Field Recording: Airplane (Part 2)

Recording the Inside of a Jet

For an upcoming project I was contracted to come up with a sound design solution that could help to portray a picture of a futuristic public transportation system inside a world similar to the digital high-tech movie-set in Tron: Legacy. The client was specifically interested to captivate a unique approach to develop an expressive character along with specific audio vocalization attached to all transport applications inside the world.

The sound effects discussed with the director should express and incorporate a unique design concept for motion, speed and velocity. Therefore, very untypical to the sounds of modern public transportation operating in most European cities. According to the visual excerpts of the design documentation, it seemed clear that in order to invent suitable ideas for the sound scape, I needed material that could help bring into being elegance, style, agility and futuristic technology with a unique blend in tonality.

Here are some mixed notions I made associated with the idea of how to to go about the general design conceptualization. It helps tremendously to hard print these notes with the most crucial key descriptions of a given mood or style that needs to be created.

Sci-Fi, machinery, airplanes, turbines, air, fan, engine acceleration, synthesized textures, hovering, precise, modern, slick, modern technology, elegant, sexy, easy to the ears, interesting, earconic, professional, expensive, high-end, signals, interior vs exterior.

Over the past years, I have stumbled over a variety of industrial machines, servos and hydraulic motors which I thought would give a good starting point. My intuition also let me believe that the e-trains (electronically driven) which I recorded with a D50 in America at the airport of Detroit (?) could come handy and may serve as a good natural/organic design reference. It is always a good idea to combine various sounds which contain characters of a different nature. Once these e-trains are sped up in speed or stretched in time, they sound completely different and may serve a particular key element in the concept. However, I knew that at some point I’d be ending up combining a lot of organic together with some synthesized textures.

However, I still had the drive to get something in there with a bit more edge and higher base definition, and something I could digitally modify to an extreme extend! Preferably recordings in 192kb. A fresh approach of sounds captured from the field is always a good point to start, as it occurs to be much more flexible to work with in the end! After studying the clients design documents and understanding the core mechanics for the various trains, taxis and buses found in the context of the plot, I became aware, that all their engines, which were mounted underneath these hovering objects and looked much like turbines, similar to the ones I’ve seen before on airplanes.

No doubt, that there are great amounts of commercial sample libraries available containing valuable recordings of aircraft related source material. But nothing really I found in them would benefit for the specific task given (or I may just didn’t have access to the right library). Sometimes it can be quite time consuming to find ‘just’ the right sounds in your database. It’s our job, indeed! Commonly, however, once you found it, there are no other variations of the sound available and you may find yourself being stuck in the middle of the process looking for ways to compromise. But because I was still spending time in Munich, I thought it would be a great opportunity to visit the International airport close-by for some more recordings :)

Specifically, I was looking to capture: turbine speed up/down/idle, INT and EXT room colors and other miscellaneous cockpit ambient that expresses a nice tone (whine, scream) of sounds to play with. There were no specific models of airplanes I was keen on recording specifically. I’d be happy with what ever I could get my hands on!

Generally, the sound of airplane turbines are unique and do carry its own sonic character and signature along within an broad frequency response to enable further processing after the recording.

For instance the artistic usage of turbine sounds in the sound design discipline is wide. It can be used for many other type of audio design settings, from ambient drones, high-velocity or character sweeteners. Check out the advertisement clip below which I have re-designed and if you listen carefully, you’ll notice the engine power up of the lawn mower in the beginning.

Unlike the sound of passenger airplanes and private jets, military aircraft carrier are a completely different topic – sonically. As well as security measures are much more complicated to overcome. It is therefore much harder to receive a recording permit. However, they are also on my list to record. Someday.

Honestly, it was no different in my particular case when I planed the recording session! Unfortunately, I can’t say to much about how the session become reality – but lets explain it by simply saying: I know people! ;-) It is always good to know people! Enthusiastic recordists have to have a good network of people who can help grant access to certain things. If, of course a huge production budget allows for external field recoding, it may be a little easier. But you may never know when you need to record a specific sound for a client. I once met a guy on the airplane, who was the CEO of a industrial print shop in Berlin. With huge printing machine! How cool?! I told him what I do and asked if it was possible to one day come visit the facility to record all his beautiful machines. We swapped contacts and I eventually visited him a few weeks after :)

Below are some outtakes from some recordings I did at the airport. The friendly personal guide I toured with at the time arranged a turbine test measurement location (?) inside a acoustically treated environment, which was a bit further away from the landing sides. Very good recording spot and I wished at that time I would have brought more microphones.

Another great recording trick is to point the the microphone (preferably stereo) at the source and move it 90° from left to right with different speeds to give a feel of movement and the typical ‘whoosh’ effect.

Have you ever wondered how a jets landing flaps sound like? Certainly, you’ll never be able to hear them from the outside whilst seated inside the airplane anyways ;) But to give you a better picture of how they sound like, here is an example. This particular unit was from a much smaller jet, though, a private one! The ones VIPs get carried on to fly to crazy parties.

Btw, in case you have missed Airplane Part 1, make sure to check it out if you’re interested in reading more about the recordings of over-head fly-bys.