cineaste, and wanted to breathe new life into the North Korean film industry. He decided that the way to achieve this goal was to kidnap eminent South Korean director Shin Sang-Ok and movie star Choi Eun-Hee, and to compel them to make cinematic magic for him. "Pulgasari" became the eventual odd result.

In the film, which I assume takes place in a long-ago realm roughly equivalent to today's Korean peninsula in terms of geography, a group of peasant farmers contrives to create a monster to help them conquer a hostile feudal state. At least this one guy creates the monster as a homunculus of sorts, and at first it's really small and kind of resembles Godzooky or Chewbacca's son Lumpy from the Star Wars Holiday Special, and oh God I didn't want to remember that part. Anyway, eventually the creature (the titular Pulgasari) grows to a properly implausible kaiju size and develops a penchant for eating metal, at which time it's able to help the farmers win battles kind of like Dr. Manhattan does for the U.S. Army in "Watchmen".

Eventually the peasants overthrow the feudal dudes, and while all's good on that front, Pulgasari continues to demand more and more metal to eat. Eventually the people Pulgasari fought for realize that they have, as it were, created a monster, and that they must destroy him to survive. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Marxism's triumph over a self-consuming capitalism. Or perhaps the lesson is simply that if you find yourself taking care of Godzooky, you should stomp him to death when you have the chance, because otherwise you will be sorry.

Here I'll take a moment to say that the miniature work in this film is pretty good. If I saw some footage of the Pulgasari character (clearly portrayed by a human in a suit) demolishing some of the miniature sets out of context, I'd assume this was a Toho film of some sort. So there's that.

IMDB says the film was "not shown outside of North Korea or South Korea for over a decade after its release in 1985", and that "in the early 1990's, the North Koreans attempted to market this propaganda film to foreign countries with no success. Finally in 1998 it got its first international viewing in Japan where it gained a small cult following."

So there you have it. Pulgasari: a film that's worth watching just so you can say you did.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Original Music for Short Film: "Breathless"

Batman villains in love!

In the world(s?) of DC Comics, June 12th stands as the date that Gotham rogues Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn embarked on their romantic relationship. Hence I’m pleased to share the short film “Breathless”, which commemorates this occasion and features an original musical score I composed. Watch it below:

The soundtrack is available as a download from Bandcamp, here. Listen for free; throw me a couple bucks if you like it.

Eventually I'll publish more details on my composition process for this piece. In the meantime, enjoy!

Thanks to producer/ director Ben Enke, co-DP Steven Hoff, and performers Helena Steele (Poison Ivy), Aradia Tombes (Harley Quinn), and Mr. J (The Joker) for inviting me to collaborate on this project.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Elixir": Teaser Trailer

I'm excited to provide sound design for "Elixir", an upcoming fantasy/ horror short from director Justin Staggs. Here's the teaser trailer:

The film will feature an original score by David Gerald Sutton and ADR vocalization by Molly Ryman.

Update 10/2/16: "Elixir" will premiere at the 2016 Twin Cities Film Fest.

More news on this project as it emerges. Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

In Depth: Audio Branding for Bim Bam Bumper

When the San Francisco-based Jewish educational resource provider G-dcast decided to re-brand as BimBam, they invited me to provide a musical arrangement for a new bumper to preface videos and marketing content. Here’s what we came up with together:

The creative brief called for a focus on the words “refreshing”, “joyful”, “credible”, “accessible”, and “empowering”.

One specific idea thrown my way was to incorporate the sound of a spinning gragger:

Digging into my noisemaker collection, I found that I had not one but two graggers on hand. I duly incorporated one (opting for the wooden version, as opposed to the metal version demonstrated above, which I also had), and we were off.

I tried a few different options/ iterations, ranging from straight sound effects to a musical arrangement. The latter found the most favor, and we settled on an upbeat tag that integrated some chiming tones and dynamic percussion to bring the piece to life.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

MSPIFF Wrap-Up, Part 1

To attempt any cohesive first-person account of the Minneapolis- St Paul International Film Festival is of course a fool's errand, especially if, like me, you were really busy setting up a new recording studio while it was going on, and also trying to get work done on some jobs, and it was a thousand years ago anyway.

I sure did enjoy the heck out of it, though-- it's a smorgasbord of global cinema that heads way off the beaten path, from drama to comedy to horror to documentary, shorts of all sorts and, new this year, an experimental program I got to contribute to (more on that later-- this commits me to finish blogging about the fest, since it won't be featured in this entry).

Like I said, I only got to see a small fraction of what I wanted to-- early on from busy-ness, and later because films started selling out before I got there (good for the presenters though). Here's Part 1 of the account of my feeble (yet enjoyable) attendance at the recent 2016 fest.

The first program I attended was a showcase of shorts, and I was pleased to find all offerings of good to exceptional quality. I especially enjoyed Martha Gorzycki's Voices from Kaw Thoo Lei, an experimental animated account of genocide by the Burmese military government. But the most compelling entry for me was Leo Fleming's A Self Chosen State, a documentary of Bruno Bettelheim's ill-advised treatment of autism (victims of which included the director's brother).

The first of two feature-length documentaries I managed to catch, The Legend of Swee' Pea paints a captivating portrait of a great basketball legend who never was. I found the film truly immersive despite the fact that I am not generally a person who finds sportsball of interest.

Cellular Cinema's "Celluloid" and "Pixels" programs were a real treat, sourced from analog and digital origins as their names imply. I really enjoyed Kiera Faber's stop-motion, sound-rich T is for Turnip, and Scott Stark's "Traces/ Legacy" was powerful as well. I'm not sure if this is that exact piece below, but it's quite similar anyhow; the technique of allowing the optical processing to generate the soundtrack is quite compelling.

In my next entry: everything else I have to say about MSPIFF 2016! Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sound Design for Virtual Reality: Sunken Forest

Excerpt of a virtual reality experience from Honey VR. The film is called “Sunken Forest”, and involves an encounter with a mermaid. I served as sound designer on the piece. The brief called for undersea ambience, bubbles, and plenty of cues for motion through the water.

When seen as a 2D moving image, the visuals are of course distorted in the absence of a helmet viewer.

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