Category: Rocket

About six months ago I purchased a ton of fireworks. Why? Because I like blowing things up. So combine that with a recorder and you have some awesome sounds. I never got around to actually using any of them until just last week, when I decided to bring a bunch of them out to a party at my friends house, which is in the middle of nowhere.

While at the party, we found this long drainage pipe and started throwing bottle rockets down it. The sound was absolutely amazing, and I decided that I needed to record the resulting sound. So a few days later, I returned with an arsenal of rockets, firecrackers, and my favorite, mortars. Armed with a Zaxcom Deva V and a locker of mics, my goal was to record thick, epic explosion sounds.

So we went out and recorded for about 4 hours. When we were on our last mortar (we only brought about 6 – cost about $10 per charge!) I said, “hey what would happen if I put the mortar in upside-down and lit it?” So I set up everything, got the cameras ready, found a good hiding spot, then hit record.

My friend, Mark, set up his camera to take a long exposure of the whole thing. This was hit result:

Click for full resolution - picture taken by Mark Hammer
(click for larger resolution)

Epic, eh? Wait till you hear the sound! Oh, BTW – we couldn’t find even a trace of the firing tube. Completely disintegrated!

Mics that were used:

MKH60 – Stand was about 10′ from the mortar, mic was 35′ in the air, aimed straight down.
CSS-5 – about 30′ from the mortar, 5 feet off the ground
MKH50 – about 15′ from the mortar, a foot off the ground

All recorded at 192k 24b straight into a Zaxcom Deva V.

Quick disclaimer about the sound: this is an edited sound, I did a little work to beef it up, but I only used the original sound. I did not add any sweeteners whatsoever!

Please feel free to download the sound. All I ask is that if you decide to use it in anything, you just let me know so I know where it goes :-)

Also, the sounds I collected from this session will be included in my upcoming library full of impacts and explosions over at HartFX! Stay tuned!

Last week, I wrote about the “Sound Snooper” homemade “shotgunish” microphone from an Electronics journal published in 1965. I thought it looked awesome and I wanted to know how it sounded, so I decided to make one. I did not, however, want to pony up the $200 for the aluminum piping used in the journal. At least not for the first time around. Instead, I decided to spend a mere $4.68 on PVC piping, and about $20 on epoxy. Far cry from $200. I used 1/2″ PVC instead of the 3/8″ Aluminum (couldn’t find 3/8″). I figured the difference was somewhat negligible.

So I started construction:

I played around with a few different types of glues. Found out that the 5 minute epoxy in the plunger works best. You just have to work quickly or it will set in the plunger itself! After working for a few hours on it (it was a slow process, as I could only put a few together at a time and had to let them set before I moved on), I started realizing that it was turning out a little on the large side (larger than I expected). So I started measuring some things. It was at this time that I realized that PVC pipe was measured by the inside diameter, while aluminum is measured by the outside diameter. This means that my PVC contraption would be twice the size as the aluminum one made in the journal. This would pose to be a bit of a problem because I can’t find a diaphragm that big, unless it’s dynamic, which kind of defeats the purpose of a long distance mic…

Anyways, I was to continue anyways, because I must finish what I start.

Here’s some pics of the mic coming along:

I finally finished the body, and moved on to the electronics. As I said before, there isn’t a condenser capsule big enough for this application, so that’s out of the question. The journal used a crystal mic, but the biggest one of those I could find was 2 inches, which is big enough for the one they made, but my mic was almost 6 inches in diameter. So, I went down to my local electronics surplus store and bought myself a 4.25″ dynamic driver. It was made to be a speaker, most likely the woofer driver in a small pair of speakers, but I decided to use it as my mic capsule. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it before I put everything together.

Anyways, I soldered a lead with a 1/4″ TRS connector on it to the mic capsule. I found a funnel that was about 5.24 inches in diameter, which was the biggest one I could find, and mounted my dynamic capsule in it by drilling holes in the funnel and running solid copper wire through the holes. I then cut up the diameter of the funnel every few inches so I could fit it around my mic body. I fitted everything together and manhandled some gaff tape onto it to make it stick (this wasn’t an easy process…). Everything was together, and I decided to try it out. Here’s a pic of the finished product:

So, as you can imagine, it didn’t sound terrific, being dynamic and all. My plan is to make a better one some time (hopefully soon) and order a crystal mic or something to use with it. But for now, I’m just working with what I’ve got.

Below are a few recordings I did with the mic. It sounds fairly cool, because it’s really saturated. It’s fairly directional as well, but I’m guessing if it were much more sensitive, I’d be hearing the directionality a lot more. I found that going directly into a preamp rendered a fairly high level signal, but it was very bass heavy, and didn’t have a lot of high end response. It sounded very “tubey”. I then tried it through an impedance matcher / balancing circuit. I lost a very significant amount of level, but it fixed the frequency response almost completely. It sounded almost normal.

Here’s a recording of a fire cracker with just the “Tube” mic:

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Here’s the same recording with the CSS-5 and a contact mic mixed in:

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Speaking of my contact mic (the one I made and blogged about a few weeks ago, it met its untimely doom during this recording. I decided to gaff tape it directly to the firecracker to get a cool impact sound. Granted, I knew it would break, I just didn’t know how long it would last. I reinforced the sides of the firecrackers with tape so the explosion would be directed to the ends, minimizing the impact on the mic. It lasted 4 takes. I’m proud of it. $1.00 of parts down the drain, but I made a new one, so all is good.

Here’s a pic of the dead mic:

Here’s a recording of the final moments of its life. It was a good mic. It always listened, never talked back. It has a short life, but maximized its effectiveness despite its shortcomings:

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I’ll get some more recordings up as soon as I have time to do a few. I can try to entertain requests if you’re interested, since it’s a one-off. Anywho, hopefully I’ll get around to making a new and improved version sometime soon. Wish me luck!

Mix Magazine has written an amazing article on veteran Sound Designer / Mixer Ezra Dweck, who has recently been contracted to help design an IED attack simulator for the training of US Troops. He was enlisted to capture and recreate, as acurately as possible, what it sounds like to a soldier inside a humvee to get hit by and IED. That sounds like a difficult, but incredible fun task! “Wait, you mean I get to blow stuff up, AND record it? Then you want me to play it back as loud as possible?” Sounds like a sweet gig to me :-)

The Audio Challenge
For the sound design, Dweck was tasked with coming up with as realistic a presentation of the sound inside a Humvee in patrol and combat situations as possible. The training Humvee will have five soldiers in it — four in the cramped main part of the vehicle, and one turret gunner on top partially exposed through the roof. “My initial idea was to investigate some 360-degree surround speaker systems, but they just weren’t feasible for the space inside the Humvee,” says Dweck. “I went through a lot of negotiations with the guys who are building the thing — a company called Technifex that does a lot of theme park stuff — and what I wound up with basically is 6.1, but not in a traditional layout inside the vehicle. So it’s five speakers in a normal L/C/R, Ls/Rs position, and then there’s a full-range, full-sized speaker mounted in the dash in the middle and a subwoofer in the engine bay where the engine would be. I did a bunch of research to find a full-performance, relatively small driver speaker I thought would work, and I wound up with a Meyer MM4XP for the five. It’s about the size of a 4-inch tile, but about six inches deep. They run on a 48-volt distribution system, but they’re self-powered. They’re good down to about 300 Hz, so I need the full-sized midrange speaker in the middle to kind of balance it out.

“Then on the exterior, mounted on this giant truss that the projectors are mounted on, I also have three speakers [JBL EONs] arranged left-center-right.”

Read the rest over at Mix Online

Saturday night, February 7, 2010, I decide to make the the trek over to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the Endeavour shuttle on mission STS-130 to the International Space Station. It was the last night launch ever for the current space shuttle fleet, and there’s a chance that space exploration will be stopped indefinitely after the 5 remaining launches.

1:00 am, Sunday morning (Listening to “Mr. Hurricane” by Beast)
So, knowing that I would regret letting this opportunity go by, I saddled up, geared up and set out to Titusville, FL with a few friends. Two minutes after leaving, I get pulled over for an expired tag (oops…), but I’m soon on my way again, mood unaltered by my $114 ticket, because I’m about to witness something amazing. Packed with me, I’ve brought a Sanken CSS-5 Stereo Shotgun, and a Sennheiser MKH60, and a windjammer for both. I recorded everything into a Sound Devices 744T, with a Sound Devices 302 as a Preamp for the MKH60 (since the 744 only has 2 mic preamps).

2:30 am, Sunday morning (Listening to “Kids” by MGMT)
We arrive in Titusville; it’s nuts. Apparently we aren’t the only people crazy enough to come out to see a 4:39 am launch in 40 degree weather. After searching for a parking spot for about 15 minutes, we find one on the grass in front of a condo building. The sprinkler system is on, so I have to time opening my door, grabbing my gear, and running, just perfectly, or risk soaking my portabrace bag and everything in it. Once I reached safety, I decided to explore a little. We had just driven down the coast (you could easily see the launch pad), and it was packed with people. There was no way I was getting clean sound, and I’d be nervous about the safety of my gear the entire time. So I decided to check behind the condo building we just parked in front of. Lo and behold – a private pier – directly in front of the launch pad. Not one single person on it. There was a covered porch at the end, with seating, controllable lighting, and a/c power. You couldn’t ask for a better spot.

Meanwhile, at Jetty Park:
My co-worker Lee has set out with the same rig I’m toting with me. He was around a ton of people near the ports in Canaveral. Lucky for him, he has his pre-roll set to 10 seconds. A cruise ship sails by and blasts its horn. He captures it beautifully. Great sound, great catch!

3:00 am, Sunday morning
We setup camp, sit, and wait… Watching twitter updates from NASA about the launch status. Weather went from go to red to go to red to go. We sat there straight until 4:45. Then it was announced – mission scrubbed. Rats. Pack it up. 5 hours wasted. We get back in the car and sit in a parking lot of traffic for 30 minutes before we even move. I get back home and into bed at 7am.

3:00 pm, Sunday afternoon
Wake up, make chili, hang with friends, watched the Superbowl outside by a bonfire and tiki torches while smoking cigars… Sweet way to recover from a long night… Geaux Saints!

12:00 am Monday morning
I make the decision to try again. I grab my gear, and head out by 1:00 am, this time with my co-worker, Jeff (armed with his D90 package). We head out to the same place as the night before. This time there is no traffic. Apparently we are the only ones crazy enough to do this two nights in a row, especially on a Sunday night.

2:00 am Monday morning (Listening to “The Walk” by Imogen Heap)

We arrive in no time at all and head out to our private pier. Getting nervous at this point because it’s cloudy and NASA reports that weather is red. Could this be a bust two nights in a row? After doing this two nights in a row, Jeff and I decided that we were completely committed, and that we would keep coming back until this dang this launched. It has to go up sooner or later, and we were going to be there no matter what.
I set up my gear and make sure everything is working. My biggest concern is levels – how loud will this shuttle be? Holy crap loud? I don’t even know how far I am from the pad exactly. I’ve since figured it out – the shuttle was taking off from Launch Complex 39 (coordinates 28.608901,-80.60478), I was on Indian River Drive. The pier is located at (28.609405,-80.805586). That’s 12.2 miles away. Not bad. That’s pretty much as close as you can get without paying money or knowing somebody. Anyways, I just decide to keep my levels extremely low for now, and just hope for the best.
4:05 am
After much deliberation Houston gives the all go! We’re filled with excitement – crowds in the distance being cheering a bit.
4:12 am
I grab my gear and hit record. I don’t have a real time countdown, so I needed to make sure I was ready.
4:14:08 am
The sky lights up – it looked like a sunset in reverse – if that makes any sense. I can’t even really describe it with any justice. Absolutely amazing. The most incredible part – I didn’t get any audio until 50 seconds into the launch. The sound is like nothing else. Amazing. I’ll post it to Vimeo as soon as I get the pics from the launch from Jeff.
4:30 am (Listening to “Writing on the Wall” by Underoath)
Pack it up and head home. Incredible. Won’t get to bed until 6 am and have to wake up by 11 am, but it was totally worth it. Traffic not nearly as bad as the night before. And I didn’t get pulled over this time. All in all, a successful weekend!
I was able to get a decent recording. the beginning of the launch was slightly overmodulated for a second, but I got it down quick with minimal distortion. although there was a creaky pier and some talking in the background, the main launch part was fairly clean. Again, I’ll get the sound up with pictures as soon as I can.
I love my job :-) Bring on the next adventure!!!
So what’s your favorite sound adventure? Any crazy things happen along the way? Was it worth it?
Find the video and sound on my portfolio at
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