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Ambient City Sound FX

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by DavidDaMonkey, Jun 16, 2009.

  1. DavidDaMonkey

    DavidDaMonkey Active Member

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    Fort Worth, TX
    I have an opinion question for you guys. I am designing sound for a rather large (in cast size) production of Godspell that will open next weekend. The show is set on a specific and real street corner in downtown Fort Worth. My thought was to take a mic or two and my laptop Pro Tools rig down there and see if I could get anything good for an ambient location sound.

    My only thought though is if this would get annoying or overbearing if it was playing throughout essentially the entire show (I would probably dip it significantly or take it away entirely during music). It would be kept relatively low the entire time except for during any transitions when it might take more of a forefront place. Has anyone tried any sort of ambient sounds like this that last through almost an entire show?

    I would probably pump it through the onstage monitors rather than the FOH system, or possibly hide some speakers in the stage.

    Any thoughts?
  2. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Performing Arts Center Manager
    Macomb, MI
    I have never tried or witnessed an effect like this in any shows I have designed or seen. I think you are on the right track as to how to obtain the source material, and how to localize it to the stage with FX speakers. I think you may just want to think about picking some key points in the show and use it to establish the location. I think it may get annoying after several minuets and, hence, compete with what is on the stage, as oppose to complimenting it. Perhaps you can use it along with other effects to punch up certain dramatic elements in the show. Say use a more congested and "busy" portion of the effect at an appropriate point in the show to help add to an equally emotional or "busy" part of the show. Or use subtle effects like a car honk or something to help fill or point out an awkward pause, or something like that. Things like that might serve the show better in a much more subtle way. Just a few thoughts. Certainly it is your design, and we encourage you to make the show your own as everything is unique to your production. Have fun with it.

  3. seanandkate

    seanandkate Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Stouffville, Ontario
    I have played birds and crickets over an entire lengthy scene, but I find that an atmospheric sound like a city-scape has more peaks and can be distracting. You can either mic from a position that won't peak much, or compress the effect in post production. OR you can bring it in at the top of scene, and fade it out across 4 or 5 minutes. People won't even notice it's gone. (And if they do, the actors have to bear a bit of responsibility . . . ;) )
  4. jonliles

    jonliles Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Marietta, Georgia, United States
    +1 for seanandkate..start with it and fade it out.

    I prefer to use those "ambients" during scene changes/blackouts/preshow/intermission. I don't typically use ambient noise during the course of the show unless there is a particular need for it.

    Such as, just before the overture/philsophers kick things off. I found that Godspell, I enjoyed a lot of quiet moments - the original show was produced in a vacant lot - a show or paupercy. I would then fade back in the ambient just after the line"Let's have some wine" and fade it out (smoothly bu expediously) during the opening of Act 2 (Iprefer the song "Beautiful City" but that is the AD's choice and not mine).

    Just something to consider.
  5. JoeGriffin

    JoeGriffin Member

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    I've designed ambiences that run through entire scenes on a number of productions. I'm kind of getting away from it lately, but mainly because I tend to work in cycles and right now I'm trending towards a more minimalistic approach.

    Anyway, the key thing is to establish the ambience at the top of the scene and then pull it back; otherwise it'll drive everyone nuts. Have a couple of specific sounds that stick out at certain times to remind the audience that the ambient bed is still there, but you can't keep it loud throughout. I don't mean "can't." Clearly you can do anything you like. I mean in my experience it's not a great idea. Making it gradually disappear completely over several minutes can be a good strategy as well. That's up to you and the director.

    I have found that many directors really like what I call "immersive" sound designs, with rich ambiences and atmospheres that move through entire scenes. Sometimes the trick isn't creating soundscapes that run through whole scenes--sometimes the trick is talking the director out of wanting them.
  6. gpforet

    gpforet Active Member

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    Atlanta Metro
    I did something similar with night woods sounds for Holloween Dreams. Had the night sounds running the entire show and it was very convincing. For me, the problem was getting over an hour of night sounds without the occasional airplane flying overhead.

    If your actors are all miced, the you can assign the actors to sub-group, run your street sounds thru a compressor, and use the sub-group out as a side chain input to your street sound compressor, effectively ducking the street sounds everytime an actor speaks. Or you can just ride the fader on the background sounds.
  7. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Redwood City, CA
    I did this for "A Thousand Clowns" for the city noise you would hear whenever they opened the apartment window. I would suggest playing it during the Act or Scene openings and then use a long fade-out as the dialogue begins. I wouldn't keep it running during dialogue -- even if it's coming from one backstage speaker it could get distracting, i.e. may sound like traffic from outside the theater.

    At first I looked hard to find clips of city traffic and subway sounds, but ultimately it was played low enough that almost any sort of traffic sound with the occasional car horn would do.

    I played this through just one FX speaker located on the floor behind the "apartment window wall" flat -- fed through its own aux bus.

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