Interview: Sound Designer Stosh Tuszynski of Collected Transients
Collected Transients is a company with a well-deserved reputation for producing ground-breaking, innovative and dangerous sound effects libraries and their latest release, “Combustion”, which has just come out and is currently on sale, certainly ticks all those boxes. Featuring everything that burns from hazardous chemicals to a 25-foot cannon, it contains vast sound design potential. Check out the demo below.
I was lucky enough to catch Stosh Tuszynski, the company’s owner, for an interview, where he told me a little about his background, his creative process and the work that went into producing “Combustion” and his other libraries. Oh and by the way, (ZS = Justin from ZapSplat and ST = Stosh Tuszynski)
ZS: What first kindled your interest in sound?
ST: That depends how far you want to go back, haha! I guess my first intro to sound was being forced to take piano lessons as a kid. Didn’t enjoy it at the time, but now I’m glad my parents made me. Probably the seed that got me paying attention to what I was hearing.
More to the point, I guess it really started from watching the “behind the scenes” stuff on games and movies. I specifically recall seeing some Halo video on how the footsteps for all of the aliens were made with various vegetables and fruits being hit against the ground. It’s weird for me to think about now, but there was a time when I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that somebody MADE those sounds. They didn’t just… happen. They didn’t really have a (working) Blaster Pistol on the set of Star Wars. They didn’t really slow down time when they shot the Matrix. It’s funny saying that now, but if you think about it, that’s the general audience! Not that they think moments like that actually happened, more that they don’t give the sound a thought. They just (hopefully) enjoy and get lost in the world of the game they’re playing or movie they’re watching.
ZS: How did you get started, either professionally, in a volunteer capacity or both?
ST: I went to Columbia College Chicago majoring in “Audio for Visual Media”. Before I graduated, I got an internship at NoiseFloor LTD (a post audio studio here in Chicago). I stuck around long enough to make myself useful and eventually convinced them to hire me!
When it comes to getting started with sound libraries, it was a very natural path. Early on, I had purchased a Zoom H4n to record sounds for personal projects at school. It was always so gratifying for me to use my own sounds in a project. This continued into my professional career as a Sound Designer. We have a collaborative sound library at work that I would add my sounds to, and soon the other folks there started to use them in various projects. When they’d tell me they used them I’d get that same gratification as before. I guess I put two and two together and realized that if my coworkers found my sounds useful, others
probably would too!
ZS: Did you have any sound libraries or sound designers that particularly inspired you coming up?
ST: Tim Prebble (HISSandaROAR) has had a huge influence on my sound library work. I love his passion and how he takes a subject, really explores it, and runs with it. To me, the idea that a sound library can encompass a concept or theme rather than just a literal physical subject is all his. There’s far too many libraries of his to point to, but his “Granular IRL” library a great embodiment of this. He took the digital concept of granular synthesis/process and envisioned it in real life with grain-like objects. I am consistently impressed with his work.
ZS: I’ve been a great admirer of your libraries for some time. they are full of the weirdest sounds, sounds I never heard before. You spend your time spinning ball bearings and quarters around in balloons, (“Rotation“), massacring bars of soap with hot knives and dropping molten aluminum into water, (“Thermal Flux“) and putting fast-burning fuses in pipes and twirling them around, (your latest library, “Combustion“, which you’ve just released). Where do you get your ideas? You do know that work isn’t supposed to be that much fun right?
ST: Wow, thanks for that! It’s great to hear that, because finding weird (useful) sounds tends to be my goal! Most libraries generally start from one single idea or thing I see or hear. For rotation, it was me remembering putting coins in a balloon and rolling them around for fun. I knew that was a cool sound, but where to go from there? I could do one with balloons, but that might be pretty limiting. I could do one with coins, but that might be boring. Instead, like I mentioned before, I focused on the concept of things rotating/spinning. When you’re able to strip things back to a basic concept, it really opens up the possibilities, and for me helps to get my creative brain going.
ZS: Given the focus of some of your libraries, I’ve wondered if you have a technical or scientific background for example?
ST: I don’t think I have a background that lends itself specifically to creating libraries. I do however have a background in wood working, and just crafting/repairing things in general. I grew with a workshop in the basement that I spent many days tinkering with things and building random projects. That probably fed my sense for being creative, and really helps out when I have to construct props for a library.
ZS: Let’s talk now about your new library, “Combustion”. You burn a lot of unusual things in unusual ways for it. How did you come up with the idea for the library and did you have to do much research or enlist much specialist help?
ST: So Combustion, like many of my libraries, started with one sound: the Hail Cannon. It’s a completely incredible sound, but if I was just recording hail cannons that’d be a pretty limited scope, right? Again, I stripped things back to the basics: At it’s core, all that’s going on in a hail cannon is combustion. Really loud, really fast combustion. Combustion, however comes in many forms. Quiet, loud, slow, fast, explosive, constant… That allowed me to really explore the concept to build a more interesting library.
I did a lot of research online looking for potential things to record. I found various forums/communities with people sharing devices they created and adapted them to suit my needs. One of the great things about the internet is there’s a community for just about everything!
No specialists aside from the hail cannon owner, and I’m glad he was around to control it, that thing was intimidating!
ZS: In your description of the library, you mention whoosh bottles and pulse jet jars. I’d never heard of them before. What are they for, other than making very interesting sounds?
ST: Exactly just that! Making cool sounds, haha. Pulse Jet Jars, however, are literal mini jet engines. The exact same technique was often used in “flying bombs” in World War II. Today this method isn’t utilized much as it’s extremely loud, wastes a lot of energy in creating heat, and only has two states; on or off.
ZS: Tell us about the hail cannon. Everyone wants to hear about the hail cannon! That was quite a find!
ST: Everyone does seem to like the hail cannon! Who can blame them? It’s an absolutely insane sound. The idea behind is also pretty wild. The intended function is to prevent hail from forming in the atmosphere by hitting the water molecules with a pressure wave. That idea has never been proven, and many believe it doesn’t actually prevent hail from forming. Nevertheless, some farmers swear by them. None of that mattered to me, I was just looking for the crazy sound!
I’d spent many months tracking down various hail cannons across the country, and eventually found one with an owner that was willing to fire it off for me. Most won’t do this unless they believe hail damage to their crops is imminent, and often get plenty of noise complaints from neighbors when they do. Everyone around for miles can hear the blasts.
Witnessing the hail cannon firing in person was something I’ll never forget. It’ by far the loudest thing I’ve ever recorded. The owner compared it to a 125mm Howitzer cannon going off. With the initial blast came the shock of realizing how powerful this thing was. I’d never felt anything like it. When the shock wave hit me, it was like getting punched in the chest. The main area I felt it was my lungs, which makes sense since it’s the largest area in your body filled with air. It’s an odd thing to try to describe, though I’m sure those who have been around explosives know the feeling. If you’ve ever had the “wind knocked out of you”, I’d sort of compare it to the feeling you get right as that happens, minus the not being able to breath part.
After that first blast, this cannon was set to repeat fire every five seconds. Even with it going off so often, it took a good a half dozen or so shots before I was accustomed enough to critically listen to each mic to make sure all we well. Luckily levels were pretty much on point, and the mics hadn’t been destroyed, haha, so I was good to just be in the moment and enjoy the experience rather focus on the meters, which is always nice. The blasts lasted about three and a half minutes, and then that was that! I think I smiled the entire drive home.
ZS: You handled a lot of hazardous material or did your very best to make sure material behaved hazardously. Did you have any close shaves? Arouse the attention of neighbours or local fire-fighters…anything like that?
ST: I keep making a joke that recently each library I make has been more dangerous to record than the last. Not sure how long I can keep that up! Combustion probably had the most potential to quickly go wrong. A bottle could blow up. The flaming fuel I was using could spray everywhere and catch things on fire. The hail cannon could probably rupture eardrums without proper protection and precaution.
I did make safety a really big point while recording this library. There was never a time I didn’t have a fire extinguisher near by and I took frequent brakes to air out the booth to prevent unwanted gasses from building up. I also learned a lot about fuel to air mixtures and how to keep things burning rather than exploding. So luckily with all those precautions there were no real injuries.
I did however burn some hair off my leg during my 55 gallon barrel recording. I had grabbed this barrel from a dump without realizing there was a tiny hole in the side of it. When I set off the first combustion, I happened to be right next to this hole. The flames shot out the top, but also from the side, singeing off a patch of leg hair. I was sure to point that hole away from me for the rest of the recording!
ZS: The recordings you showcase in the demo for “Combustion” are wonderfully dry with no tinny reverb. When I think of huge propane blow-torches, fire belching from pipes and whirling fuses in tubes, I don’t imagine that’s very compatible with acoustically treated studio spaces. I picture a lot of concrete with very little furniture. How did you manage to make the recordings so clean?
ST: Thanks for the kind words! For the vast majority of the library, I was able to record in sound booths. I’d always first do tests outside or in a garage to first see how big the flame could get and if there was any other potential hazards. Even then, you’re right, combustion is not very compatible for studio recording. Everything is covered in carpet/fabric, there are smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, double sealed doors that slow down exit in an emergency. Like an alluded to before, I was as very cautious recording in the studio. Honestly probably half of the studio time went to setting up a safe recording scenario prior to starting.
When it came to things like the large 6 gallon glass jug, 55 gallon barrel, and huge propane blowtorch, recording in a booth was just not a feasible or safe option. In those cases I recorded in a large garage with 20ft ceilings. The concrete surfaces and drywall covered walls did cause a good amount of reverb, but I was able to tame a lot of it with moving blankets. There was also a lot of things stored in the garage which probably naturally helped to dampen the room quite a bit.
ZS: Were there any subjects you thought would be sonically interesting that turned out not to be or vice versa? Anything you wanted to try that turned out just to be too dangerous?
ST: I thought the fuses wouldn’t be so much fun to work with. They were sort of a last minute addition to the library, but I’m very glad they’re included. Visco fuses by themselves are pretty consistent, but by manipulating the environment they’re burned in you can get some great content. They also create an incredible amount of ultrasonic content, probably the most of the entire library. That was a great surprise!
I originally wanted to record black powder, but logistically it was just too unsafe for me to record in a quite enough space. It’s a messy thing to work with and quite easy to have accidents if you don’t know what you’re doing. Being that I have about zero experience with the stuff, I decided it wasn’t worth the danger.
ZS: You are very keen to preserve the ultrasonic content of sounds you record, not just to preserve fidelity when pitch-changing, but also to bring out a whole, hidden layer of new sound. Was there anything that happened, any discovery you made that inspired that focus?
ST: That’s a good question! Its tough to recall an exact moment, but I remember reading some internet thread where people were arguing if recording at 192kHz had any purpose at all. I was sort of on the fence, but when I saw someone mention that it captured ultrasonic content, it started to make sense how that could be useful in some contexts. Us sound designers are all about pitch-shifting, and when you’ve got a Nyquist frequency of 96kHz, that’s A LOT of pitch shifting capability. I did some test recordings with a hammer on an anvil at 48kHz, 96kHz, and 192kHz and tried significantly pitch shifting them to hear the
difference. When I heard the quality the 192kHz retained, I was sold.
Finding those hidden layers is sort of an added bonus. You can’t really monitor for those while recording, so it’s generally just a nice surprise when you get to editing them. Most recently it was the huge propane torch in Combustion. Apparently the way the gas sprayed caused some crazy resonant ultrasonic tones that sound insane when you pitch them down to an audible range.
ZS: I guess sample rate is only one factor in the equation for capturing the full spectrum of your source material, the other being equipment. What equipment do you depend on for your recording work in general and for this library in particular?
ST: Like so many others, I’m a huge fan of Sound Devices recorders and mixers. I exclusively used 744t’s and a 302 for this library (aside from a PCM D100 for the Hail Cannon, which was still fed into a 744t). In general, I’m a huge fan of of Sennheiser’s MKH 8040’s. They’re wonderful sounding mics that work in so many scenarios and have some significant ultrasonic capabilities. I generally like to choose a base set of mics for a library and adjust/add mics as necessary. For instance, a bunch of recordings in Combustion include contact mics when the prop was resonant.
ZS: By so ably demonstrating the creative potential to be derived from blowing things up and burning them down, you may have inspired a bunch of other sound designers to try similar experiments. What tips would you offer them, particularly in terms of safety?
ST: It’s great to inspire people, but please don’t just go out and try all the crazy things I did without doing research! A LOT can go wrong so please take the time to do all the necessary safety research. You should know everything that can go wrong with the process and be prepared to prevent and or deal with it all. Also, do tests first! It’s much easier to test out a prop to see what it will do without the added stress of recording it all and keeping track of levels. Do it in a safe space regardless of how optimal it might be sound-wise.
ZS: I’m sure you have lots of other ideas for sound library creation in mind, but imagine that you woke up tomorrow and all those ideas were just wiped and you had to start with a clean slate. Do you have particular strategies for replenishing your stock of ideas when you’re blocked? Do you have a process for searching for interesting things to record or innovative ways to record them?
TS: I get ideas from a few sources. One of the most common ways is realizing a hole or place for improvement in our sound effects library at work. That’s how one of my early libraries “MaK – Mouse & Keyboard” was born. I was tired of doing the busy work of cutting or doing Foley for keyboard/mouse sounds. I had just been really getting into Kontakt so I figured it’d be a good exercise to try to learn scripting and make something useful.
Some are born from what I’m familiar with or have great access to (this is a lot of what Paul Virostek writes about, actually!). Machine Emanation was made because I wanted to test out some contact mics and I had access to a ton of power tools at my parent’s house.
We are the People probably wouldn’t have been a realistic thing for many recordists, but being in Chicago and familiar with the city, it was a great opportunity for me.
The concept of working with what you’re familiar with is a wonderful to start creating libraries. You don’t need amazing gear… you just need passion for and access to a subject to record. Your knowledge of the subject will help to make a much better library than many other recordists.
The last way is purely by chance! Most recently this is what has been happening, haha. Both Thermal Flux and Combustion started because I came across random videos on the internet. I subscribe to a lot of weird nerdy channels on YouTube, and they’ve been great for inspiration.
ZS: What are your plans for the future?
ST: I plan on continuing to make libraries that (hopefully) other people enjoy and find useful. I feel like I’m really starting to find my rhythm and look forward to continuing to develop my craft and trying new things! Though it may not seem like it based on the rate I release libraries, I’ve generally got at least 3 big picture libraries going on at a time. I’ve actually just started a VERY big picture library that I don’t imagine coming out for at least another couple years or so. I’d also like to venture into more practical use libraries. Recently through work I’ve had the chance to do a good number of automobile recordings they’ve all been such great experiences, so that could be fun. I don’t want to give too much more away, haha. Just know I’ve always got something (slow) cooking!
ZS: Anything else you’d like to share?
ST: If you’re wanting to get into field-recording and/or library creation, Paul Virostek’s blog creativefieldrecording.com is an invaluable resource. He’s played such a huge part in informing sound effects recordists at all levels and if you don’t already know about his resources, you do now!
Thanks very much to Stosh Tuszynski of Collected Transients. The introductory sale for “Combustion” ends on October 15th 2018 so grab that deal while it’s…hot. You can pick up a copy, as well as Collected Transients’ other libraries here.