The Music of Jo Hyeja: Audio Work Done

I mentioned recently that I had “finished” working on the music for “The Music of Jo Hyeja.” Well, last night we well-and-truly finished work on the audio, except perhaps for swapping in one musical track.

We went over to Mediact, an organization that exists to help develop and promote the independent film industry in Korea,m teach people who to make films, and help people complete projects without having to sell everything they own. The sound engineers we hired work there, and helped us master the audio for “The Music of Jo Hyeja” for what is probably a lot less money than it would have cost to hire sound engineers elsewhere. They had worked on the film for two days — maybe not continuously, but it took two days to get the audio done. From what I could tell, a lot of the work involved denoising the clips, and then smoothing audio transitions, but they also replaced a lot of the foley sounds I had tried to record with their own, better library of sound effects. They also added some stuff to the “score” — some of it fitting in well, like a long synthesizer tone here and there, and some of it not so much, like piano notes in a creepy musical build-up. When things didn’t fit, we asked the engineer we worked with to remove them, which she did without comment.

When she did comment, it was only to mention that a certain sound had been placed where it was to cover some other problem in the audio. Therefore, as we learned a few tricks along the way, the process was really quite interesting. I wish I’d snapped a picture of the studio, but as soon as we arrived it was right to work. Two engineers had worked on our film, but only one was present. She showed us what had been done, and we took notes. Afterwards, we made our way through the film, pausing where we had taken notes and asking her to change things — remove things that had been added (or, in a couple of cases, adding things that had been removed), bringing some sounds up or down in volume, smoothing over audio sample transitions that were still jarring (there were only a couple), and making small alterations of many different kinds.

The engineer we worked with was professional and very quick about doing what we asked, though she also made the work look “easy.” I get the feeling it’s a little harder than it looked, but also that with my background working with music, audio manipulation, and computers, it’s something I should learn to — and very likely could pick up pretty quickly.

One of the things I learned was that next time we do audio recording on location, we absolutely need two people to do audio recording: one to hold the boom microphone, positioning it correctly, and the other to work an audio board, through which the audio gets amplified before it is recorded. We simply recorded straight from the boom microphone, straight into the Zoom 4HN we’d rented from SLRRent. Adding a mixing board — even a small one — would make it more possible to preview the sound, to control it when recording, to foresee problems we ended up discovering after the shoot was finished, and make the audio easier to work with in the end.

Little tricks like that are the sort of thing that I imagine a lot of indie filmmakers learn in hindsight, but I am glad I asked the sound engineer what we could have done to make the audio better right from the start. The idea of using a mixing board never occurred to me, but it is quite obvious. We’ll have to find someone to work boom mic, who actually knows how to position the thing. (I only kind of do, but the boom we rented was also annoying unstable — with a stabilizer missing in the middle, so that it would rotate on its own — so often I couldn’t even when I tried… which suggests we’ll probably end up having to buy one of our own, so we don’t find ourselves in that position again.)

But I’m already talking about the next project when this one isn’t quite finished. There’s color correction to do (Miss Jiwaku and our cameraman will be doing that) and then a trailer to mix and put online. And then festival applications to fill out, and copies to send out…

That said, Miss Jiwaku is already turning over the next project in her mind — something small to start with, and then a feature involving monsters in Seoul — and I am trying to decide whether we should do a feature-length Lovecraftian film after that, or something more near-future/SFnal. We’ll see… but at least the audio is dealt with…

… all except for one little glitch we found, where there’s no audio for a one-word response in dialog. Not sure what we’ll do, but Miss Jiwaku says it should be fixable, so I’m trusting her judgment.

Oh, and as for uploading music clips, I can’t do it yet, though I think we can probably convince the sound engineers to export the music clips for us separately… especially since we’re likely to need them for a trailer.

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