Sydney Opera House / Vivid – Remix The House

This is the first of two posts about my involvement with the Sydney Opera House ‘Remix The House’ project, spanning 2015-17.

Remix The House first came about as a sound project that tied into Vivid Sydney in 2014, with George Nicholas of Seekae visiting the SOH and making field recordings throughout the varied spaces of the House, and then editing these recordings into a set of samples. The samples were then given to a selection of artists (who were performing on Vivid lineups) to construct into pieces of electronic music. This process began anew near the end of 2015 and I was contacted about going in to repeat George’s role – to make a new set of field recordings over a couple of days that would go on to be a new sample pack (for another group of Vivid artists to eventually form into music).

The access to the deepest corners of the Opera House was expanded and different areas were available on my tour compared to George’s – however, apart from this, the recordings of the same equipment and ambiences were always just going to be just innately different captures versus what George had done. I think one of the most interesting things was seeing how different the results were when compared to the previous sample pack and therefore really getting a sense of just how creative the processes of recording and sound editing are in and of themselves, apart from anything to do with music.

As far as recording gear it was entirely done on a Zoom H4n Handy Recorder, with about 80% of recordings done with the default stereo pair of mics on the Zoom unit and 20% using an external Rode NTG4 Directional Condenser mic (connected to one of the Zoom inputs). For some sources I used both mics on separate ‘takes’ and combined them for the sample creation. In general the Zoom pair – being stereo – was preferable for capturing the atmosphere of things, which is why I ended up preferring that setup on most sources. The external Rode mic could handle extreme noises better as far as deeper or louder sounds so it served an important role for certain things. I was pretty eager to get underway and had already been recording for a bit before I thought about sample rate – for consistency then I just continued at the 44.1 khz rate I had been going at. Since these were to be samples for music production and not film FX I don’t think much was lost in terms of recording and working at 44.1 for this. But yes, I know, sparkly ambiences are a thing for which 48k could well have revealed something!

In addition to recording the environments and designing the sample pack I also created one of the tracks formed around the samples. The Dro Carey production based around sounds in the sample kit is streamable at the top of this post. The other artists that made pieces for Remix the House 2017 were Severed Heads, Jonti, FAKE (aka Cassius Select), Lucy Cliche and Nite Fleit. Jonti and Lucy Cliche’s tracks can still be heard on this SoundCloud playlist.

In the Dro track above the piano parts are from the sample pack (from chords captured during exercises of The Australian Ballet). Then there are some synth sounds that are not from the pack – we were not strictly beholden to generating music from the samples exclusively. However I made sure that all the percussive sounds came from the library, as I felt it was important to illustrate this particular creative potential for the field-sourced sounds – that they’re very suitable as electronic drums. In total the final kit had 124 Wav files with 80 of those being these short ‘one-shot’ single percussive hits. I also included an example percussion loop of how some of those one-shots could be programmed together – I actually wanted to include more loops like that, modular sort of blocks built with the sounds of the pack, but I was under a bit of a time crunch as the end of the year drew closer and I was also finishing work on the Dro Carey EP for Soothsayer (Dark Zoo) that would come out the following year.

Unfortunately I can’t publicly post a download link to the sample pack. There is still the possibility of an opening up of the combined sample libraries for free download online, but this is up to the SOH. Hopefully that does come to fruition some time and the combined field recording-based packs (George’s, mine and Club Weld’s) can go online in an interactive, browsable file database in the style of sites like Splice, Noiiz, etc. Though perhaps a frustrating teaser for anyone after the actual sample files, I offer the below screenshot as something that might explain how the recordings became samples and how they were labelled:

That should give some sense of the variety of sources – that particular folder was for longer passages, sort of like cut down nuggets of field recordings ready for manipulation. Other folders included much shorter sounds (i.e. the ‘one-shots’) ready to be programmed as drums. 

Though I can’t share these particular sounds on here, it has inspired me to start work on a free Dro Carey sample kit, to be be constructed from domestic, non-Opera House field recordings, live percussion and synthesis (e.g. adding bass to something to make it a kick, etc). So that will hopefully be available on here later in the year. Quality, free sample packs are a really important resource for electronic producers and I hope I can contribute something publicly using the skills developed during the SOH work.