Skip to content

Water boiler study

I need to create/design sounds for a short film, which is about a usual tea ritual. The story is very interesting as it seems that nothing else happens expect a making of a good tea. And this is true up to the point where the water boiler starts to boil the water. From this point on, supernatural things going on while the water is getting hotter and hotter and it all stops when the boiler is ready.

So the main task is to create different sounds in that approximately one or two minutes while the little electric water boiler is working. It needs to stay attached to reality to some degree so completely eliminate or change the water boiler’s sound is not a viable option here.

The first task is pretty obvious, record a little water boiler. Because I’m in serious love with MS recording, I decided to record this in MS. (what a surprise…) I wanted to capture not only the natural process but some more low end, so I placed the rig near, about 20cm away from the boiler. I made a few “test boilings”, and it seemed to me that the gurgling at the end of the process is not articulate enough from the main rig, so I set up the Sony PCM D50 at the other side of the machine aimed at the top of it to capture more clear gurgling sound.

The test boilings were very helpful, because the different amount of water in the boiler produce different sounds. If you fill it full it looses character, if you use too little then it boils too fast and really doesn’t produce good sound. In this case, half litre was the best sound wise.

Here’s the original recording the MS setup (Mid: Neumann KM74 Side: Neumann KM86i) combined with the Sony.

At this point we only know that the supernatural occurrences won’t be pleasant things, so we need sounds melted into the boiling which creates fear, anxiety, and helps changing the different bad things along the scene.

Let’s shake the Earth

As I mentioned above I positioned the mics close on purpose. I wanted more low end than the natural. Actually the figure of eight mic had the most low end, so I used that to create an earthquake like sub.

Simply duplicated the side track in Pro Tools, and with some pitch, eq and subsonic enhancer plugin I achieved this:

Of course, you can reproduce this from many alternative sources but it was fun to do it from the original recording. As this huge sub can easily mask details I needed something that could really keep the high-mids and the gurgling focused, and this is exactly why I set the little handheld up for. I filtered out the low end of that track, and mixed in to some degree, more when the sub comes in.


It was really fun to experiment with the additions. Tried many various things from whooshes, fire, wind, rain through different vehicle and mechanical sounds to animal sounds. It is really interesting to hear how the basic sound transforms into something (many times) unconsciously different, yet it remains fundamentally the same. With some low level add ons, it is possible to push the story, to change mood. The point is to mix in sounds to evoke emotion and to help different story lines to develop.

As Randy Thom said:

Experiment as early and as often and as inexpensively as possible. Make lots of mistakes when mistakes are cheap.

This is a rough cut. You can hear the original water boiling with added whooshes, lynx-camel-cat growl, wind, fire. Some of it works better and fit almost naturally. I know that it is very hard to imagine this without the picture, but try it.

It is only a few layers and just a quick play with the elements. From the many possible additions only a few will be there in certain spots. Multilayering and adding some reverb or delay can further enhance the “supernatural” experience. Probably I will need another more aggressive version of this which would serve more like separators. Enjoy!