Mikkel Nielsen interview

Mikkel-Nielsen Find out more about Mikkel Nielsen @
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Brief list of credit:

The Model, Marathon, School of Democracy, True Conviction, Future Road, Born to Lose

Hi Mikkel, thank you for taking time to do this interview. Let us start with the basic questions first.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you involved into sound recording and sound design?

Hello Zdravko. Thanks a lot for hosting my interview on your site.

Like many others I started out playing music in a band, and from there, I got a chance to work in a music studio. I was taking care of setting up mics, and recording a little now and then. I got a great chance of getting to know different gear a lot better. Not field recording gear, but good old analog outboard and studio microphones. Some years later, I was contacted by a friend who needed sound effects for an animation he did as part of a school graduation project. I had only read a little about creating sound effects and recording raw sounds in the field, but the project was exciting and I agreed to trying out putting sound on the 1 minute short animation.

This was back in the Protools 5.0 and Digi001 days. I used a minidisc recorder (a plain consumer one) and a Sennheiser Me66 to record sfx. Seems like ages ago.

Final mix of the animation was not very impressive I’m afraid, but I was kind of hooked on doing sound and record stuff myself. Especially sound for the animation genre was a great way for me to try out certain things, recording new material, trying to make it all sound believable, and setting up mixes etc. I contacted a lot of CG animators who put their animated artwork online for others to comment and crit on, and asked them if I could try adding sound fx to the animation. Most of them agreed and many of them gave me carte blanche to do what ever I wanted with the piece. I learned a lot from this process.

Any special stories that you could share with us?

A few years ago, I was participating in Tim Prebbles The Doors crowd sourcing project. Here I met Peter Albrechtsen, who also was recording doors for the same sound fx project. Because The Doors library was 130gb big, the sounds were being sent on a hard drive all around the world. Each participant would transfer the library, and mail the drive on to the next one in line.

Peter Albrechtsen was going to Oslo in Norway to mix with the guy, who I was suppose to send The Doors hard drive to, and asked me to come to Copenhagen to transfer the sounds to my computer. He would then bring the hard drive to Oslo. At the same time, Peter needed sounds for some short movies showing on a viking museum, and hired me to do the recordings and a little editing too. Since then, I have been lucky enough to be in every single of Peters projects, but two I think. I feel very fortunate to have been giving the chance by Peter ever since. If it was not for him, I don´t know if I still would have been in the business.

He is foremost extremely talented, and very hard working. His way of approaching sound very early on, all the way from recording atmospheres and sfx, to editing and designing, is very refreshing. He has a giant network of people in the sound and movie community, knows just about anyone you can think of. Pretty wild guy!

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Tell us a little bit about the sonicsalute.com and when did you decide to start selling SFX libraries?

Sonicsalute.com was build back in 2011. I started having the idea of selling sfx online, after I recorded some specific sound fx. for one of Peters movies called Canned Dreams. It was a documentary where a lot of factory ambiences, harbor atmospheres, metal crashes, and sounds of pigs grunting and screaming was needed.

After a very busy summer of recording I suddenly had a huge pile of extra material ready to make 4 fresh libraries. I always thought sites like Tim Prebbles Hissandaroar.com and Frank Brys Therecordist.com were great places for buying boutique libraries. The idea of selling libraries with a lot of material sorted in genres and with enough material to cover some specific needs, was fantastic to me, so I gave it go, and bought some man hours from a web designer who set up my shop.

How much planning is involved into making one of your libraries?

It depends on the sounds, the places needed to go for recording etc. The last few libraries I have released, have had a little planning, but not too much. Many of them I just plan as I go along, but obviously some does demand quite a bit of mailing back and forth, getting permissions to go places. I find the planning, and dealing with owners of properties, props, machinery, vehicles, just as fun as doing the actual recordings. Also, when you have to explain to someone why you need their help with a certain sound, you already start putting the actual recording day into categories, checking weather forecasts and so on. At least for me, this helps a lot.

The difficult part these days, is to get the idea for the libraries. With an absolute huge amount of libraries online, it can be hard to get creative ideas.

Of all of the recordings that you record, how many end up in the final release and why?

I would say, that many of the recordings end up in the final release. Depending on what the sfx are. When I did The Falling library I had all props for the interior recordings, right next to me. It was a matter of saying “bunch of pencils falling on hard wood floor” and let them go. You can sort of hear right there if its usable or not. It’s more tricky with exterior recordings where people, wind gusts, traffic, birds, and strange acoustics etc. can really screw up nice takes. I have a lot of recordings, where the actual sound is very cool, but the acoustics are just plain bad, and totally messing with the primary sound you are trying to capture.

Where do you get your ideas for your libraries and how much has changed during the years when it comes to recording these sound effects?

Some of the ideas come from just going through new projects. Watching early cuts of a documentary or a feature, and making recording lists and spotting effects can sometimes bring new ideas, that may evolve into a whole new sound pack. I find this way of getting new ideas great. Especially when so many libraries are constantly being put online. Everything is being recorded these days. That is very different from just a few years back.

Other ideas for sfx libraries are being made when I more or less stumble upon a great environment or get a contact who coincidentally just starts talking about another cool prop or environment he os she has access to. Sometimes I sit around and think that it’s difficult to come up with new ideas and being creative. That’s usually when a new idea or chance is right around the corner.

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Let’s talk about your impressive portfolio for a bit. How did you get involved with those projects as a sound recordist and sound designer? What was your regular day like in these projects?

Well, again I would not have that list if it was not for Peter Albrechtsen. The projects have a tendency to overtake each other at the moment, and has done so for quite some time. Thats a dream come true for me. Im very fortunate to be part of his sound team.

My regular day as a sound fx recordist is going through recording lists for a specific project, and either start planning where to go or just going to the places needed and start recording. Much of the time, Peter wants atmospheres from the actual places in the movies, and docs. This means Im going out there and recording the streets, nature, cities where the actual footage is filmed.

Sometimes a certain prop or environment is needed for scene, and needed in a rush. Thats when places like Facebook and Twitter shines for me. It still amazes me how someone always seem to know someone who has the right sound prop in their garage, or basement. Networking is fantastic this way.

On what projects have you been working recently?

The last year has been very busy (crazy). We have finished a lot of Danish documentaries, (and are working on a few foreign ones too) some of them are being released now both on tv and festivals, and some will be released this coming spring I think.

We have also been working on a bunch of feature films. I have recorded a lot of material. Everything from doors, and atmospheres, to vehicles, horse carriages, wagons and animals and on location Foley too.

I have been editing quite a lot for these releases too. Its been a very exciting year. Right now I’m recording sounds for a Bulgarian feature film Peter Albrechtsen is sound designing. Its called Godless. The film is pretty dark and cold, and has some rough themes in it, to say the least. Peter wanted the atmospheres to be nearly void of life, like chirping birds etc. Thats a bit of problem even when recording in January. This means, I have had to record all atmospheres at night in the freezing cold with temperatures 15 below. You can clearly hear the bitter cold in the recordings, I think.

What would be your favorite sound process?

Getting the raw material recorded as unpolluted as possible would be my favorite. Exterior recordings without passing air planes, traffic, or people talking is a hard task now a days. There are not many quiet places around anymore.

Do you have any audio creation techniques that resulted in something interesting?

Lately I’ve been really fascinated by recording on to my Nagra. Not so much for the tape sound etc. Thats great too. But more for the fx. of manually scrolling forward and rewinding the tape, and recording the sound back in to Protools. You can get some very cool sounding fx when doing this. A single and simple noise sample can easily develop into a giant distorted explosion (I have a few of these sounds on my The Undercover SFX Library). Also sending tones, and speed up material through the internal speaker of the Nagra and rerecord it in Protools is fun. You will get a lot of useless recordings of course, but sometimes you will be surprised too.

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This one is for the gear heads. Can you give us a brief summary of the equipment, software and plug-ins you use regularly in the studio and in the field?

In the field I use Sounddevices 702 and 744 recorders, and a Sounddevices Mixpre. My main sfx recordings microphones are, a double MS setup containing 2xSennheiser MKH8040 and a MKH30. I also use my set of MKH8020´s for quiet stuff and ambient recordings, where I need to pickup everything (they do that really well).

For zooming in on things I use a Telinga Parabolic microphone and flexible dish. This setup is unique in the way you can zoom in on whatever you want to record. In a quiet nature setting you can get some amazingly good results, and things you did not think was possible.

For stealth recordings, I have a 702 in a bag pack, and a pair of DPA 4060 microphones placed on each side of the bag, in their own pouch.

Back in the studio I record in Protools (just got the 12.4 update, which works well I think) via the Avid OMNI on a newly refurbished Mac pro tower. I like using a Sennheiser MKH416 for fx recordings, and sometimes I run the signal through my Nagra IS to get the sound to pass the tape head and mic pre in this unit.
The studio is set up to 7.1 through BlueSky monitors.

For software I use the regular plugins available in Protools, some Waves, Eventide, GRM Tools, Izotope RX, and Audioease Altiverb plugins too.
When I have the time, I turn on my Kyma system and use this for different fx. Mostly voices and scifi stuff. Peter used a lot of sounds created on this system, for the Danish national tv´s, 24 episode Christmas calender back in 2014. It was about time traveling. Kyma fit right in here I think.

What inspires you?

Collaboration. Working together with other soundies, either going through movies and spotting sfx, brainstorming on sculpting the movies feel and soul in sound, or being on recording sessions with other people inspires me a lot. I simply love that!

Traveling to San Francisco and Los Angeles back in October, together with Peter Albrechtsen, Heikki Kossi and Lars Ginzel was incredible inspiring too. We visited Skywalker Ranch in SF, and was given the big SF tour by Tim Nielsen who works at Skywalker. He also hosted our stay until we were going to LA. We met so many nice and helpful people. It was truly amazing.

In LA we had a very packed programme, but still got to see just as many cool people. We visited the Dolby headquarters and the Warner lot, where we met up with Richard King who we spend some days with before heading back to Denmark.
What a ride!

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