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The Sound of “Coronoid”

What is Coronoid?

Coronoid is a demo by animator Alexander Lehmann for which I’ve had the luck of being responsible for the soundtrack. Alex is probably best known for his work on music videos and infographics.
The demo scored first place at NVScene 2015. Have a look (and listen!) for yourself:

Coronoid on pouet.net

A soundtrack evolving

The demo was about a third done when I got a video capture by Alex, presynced to a clicktrack. My task basically was to do “whatever I want and what I think is fitting”, a total luxury I usually don’t have when doing commercial audiowork, so I happily embraced the challenge. I reencoded the video to have a keyframe distance of one frame (so I could skip around it freely in Cubase), and got to it. It quickly turned out not to be your ordinary demo or music video due to its abstract nature, but its “stellar” aesthetics were quite apparent. I decided to go for something with a wide, atmospheric sound on a fundament of electronic music and also tried to integrate some synced sound effects. The fact that Alex prepared what he had so far using a clicktrack with well defined BPM helped a lot with getting started.

Alex asked me to extend the soundtrack further beyond what was there in the visuals, in order to provide some inspiration for him to continue. At this stage, the demo ended before the “dive” scene, right after the “fusing” of those asteroid like things. there was no conclusion whatsover. I then tried to give the soundtrack a massive twist, making it more rythmic and changing aesthetics to a more rock music defined theme. What I had in mind was to give the demo a more substantial look and reinterpreting the already established, abstract elements in a more tangible context.

As it turned out, Alex didn’t like electric guitars. Also, he provided new visuals including the whole “dive” segment of the demo, ending just
before the landscape scene which was later to follow.

Obviously, the guitar-injected soundtrack didn’t work at all with that kind of progression, so I threw it all away and decided to come up with something else entirely. As I’ve already written, I’m a big friend of going meta and turning the whole thing around halfway through. If you want to see it that way, that’s a cheap trick for creating an element of surprise (which often works), but as it turns out abandoning that idea was the right choice here – getting the story right and consistent within the soundtrack was the way to go.

In my new approach I tried to stay within the bounds I already created within the soundtrack, evolving it, rather than replacing it. Having attached discernible sound signatures to recurring visual elements helped with that. Instead of speeding the thing up, I once more focussed on the visuals and did the exact opposite, creating a slowdown up the point of slowing down time progression during the “dive” part of the demo, reinforcing that slowdown idea by adding a massive “heartbeat” like beat, ultimately coming to a full stop (a “sonic black hole”) utilizing a recording of myself breathing in.

Afterwards, I added layers of almost stereotypical cineastic elements to the then-still-to-be-done final part (the one which later turned out to be a beautiful landscape). These were meant to provide associations to continuously “breathing in”, building up something entirely new after everything before ended in that black hole. A reacquisition of energy. So yeah, I abused the stereotypes of cinematic scoring to achieve this effect, but ultimately I was focussing on “closing the circle” at the end, reintroducing exactly those elements with which the journey started.

Maybe this would be a fitting analogy: Breathing stops with a massive exhale (sonic black hole), followed by an extended intake of air (landscape part evolving), concluded by satori like elation, breathing returned to normal, and the world experienced through the eyes of a newborn. A subtle, but perhaps decisive sound design trick I used at the end of the soundtrack is a recording of the soundtrack itself through a random microphone in my studio, giving it the feeling of a distant memory.

In the end I didn’t completely abandon the idea of introducing something tangible in the score, thus the ocean waves sound effect at the end.

This is what the final project looks like in Cubase:


Sound effects

The abstract nature of Coronoid was a great opportunity to experiment with sound effects. Right from the beginning there were visual elements “doing something” and “behaving in a certain way”, without resembling anything which demands an obvious choice of sound. There is an interesting gap between what you see and what you hear. Many movies which got their treatment of audio postproduction and foley don’t aim for realistic sound; they’re sacrificing accuracy for emotional impact wherever possible. The more extreme examples being kung fu and scifi movies, but even ordinary crime soaps wouldn’t dare to present you with authentic gun sounds, just to give one example 😉

Coronoid is an extreme case, because most of the artwork doesn’t resemble anything which would force a sound designer to attach a specific sound to it. Have a listen to a “sound effects only” mix of Coronoid – can you identify the sound sources?

(you can replace the mp3 file in the demo with this and watch it in context)

Some of the musical elements (not included in above example) take the role of sound effects as well. Boundaries are blurred. I don’t want to go into too much detail. Actually, i didn’t think all of it through – but I tried to maintain consistency once I found something that worked. Meaning: Once I attach a sonic signature to a particular visual, it’s supposed to keep it (given that there isn’t a good reason to change it underway).

Our iterative approach with Coronoid also enabled Alex to adapt visual details to audible elements I introduced, something he did multiple times. The way we played the ball back and forth worked incredibly well. For me as a sound designer, it’s always a welcome experience if the editor/animator adapts parts of his work to the soundtrack.

Lessons learned and reinforced

During the 6 months over which Coronoid was created, I learned some valuable lessons:

  • attach “meaning” and “role” to certain visual elements and maintain them in sonic space
  • be consistent with your ideas!
  • storytelling/narrative plays a big part for emotional impact however abstract the apparent nature of your work
  • know where you get your inspiration from and what clichees you quote
  • even the most sterile thing can be enriched with a human/organic flair given the right context
  • leave the safe path once in a while and enter unknown territory

This is what my editing setup looked like


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