I don't recall exactly how I came to find Tim Prebble's Hiss and a Roar website, but I do remember what I heard first - sounds of an old broken-down piano being taken apart. Odd, unique and violent enough to be mistaken for American, but Prebble hails from New Zealand. Still, he's like the Pete Townshend of Foley artists, as he's tortured cymbals, mangled bedsprings, and even savagely destroyed vegetables all for the sake of the sound. He will do whatever it takes to get the right sound - or at least a different sound - same as you and me.
Sound libraries aren't just for filmmakers, you know. When Prebble came out with his new ambient library called Beaches last fall, I was recording an island tune that could benefit from a nice beach sound at the beginning. I also knew Prebble would record a lot of different beaches and a lot of different takes, from high tide to low tide, from sand to rock, from a stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH 70s, to a pair of omnidirectional DPA 4060 mics. I'd have plenty of options to nail down that Jamaican feel I was searching for.
Prebble strives to be unique with each sound library he compiles. As he writes on his website, "As I see and hear it, there are two important issues with regards to sound libraries. The first is variety, when I record a sound - a door creak [for example] - I don't record a couple of versions of it. I aim to record a definitive collection of performances. The second issue is about memory. By finding and recording that sound myself, I will never forget what it looked like, felt like, and the acoustic space it existed in."
What really separates Hiss and a Roar from other sound-design libraries is the high resolution. First, Prebble records using state-of-the-art portable hard-disk recorders (Sound Devices 744T and 722) and captures the sound at 24bit, 192 kHz. The libraries are then compiled into two versions. The first, called Ultra Library, comes in 24bit, 192 kHz resolution and is ideal for the intensely detailed work manipulating sound for film, whereas the 24-bit, 96 kHz Max Library is an affordable option for recordists working in stereo like you and me. With few exceptions, nearly every other sound-design library I run across only offers plain old CD-quality, 16bit, 44.1 kHz sound files. Hiss and a Roar also makes 16bit, 44.1 kHz versions available, but only for the Free Library (yes, it's a free download), which includes Vegetable Violence, Fireworks, Pressure, Blow Holes, Swishes, Seal Vocals (the animal, not the artist), and the original Tortured Piano library that caught my ear in the first place.
To make life easier, Prebble organizes his libraries using carefully labeled and tagged metadata - compatible with Pro Tools as well as many other applications - so you can always find that perfect sound when you need it. In fact, I'm listening to beach sounds while I'm writing this article, making this the most relaxing review I've ever written. Now, if I can just get Prebble to record some thunderstorms for my song "Rain, Rain, Rain", I'll be set.