A few weeks ago, the LEGO® White Noise playlist was released on Spotify and other music streaming/digital download platforms. After spending some time listening to the tracks, I found myself with a number of questions: Was this designed to play while building LEGO sets (where the ‘searching sounds’ might be reduced, due to presorting elements?) or as a way to drown out other sounds, to provide that white noise interference to allow your mind to focus on whatever activity you have at hand.
As a recording to listen to, I found the sounds nostalgic, but I did not find myself getting lost in the listening experience. My personal emotional response to the recording was limited: while the sounds are familiar, there is something about it that didn’t get me lost in the experience. BUT I don’t think that is the point of using this playlist. It perhaps serves a stronger role as a source of random frequencies, at relatively unpredictable rhythms – white noise is typically used to try and block out extraneous sounds, rather than elicit a true emotional reposnse.
I reached out to the AFOL Engagement team at the LEGO Group with some questions, and Primus Manokaran, the Creative Director for the Project, was kind enough to send through some answers:
Rambling Brick: What was the inspiration behind the playlist?
PM: As fans of building ourselves, we’ve always enjoyed the sounds LEGO bricks make. It’s both nostalgic and calming. So we starting thinking about how we could turn this into a tool for mindfulness. Naturally then we started thinking about white noise, as more and more adults have started using this as a way to focus.
Rambling Brick:What was the tune design /recording process. Did you use collections of identical pieces or a box of mixed elements for different tracks? Were there many audio loops recorded, and re used in the production of individual tracks? Or are the tracks 30 minutes of disciplined sound generation.
PM:The process in itself was tremendously fun. We worked with an audio production house in Singapore called FUSE and we started by giving them buckets of mixed elements. They then spent something like two weeks just experimenting with different sounds the LEGO elements make. They poured them onto the floor, swirled them around in big buckets, and spent hours just rubbing different elements together. We even had people just building while microphones ran in the background. Eventually we landed on 7 tracks that replicated scenarios we were all kind of familiar with, from LEGO building, but at the same time, felt fairly distinctive. We then spent a lot of time refining each track and once we found a really nice rhythm, we looped sections of them to create our 30-minute piece.
Rambling Brick: Is the playlist intended to accompany building with presorted elements, or just act to reduce the level of distraction present for people doing other activities?
PM:Both. The intention was that it could be used like any white noise track. Ideally acting as an accompaniment to whatever you were doing that required focus.
Rambling Brick: What sort of sound processing was used? – adding extra noises, removing specific frequencies (or enhancing some?)
PM:While no added noises were used, we did have to be very meticulous about how we balanced the levels of the tracks. Also to recreate larger collections of sounds like the pouring of smaller LEGO bricks, we had to limit some of the higher frequencies so they wouldn’t be harsh to hear over earphones. In general we tried as much as possible to recreate the sound as authentically as possible.
Rambling Brick: Big Hearted Bricks – is this supposed to be the sound of Duplo? or even Jumbo bricks? Or wooden bricks? They certainly sound different to the sound of rummaging around in the box of mixed pieces I have at home.
PM:Yes! Good ear. That track was created using LEGO DUPLO bricks.
Rambling Brick: The Night Builder seems to have an added layer of actual white noice over the top of the sound go bricks (as well as ?Traffic) sounds what was the reasoning behind this?
PM:With most of the tracks, we went for a slightly more abstract composition of LEGO brick sounds. With The Night Builder, we wanted to create the overall ambiance of night time building. So we recorded this in an open room and just had one of our sound engineers build a set. We didn’t filter our any of the ambiance but we did level it out a little so nothing was too jarring.
Rambling Brick: Different materials resonate differently when in the same form – and I understand this has been part of the challenge facing the sustainability team, as they search for a material to replace the ABS we use today.
PM: Correct, different materials make different sounds when build with or stirred around in a box of LEGO bricks. The sound ABS LEGO bricks make is fairly distinctive but is just one element of the material properties that the sustainable material researchers look to replicate. The most important properties for us are ensuring a more sustainable material has the same quality and safety properties as those currently used.
What was your favourite element or group of elements to use? – whether to build with, or too record for the purpose of this playlist
PM: Everyone in the team will probably have a slightly different answer here. Some preferred the clonk of LEGO DUPLO bricks, while others quite like the recognisable clackiness of the 2×4 LEGO bricks or the gentle quality of a collection of 1×1 LEGO bricks.
Rambling Brick: Were you using the old or new window elements in your recordings (recognising that the material used for transparent elements has changed in the last couple of years)?
PM:A mix. We basically worked with about 10,000 or so LEGO elements of all kinds and across different sets.
Rambling Brick:Was there any consideration to recording some vintage Cellulose Acetate bricks, for that true ‘Olde Worlde’ effect?
PM:Not as such. Because we were recording with a huge amount of bricks, we needed LEGO elements that were more readily available.
Rambling Brick: Were you surprised by the techniques required to get there sounds to sound realistic to you.
PM:Yes! For example, emptying a bag of LEGO bricks onto a table has a very unique sound. However when we recorded it, it sounded a little flat as something was being lost in the recording. So to recreate it we had to have huge tubs of bricks that we emptied out onto the floor over dozens of seconds.
Rambling Brick: Some of these tracks sounded familiar, – similar to the noises my kids would generate , as they played together. However, they are not punctuated with the periodic scream as something wouldn’t work, or more likely, because their sibling had attempted to grab exactly the same piece that they were working with. Was there any temptation to record the ‘complete’ experience?
PM:Yes we did. And because some of our recordings are of actual kids/engineers playing, we did get some natural sounds/voices. What we did find though was that adding some of those in tended to be slightly distracting because they forced the listener draw their attention to the sound. As we were looking to create something similar to white noise, we decided to go with tracks that achieved a more consistent rhythm and would let the listener focus more on what they were doing.
Rambling Brick: Thank you for your time.
A couple of weeks ago, The LEGO Group dropped a ‘Making of White Noise” Video on their social channels: it shows the team at work creating the playlist, in the studios in Singapore.
I’d like to thank the AFOL Engagement team and Primus for facilitating our Q&A. Have you used the LEGO White Noise playlist in any setting? Why not leave your comments below, and until next time,