Why you should avoid using a Shotgun mic indoors- use a cardioid instead!

A shotgun mic is designed to ignore any sound arriving at the sides. This is how it focusses totally on the sound arriving from the front. It works great…

…unless side and front sounds are the same!

Read on to find out why…

The length means this vintage EV microphone is directional down to very low frequencies

Outdoor environments

are wide-open spaces. That seems so obvious right? But bear with me. Usually there are no reflective surfaces nearby. Nothing for the sound to bounce off. The main problem for sound outdoors is the ambient noise. On the other hand, indoor spaces are enclosed. You are surrounded by reflective surfaces such as walls, floors and ceilings. For us it is cosy, warm and sheltered :). But it can be a big problem for sound.

Let’s think about sound outdoors first.

You get in close with the mic using the boom arm. Great, we have nice clear dialogue. Now we will break the sound down into its component parts. The sound arriving at the sides of the mic (ambient) is completely different to the sound arriving at the front (dialogue). Put very simply, the shotgun mic has slots along the sides to break up the sound. Sound coming right in at the front goes straight down the tube. So it ends up being louder than any sound at the sides (known as”off-axis” sound). Incidentally, the longer the tube is, the better this works!

Now let’s think about indoors.

We have reflected sound made of the dialogue bouncing off all those surfaces. But indoors the sound arriving at the front of the mic is also dialogue! So it ends up canceling with (a delayed version of) itself. This creates what is known technically as phasing. What is that? It’s that metallic, harsh, whispery, un-natural quality that makes dialogue hard to take.

The solution

is to use a cardioid (or hyper or super cardioid) indoors. It will sound much more natural and engaging for your audience compared to a shotgun mic.

For more detailed information

and an explanation of exactly what’s happening with the sound waves, read these:
Rode Microphones Blog
How shotgun mics work- Hugh Robjohns, Sound On Sound Technical Editor

The album tracks part 2: For Gaza

It’s hard not to feel powerless against the human rights violations being committed by Israel. Back in 2014 when it flared up, again, I saw a video by Israeli film director Naomi Levari. A very brave move for an Isreali national. I composed For Gaza quite quickly, to raise some money for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) whose aim is “…to participate in international efforts to put pressure on the Israeli state to cease its oppression of the Palestinian people”.

The fund-raising was a great success, and this new album was an opportunity to do a remix of the track, and change a few things that were not quite right.

The process

The origin of the piece goes back to 1990 with the little Casio SK-5 8 bit sampler and the Yamaha CS-5 synthesiser. The heavy drums and the bass loop are sampled from that original tape with all the noise and distortion it had. The strings are a development of an idea from back then. I didn’t even realise this at the time. I just went for a performance on the keyboard, while listening to the horrendous news from Palestine with tears in my eyes. In electronic music, what you hear has often been programmed in the the computer. This artificially tight, sometimes robotic rhythm is one of the cool things about electronic music I think. But it’s good to have actual live human playing on it too! Towards the end of the process I was very tempted to move some of the notes around because I felt they weren’t quite on the beat. But that’s where the feel is. Sometimes, just because it seems to measure right it doesn’t mean it hits the soul! So I built up some layers of different string sounds, to give a Turkish ensemble effect, a sound I heard a lot in North Africa and Southern Spain. The slight variations in each part are just like what happens with a real string section.

The rhythm guitar is sampled from a jam session with one of my old bands, played by Ken Hayes. This was cut up in Recycle and the parts placed across the keyboard so they could be replayed. The lead guitar at the end is from the same session, with the notes and timing played around with in Melodyne, an amazing software tool that makes pitch and time totally flexible.

The atrocities continue, so please support the IPSC.

The Album Tracks Part 1: Orchestrion

This is a combination of atmospheres and sounds from the 1870s and the 1970s. The Orchestion of the title is an Imhof & Mukle Orchestrion Music Machine. It uses a wooden barrel with pins on it to open valves in over 100 pipes that are built like woodwind instruments such as clarinets and flutes. Basically, a large version of the barrel you would see in a music box. To run it, you wind a weight up to the top of the machine, and as it runs down it drives the barrel and pumps the air through the pipes. This one was located in Dunkathel House, where I worked in the recording studio. Here’s a picture of the actual machine in the house, courtesy of the RTÉ archive.

Orchestrion featured on Treasure Ireland (1993)

Orchestrion featured on Treasure Ireland (1993)

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New album release

It’s finally here!

madtheory-electrickery I’m very pleased to get this released. It’s been a long time brewing. Many thanks to my friends who helped with feedback and encouragement:


Aidan O’Driscoll
Brian Dunlea
Dominic Murphy
Eoin O’Sullivan
Enda Grennan
Gary McKee
Mike Gavin
Mike Lyons
Michael O’Sullivan
Ralf Kleeman
Ronan O’Dea
Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh

And my lovely wife Sally O’Reilly for encouragement both musical and emotional 🙂

Some of these ideas go back to 1990 when I first started to compose. I think it’s important to keep an archive of ideas and stuff to play with- play being the key word. I really enjoyed the process, with all the help and support. I hope you all can feel the same joy I felt in making this music. 🙂



[bandcamp width=350 height=786 album=519834530 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5]

Also available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc. etc.

BBC Radiophonics live at the National Concert Hall

I recently had the pleasure of the Radiophonic Workshop at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. This was a dream come true. When I was about 10 years old my father joined the Rory Gallagher Music Library. This holds a massive collection of recorded music and spoken word. First it was Goon Show tapes, and later the full BBC sound effects library. Essential Science Fiction Sound Effects Volumes 1 and 2 became some of my favourite albums and a major influence. 🙂 Continue reading