Saturday, October 18, 2008

SoundDroid pt.2: THX "The Chord"

MarcoCo. & Kyma: Keepers of the Chord

The sounds for the original logo (that familiar swarm-coalescing-into-powerful-glissando-ending-in-a-somewhat-sharp-D-major-chord that precedes the film in every THX-certified theatre) were generated back in 1985 on the ASP Audio Signal Processor hardware. The ASP and original THX "Broadway" soundtrack were created by Andy Moorer, then head of a massive Lucasfilm-sponsored audio research project that later evolved into the DroidWorks company.

The genesis of the sounds had a particular significance for Symbolic Sound president, Carla Scaletti, who had been an admirer of Andy Moorer's work for several years. "[...] When I found out that Marco wanted to use his Kyma system on the new version, it was like making a connection with that history and with someone whose work had inspired us back when we were students."

D'Ambrosio [...] started out by consulting with Andy Moorer on the origins of "The Chord". It turned out its original source was a bowed cello note on an open A string. All that Moorer had left of the original was an old Sun streaming tape cartridge with the patch programming for the Lucasfilm ASP, so d'Ambrosio had to go with resampling his own copies of original mag elements of the audio in 24-bits and at 96 kHz. He also got Scaletti from Symbolic Sound to listen to the original chord and the two of them did some brainstorming on approaches to getting similar-yet-new effects out of Kyma. All three of them agreed that the ending chord is sort of a D but also quite a bit sharp--which may contribute some of the feeling of energy in that final resolution.

[more details via musicthing]

Thx Amazing Life

Amazing Life explores the lives of photo-realistic organisms growing from a metallic surface. As the story unfolds, the organisms grow to cover the surface of the metal, with each one communicating through their own unique sound. These sounds build upon each other, becoming more harmonious, and eventually culminate into the THX Deep Note crescendo. A final panning shot reveals the metallic surface to be the THX logo covered by these vibrant, living, musical creatures.

To create the trailer, THX turned to veteran composer, Marco d'Ambrosio to design the more than 160 sound tracks featuring voices of “Speaker Flowers,” “Helicopter Plants” and other unique organisms. The final mix was completed at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound under the direction of d’Ambrosio and award-winning re-recording mixer, Gary Rizzo.

[view THX Trailers]

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Marco d'Ambrosio [via]
So where did Deep Note come from?

Marco d'Ambrosio: The sound came from a machine called the Lucasfilm ASP, which I believe stood for the "Audio Signal Processor." It was a large machine that was the precursor to the digital workstation. It was way ahead of its time. I think pieces of it may still be at the basement of the tech building at SkyWalker Ranch. It was developed by a man called Andy Moorer, a chief scientist and technologist. He used it to take the sound of a cello and processed it. The concept was to have a sound, which originates as a random sounds in space, then converge it down to create an actual pitch. Then the whole thing was multiplied over and over again and recorded to a four-track magnetic tape master.

How has it changed?
d'Ambrosio: I came in when digital film playback technology was starting to emerge. It was making the trailer sound dated. I basically redigitized "Broadway" and turned it into a digital file. The problem with that is that it still had its '80s obscure-ness to it. So I took the original four track and digitized it. After a lot of research I found a box called Capybara with a software called Kyma. I got in contact with the developer of that system, who actually knew Andy Moorer, and he helped me come up with an algorithm that could re-create the process of resolving random sounds into a chord. I got cello samples and a lot of other sounds, and slowly added the spices until it sounded right. There are very low lows, discreet elements for each of the surrounding speakers. People call me the keeper of the chord. It's constantly changing to fit the trailers.


[read SoundDroid pt.1]

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