Sound Stories: Sound Ex Machina
We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Sound Designer & Field Recordist extraordinaire, Kostas from Sound Ex Machina.
Firstly Kostas, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I’m Kostas Loukovikas, field recordist, sound effects designer, and founder of Sound Ex Machina - a sound effects design company providing context-based libraries to audio pros, developers, and filmmakers around the world. So far my team and I have released thousands of sounds ranging from natural ambiences and user interface sounds to sports cars, jet fighters, sports ambiences, and many more. My role in the company is versatile as I am responsible for production planning, logistics, recording session coordination, field recording, creative process, and hunting for new sounds.
Apart from running Sound Ex Machina, I have contributed soundscapes to some world-renowned field recording archives like Sonospace, Cities and Memory, Fieldrecording.de, Ambient Isolation, and My Home Exterior crowdsources libraries, run by Al Sirkett and Tim Nielsen, respectively.
And when I’m not hunting for sounds, I love producing electronic ambient music under the moniker Mahindra Waves or jamming some stoner rock with my old pals :)
What is your favourite piece of recording gear?
I have gathered multiple tools for my rig over the years (valve compressors, mobile multichannel recorders, conventional air microphones, contact microphones, hydrophones - you name it) and I do tend to at times have favorites. At the moment my favorite piece of equipment which also happens to be the most valuable one is the ZOOMH6 handheld recorder. I love the flexibility and simplicity it brings to the recording sessions. Most of the time I just have it on me, so when the opportunity presents itself, I can just pull it out and capture the moment. And all that at a very decent quality. Not to mention the flexibility and user-friendliness it offers.
ZoomH6 was a great help while gathering sounds for our Animal Farm library. We literally had to run after geese, ducks, pigs, and many more crazy-fast animals in remote farms, stables, or in the wild. With a very complex set that would have just been impossible. A shotgun mic or a pair of USI PRO with the H6 for a more focused sound was a perfect match for most of the unusual situations we were faced with.
Any bit of gear you’d like to purchase in the near future and why?
I’m just about to hit the checkout button for a parabolic dish! Hopefully, by the time this interview goes live, Ι will have this gear in my hands! My eyes flashed open the moment I saw Nathan Smith testing out a parabolic dish by Telinga! It’s a piece of gear that will save us from a lot of trouble in terms of ambient noise or proximity issues in the field.
Recently, we recorded jet ski pass-bys in the open sea, on a pedal boat. We were trying to capture sounds from a jet ski circling around us and passing us at a distance. We had packed almost all of our gear, but the results were disappointing...The sound of the engine was blended way too much with the environment, making the recording practically useless for further processing. I suppose that had we had a parabolic dish like the one I mentioned above, things would have been very different.
What’s your favourite sound / ambience you’ve recorded?
My most favorite sound is and probably will be my son's heartbeat that I recorded through my wife’s belly during the 5th or 6th month of her pregnancy. To quote one of my favorite movies, what I recorded was the “awakening of the Force”. Those primal sounds of life ...of survival.
Here’s what I managed to capture using just my phone during a doctor visit, 4-5 years back:
And here's the beat of the same heart, some 5 years later:
But if you are referring to ambience sounds / atmospheres or specific sound effects, I would say that my most favourite sound/ambience is that of an F16 jet fighter flying and maneuvering right over our heads. I could literally see the pilot from the point I was recording from that day!
I felt like the skies were being ripped apart and the earth shook as if by an earthquake. The most impressive part, however, was the variety of sounds coming from up above. It was like someone was playing some gigantic modular analog synthesizer somehow, turning knobs and tweaking cutoff and resonance buttons - no words could describe that feeling, really... It was a fantastic experience.
Below, is a small taste of what we experienced that day:
Adding to the above experience, another interesting set of sounds I managed to capture that day was the low-tone vibrations created by the flyovers of the F16 jet fighters, recorded using only a contact mic on a nearby vehicle. This approach gave us some pretty good, unique drone takes, that we later used to create interesting, eerie textures.
Here's a snippet from that session:
What sounds would you like to record in the future?
One of our goals for 2021 is to capture superbikes running in professional circuits here in Greece. We were lucky enough to capture some passbys this past year in a professional circuit near Xanthi, our hometown and we were really impressed by the power these machines could generate. Right about the time Covid hit in 2020, we were planning a recording, but then we realized our plans had to wait. Just like everybody else’s...
Our hope is that life will soon go back to normal for the most part at least. When that happens we’ll be able to set up a full recording session with lots of pass-bys, crazy accelerations, and fast launches ... Maybe this summer? Our fingers are crossed!
That's great Kostas, look forward to hearing what the future holds for Sound Ex Machina.