sound design


A common thing to happen in a play is to have a telephone that rings. There are many ways to ring telephones onstage, but in the current show that I'm running, our telephone, a standard desk telephone with bells inside of it, must ring through a wireless speaker. So, that means playing a sound of a telephone ringing through the speaker. Easy, right? But what if they pick up the phone in the middle of the ring? You can't just stop the sound cue, because in a telephone the clapper would stop hitting the bells, but the bells would naturally ring out. So, you split the sound into two parts, the ringing, and the ring-out. So, you play the ringing, then when the actor picks up the phone, you play the ring out. But now you have to carefully listen to the phone ringing, and NOT play the ring-out if the actor has picked up the phone in between rings! ACK. That sounds like stressful work to me, the intrepid sound operator.

Computers to the rescue!

I wrote a little AppleScript for QLab 3 which listens to the phone ringing for me, and determines if the phone is mid-ring or between rings!  If you've read this far, I'm going to assume you've had to deal with this before, so I'm going to post the script here.

tell application id "com.figure53.qlab.3" to tell front workspace
  set cueTime to action elapsed of cue "1" -- change "1" to target your repeating full ring cue
  if (cueTime mod 6.0) < 1.9 then -- 6.0 is the length of a full ring, and 1.9 is just before the ring-out: edit as necessary
    start cue "2.1" -- in this case, cue "2.1" is a quick (0.1s) fade out of the full ring
    start cue "2.2" -- "2.2" is a cue with only the ring-out portion
    start cue "2.3" -- cue 2.3 is a devamp cue, to stop the full ring cue when it completes
  end if
end tell

So, the entire sequence in the QLab Cue List would look like:

sample QLab Cue List (click for full-size)

I'll have more from the theatre realm soon, so stay tuned!

New content!

Hey folks! Just wanted to draw your attention to a new space I've created on this site - called "MUSIC & DESIGN" - which is a place for me to share some of the things I've worked on. Squarespace, my elegant and gracious web creation and hosting platform, has a template for a "music album," so I'm trying it out as a format for sampling my work. Unfortunately, I haven't yet figured out how to display all the metadata that I've so lovingly typed into each track, but I'll keep you updated if/when I do. In the meantime, check it out!


Happy 2016, everybody!

I'm in tech for my next show at IRT, The mystery of Irma Vep - 1991's most produced play and longest-running show in Brazil! The show features some great organ music by composer/sound designer Lindsay Jones, so come on down and check it out if you're in the area. Recently, IRT's resident sound designer and I were talking about QLab, and he mentioned how it would be nice to have a simple way of exporting a cue sheet from QLab, to give to stage managers. I had been looking for a project, so I thought this sounded like an excellent test case for teaching myself some Applescript. And, lo and behold, it works!

Here's a link to the .scpt file, or you can copy/paste/compile your own:

-- Export a simple cue sheet from a QLab cue list
-- Jason Tuttle
-- This script will export the cue number and name of all selected cues to a comma-delimited (.csv) text file,
-- which can be imported to any common spreadsheet program (Excel, Numbers, OpenOffice, etc...)

tell application id "com.figure53.qlab.3" to tell front workspace

   set AppleScript's text item delimiters to ASCII character 44 --comma, change to 9 for tab-delim
   global oneCue

   set theFile to choose file name with prompt "Name the .csv file" default name "New Cue Sheet.csv"
   set referenceNumber to open for access theFile with write permission
   set header to {"Cue #", "Cue Name", "Notes" & return} as string
   write header to theFile starting at eof

   repeat with eachCue in (selected as list)
     try --if you want to expand the number of fields to export, do so here
       set thisqnumber to q number of eachCue
       set thisqname to q list name of eachCue
       set thisqnotes to notes of eachCue
       set oneCue to {thisqnumber, thisqname, thisqnotes} as string --you'd have to add extra fields here
      write (oneCue & return) as text to theFile starting at eof
      on error error_message number error_number --just in case something goes wrong...
      display dialog "Error" & error_number & ": " & error_message buttons {"OK"} default button 1
    end try

  end repeat

   close access referenceNumber --close access to the file we opened

   set AppleScript's text item delimiters to "" ---reset to nothing

end tell

So, there it is. It's pretty simple, but it works. If you download or use it, let me know. If you make improvements on it, let me know. If you have a feature request, let me know that, too, and I'll see if I can make it happen.

Happy scripting!

Using Logic Pro to generate "air"

A while back, I linked to a Designing Sound article by Doug Murray (whom I later would go on to work for on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes!) about using convolution reverb to generate room tone to fill holes in dialog tracks.  At the end of that linked post, I speculated on using Logic Pro's Space Designer plug in, since I didn't (and still don't) own a convolution reverb for ProTools.  Well, I finally had a reason to sit down and try it out, and the results were pretty great.

Using Space Designer to generate endless room tone!

Using Space Designer to generate endless room tone!

I was really pretty happy with the results. The general process:

  • I cut in ProTools, so when I needed a piece of fill, I'd copy-and-paste a clip of room tone onto a new track that I had labeled "FILLSeed", and consolidated it (OPTION+SHIFT+3) into a new file, and named it according to the character, room, and reel, i.e. "FILLSeed_Chris_BR_R1". I called it "FILLSeed" because I didn't want to confuse this short clip of room tone with the synthesized version that will come out of Logic later.
  • Switching over to Logic, clicking on the disclosure triangle next to the IR Sample label in Space Designer brings up a menu for importing a sound file as your new impulse response.
  • Make sure to set the Dry level to "0", which in less confusing terms would be -∞, and setting the "Rev", or wet signal, to "max." Space Designer is also a multi-channel plug-in, so it will always come out as stereo, so I set the Input slider to the mono setting, over on the left side of the window.
  • Turning on the Test Oscillator insert plugin (with white noise, output at around -50 to -60 dB) on my AIR SOURCE track in Logic, white noise starts pouring into Space Designer, which gets convoluted with the impulse response of room tone that I just imported, and sweet magical room tone comes pouring out!
  • Space Designer does have built-in EQ, so if you need to tweak it a little bit with some high or low-pass/shelf, it's really easy to do that right in the plugin window.
  • I set the input of a second track to be the bus output of my SOURCE track, put it in Record Mode, and record a chunk of fill! Drop that new recording into your ProTools session, and cut it in. Huzzah!

So, there you have it. For about 1/5th the cost of Altiverb, you can buy a copy of Logic Pro and have your own capable convolution reverb. And, you get a pretty nice DAW with some great features of its own, to boot! With the improvements to Core Audio in OS X, having two DAWs open at the same time, using the same hardware, is actually possible, making this type of workflow far less painful.


POST SCRIPT (11/09/2015): While this process has been rendered less useful due to features in software like iZotope's RX and the Ambience Match algorithm, this is absolutely still relevant if you a) don't own RX or 2) don't have it available immediately.

Catch up

Oof. So... October happened.

Quick recap:

  • The play for which I did sound design and original music has opened at the VS. Theater in Los Angeles. It's called Completeness, by Itamar Moses, and it's a Los Angeles premiere! Go check it out, it runs until Dec 7th.
Believe it or not, there are 6 speakers hiding in this set!

Believe it or not, there are 6 speakers hiding in this set!

  • I'm just over halfway through my first quarter of teaching an Audio Production class at Cal State University, Los Angeles. It's going pretty good so far, at least based on the test and homework scores I'm seeing.
  • I'm getting back into some more freelance editing for ASAP (Amalgamated Sound And Picture), cutting FX and dialog for animated shows, in particular an educational web series called "ABC Mouse."
  • This month, I'll begin working on a documentary feature called The Nightmare, directed by Rodney Ascher (directed Room 237). I'll be co-supervising the sound post production with Jonathan Snipes, who you may remember helped me complete the post on Excess Flesh, my last indie feature.
  • Also, looking for projects that are getting started in late December/early January. Let's talk!

More to come soon. Stay tuned...

Walter Murch on Dense Clarity - Clear Density

In conversation with Andy Kirshner, friend and U of M Professor, and his wife, the topic of mixing came up, and how modern films have hundreds, sometimes literally 1000+ tracks available, and how these colossal projects get mixed, and this article from Walter Murch at came up, which I had never read. I'm so glad I have, now. I'm going to quote a rather large section from the article, which I hope will lead you to click through and read more. It's certainly worth it:

The general level of complexity, though, has been steadily increasing over the eight decades since film sound was invented. And starting with Dolby Stereo in the 1970’s, continuing with computerized mixing in the 1980’s and various digital formats in the 1990’s, that increase has accelerated even further. Seventy years ago, for instance, it would not be unusual for an entire film to need only fifteen to twenty sound effects. Today that number could be hundreds to thousands of times greater.

Well, the film business is not unique: compare the single-take, single-track 78rpm discs of the 1930’s to the multiple-take, multi-track surround-sound CDs of today. Or look at what has happened with visual effects: compare King Kong of the 1930’s to the Jurassic dinosaurs of the 1990’s. The general level of detail, fidelity, and what might be called the “hormonal level” of sound and image has been vastly increased, but at the price of much greater complexity in preparation.

The consequence of this, for sound, is that during the final recording of almost every film there are moments when the balance of dialogue, music, and sound effects will suddenly (and sometimes unpredictably) turn into a logjam so extreme that even the most experienced of directors, editors, and mixers can be overwhelmed by the choices they have to make.

So what I’d like to focus on are these ‘logjam’ moments: how they come about, and how to deal with them when they do. How to choose which sounds should predominate when they can’t all be included? Which sounds should play second fiddle? And which sounds – if any – should be eliminated? As difficult as these questions are, and as vulnerable as such choices are to the politics of the filmmaking process, I’d like to suggest some conceptual and practical guidelines for threading your way through, and perhaps even disentangling these logjams.

Or– better yet — not permitting them to occur in the first place.

Oh, and by the way, in this one instance, READ THE COMMENTS. Murch himself engages the readers and goes into more detail about many points. Who knew a comments section could be not only readable, but informative and enjoyable!

*article thumbnail photo of Walter Murch mixing Apocalypse Now from


Whew! So, lost in the hubbub of 6-day workweeks and bouts of stomach flu has been almost 2 weeks! So, here's a brief recap...

You might remember that I've been working over at Fox as an Assistant Sound Editor on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pre-sequel (sprequel?) on the 20th Century Fox lot.  Last week, we got to nab a Land Rover Defender, good and seasoned, from some on-set reshoots taking place on the studio lot, and do some quick recording.

recording with fellow Apes editors Scott (L) and Jack (R)

recording with fellow Apes editors Scott (L) and Jack (R)

We strapped a trusty SM58 into the engine compartment, carefully tied a DPA lavalier mic on the rear bumper right above the exhaust pipe, and strapped a stereo pair of small condenser mics to the interior roof above the backseat, all running into a Sound Devices 788T. I also ran an Scheops M/S handheld pair inside for the onboard takes, while Scott and Jack, pictured above, had their own M/S pairs for capturing exterior passby's, doors, handles, latches, and other miscellaneous sounds.

We did run into a small problem, though. There's an auxiliary fan that kicks on intermittently under the hood to keep engine temperatures in check, but it makes for a lousy sounding recording of a great sounding engine. So, towards the end of a mildly frustrating recording session (it's tough to get good exterior recordings on a busy studio lot in the middle of Los Angeles on a Friday), we convinced the transportation department teamsters to disconnect the aux fan for another quick run-around with the truck.  Well, that went about as well as could be expected...

our intrepid driver and a steamy Land Rover

our intrepid driver and a steamy Land Rover

Yeah, that thing overheated in a matter of minutes.  We did manage to get some decent onboard engine sounds, and some good doors and such. Hopefully enough to cover what the effects editors need.  And yes, the SM58 made it out of the engine compartment just fine. Of course!

Regardless, it's almost always more fun to be out with a few microphones and recorders than be stuck in front of a screen at a desk, so there weren't too many complaints heard (except to swear at the helicopters passing overhead).

The Details That Matter | Designing Sound

Randy Thom (you know of him, I guarantee it) wrote a guest post for the website Designing Sound (click the title link above), in which he discusses the art of sound design, and how practitioners of this art have to make choices when it comes to how much, or how little, detail to provide with sound.

I find this an interesting topic of discussion given my main source of work the last 6 months or so: animation. In animation, the sound editor has to provide all the sonic details, as there is no production audio that was recorded along with the images. Therefore, it's a continuing set of choices regarding what sounds need to be there to make the story clear and focused, what should be there to make the "world" a lively and active place, and what sounds might be there to highlight and enhance the mood, action, or other emotional elements.  Working in animation has definitely improved my decision-making skills in this area, and I will be the first to admit that I'm still developing, learning, and honing my skills as a sound editor and designer with the help of my employers and fellow editors.