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Capturing the World Unseen

#WorldUnseenGuide
A Creator's Guide to Capturing Clean Audio

Written by Garret Burkhardt


Music Composer and Audio Engineer
at StaticEel Music
www.staticeelmusic.com

Capturing the World Unseen is a field guide meant to help familiarize our fellow creators
who specialize with other creative mediums like video/film, games, and podcasts which are
rather outside of the world of audio though they are heavily dependent on it.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents 2
Acknowledgements 3
Prologue 4
Chapter 1:
The World Unseen - Bestiary:
9 Common Imperfections (Imps) 5
RUMBLE 5
PLOSIVES 5
CLICKS-N-POPS 6
STANDING WAVES 7
COUGHS & THROAT NOISE 8
CLIPPING 9
NOISE 10
HUMS & BUZZES 11
CELLULAR 12
From Our Experience:
When All We Can Do is Fail and Try Again 13
An Ever-Growing Venture 14

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Acknowledgements

Working on this project over the past month and a half has been quite the adventure and
took a lot of wonderful support from some amazing people who I want to thank!

Liam Fuller,
I am jealous of your amazing command over the english language though I really
appreciate you for sharing your expertise to help maintain the bestiary theme while making sure
the concepts discussed were well presented and understood.

Jennifer (Jen) Beck,


Along with your help with grammar and spelling for Capturing the World Unseen, thank
you for being a friend and putting up with my shenanigans and offering a helping hand when it
came to offering advice and helpful suggestions over the many hours sat in a small boba shop.

Sheila Burkhardt (Mum),


My appreciation for you extends beyond just the editing of Capturing the Unseen World.
Thank you for all your support and believing in my journey through my music and audio career
even during times when I felt I was on shaky ground.

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Prologue
If you were to close your eyes and be teleported somewhere at random, you would likely
be able to describe the environment just based on the sound around you.

We, as human beings, have adapted to rely heavily on our vision to the point where many
of us do not immediately realize the value of sound. However, Sound is equally as important as
sight, especially with how we analyze our surroundings, and how we interpret communication
and language.
Sound helps determine the direction of the beast or the object making the sound as well
as how we decide the way that we should react to the sound’s source. Whether we need to react
to the growl of a predator or to the cries of a loved one. Sound becomes incredibly important in
situations where we cannot immediately see something, and if we did not have it, we would not
have a fighting chance.
Our ability to hear sounds often takes a low priority and is sat on the back burner. That is,
until we hear something really strange or unexpected that does not match anything we see. That
is when our hearing takes full priority, as we hyper focus on the texture, loudness, and direction
of the sound so that we can start developing a mental picture, estimating the level of threat and
prepare for when we finally set eyes onto the source.
Because of how our level of priority of sound takes the back burner, audio is often an
afterthought in film recording and during game development often winding up with someone
saying, “Here is everyone we need… oh, right… audio.” Often making audio the more under
budgeted division in production.
Coming from an audio engineer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this mindset of
naturally forgetting audio. In fact, I would say it's very reasonable mindset to have. Truly good
audio at its highest quality will not distract us and pull us out from the immersion of the
environment or conversation being presented before us or, as many others have put it, “Good
audio goes unnoticed.”
Of course, the best quality audio we can hear is only ever truly heard straight from the
source itself, directly to our ears. Realistically, the recordings that we capture of the World
Unseen often come with flaws and imperfections which we tend to notice only when we go to
play it back.
When the flaws and imperfections are let through to leave them in the final product from
the negligence and laziness of the content creator or from the untrained creator’s inability to sort
out the cause of the imperfection, the sounds do not match to what the audience sees and this
snaps them into hyper-focusing on the sound and figuring out what made it.
This loss of immersion can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes before
the audience members reset their threat level and re-immerse themselves into what is going on.
This can be detrimental to the story you, as the creator, wish to share. As a vast amount of detail
can be shared in the course of one to two seconds.

So, our question becomes, how can we prevent these imperfections?

First, we have to characterize them so that we know what to listen for.

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Chapter 1:
The World Unseen - Bestiary:
9 Common Imperfections (Imps)
RUMBLE

Rumble is characterized with high volumes of bass frequencies, often creating a very
physically discomforting experience on the listener’s ears. This is because bass frequencies
create large differentials in air pressure especially in enclosed spaces such as cars and over ear
headphones. Rumble is created from vibrational energy that travels through the floor and up the
mic-stand, ultimately, shaking the microphone itself.

What causes Rumble?

There are many things that contribute to Rumble and sometimes they are outside forces
that are unavoidable based many different factors. However, many home studio creators hear
Rumble caused by bumping their desk, footsteps from their upstairs neighbor or family, large
vehicles operating in their neighborhood, doors being slammed.

How can we prevent Rumble?

The most immediate way that we can mitigate the issue is to procure a device, called a
shock mount. Shock mounts work by suspending the microphone on elastic bands which absorb
most of the vibrational energy before it can affect the microphone’s diaphragm – the part that
converts sound to electrical input. However, shock mounts do not help with direct contact with
the mic such as accidentally striking it during an interview.

We can save the 20 dollars simply by making our roommates and neighbors aware that
we will be conducting a recording session and ask them if they would be mindful about closing
doors and creating other unnecessarily loud noises. Keep in mind that this may require speech
levels of forty-five and higher.

Another way we can be proactive and less confrontational in preventing Rumble is to


schedule our recording sessions during low activity times, such as mid-day, when most folks are
in the office, or late at night, when they are sleeping.

PLOSIVES

Plosives are rather hard to detect in the moments of capture and they share very similar
frequency energy with Rumble. However, the difference is that Plosives are short bursts of
energy that are often associated with speech and dialogue.

What causes Plosives?

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Plosives are often directly associated with the “Puh” and “Buh” phonetics of language
because both of those sounds require large amounts of air to essentially be exploded out of our
mouths.
Try this: Hold your hands an inch in front of your mouth and say the following, “Luh”,
“Guh”, “Buh”, “Puh”. You will notice that as you go through the list, the amount of air ejected
from your mouth gets stronger. “Luh” and “Guh” have far less air ejected than “Buh” and “Puh”.

How can we prevent Plosives?

To prevent Plosives from appearing in our recordings we can do a number of things. I


will only touch on a few solutions because there are plenty of previously written documentation
available on how we can improvise tools to prevent them.
What we need to do is scatter the column of air that is been ejected from the speaker’s
mouth. The column naturally dissolves itself in about 1 ft to 1.5 ft. Though recording at this
distance, the speaker's voice starts to sound thin with a lot less body to it. The most common tool
that recordists use to break that column of air and retain the body of the speaker’s voice is a Pop-
Filter. Pop Filters are commonly made with a fiber mesh but recently they have started to adopt
offset metallic plates filled with small holes.
Of course, there are cheaper alternatives to the Pop-filter, and I am not going to list them
all since the methods are very well covered by so many others that a quick google search will do
us fine. There is one method, that seems to get ignored too often.
Thinking specifically of air flow physics, we can agree that columns have walls, and
often forms an invisible ring before it disperses. We can visualize this by cupping our hands
around our mouths as if we were to shout something. Then we start blowing air and, with our
hands against our mouth, we separate them from each other until we cannot feel the rush of wind
past them. Now, continue blowing as we move our hands away from our mouths, constantly
readjusting our them, so we do not feel the gusting wind against them. Doing this, we can
determine where the walls of the column are.
Having experienced that, the simplest effective method is to simply move the mic out of
reach from the air column’s walls!

CLICKS-N-POPS

Clicks-N-Pops are usually not found naturally within the World Unseen. They are
typically imps that show themselves during the editing process. They are not nearly as intrusive
as some of the other imps listed in this bestiary. However, they can be very distracting from
immersion, and they are incredibly easy to avoid. So really… there is no excuse to ever hear
them in our final edits.

What causes Clicks-N-Pops?

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Clicks-N-Pops occur when we cut or stop a recording before our speakers return to
resting position, creating a sharp click/pop fittingly described by their name. The worst Clicks-
N-Pops occur when two audio clips are set against each other and the first clip is sliced when the
speaker cone is fully extended, and the second clip immediately starts with the speaker fully
retracted (and vice versa). What is happening is that the speaker has far less than a millisecond to
immediately jump from being fully extended to being fully retracted. This quick transition is
what creates a Click-N-Pop.

How can we prevent Clicks-N-Pops?

During the editing phase of our project, it is fine to have them as they are not problematic
imps during the editing process. However, before we finalize our project, we need to make sure
our audio clips are cut at what are known as Zero Crossings – the middle resting point where the
the crest or “hill” of the wave immediately transitions into being a trough or “valley”. You can
essentially try to visualize the Zero Crossing as sea level when zoomed very closely into a
waveform image.

STANDING WAVES

Standing Waves are as unique to the recording environment as the sound of our own
voices are unique to each of us. They are not necessarily bad imps, rather, with balance, they are
really helpful with defining the quality of the space we are in. Experts in the audio industry call a
collective of Standing Waves in our recording environment, the Room Sound. However, if they
are unbalanced they begin to seem as if the sound was projected into our hands or a cardboard
box, and that is very uncomfortable to the listener.

Detecting a Standing Wave is like a basketball court filled with a thousand people in
chairs. From the left of the room to the right of the room, have them begin doing The Wave.
After a couple cycles, pick twenty individuals at random to remain standing the whole time. The
Wave represents the sound being recorded, and each individual person represent frequencies.
Although the overall sound (The Wave) has not been affected, we can clearly see specific
frequencies (people) standing out from the crowd. This concept is what we’re looking for when
finding Standing Waves.

What causes Standing Waves?

What happens is that our recording environment is too reflective with too many parallel
surfaces and each pair of parallel walls have a wavelength that can perfectly fit within their
distance. Since the surfaces are parallel the sound waves are not deflected and it cause the wave
to continue to repeat itself similar to how putting two mirrors facing each other, creating
infinitely many duplicates of the reflected image. Most frequencies that do not exactly fit in
between the distance of those parallel surfaces lose their energy over time, but Standing Waves
fit perfectly and they have a habit of feeding their own energy causing their volume increases
substantially.

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A cool experiment and a good way to annoy our families, is to step into a very square
room where the walls come together to form 90-degree angles. Bathrooms are perfect for this.
Let us begin at the lowest pitch we can make and start to hum. Do not increase the direct volume
of the hum, but slowly raise the pitch until we reach the highest pitch we can attain. We should
notice that at a specific point during the experiment our hum will have seemed to become far
louder than we knew we were producing since we kept our true hum volume the same. Those
points are the rooms Standing Waves!... And yes, our family and roommates can hear this too.
Just as much as us if not more so. So, we need to use our new-found power of feeding Standing
Wave Imps responsibly!

How do we prevent Standing Waves?

There are a few things we can do to reduce a Standing Wave’s ability to feed, though
some methods will require some time and monetary investment. To reduce reflectivity, we can
invest into what are called “Diffusers” as they diffuse wave energy by reflecting it at odd angles
as well as trap the energy in the porous foam. You know those colorful foam pads that our
favorite YouTubers or Twitch streamers have, with a bunch of triangular pyramids and prisms?
They are not just to look cool.
With time investment we can find a recording location that has as few parallel surfaces as
possible, move your furniture to be at random angles and distances or even build our own
wooden diffuser, which can be give a quite aesthetically pleasing contemporary vibe. However,
the wooden diffuser will not be effective with energy absorption since it isn’t as porous as foam.

COUGHS & THROAT NOISE

I admit, this one is an odd one because everyone knows what a cough is or when
someone is clearing their throat. However, that does not change how uncomfortable it is for the
person creating the noise, and how discomforting it is to the person listening to it.
Over the last couple of years, I have become a bit of a germaphobe, and makes me really
uncomfortable hearing people hacking up a lung, and there are many people out there who find it
far more unpleasant and distracting than I do. Although all of this is natural biology there are
ways we can try to prevent it from happening during our captures!

What causes Coughs & Throat Noises?

There is a whole slew of reasons why we cough or have a buildup of phlegm in our
throats which we are naturally driven to clear out. However, there are two causes that I know we
can try to prevent. Dehydration and dairy consumption.

How can we prevent Coughs & Throat Noise?

When either we or our talent are walking into a recording session that will consist of a lot
of talking, water should always be handy and readily available. Long durations of speaking will

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rapidly dry out our esophagus and will strain the vocal cords, creating a raspy voice and elicit
coughing from our body, which assumes there is something in our throat that it needs expel.
We always want our guests to be as comfortable as possible, and if that means letting
them drink a full glass of milk and soda, or eat a giant cheese plate, so be it. However, we will
want to ask them to consider staying away from soda and dairy a few hours before because, both
soda and dairy encourage excessive mucus buildup in the back of the throat and things start to
sound gross halfway through the interview.

CLIPPING

Clipping! The most tastefully used imp in deep fried video memes! Or used in the
tasteless bad blooded insults belted into gaming headset by Little Timmy because we killed him
once in Call of Duty. We have all heard it before, and when the Clipping imp appears without
full intention of us as the recordist, then it becomes problematic and entirely distasteful.
Clipping is a form of distortion also known as Digital Distortion and all forms of
distortion are very destructive imps. Clipping imps appear during conversion of the captured
audio either immediately or with post processing and they are often attributed with our captured
audio sounding as if you took 40-grit sandpaper to it and sounds very unnatural. You can
experience them most noticeably on voices due to how attuned we are to their natural sound.

What causes Clipping?

Clipping unnaturally slices of the peaks off the crests and troughs leaving them plateaued
and flat. This is because the converter has maxed out on how much data it can process and
decides to completely ignore the audio volume data between where the clip had begun and where
it ended just as if you took a pair of scissors through a circle.

How can we prevent Clipping?

From my experience of field recording in the past, it is entirely easy to forget to check the
volume level of our microphone input before hitting the record button. Like walking into the
forests of Chernobyl or the surrounding area of the Fukushima nuclear reactor, it is easy to forget
the most deadly and irreparable dangers, nuclear radiation.
Many audio creatives will argue that we should never focus on our meters more than we
focus on the sound itself. However, just like we had better be keeping a good eye on the Geiger
Counter, we should better keep a keen eye on the volume level meter.

Volume is measured in Decibels and it’s unit acronym is dB. The industry input volume
level standard is to record between -14dB to -6dB. Most standardized microphones are required
to be connected to, if it does not already have it pre-installed, a pre-amplifier through a device
called an interface. The interface allows us to control how much audio signal is allowed into the
pre-amplifier and then into our other recording equipment.

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For microphones similar to the Blue Snowball, which is USB and connects directly to the
computer, there are two ways we can reduce the input level since they do not have their own pre-
amp or the ability to connect to an interface to adjust levels. The first thing we can do is find our
computer’s audio device manager. Here we can adjust the input volume slider until the input
level is loud enough to hear but not too loud to where it is hitting 0.0dB. 0.0dB being the
maximum level. Reaching a level in the range of industry standard will always be good practice,
and good habit building.

NOISE

Noise is another imp which we think we would immediately understand. Sure, there are
many similarities to how we reference things as being noisy in everyday life and how we define
the Noise imp. However, the Noise imp would be better understood by comparing it to the sound
of radio static or fuzz in our sound recordings. Noise is another destructive imp when it is present
within the environment we are trying to capture, and getting rid of it, after it shows up in our
capture is massively difficult when trying to retain the quality of the sound we truly wanted to
capture.

What causes Noise?

Noise imps are like sleeping bears in the forest, they are always there but they are pretty
docile and usually go unnoticed until it is disturbed and can aggressively destroy the quality of
our captures. The Noise is truly inescapable, but it is normally very quiet.
Some of the most notorious causes of waking noise for most young content creators and
recordists, are room fans, air conditioning, and when we are out in the field, rustling leaves, and
crowd chatter. If our recording focus was solely one of those items that I have listed, then they
are not actually bad sounds. However, when they all come together and create a loud bed of fuzz
in our recordings then it becomes the woken Noise imp and it is incredibly threatening to the
quality and clarity of our capture.
Often noise is aggressively captured when our desired sound doesn’t contrast clearly
against its environment. Whether the source is too far from our microphone or our recording
program auto adjusts input volume to focus on the currently active sound. An example of this is
when we’re in a Discord chat and a friend has a lot of fans on in their room. When they speak
their voice is fine and clear with nothing else that slips through. However, when they’re quiet for
a while, Discord tries to actively search for their voice by increasing it’s input level on the next
loudest sound and that cause the noise of their fans to come through.

How can we prevent Noise?

When we prepare our environment for recording, we should do the best that we can to
remove anything that is creating unwanted sound, like turning off our fans and AC for the next
hour. Unfortunately, there is no real tool that we can use out in the field to subside the Noise
when it is disturbed other than removing the source of the problem itself or getting deep into

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specific types of microphones and their pickup patterns, which right now are a bit out of scope of
this project – maybe in a later chapter of Capturing the World Unseen we can discuss basics of
field gear.
If the noise imp is cause by auto adjustment like the discord example. You can disable
this in the program settings. Discord is awesome in that, when you disable auto leveling it
provides a visual cue in it’s input slider of where the Noise is resting. Keeping it in the yellow
ensures that when you go quiet the imp stays quiet too.
The goal is to provide large amounts contrast between the sound you want to capture, and
the noise itself. The more contrast you have the easier and less destructive it is for us as StaticEel
to purify the imp out of your gem of a sound capture.

HUMS & BUZZES

The Hum imp is very similar to Noise in that it creates a bed of constant sound. The
difference is, Hum is very tonal and has a definite pitch, and Noise imps are non-tonal with an
indecipherable pitch. The interesting thing about the Hum imps is that they vary based on the
country or territory we are in! There are two breeds of Hums. Those that have a pitch of B-flat at
60Hz (Commonly found in the United States), and those that have a pitch of G at 50Hz
(Commonly found in the UK and EU).
I attached the Buzz imp with Hum because the two are actually very much the same,
though Buzzes are much louder and have a higher pitch, often with frequencies double that of
Hums (Ex: 60Hz -> 120 Hz -> 240 and higher). Though, their perceived pitch registers on the
European and Western Musical Scales are the same for each.

What causes Hum?

Hums are very common in our daily modern lives, and we hear them all the time as they
are created by the electronics we use in our daily lives. The most common Hums we all hear
daily are our refrigerators, and our air conditioning units.
This is because our local power grids run Alternating current back and forth through our
electric wires at a rate of 50 (UK & EU) or 60 (US) cycles per second. This is why the type of
Hum depends on where we are located since there is no single globalized standard of alternating
current frequency.
Buzzes are caused by different means. Their cause directly ties into electric currents.
Buzzes are often a result of bad wire insulation on audio cables which allows interference from
surrounding electric/audio cables and other electronic devices. These buzzes are often attributed
to cheap, poorly made, or aged gear.

Here is a visual example of alternating current seen:


Lightbulb with Slow Motion Camera

How can we prevent it?

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Hums are quite difficult to avoid entirely. Removing them entirely would mean turning
off important electronics – including the fridge – and all the associated issues that would entail.
Buzz, on the other hand, often come from audio cables not being plugged in fully or being too
close to electronics that draw a lot of electricity. Mitigating Buzz will often require us to make
certain that we have no loose or poor connections in our recording equipment. We may simply
be forced to replace pieces of our equipment all together.

Curious about the Hums in your area?


Here is a good reference point:
Plug, Socket & Voltage by Country

CELLULAR

Whether we realize it or not, many of us who avidly spend time at our computers with
computer speakers or headphones, will know exactly the sound of this imp the minute we hear it.

Cellular Imp Example

Often times this annoying imp will weasel its way into our output cables than our input
cables, which is most likely why we are hearing it. This is because the majority of us have more
cables for our outputs hooked up to our headphones or speakers than we do inputs that send the
audio signal to our capture devices.
However, that does not justify Cellular Interference Imps as being annoying but non
damaging imps to our captures of the World Unseen because, they can just as easily weasel their
way into our input cables too. Especially when we are working within a studio environment!

What causes the Cellular imp?

This one is pretty well explained by its name. The Cellular imp is caused by our cell
phones sending rapid firing relay messages back and forth between itself and a cell tower before
we receive a call or text message. While most cellular operation frequencies are out of range of
our audio capture devices, this imp is unlike all our phone’s other operations, in that it operates
in the same frequencies that the radio does, making it much more susceptible to infiltrating our
audio devices. This is the reason why airplanes used to be strict on their passengers turning off
their phones, because that annoying sound from hundreds of cellular devices would severely
interfere with the headsets and hinder communications between the pilots and Air Traffic
Control.

How can we prevent the Cellular imp?

Luckily for us this imp seems to be disappearing out of our audio systems as fast as it has
come. As our understanding of technology increases, we have begun developing additional
technology and designs that are more and more impervious to imps like this one. That being said,
we may reach a point where this imp goes extinct all together.

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However, until that happens there are two things that we can do during our recording
sessions to make sure this imp does not show up at all.
The first thing we can do is to simply switch all our phones to Airplane Mode or, the
second would be, to go ahead and have everyone turn them off.

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From Our Experience:
When All We Can Do is Fail and Try Again
Sometimes these imps are absolutely unavoidable, and we run into occasions where it is
this recording or nothing. My crew and I aboard StaticEel have gone through rigorous training to
help others salvage those recordings, but there are times where even we can not do anything
about it.
An example of this was from a gentleman who reached out to us with an audio
emergency saying, “I wanted to record this interview I shot with a lavalier mic and it had failed
so I was forced to use my camera microphone. It did the job of capturing the dialogue but there is
a lot of wind and traffic noise. I cannot rerecord it since I am due to have the project ready by
tomorrow. Can you help me?!”
Of course, we really wanted to help, because our mission is to help other creatives
like ourselves navigate the World Unseen and help tell the best version of their own adventures.
We all gathered to assess the capture and discussed if there was anything that we could do
without damaging the desired audio.
Unfortunately, there were so many Audio Imps that getting rid of them all would
massively destroy the quality audio and turn it into a garbled mess that sounded like it was
underwater.
I bring this experience up because it was rough on both ourselves and our client
that we could not repair the audio. But in a situation like this, the only thing any of us could do
would be to get back out in the field and capture the audio again.

An Ever-Growing Venture
I have a feeling that, though this guide has begun with a bestiary listing 9 common Audio
Imps, there will be many that I have missed and there are likely topics that you would like us to
address! However, for my team and I to help you be better familiarized with the World Unseen,
we need your help by reaching out to us with any questions as well as any suggestions as to what
we should discuss next! Or if you would like our crew to help you with cleaning your captures or
assisting with music of the Hidden World, you can reach us through our website, email, or any of
our social blades!

Website: www.staticeelmusic.com
Email: contact.staticeelmusic@gmail.com

Facebook: @StaticEelMuisc
Twitter: @StaticEelMusic
Instagram: @StaticEelMusic

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