SURDS is either an irrational number (think… square root of 2) or a voiceless sound in speech (think B, C/S, F, H, K, P, S, T). It’s the sounds you make that don’t require the vibration of your larynx and are almost always produced by the forced exhalation of air.

Consequently they are the sounds that usually give your Sound Department the biggest headaches, and are your Dialogue Editor’s best friends (and sometimes their worst enemies….think….frenemies).

Allow me to explain:

Ribbon Mics, Emusician

Ribbon Mics, Emusician

For this demonstration we’re going old school: Ribbon Microphones. Click on the picture for a brief and easy introduction to ribbon microphones:

Ribbon microphones specifically and microphones in general are delicate instruments that use the velocity or pressure of air particles to capture sound.

When that forced exhalation of air that produces the majority of these surd sounds hits your oh-so-delicate microphone it causes something of an overload to the delicate filaments inside giving you that overly loud sound that presses on your eardrums and can be none to pretty.

Beat-boxers are the KINGS of Surds. They use them in combination with other sounds created by their voice box simultaneously to make phenomenal “music.” 

Notice how he is holding the microphone at an angle from his mouth? That is to prevent the air exiting his mouth from hitting the microphone dead on. 

Another studio fix that can be found in other videos is a POP FILTER. It usually consists of a material like nylon stretched over a hoop that diffuses the speed and pressure of the air exiting your mouth before it hits the microphone (it also has a secondary use as a saliva catcher).

Easy Homemade Pop Filter:

Embroidery Hoop: Purchasable at any sewing/craft store. They don’t need to be big, five inch diameter or even smaller should work just fine. For this plastic is better, less likely to have a piece that will snag on the nylon, but wood works as well.

Nylon Panyhose: Purchasable just about anywhere
Some way of holding it in front of your microphone

Step 1: Take one leg of the pantyhose and stretch them out by hand to loosen up the fiber.

Step 2: Depending on the size of the pantyhose you got, this goes one of two ways.

  • BIG SIZE: Slide the inner ring of the embroidery hoop INTO one of the legs, down to the foot, you want the material nice and stretched but not ripping. Once it is in the foot and nice and tight, put the outer embroidery hoop over the inner embroidery hoop, tighten, and then cut off your extra material. VOILA double pop screen.
  • SMALLER SIZE: Cut open one of the legs of the pantyhose so you have one single sheet of material. Lay it over the inner embroidery hoop. Again, you want it tight. Place the outer hoop over the inner hoop, make sure your fabric is nice and tight all around. Then tighten the out hoop to keep the fabric in place. Cut off the excess fabric. VOILA pop screen.

Step 3: Place in front of you microphone, I’ve seen this done with clamps, with a glued on dowel rod. Hung from the ceiling. Whatever works for you.

Pop Filters are great for preventing a microphone overload and a peaked audio file (ENEMY), resulting in a good, clean, sound. Dialogue editors who might be replacing a line of dialogue for a better version from a previous take, very often use those strong P's, B’s and T’s that have nice peaks on their wave form files to give them a reference to help line up the replacement words within the dialogue. (FRIEND) 

Thumbnail Photo by: Brian Stalter, Flickr

Posted on May 3, 2015 and filed under Article.