GAT Owls, Night Birds and The Human Voice

The owls & night birds in The Game Audio Tutorial have a bit of a strange back story to them and id thought i'd make this post about them and the problems they incurred.

As you can glean from the title of the post I needed to record some owl and night bird vocals for The Game Audio Tutorial and for various reasons to do with the book I couldn't use any library recordings.

Phase1: Record birds in their natural habitat

So I went on a local nature website to try find out where these critters live. After picking a couple of locations that I could visit all in one evening I set out with my usual combo of an FR-2 and a Rode NTG-3 to try record some of these birds.

Unfortunately none of the birds seemed to be in, or if they were in they definitely didn't come out to play. All I managed to record whilst sat in a scary-ass wood on my own in the dark in the middle of the Lake District was the rustle of trees and possibly the quiet approach of the local axe murderer. (although that could have been a rabbit or a fox  for all I know it could have been an elephant)

Phase 2: Record reserve birds

Luckily there is a falconry centre close to me which houses a couple of owls and other birds of prey which would be great to record.  So I gave them a ring to see if they'd be interested in taking pity on a lowly penniless sound designer and let me come and record some of their birds. They agreed to letting me record the birds but unfortunately they wanted a quite substantial fee for doing this, which is fair enough really as I'd be taking up an afternoon of the centre's time. However the budget I have for the Game Audio Tutorial doesn't quite stretch to this (it's zero, nill, nadda,) so I had to go back to the drawing board. Again.

(on a side note when I'm not so penniless I'm going to go back and take them up on this offer)

Phase 3 : Desperation

The last idea I had (apart from going out and sitting in a forest all evening again) was to get some recordings of night birds like owls and the such and to try to mimic them with my voice then pitch the recording to a frequency that sounds realistic enough to be an owl. So I recorded myself mimicking owl noises and pitching them to create bird like sounds.

It sorta works. You could almost say that the human and slightly unrealistic quality to the vocalisations gives them an eerie and unworldly tone. If I claimed that this was intentional I'd be lying.

And this neatly brings me on to the point or moral or theme or end bit (running out if ideas now) of this post.

The human voice is pretty versatile, it can be used to produce a range of vocalisations for all sorts of applications. For instance if I'm trying to describe a sound to someone and struggling to do it often i'l vocalise it to try and get my point across. Or if I'm struggling to create or record a sound I'll have a go at vocalising it to see if that works, I've lost count of the times that someone has come across me making noises to myself then wandered off again totally bemused. Some may argue that a sound designer's voice is one of their best tools and I'd agree. So now I've made this bold claim here's a couple of videos and examples of the human voice being used in real-life sound design by real-life sound designers!

Dragon Age Origins: 0:50 Jordan Ivey uses the sound of a human imitating a cat in the Deepstalker creature.

Star Wars: R2D2

Star Wars contains tons of vocal performances by both Ben Burt personally and other sound designers arguably one of the most iconic being the voice of R2D2.

This excerpt was taken from the book The Sound Of Star Wars it is excellent and I suggest that everyone vaguely interested in sound to go buy it.

Over a period of months, R2's voice became a fifty-fifty meticulous blend of electronic and human sound. Eventually Burtt built a circuit using the ARP 2600 that enabled him to play notes on a synthesiser and at the same time record human sounds into a microphone; For example, if Burtt raised his voice in pitch, the electronic sound would shape itself to conform. Burtt would make the sounds as if in slow motion and then speed up the result, which created the rapid high-pitched sound of the droid's speech.

"Artoo hs a scream, which is just me screaming" say Burtt. "I did the scream up at Park Way in the basement where I worked. I remember I was lying on the floor under the workbench table because it was the quietest place in the room; it would insulate me somewhat, because it had a filling cabinet on either side of it. Later, I sped up my scream a little bit, so it's higher in pitch. But it's funny-I've tried to repeat that scream over the years, and I've never been able to hit that note again without coughing or something."

To finish I'll leave you with this as a rather extreme example of what can be done. A complete replacement of all the Half-Life 2 audio with vocal samples (I didn't create this btw). Enjoy

So get vocalising!