Small Variations Make A Big Difference.


wolf-159979_150During The Mystery of Irma Vep, there were many cues for environmental sound effects like thunder and wind as well as creature sounds such as screams and howls.

You can get away with using the same sample a couple of times but at some point this approach gets noticed.  And depending on your particular sensitivity, this can be become intolerable during a multi-show run of the show.  Artistically, it”s just so much more pleasing to have each cue be a little (or a lot) different – sort of like real life.  This is one of those areas where attention to what might appear to be insignificant details results in a much more immersive and believable environment for both the actors and the audience.

One of the techniques I used extensively was to create multiple iterations of each sample with small variations to its:

  • Overall pitch
  • Overall duration (time stretch/compress).
  • Internal sections (warping the durations of parts of the sample)
  • Overall qualization

I used Ableton Live to make these modifications and then render a new sample.  In looking back now, the one thing I need to do is to take better notes regarding what aspects of the sample I modified.  The process itself is iterative since not every variation created a sound that was aesthetically pleasing.  Better notes about what worked and didn’t work always make future work a little easier.

The actors really enjoyed the little changes and ultimately we even decided to create several slightly humorous “howl-along” samples to accompany the actor’s on-stage singing.

I also made use of QLab’s hot-key capability to trigger environmental effects in a more spontaneous way to work with the show-to-show variations of the actors.  In one case I created a group containing 5 cues of  variations of wind  rattling shutters.  The group was set up to fire a random cue each time it was called.  And I created a separate group containing fades for each of the primary cues.  Each of these groups could be fired by a hot-key.   This gave me the ability to insert little interesting environmental changes on-the-fly and to control their duration.

Good fun for everyone.

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