One Covid scare and a case of tonsillitis later, I’m somewhat back on my feet. Suffice to say, going out to Dundee Dance Event Monday-before-last was not the wisest move. I seem to be about a week behind, give-or-take. Thankfully, I’m managing catching up on my work. However, in the midst of illness and distraction, I found time to do my lab work for my audio class last Thursday.
We were tasked with creating a soundscape using Reaper, composed of sound clips and music tracks from online sound libraries. Over the years, I have grown estranged to Reaper. I made a couple silly tracks in it during high school when I well and truly had no clue what I was doing, but hadn’t touched it until I started working on my soundscape last week. I’m more familiar with FL Studio, but I’ve found that once you know the basics of one DAW, you know the basics for most others. Certainly, working with Reaper didn’t feel alien!
Before you read the process in the sections below, listen to the soundscape (preferably with a pair of headphones) first! I find that telling folk the process of creative work implants ideas into their head about what they’re about to experience, and I’m always fascinated by unswayed personal interpretations! If you thought of something different, feel free to reply to this post with what you thought you were listening to!
I decided to approach the task as a story, guiding the listener through the environment. Harking back to my blog post from a couple weeks ago, I wanted to create an urban environment where the protagonist travels through different scenarios before finally reaching their destination.
Once the core idea was in place, I needed a way to convert the abstractions I had flickering around my head into something more tangible. I began roughly sketching each idea I had down onto different post-it notes, which ended up comprising of compartmentalised settings and actions.
Now that I had a few ideas ham-fistedly etched onto a few post-its, I began storyboarding. I laid out the post-its on a sheet of paper and moved them around until I had a configuration I was happy with, adding or removing them as required. The idea now had structure. (I would go on to iterate upon this while working in Reaper.)
- Garage (Parking)
- Turn around
- Enter door
- Down stairs
- Walk through corridor
(Pass through open rooms)
- Underground club
- Reach end corridor
- Find the obelisk* (in outer space)
The story starts with the protagonist walking down a street and walking into an indoor car-park. Turning around, they walk through a door and head down a staircase. A long corridor sprawls out ahead. Traversing down it, you pass the beeping sounds of an arcade and the heavy basslines of an illegal rave just before reaching the end and finding an intergalactic obelisk*
*Unfortunately, the intergalactic obelisk never made the cut.
With my story set, it was time to put it into practice! We had the limitation that the soundscape was supposed to be around a minute in length. With this in mind, I found and separated the core sections of the story into three chunks:
I absolutely cannot guarantee that I did this very efficiently. Much like a chimpanzee flinging its steaming hot faeces at a passing car, I approached Reaper the only way I know how: by chucking random .wav files at it and praying. I eventually got the hang of it. Taking my chimp brain into account, I discovered that you can create new tracks by placing audio clips or MIDI files onto the timeline which adds a new slider to the mixer along the bottom of the window. I then coloured these tracks by section.
Once I had the core pieces of a section in place, I added effects to help convey the sounds as belonging to the intended space. A clear example of this can be found by listening out for the hip hop track which plays in the garage section of the soundscape. I imagined someone playing music out of their phone speaker. The music needed to sound reverberant and tinny, so I added a high-pass filter and a reverb effect to the track’s effect rack to convey this.
I completed each section individually and combined them in sequence. Some sections featured developing sounds internally, whilst other sections had to transition into other tracks. Using automation, I was able to change volume over time, pan, emulate the sounds of a door opening and affecting the music behind, and probably other things.
Once I combined all the sections together, the soundscape was mostly complete, final mixing tweaks aside. However, I still had to figure out how it should end. While I originally placed “Obelisk (from outer space)” on the storyboard as a joke (because I couldn’t think of anything immediately more interesting), there had to be a more cohesive way to round off the story? Then, chimp brain chimed in again with one last thought: hidden underground lairs are cool, right?
If I’m to be one-hundred percent truthful, I didn’t bolt the ending on at the end of the production process at all… I had a rough idea that the protagonist was some kind of illicit or secretive person with images of criminal masterminds and superheroes swirling around my aforementioned chimp brain. The underground lair aspect was merely just a response to this. Besides, it makes far more sense than an obelisk. What’s an obelisk supposed to sound like anyway? I reckon it probably hums.
All in all, I am incredibly satisfied with the soundscape and its ending! I believe it leaves a lot of room for further discussion about its world and its dynamics.
Thinking retrospectively, I don’t believe this is my first soundscape. I edited the teaser trailer for my team’s DARE Academy submission. For the opening thirty seconds of the video, I had to do something very similar to what I did for this task. Its incredible how much it can improve an experience! Perhaps the in-engine footage we captured for the trailer was amateurish, but I feel the audio nicely tied it together. What do you think?