Recording Abandoned Locations: Aston Hall Mental Hospital

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time (years, in fact) is to visit places/buildings that have been abandoned. The older they are and/or the longer they’ve been left, the more interested I’ve been. Sadly, due to various issues, I never got around to going to any such locations… until about 2 weeks ago.
So I wanted to make a post about my first experience visiting and recording at a set of abandoned buildings. Mostly to outline the mistakes that were made, which has helped me learn what will be required next time one of these sessions/explorations comes around.

I went to visit an old friend from my time at Derby University. We only get to see each other once or twice a year, so the plan was for this to be a general catch-up and hang out visit. That was until a week before I was due at his, and I remembered there were a few abandoned buildings close to where he lives. Thus I mentioned to him that, if possible, I’d love for us to go look around them.

When it actually came to the day he, I, and my fiancee were to go looking around these buildings, he mentioned that certain changes had recently been made to the area. The local council had sent a construction crew in a few times to the smallest building to preparing it for demolition, and a second building had been fenced off with a guard patrolling the grounds (our assumption was that this would be the next to be levelled).
A third building (an old flooring storage building) was only around the corner, but it harboured certain dangers. The building was known to be used by local homeless and drug addicts as a place to crash and get high, so there could be a few health risks. Firstly, used needles could be seen scattered on the ground, but the greatest difficulty/danger being that much of the ground floor had collapsed, leaving the odd wooden beam in some rooms as the only way to cross from one side to another. Though this was cause for some concern, all worries were forgotten when we came to find that the building had had it’s most used (and safest) entry points sealed.

Derby Flooring Storage

Not to give up too easily, my friend had a quick think and came up with a new possibility – it turned out that about half an hours drive away there was a place called ‘Aston Hall’, an abandoned mental hospital. After checking for directions and having another friend join us, we set off to find the derelict hospital; my friend armed with his DSLR, and me with a Tascam DR-07mkII (something that would come in as rather handy for it’s size and portability while climbing in and around the buildings).

This is where I want to point out something that is very important when going to these types of places to make sound recordings (well, in all honesty, this actually applies to any recording session you want to undertake): PLAN! The worst thing about our visit to these buildings was that, especially with our original ideas not working out, it was done on-the-fly. We had lost a large portion of the day, so we only had an hour or so to go around and find things of interest. And while generally looking around was very interesting on it’s own, the main reason for going was so as to make some recordings.

We made sure to do some quick research online about the buildings before we left, and we could see that a couple of them appeared to be the same as each other with similar interiors. However, it also showed that there was a building that housed a pool (though the pictures we found showed the roof had collapsed), and another building housed a theatre – these kinds of things had potential for interesting results. It was also seen that somewhere amongst the buildings were a lot of old mechanical switches – these were the kind of things I could see from our research that I would have liked to have captured.

Aston Hall - Window

As mentioned, we were left with only a short amount of time before we lost daylight, and though we had torches and phones for light, we didn’t really want to be wandering around pitch black buildings that were known to have started falling apart. That latter point being the reason we didn’t go into the house attached to what use to be the pool – all of the roof had deteriorated badly, and we didn’t want to take the risk of something falling while it was getting dark.
The darkness did, in fact, prove itself to be hazardous when a friend’s light randomly went out on his phone. He stopped to turn it back on, and upon taking his first step forward as the light returned, he disappeared into the floor – a hatch had been removed and placed against the wall, so he fell through. Luckily it was only a drop of about 4 feet, and he managed to catch himself (kind of), so he came away with some nasty looking bruises but was otherwise fine.

At the end of the visit we had managed to explore only two of the eight (correct me if I’m wrong) buildings, and they both had very similar interiors. I did manage to make a couple of recordings, but I do really feel another visit will be necessary to take advantage of some of the spaces and potentially interesting items. Though mostly unsuccessful in terms of a recording session outing, it has served to increase my desire to visit more abandoned locations.

I shall leave you with one of the edited recordings I made while at Aston Hall: a toilet. I received a few odd looks from my those in my party when I stopped to make this recording, but I really took to it’s sound. The toilet, quite obviously, doesn’t work anymore (see picture below) as there is no water coming into the building. So upon trying the flush mechanism out of shear curiosity, I found it gave out an interesting creaky-squeaking sound that I really liked.

Aston Hall - Toilet

Feel free to download and use the above sounds however you desire. Accreditation would always be appreciated, but not absolutely necessity (though I would love to hear if/how anyone uses the recording for any projects). I am hoping to share more recordings in the future, so I’ll start in the toilet and hopefully work my way up!

A Release and a Small Secret Revealed

Men Can’t Make Beds

I have a few announcements I just wanted to get out into the public domain, and two of the three relate to Men Can’t Make Beds. Firstly, on Monday 11th March, Men Can’t Make Beds made it’s premier screening as part of the Borderlines Film Festival, at the The Courtyard in Hereford. This was a huge deal for all involved as it was a project that ran for about 18 months, and for some/most people involved in the project it was the first time having work shown to the public (at all, or at least in such a fashion).

Personally, the first film I worked on was screened at a cinema as part of a showing of students’ work – this was completely different, and nerve-racking, because it was the first project that I had done 100% of the audio post-production work. I couldn’t help but listen intently to the audio track, waiting for a mass of problems. I was quite relieved to find that there weren’t any glaring mistakes, and I relaxed all the more when people started to laugh (at all the right moments, I might add). It was also rather strange to hear such a round of applause afterwards, but it’s a feeling I think I could easily get use to.

The second announcement is that on the day following the premier, director David Jones released the film to the public! You can find it by following the link HERE or, to make it even easier, you simply watch it below:



At the start of 2012 I made mention that I had some involvement in a film project, and that I wasn’t allowed to leak any information about it until the film had been released. Well that time has come, and so below I shall give you a small clue:


If you didn’t get it, the film was indeed: Cloud Atlas. I do realise it was released last year in the US, and in February here in the UK – with the restriction given to making anything public, I decided to wait a little longer after the UK release before doing this.

Now, I want to make my involvement clear, because I simply don’t want to sell myself on false assumptions. Fiona Johnston (director of Killing Time) was contacted via a UK production company and asked to make a small clip of a news report – this was asked of several filmmakers around the UK, with the idea of only a select few being included in the final feature. So, sadly, I didn’t get to work with the main filmmakers but to get the chance to do something for such a big project was still amazing, as were the team Fiona put together for the making of our clip. When I can, I’ll put out the time within the film where our clip features.

The filming of our clip took several hours during the evening of a very cold December day in Edinburgh, and I was brought in as Boom Operator. Ross Buchanan, of whom I worked alongside for Killing Time, was also present as Sound Recordist.

Men Can’t Make Beds

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and other.

It has been approximately 6 months since my last post on here, but I would like you to know I’ve not completely disappeared. Actually, I have returned with big news about one of my projects – Men Can’t Make Beds has been completed!

For those who may not have read my previous posts about this project, it is a short comedy film by Wind-up World Films. It was filmed in mid-2011 over three days, and has now taken about a year and a half to finish. This sounds like a long time for an (approximately) 8 minute film, and it is. Sadly, progress was stunted due to various people’s other commitments and unforeseen circumstances. But it has been completed nonetheless.

Now is the time for Wind-up World Films to look into the future. For Men Can’t Make Beds, the first official public screening of the film has been arranged to be at the Borderlines Film Festival (March 2013). In other news, along with several music video projects, they are now planning their next short film. They have uploaded a post discussing all of this (click here).

I am planning to go back over the work I did for this project and put together a post detailing some of the interesting parts (or, at least, what I found interesting). Fingers crossed it won’t take me another 6 months to post on here. Also, toward the end of next month (clue?) I’ll finally let leak what I was working on in Edinburgh for one evening in December 2011.

Lost Key Games presents: Cubey

Everyone, please welcome the first game to be release by Lost Key Games:

Those who have been keeping up with my blog may already be aware of a project I have been involved in for Lost Key Games, called Betrayal’s Wings. Around the time I started my break away from my sound work, this project got put on hold and ideas were being thrown around for something new to work on while waiting for things to pick back up with Betrayal’s Wings.

This lead to the development of this time-based puzzler. Essentially, the player controls a cube and has to navigate it through 30 levels, dodging obstacles and using jump pads, lasers, etc. It has already been developed for Mac and PC, but there are also plans for it to be released for Android and iOS in the future.

The game is set to be released tomorrow (9th July, 2012) at 20:30GMT*, and will be available to purchase on Desura by clicking the button below. All details about this game, demos, and videos can be found at it’s Indie DB page.

Desura Digital Distribution


* EDIT: Due to unforeseen circumstances the release was been delayed until the 11th July.

Returning to Form

Hey there fellow lovers of sound, music, film, and games!

I just wanted to put up a quick post regarding my recent absence. Over the past couple of months there has been a lot going on in my personal life that has taken me away from both keeping up with this website and the projects I have been working on. I don’t want to go into the details here though because this isn’t that kind of blog. I will state that I have recently moved back to my home county of Herefordshire and, although this isn’t planned to be a permanent move, it is looking to be my base of operations for the foreseeable future. Also, those who follow my Tweets may have seen that on June 20th I graduated from Edinburgh Napier University with an MA in Sound Production (see the embarrassing evidence below).

Now that things are starting to finally settle I am hoping to get back on track with my current projects, and possibly start looking into lining up more projects for the future. I have been extremely lucky to have found those running the projects I am currently involved in to have more patience with me than I probably deserve, and I want to see that I do everything I can to repay them for having such patience while I sorted everything out. As for this website, I do have a couple of drafts of posts that need finishing off and, obviously, I’ll be back to keeping everyone up to date about the progress of my projects and any new ones that crop up (e.g. Contamination Europe recently launched an official website that can be found here).

A Couple of Updates

Men Can’t Make Beds

Over the past week or so I’ve been exchanging messages with David Jones regarding what is left to be done with Men Can’t Make Beds. This lead to a Skype session the other day whereby we further discussed these details. It turns out that there isn’t a great deal left to do as far as the sound design is concerned. A couple of the scenes have been altered so, obviously, the sound has to be edited to correspond with these changes.

It has also been decided that both myself and David have been over-thinking the use of sound in the film, in that we both were thinking that with it being a live-action film all the sounds have to be diegetic and realistic. At the same time, we were trying to create a more cartoony feel to the film and thus subtly adding more cartoony sounds. We have now come to realize that the original idea for this film was to create something of a live-action cartoon and, with this in mind, we agreed that there should be a lot more freedom in terms of how sounds are used. So I am now in the privileged position to go back through the film and be even more experimental – these are exciting times!

It may turn out that only a few things get added and kept, but (as I’m sure other sound designers would agree) its definitely a good position to be in. Besides these sonic tweaks, we are just waiting on the original music to be completed, and the illustrations for the final credit sequence. Once all these are in the bag we will be able to move to the final mix and actually getting it out to you beautiful people.

Contamination Europe

The big news for Contamination Europe is that there will soon be an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money toward actually hiring some programmers to work with the current team, so as to increase productivity. The team is still working on a few things before creating a demo video that should be used with the campaign, and an official website is being developed – the IndieGoGo campaign should be live once the website has been completed and put online. Obviously, I will be keeping you updated as to when that will be, and I do hope people will help with whatever they can afford so as to help get this game off the ground, and to further show your support for the team.

Game Dev North 2: Dev Harder

On March 17th I found myself in Chester, walking into the Pitcher and Piano bar in search of a group of people for the (originally titled) Northern Game Talkery Time 2. Not long after asking a member of staff where the meeting should be taking place was I approached by Samuel Mottershaw (of Toxic Games), the event organiser. I was soon lead over to our reserved area and increased our group number to a strong 4 (from here the number did quickly increase beyond this).

At this point I would like to state that I wasn’t sure what to expect from attending the meet-up. I’m relatively new to working on games, this being the first meet-up I would have attended, and the fact it was originally set up to get those from the North-East of England in attendance and I had travelled from Glasgow; part of me was expecting to be laughed out. I instantly felt at ease being introduced to those already there, and continued to receive friendly greetings as other came to join our group.

Talk started by concentrating on the event itself. Obviously, everyone would like to see as many people as possible attending, so the first topic was about spreading the word of this monthly meet-up. It was quickly agreed that Twitter is pretty much the center of communication these days, especially amongst those within the games industry, which lead to hashtag talk, and the idea of playing on film titles for the event name (note the title of this post and a bit further down to see how this idea has been implemented).

Over the course of the evening I couldn’t help but be amazed by how approachable everyone was, the constant banter that anyone was welcome to jump in on at any time, and the fact that everyone appeared to give everyone else the same amount of respect and attention (including my own newbie thoughts, ideas, and random banter). It almost had the air of a group of age-old friends getting together after not seeing each other for years.

Time seemed to pass all too quickly and most of the group had to leave a little bit prematurely. Everyone eventually said their goodnights and left in high spirits, with the thoughts that the next meet-up would only be a month away. Even though I ended up spending a painfully cold night standing at a bus stop til 6am waiting for my bus home, I still feel it was worth it to get to meet some great guys, and to spend some time discussing games and the projects we are each currently working on.

This is a meeting for those based in the North-East of England but, as has been proven, anyone working with games is welcome no matter where you’re travelling from. The next meet-up has been arranged for April 21st, titled ‘Game Dev North Meetup 3: Dev With a Vengence’, and details can be found here. Also, if anyone is interested in keeping up to date about the meet-ups, the official Twitter account can be found here.

Sadly I won’t be in attendance for the next meet-up, what with the distance I have to travel, but I will definitely be keeping contact with those I met this time around and I will be sure to attend another as soon as I can (and this time I will remember to pick crashing on a sofa over standing in a freezing bus stop). Also, this experience has definitely got me looking at attending game meet-ups closer to home – GameDevEd anybody?