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Recording buttons and switches

 

A few years back i found a storage area filled with old broadcast equipment. I returned armed with a small kit with a microphone and a recorder to capture the sounds of as many buttons and switches as I could. The sounds I recorded turned out to be very useful. Some years later, our company moved to a different location. At the new location I also found plenty of old and new equipment in a storage area. I decided to repeat the success and record more buttons and switches.

Because I didn’t have to transport my recording equipment to a different location, I had the option to use more equipment than last time. I wanted to get even more useful material than last time. To accomplish this, I planned to do mainly two things differently:

 

  1. Capture more variations of each button. Many buttons and switches sound very different if you go hard/fast than if you go slow/soft when you press/flick them.
  2. Capture every button with more than one microphone. The same button can sound high pitched and clicky through one microphone and full and punchy through a different one.

 

 

 

I spent a few hours testing different microphones. I ended up maxing out my Sound Devices 744 and using all four inputs for most of the recording sessions. The microphones I chose were:

 

  1. Barcus Berry contact microphone. This captures a very different sound and the resulting recording can be very useful for sound design. Buttons and switches tend to sound full-bodied, mechanical and abstract.
  2. Large diaphragm microphone. I switched between a Neumann U87 AI and a Brauner Phantom Classic. The large diaphragm microphones sounded very natural on most buttons. The Brauner has lower self-noise than the Neumann, so I ended up using that the most.
  3. DPA 4041 small diaphragm omni microphone. The DPA sounded natural and a bit clicky on most of the recordings. It also has very low self-noise, which was very practical.
  4. Sanken CU31 small diaphragm cardioid microphone. The Sanken sounded more bassy than the other microphones. This makes most buttons and switches feel more punchy. The Sanken has higher self-noise than the other microphones I used, so it didn’t work as well on everything.

 

 

The recording sessions were pretty straight forward. I tried pressing each button slowly, fast and somewhere in between to figure out what I wanted to record. If a button sounded very different depending on the speed, I recorded several takes of each speed. If it sounded pretty much the same, I recorded just one speed. I also moved the contact microphone around on each piece of gear to find the best position for each button.

When I edited the recordings later, I fully realized how much “free” material I got because I used four different microphones. Some buttons sound like a completely different one through each microphone. The contact microphone always brings out something special and very different from the other ones. This is great for abstract sound design or if I just want a special sounding button. The other microphones brings out a different, unique aspect of the same button. This is great if I find a sound I like, but that’s not 100% what fits the project. I just try a different microphone and I can get some more punch or some more of the clicky, high-pitched sound.

The sound collection is available on the Norsonant website.

 

Norsonant – Multichannel buttons and switches from Plosiv on Vimeo.

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Plastic bottle

A while ago my wife made me aware of this incredible noisy plastic bottle in our fridge. I dug out my recorder and played with the bottle for a while. The sounds I got out of it might be useful for something in the future. You never know..

Below is a sample of the original recording and slowed down versions of it. The slowest version kind of sounds like distant artillery. Kind of..

Equipment: Rode NT4 -> SD744T
Plastic bottle by ThomasAlf

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A small collection of sound related links

I’ve gone through my bookmarks and done a little spring cleaning. Here are some sound related links that may be of interest.

Auditory illusions:
Shepard tone
Tritone paradox
Deutsch’s scale illusion
Pitch circularity
Phantom rings

Software (free)
Noiseplug (mac)
Paulstretch (mac & windows)
Note2Frequency (mac)
SPEAR (mac & windows)
Mammut (mac, linux & windows)
Gleetchlab (mac)
SoundMagic spectral (mac)

Tutorials
How to build a hydrophone
Monitor calibration part 1 and part 2
Principles of boom operation
Building contact microphones

Blogs
Noise Jockey
Music of Sound
Miguel Isaza
Colin Hart’s Sound Bistro
Colin Hunter’s Audio Lounge
Audire Fabula
Chuck Russom
Designing Sound
Field Sepulchra
In My Ears
Unidentified Sound Object
David Steinwedel
Dynamic Interference
Engine Audio
Jean-Edouard Miclot
Matiasmac.sd
Sonic Terrain
Sound and Motion
The Sound My Head Makes
Azimuth Audio
Carsten Rojahn
Jetstreaming
Master of Sound
Skywalker Sound Blog
Epic Sound

Books
The Sound Effects Bible by Ric Viers
The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema by David Sonnenschein
The Foley Grail by Vanessa Theme Ament
Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures: A Guide to the Invisible Art by John Purcell
Mastering Audio: The art and the science by Bob Katz
Audio Post Production for Television and Film by Hilary Wyatt and Tim Amyes