From forceful to playful, from lonely to breezy, wind is the most expressive force of nature. Sound recordist Ann Kroeber spent three decades capturing the many voices of wind. She and her late husband, sound designer Alan Splet, trekked through deserts, jungles, and pine forests, climbed mountains, crawled into caves, wandered stretches of beach, and explored abandoned structures to capture interesting winds.
“One of the things that Alan [Splet] loved more than anything in sound was wind. That was his specialty. He loved beautiful textures that are evocative and have a mood and feeling which you don’t often get from these types of sounds,” says Kroeber, who has been persuaded to share their wind recordings with the sound community through Pro Sound Effects’s new collection called Cinematic Winds. It’s a carefully curated array of evocative wind sounds. “Pro Sound Effects has been so respectful and collaborative. David Forshee (Library Specialist at Pro Sound Effects) has done some minor clean-up while transferring the recordings to a current format for the best delivery possible, but he has been very respectful of the nature of the recordings. It’s a great collaboration where each party respects the other.”
Rewinding Kroeber’s Career
Kroeber’s career in film started in the 1970s, at the United Nations, where she worked with archival footage. Just as her contract position was ending, her boss offered her a different position as a sound recordist. “It was as though he was asking me to be the equivalent of an astrophysicist,” jokes Kroeber. Her reticence to pursue an audio assignment may have sprung from growing up in a household where her father’s Hi-Fi system was strictly off-limits. “I wasn’t allowed to touch it because I could break it. My father was very old school. He felt like this was not what girls do,” she explains.
But Kroeber’s boss persisted, offering her an opportunity to record a Chinese New Year celebration in New York City. “He gave me this really nice Nagra recorder and a Sennheiser microphone and he told me the basics of how to work it. I was so afraid of doing this that I didn’t even turn the recorder on, didn’t even test it out until I was there ready to record. I was so afraid that I was going to do something wrong. I was pretty neurotic about it,” she says.
Once in action though, Kroeber’s instincts took over. “I started listening to the headphones, and it was wow. I was amazed. I forgot the rules that he said, but I just started very carefully operating the control volume, very slowly. I just did it instinctually based on how it sounded,” Kroeber says. “When I brought the recordings back, the guys told me, ‘Don’t worry, Ann, it was your first time. We are just going to listen to it and see what you got.’ They were stunned. They couldn’t believe what I captured and they used it. So that sort of started my recording career.”
Kroeber has gone on to become one of the most well-respected sound effects recordists in Hollywood. She’s recorded sounds for Oscar-winning films like Dead Poets Society, The English Patient, Gladiator, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and for influential directors like David Lynch (Dune, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway), Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion), George Lucas (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), Robert Redford (The Horse Whisperer), and M. Night Shyamalan (The Village). Her sounds are also found in award-winning games, such as Playdead’s grim platform-puzzler INSIDE. “I’ve supplied sounds to countless people who have won Academy Awards. I’ve been doing sound for games too, working with Martin Stig Andersen in Denmark, who won the 2016 Game Developers Choice Awards for Best Audio for his game INSIDE,” affirms Kroeber.
Kroeber was introduced to Alan Splet when he was looking for a sound assistant to help him on The Black Stallion. She immediately recognized Splet as a kindred spirit who shared her adventurous approach to recording sounds. “We hit it off right away. We talked about all of these strange and exotic things we had done, like recording in places that no one ever thought to record. Before starting on The Black Stallion, Alan had worked on David Lynch’s Eraserhead, which is a very unusual film. So we were both very open to trying different tactics while recording for The Black Stallion. For instance, we captured horse sounds by strapping a lavalier wrapped in tons of acoustifoam to the underside of a horse’s belly. I don’t think anyone had ever done that or has been able to do that again. The sounds are really special, and they’re often used. People love them,” says Kroeber.
Splet also built a custom brace that connected to the horse’s bridle. This rig allowed him to position a mic relatively close to the horse’s mouth. “We captured the breathing at the same time as the running. The sound is very dramatic. It really works,” shares Kroeber.
Kroeber’s Unique Approach
Kroeber’s openness to recording sounds differently led her to the door of Arnie Lazarus, inventor of the FRAP (Flat Response Audio Pickup) mic while she was working on Dune. “We were doing really wild sounds for this David Lynchian world. It was the perfect opportunity to try different kinds of recording. Arnie [Lazarus] designed a special microphone for me, one that would be strong enough for me to capture recordings in a steel mill,” she says. Several of the recordings in her Cinematic Winds collections for Pro Sound Effects has been captured using a FRAP mic. “It’s picking up winds as they reflect off of different surfaces, and so the wind has a different quality to it. It sounds very unique.”
Sound may be happenstance — it happens and one must be present and prepared to capture it, but Kroeber has perfected a method for capturing interesting sounds. She begins with a general idea about where and how to capture particular sounds, but once out there recording she drops the idea of “I have to do…” and just becomes open to what is. She says, “I stop trying to force things and that is when the magic happens. That is when something incredible comes. You will just hear it or do it because you are not over-thinking it.”
When capturing evocative and interesting wind sounds, “It’s all about finding that cool spot,” says Kroeber, who records with Schoeps mics in addition to her FRAP contact mic. Recording the wind as it’s blowing through or across something helps to give it a voice. “For places like stairwells, it’s finding how the wind comes into the stairwell. Old structures are really great recording locations because you can capture the wind going through them and yet the mics are protected from the wind. A tent, especially in the desert, can be great because you are protected but you can capture the flapping tent or the sounds outside.”
In the Cinematic Winds collection, she’s included winds blowing through metal pipes, through a tunnel, through leaves, a tent, and the eaves of a barn. It includes winds blowing across desert sand and down an elevator shaft. Cinematic Winds also offers moody winds, like ghostly, moaning, and bitter whistling winds. There are shrieking storm winds and wild whipping winds. There are subdued desert winds and deep calm winds. Kroeber says, “I’ve been getting an incredible response to this collection. This one message said, ‘You just made my movie. You just changed it from being boring to being something really special and I can’t thank you enough.’ I just felt so touched. I’ve been really protective of this library, but now I am so glad to be sharing these winds with other people through Pro Sound Effects,” says Kroeber.
She recently released a second collection with Pro Sound Effects entitled Industrial Sounds with Soul that features more contact mic recordings but of industrial sounds that are tonal and mechanical. Kroeber concludes, “Anyone who loves David Lynch-type sounds will go nuts with this new collection. There are lots of unusual, industrial sounds, like factory roars and expressive mechanical creatures, gas hisses, and lab machines that rumble and liquid that bubbles. There are a number of rhythmic metallic sounds, like ticking and clicking and squealing, and they have a musicality about them. They are industrial but they can be used for other things as well.”