field recording

Recording the largest sub bass generator

If you can believe the silly local media, New Zealand was apparently hit by a ‘weather bomb’ this weekend. For some reason newspapers and news media websites picked up the phrase and ran with it, subtitling every photo of a missing roof as being the results of a weather bomb, all of which makes me wonder what they would call it if someone actually got their roof blown off with a real bomb! But every time I see weather warnings for gale force winds, I set my batteries charging & get ready for a recording session. This would be the second this year, the first being when part of the roof came off my studio neighbours warehouse, although that apparently wasn’t a weather bomb, but I posted some sounds from that session anyway…

This time I decided to head up Brooklyn Hill, one of the highest hills around Wellington and one I’ve recorded at before (attaching a contact mic to the stays of an aerial) so I knew the wind fair whipped around up there, in fact there is a huge wind turbine that they regularly have to disable as it goes too fast (imagine everyones lights glowing extra bright & then burning out!) So I spent an hour or two recording some great gale force wind-in-wires up there on Saturday afternoon and while driving back down the hill decided to stop off at another location I’ve recorded at before: the old gun emplacements on Poll Hill:

Gun emplacements

These gun emplacements date back to World War II, and after a quick search I found the one I was at here These octagonal concrete structures housed anti-aircraft guns and back when we were working on 30 Days of Night we did some recording here, and inside the gun emplacement bunkers got some great wind drafts for the scenes where everyone is hiding out in the attic while a blizzard is going on around them.

Gun emplacements

So with a gale force southerly wind I figured I’d see if I could get more of the same. I went over to the first bunker but it was too sheltered from the wind, so I headed over to the bunker that was directly facing the south and from the outside it didn’t seem that promising, but as I ducked down & into the short tunnel that led to a fully enclosed bunker I could not believe what I was hearing!

Gun emplacements

As I had hoped the air vents leading into the room were making some great wind draft sounds, but the wind was so strong that the entire space was acting like a resonating chamber. Imagine a malformed orchestral flute that is about 80 cubic metres in size, and being blown by a giant with wind gusts of over 120kmph and then imagine what it might sound like! The notes that formed were low frequency and swelled in volume and pitch as each gust of wind hit the building…. I set the mics up, hit record and left it rolling for an hour or so – have a listen, first the 8040s which were recording the room resonance:

Gale Force Wind in Bunker MKH8040 by timprebble

And the same 8040s with a LPF:
Gale Force Wind in Bunker MKH8040 LPF by timprebble

And the MKH70s which were pointed into the air vents:
Gale Force Wind in Bunker MKH70 by timprebble

It was quite overwhelming to be in that space! I was glad it was daylight as I’m not sure what unsavoury characters I might run into up there at night, but when I was shooting the video below it made me think of all the horror film cliches, particularly the one where someone enters an old WWII bunker and the further in they go the deeper the sub bass drones become, until….

FWIW that is sync sound (from the mics point of view, not the cameras of course. But at the end of the shot I clicked my fingers & spoke a verbal ID just so I could sync it) From outside the bunker room you could only just hear and feel the low frequencies – the blustery wind in the trees etc was the predominant sound…. but inside that bunker it felt a little like being inside some kind of ambient subwoofer! I knew I’d get some great sounds from the recording those aerials up top of the hill in such strong winds, but discovering totally unexpected sounds like these is what field recording is all about! And it sure beats sitting inside complaining about the weather….

Gear for starting out field recording

I’ve had three emails today from people asking advice as to what gear to buy when starting out doing field recording, and rather reply to them directly I thought I’d write some ideas down here, primnarily so I don’t have to keep answering a recurring question but also so others can comment with their advice, experiences & to also reccomend other resources online. But here is my take on it….

 

To give advice there are a few questions that must be answered first:

 

1. Whats your budget?

 

2. Whats the intended purpose of your recordings?

 

3. How long term are you thinking? Is this a hobby, a whim or the start of a career?

 

These three questions are all related. Your immediate budget will be the primary limit of your options, but Q2 and Q3 will inform how that budget should be considered. One scenario is that you are considering a one off purchase with no intention to spend further money. Option two is that this purchase will be the first of many. In fact if sound recording is to be an important part of your career then you will be starting a journey of endless upgrades, and this fact (because it IS a fact) means it is worth thinking & planning long term, from the outset.

 

BEACHY

 

So the easier scenario to discuss is the one off e.g. you’re a muso who would like to do some field recording for your own work; whether its recording your acoustic guitar/whatever while on holiday or away from computers, or recording demoes, or collecting some ambient or found sounds, or a student on a budget. Likely in this case the best option is a portable handheld recorder, the make and model of which I don’t have time to research & make specific reccomendations, but one thing worth considering is that while most portable handheld recorders have built in mics, if you want the option of using other external mics then you likely have to pay a little more to get a portable handheld recorder with XLR mic inputs, and it may be worthwhile pursuing…..

 

Another bit of advice when buying any audio gear: try it before you buy it! Chances are you wont be buying a serious bit of audio gear very often, so you don’t want any surprises when you do – you want to know what you are buying and you also want to have tested it, handled it, recorded something with it & have a feel for how it behaves & performs. Tell the company you are potentially buying from that you need to test it, if they don’t have a test model available try another company or ask around and find someone local who has one & ask to borrow/rent it for a day. Go record some stuff, load the recordings and have a listen.

 

Also: when you have settled on which portable recorder to buy, do some more research and budget for some proper wind protection for it, like these mini Rycotes. These little recorders often come with a thin foam cover which is maybe useable in very light wind but you do not want to ruin a good recording by discovering the limitations of thin crappy foam. And wind takes many forms apart from the literal eg the woosh/wind gust of a train passing or a bamboo stick swishing or whatever…..

 

 

Now before you dive into researching which model, a little bit of pragmatic advice: you get what you pay for. When I bought my Zoom H2 I was on holiday in Japan and I bought it because when travelling light it was impossible to take my full record kit. I’d done a bit of recording in Tokyo and met up with David Vranken, a good friend who I’ve worked on a couple of films with (Number 2, 30 Days of Night) – he was in Japan working on a film and collecting sounds for it, so he DID have his full record kit, a Sound Devices 744 and Schoeps MS rig. I was buzzing out about having the Zoom recorder and made him have a listen, he smiled and gave me his headphones have to a listen….. and well, it was like chalk and cheese.

 

Tokyo

 

You get what you pay for. Don’t go expecting miracles from a tiny cheap recorder with built in mics. If my Zoom h2 cost US$300, then the mic capsules might be worth US$50. You do not get miracles with a $50 mic capsule. You defintiely can record useable sound with them but don’t expect to be recording very quiet ambiences or very quiet sounds where you need to crank a lot of gain and don’t expect to have the same clarity and definition of professional microphones. You get what you pay for. But in my situation on holiday: without the Zoom h2 I would have recorded no sound, and any sound is better than no sound, even if its only useful as a reference.

 

H2
Zoom H2 on holiday at Naoshima, Japan

 

So here’s a few sites to read reviews and compare portable recorders, just be aware new models are being released all the time.

 

– Renes great shootouts: part 1 and part 2 and part 3

 

Wingfields comparisons with samples and a battery comparison test

 

– Comparison charts: Sweetwater and OReilly and Transom and CNet

 

 

So the second scenario: you’re in it for the long term. I’ll bore you with my history of recorders & mics just so you can see where I’m coming from…

 

When I started out my first recorder was a new Tascam DAP1 portable DAT machine (approx US$1000) and a secondhand 416 shogun mic (approx US$1000). The DAP1 was only 16 bit and had fairly noisy preamps if you cranked them much. But I recorded a LOT of sounds with them that have been in films and are in my library and will be used in other films in the future. (And an interesting factoid for any snobs who disregard gear if its not high 24bit 96k etc: all the sound editing for many Oscar winning films was done 16bit 44.1kHz, just as before that many great films were edited using analogue tape) But its an important side note to remember: its not the gear that records interesting sounds, its the person operating it. I bought my first recorder after spending 3 or 4 years of working full time in sound post. If you are starting out, you need to learn to walk, get some experience, make a lot of mistakes, get frustrated & find determination to keep learning before you should dream of running. Aspirations are good and important, but reality dictates you need to learn through experience, through doing, a lot!

 

My first disk based recorder was a Fostex FR2 – the leap up to 24 bit was instantly apparent and so was recording at higher sample rates. The preamps were way better than the DAP1 and at last I could load my sounds faster than real time (although there IS a benefit to loading off DAT – you were forced to listen to all your recordings in a pass without being about to mess with it). I think it cost me more like US$1500 new. About this time I also bought my Sanken CSS5 mic (secondhand US$2k) After 18 months or so the FR2 died, it wad during 30 Days of Night and I remember the moment: we had gone on a field trip to one of the most revolting places I’ve ever been – a factory that disposes of medical wastes by incinerating it at very high temperatures. We needed these sounds for the ‘Muffin Muncher’ in the film and I was recording with a contact mic on a pipe when it made this weird frequency ramping sound followed by silence… As it turns out it was an ominous silence, after getting it checked out it became apparent it was not worth fixing – the cost was prohibitive. So I was forced to upgrade again.

FR2 RIP!
My FR2 – rest in peace!

By this time Sound Devices were getting a lot of respect for their recorders so I bought a 722 (US$3000 new). It felt way better built than the Fostex, like driving a BMW after driving a Toyota (the Toyota still gets you there but the differences are very significant in operation and results)

Slowly I picked up more mics – a pair of Oktavia MK012s (new), a Trance Audio Contact mic (new), some dynamic mics EV RE27, AKG D112, a cheap AKG (secondhand) then a Barcus Berry contact mic (new) then a Sennheiser MKH70 (secondhand). then I bought a second recorder last year, a secondhand Sound Devices 744. Then a Sennhesier MKH816 (secondhand), then sold it and bought a second MKH70 (secondhand) and also bought a pair of DPA 4060s (new).

The reason I recite all this crap is this: do you see any patterns?

Firstly, I’ve upgraded my recorder four times but the mics I’ve generally added to my collection but (mostly) not sold them. Microphones for a sound recordist are like lenses for a photographer or cinematographer, you may only have one recorder but half a dozen mics. Investing in a good recorder means it will last longer, but they are based on technology that is still advancing fairly rapidly and 2 years after your purchase you may well be replacing your recorder, and its resale value will have plummeted.

Another thing to note: microphones are a bit like cars, you pay a premium to buy them new. As soon as you take them out of the store they lose their value drastically. The last MKH70 I bought I paid US$1500 for it, with full Rycote fluffies etc. Thats a US$1800 mic new, and the Rycote and fluffies would probably add another $750 to it, so I saved approx US$1000 by going secondhand! And other than when a mic is newly released or idiosyncratic/rare & not available secondhand, I would always prefer to buy a better mic secondhand than a lesser mic new. But thats just me, trying to make my budget go as far as possible, and get the best gear that I can afford.

Similarly when I bought my 744, I only had the budget to buy a new 722, but I knew I wanted to be able to record more than four tracks (for multiple mics/perspectives but also for the inevitable 5.1 mic array that I’ll eventually find & use) So rather than settle for two 722s I bought a secondhand 744 and it has served me well, along with a secondhand 302 preamp. Would I prefer to have bought new? Of course yes, but I am a pragmatist (and I made sure I got a 3 month guarantee with the 744 just to be sure)

PS602

So whats my advice?

Recorders: Apart from their build quality, design & features, I personally think the C-Link feature on the Sound Devices recorders is truly genius! It means you can add tracks as you can afford to – start off with a stereo 722 or 702, and when the need arises either buy or borrow another one! And by borrow I really mean contra: its likely you know someone else in the same situation as you locally, so loaning them your 722 when they need it means the same is true vice versa. Buy that C-Link cable! But there are plenty of other options of recorders and everyone has their favourites – my FR2 was a good machine while it lasted. So feel free to suggest others in the comments.

Microphones:
This is where it gets tricky, but you will likely want to get a decent shotgun mic to have the sensitivity & directionality to get satisfying results. My first mic was a 416, I did a lot of recording with it and often borrowed a second one when going ambience recording. I still have the mic but very rarely use it as I like my other mics more – the tone of the Sanken CSS5 is better to my ears and when I need it, the directionality, tonality & reach of the MKH70 is far superior to the 416. But that 416 would still get very good results. Whether you invest in MS or a stereo mic or discrete mics is really a personal choice, and one that you will be making and reconsidering throughout your entire career. I’m very happy with the mics I have, but I would LOVE to try the new Sennhesier MKH8060s and 8070s. I’d also love to trial the Sanken 5.1 mic, and the DPA 5.1 mic. But it will likely take a specific project to justify it.

The other stuff: cables, microphone mounts, wind protection, headphones, bags – these all take research, experience & trial & error to find what best suits you. Its evolutionary, so if you are thinking about starting out and buying some field recording equipment, then know this: you will be going through the same decision making and assessment process constantly. Its not that we are all gear freaks in and of itself, what matters is the results – THAT is what should most inform your evolution. Ease of use & efficiency is important, but if that was all that mattered then we’d be back at scenario one: a pocket sized portable recorder. But the best results come from knowing how to use your gear and evolving it as you learn.

 

So here are some questions for experienced people:

 

What would you give higher priority, your first recorder or the mic?

 

Say you had a US$3000 budget for a starter field kit, how would you spend it?

 

Option 1: Sound Devices 702 (new US$1800) + Sennhesier 416 w Rycote (secondhand US$1000) + Headphones & bag (US$200)

 

Option 2: ?

 

UPDATE: THANKS to all the people who have commented with suggestions!

UPDATE 2: I’m also happy for people to comment with links to trusted equipment suppliers for field recording & production sound, apart from actual manufacturers like Sound Devices or Sennheiser etc I also mean rental and equipment resellers who specialise in production sound.

Here in New Zealand we are blessed to have Sound Techniques which is where I bought both of my Sound Devices recorders as well as Sanken mic and any number of essential accessories

Sub Rattlers

Prompted by Nathans post about rattling windows I thought I’d dig some files out of my library/archive that are related, but self generated rather than naturally occurring. But first the back story as to why I made these sounds….

Back in 2004 I was working on a horror film called Boogeyman – it wasn’t the greatest horror film ever made, we were stuck with a not-so-great VFX bad guy who really wasn’t very scary. We’d be working on the film for a month or so and had tried a lot of approaches as to how to make him more scary. We’d tried all the obvious approaches – stings, tones etc and were kind of stuck… Back then my kitchen & dining room was right next door to my laundry i.e. they shared a wall. I’d put some clothes in the tumble drier one night and set it going and when I went back to the kitchen I noticed all the wine glasses were rattling due to the vibrations from the tumble drier. Hmmmm I thought… This has possibilities – not in itself, I couldn’t record the glass rattles without the tumble drier in the background. But the idea was interesting….

I thought about it overnight & came up with this concept: what if just before the Boogeyman appeared, everything in the room began to resonate. If this happened in real life it would freak me out and in hindsight I guess an earthquake would be the only real way it could. But the next issue was how to generate the sounds in a way I could control them.

The next morning I did a quick experiment and realised I was definitely on to something, so I spent half the day playing with this new technique. Basically I took my subwoofer, a JBL LSR 12P, and lay it on its back. I then collected up a few props and very carefully lay them above the sub, supported so they could move/rattle without falling into the subwoofer. Then I got my SH101 analog synth and made a nice pure sine wave sub bass sound and played it through the subwoofer. Depending on how I bent the pitch, the subwoofer would pass through the resonant frequency of whatever object I sat near it. Wood seemed to have a narrow range of frequency whereas hollow metal objects and glass was broader & more sensitive to vibration. So I set up a mic and recorded the objects rattling as well as a split direct feed of the sub bass sound. When I came to use the sounds in the film I could check what sub was generating it and choose whether to use it seperately or not. And because the sub was so low in frequency it was very easy to use a HPF to filter the sub sound out of the rattles, so I ended up with discrete elements….

I processed some of the sounds further. In the film there is a scene where the hero is at an office party and thinks he hears the Boogeyman in the air conditioning duct. I got a 2m long piece of air conditioning duct and lay it on top of my subwoofer and it was easy enough to find resonance in it and make it vibrate like crazy. I then took some of those resonance recordings and printed them through impulse responses to give them some distance, and then printed the results of that through the Waves Doppler plugin. You’ll hear some of these sounds at the end of the soundcloud file below… Have a listen but be warned, if you’ve got a subwoofer prepare to have your room shaken up a bit… and if you don’t have a sub prepare to have your monitors distort as they try to replay some seriously low frequencies!

<

As with many techniques, the results vary greatly depending on what props you use, so I’m sure its a technique I’ll use again in the future when the occasion arises….. Its really a form of worldizing, except rather than re-recording the natural acoustics you are re-recording resonance… fun!

Springs!

I needed to record some trampoline jumps for the Cirque film and one of the sound effects editors went & got some great material from a big trampoline, but I also wanted to isolate the spring sounds, so we have control over them as a seperate element in the final mix. So I went next door and borrowed this small trampoline from Tom at FUSE Circus…

Trampoline FX recording

Of course I should have realised this beforehand, but after recording spring hits, creaks, bounces etc with my Sanken mic for a bit, I had a little moment of realisation: this thing is basically a complex spring reverb… Being addicted to dub I own a few spring reverbs: an AKG BX5 (with sweepable EQ!) a Vermona Retroverb, Fostex 3180 and the Doepfer A199 Module… Most spring reverbs have two or three springs, but this trampoline has 24! Although they are not soft stretchy springs such as used in a spring reverb it did get me thinking: what if you lay a loud speaker face down on the trampoline and used it as an FX send/return? Hmmmmm…. switches to EBay: searches for small trampolines…
“Honey, why is there a trampoline in the lounge?”

Anyway heres some sounds I recorded, after recording with the Sanken I switched to using a contact mic and Oktava – the sub is phenomenal!!

Trampoline springs by timprebble

When I was recording I got a bit discouraged as my headphones kept rattling & distorting, but it was just bottom end overloading my headphones, not the recording!

There are some sounds amongst the recordings that I just know will make very interesting impulse responses!

Your Favourite Prop Store

There is one resource every sound designer & sound effects editor needs and thats a favourite props store. I don’t mean a hardware store, (although they can be invaluable as well) I mean a straight up junk store – preferably large scale with everything from recycled building parts through to strange little antique props…

Here in Wellington my favourite is Brennan Building Recyclers in Lyall Bay, who are super helpful. Every time I visit they remember my name & share funny stories about what the art department from certain films are hunting for… Half my resonant metal library (soon come on HISSandaROAR) is sourced from here, for $5 a prop, although I’ll happily pay ten or twenty times that for a prop that gives me a sonic-OMFG-moment! The owners of Brennans, god/jah/buddha bless them, don’t mind me walking around hitting things & listening to them… picking things up and hitting them on the concrete floor etc… Its all part of the job!

BrennansJunkStore.jpg

Another favourite for me, although visited less often, is a big junk store in Picton. I can’t remember their name but its on the corner about 2 blocks from the waterfront. Down south is way less populated & accordingly rent is cheaper and a junk store has room to expand. My last visit was on the way back from New Year at Mistletoe Bay, I had a few hours to wait for the ferry back to Wellington & thoroughly enjoyed collecting up such things as a 20kg solid metal crowbar ($25) which rings like a bell, but could smash open pretty much anything… And a dozen spanners, wrenches etc… When the owner asked what I wanted them for and I started to explain, he interrupted me “Like Rolf Harris?” Yes, exactly like Rolf Harris… except crowbar, meet piano….

PictonJunkStore.jpg

Weird old books & records they have lots of, but its usually the more physical props I am searching for. But when I say I am searching for something, really it is the props that find me. Its a lot like having a hunt through the jazz section of a secondhand record store. The gems are all there, waiting to be found; the onus is on you to be both well informed and open minded enough to acknowledge the potential in things that 90% of the population might describe as ‘junk’.

Anyway two points to be made. Firstly, if you are a sound effects editor or sound designer and you cannot instantly name me your favourite local junk store then shame on you. You owe yourself an hour or two this weekend to go make friends with some dusty geezer who eeks out a living and would really appreciate you buying a few cheap sound props every other week. And in the process you can give him your business card with the advice “call me if anything that sounds interesting comes your way… i’ll pay good money…..” You will undoubtedly have an interesting conversation in the process…

The other point was this: ask and you shall receive. You probably know I’ve been working on this Cirque De Soilel 3D film for the last few months, and some aspects of it have been particularly challenging eg I spent three quarters of a frustrating day on 20 seconds of footage that is too fast to assess in real time. I have literally had to edit & tweak this particular sequence with ProTools running at half speed (SHIFT Spacebar) But the project has required some seriously lateral thinking eg for an extended sequence such as Bateau, where the hell do you get a prop like that to record??

The answer, well two answers: first Brennan Building Recyclers, second my next door neighbours Fuse Circus. After the first few weeks working on the Cirque project I had been racking my brain about how to approach Bateau and walked into Brennans with no specific ideas.. and out the back was this thing:

Wire thing

I could not work out what the hell it was, some kind of sculpture? Its quite a lot bigger than that photo suggests – it took two of us to lift it and was as long as the two bed mattresses it was resting on, but all I had to do was shake it a bit and I was sold – it was definitely a component of what I needed! I went & quizzed the owners and turns out it was from a bar – it was suspended upside down from the ceiling above the bar and all those curiously shaped wire bits held rows of wine glasses and bottles. Anyway, as the crappy cellphone photo above shows I went back there on a quiet Monday afternoon and recorded it, and played at half speed it has some beautifully complex resonant elements…

The second source of material was from my neighbours Fuse Circus – somehow its not a coincidence that I got to work on a Cirque De Soilel film, and my studio just happens to be next door to a local circus rehearsal space. Tom from Fuse has been invaluable with advice & putting me in touch with performers such as Jez, the fire performer:

Fire Performer

As you can see their rehearsal space is a huge warehouse with a 10m high ceiling including a gantry crane. They have all sorts of trapeze systems rigged up and I’ve spent a bit of time in there recording various material for the film, but I noticed they had a big collection of aluminum rigging scaffolding stacked against a wall and as soon as I tapped it I knew I’d found another source for Bateau. Below is a photo of one of the three metre long pieces resting on my baby grand piano next door at my studio. Some of the best sounds I got from it were using my two contact mics and performing very very subtle movements with it. As you can well imagine the Cirque performers are very refined in their movements and the last thing anyone will want in the soundtrack will be great loud metal clanks. So its been a very restrained process of creating evocative presence….

Scaff thing

Anyway….. your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go make a new friend. At a junk store. Spend $30 minimum & buy at least three props. Last weekend I bought a bag of old school marbles for $5. The junk store owner made corny jokes about losing his marbles… and me finding mine, but I knew as soon as I saw them that these marbles will find a role in the Tortured Piano library, because well…. have you every heard granular baby grand piano physically generated by a bag of marbles? Me neither, but thats about to change….

HISSandaROAR Blow Holes

HISSandaROAR Blow Holes release April 14… Tortured Piano release April 28

btw at Castlepoint those were just two random strangers “just being nosey’ – I gave them the headphones, while I boomed for them….. “sounds like thunder!!” Funny thing was a couple of their adult children came wandering along ten minutes later, almost apologetic for their parents curiosity. I was tempted to lecture them; curiosity is a GOOD thing, it gets you places and gives you experiences normal people do not get. Sounds. Like. Thunder. Indeed!!

Field Recording: Piha & Muriwai

It rained & drizzled & rained all Saturday, so much so that Pihas Lion Rock occasionally disappeared

Piha

 

Frustrated at not being able to record the sounds I was here for, I reverted to shooting photos… but in the back of my mind I was thinking what if tomorrow is the same!?!

Piha

 

Piha

 

Piha

 

Piha

 

Thankfully woke up early Sunday morning & although the sky was still grey at least it wasn’t raining. Went for a dawn walk & shot this waveform/reflection:

Piha

 

Did a bit of recording round the rocks but nothing too startling, so then packed up & headed to Muriwai & wow!!!

 

Muriwai

 

Once the tide was coming in that sign was an understatement!

 

Muriwai

 

The sound of the ocean is very interesting when it is constricted – all that energy & force has to go somewhere, and in this rocky inlet known as The Gap I recorded a lot of big powerful wave crashes, with that lovely delay as the spray splashed on to the rocks in front of me.

Muriwai Waves by timprebble

But the most unusual sound I recorded at this location I found when I put my mic down into a crack in the rocks – it almost sounded like it was underwater, but when a wave smacked into the base of the rocks this is what I heard (although you really need to hear the 192kHz recording on decent speakers with a subwoofer!)

Muriwai

Muriwai waves through crack in rock by timprebble

 

I’m going to borrow a quote from a great interview with Richard Beggs because it sure applied to finding this sound: “A location reveals itself in unexpected ways” – amen, brother!

Samoa field recording 5 – Rain

Rain has so much character, but you sometimes only really appreciate it when you are away from your usual environment. Rain in Wellington tends to be either light & mildly chilly when its Northerly, or icy cold when its from the South. Rain in Wellington does not make you throw open the windows or go for walk, it makes you put a jersey on & shelter inside…. Up north in Auckland the climate is far more humid, and when I lived there one of the things I loved most with regards to weather was when the humidity finally broke & the rain came – it was a pleasure to sit outside, under a balconey & enjoy the presence of rain & good friends…

But these rains are but a shadow of the gorgeous rain experienced in Samoa. There rain has a very distinct character, and a distinct envelope. The climate will already be very humid & rain brings with it huge relief. Locals often do not even bother to shelter from it, as they know half an hour later they will be dry again – Samoa really is winterless, and I suspect will be where I escape from New Zealand’s winter in future. But rain in Samoa does not arrive unannounced. I was told many stories of an approaching torrential rain storm sounding ‘like a freight train’ and I heard that distinctive approaching rain sound only once on the last trip & it’s true. I at first did a double take: there are no motorways near here! Then a big warm gust of wind pushes past you and within 30 seconds the rain starts.

It starts with sparse, random great big warm spots of rain but within a minute turns into the densest shower you have ever been in. Of course as with wind, rain is defined sonically by that which it falls upon. If you shelter indoors, say a fale with a tin roof, the percussive nature of the rain starting ramps rapidly from intermittent drops to the densest white noise you’ve ever heard. Check the shape of these waveforms, recorded under a shelter in the park beside Robert Louis Stevensons mansion near Apia, the duration of this screenshot is approximately 2 minutes:

Samoa Rain waveforms

Samoa Rain waveforms

In the film that I’m working on O Le Tulafale (The Orator) rain arrives three times, and each time it has both literal and metaphorical significance. Accordingly recording rain while I was in Samoa was on the top of my list, but I needn’t had feared of a drought – we arrived at the end of the rainy season and rain was not in short supply. After 3 days of off and on rain I started to fear the reverse problem, but there is one thing you can be sure of on a small island nation, NZ included; the weather is always changeable. And that close to the equator it is never cold. But I was very glad I bothered to pack a little travellers brolly, and had those two rain covers for my gear…. It would be very frustrating to lose some serious technology to the elements, just because you weren’t properly prepared.

A brief description of this video: it was very hot, 35 degrees Celcius & we set off to a plantation – first a 20 minute drive over a very bumpy road then a 15-20 minute walk through bush. You can see in the video how much of a track there was (i.e. none) – I was following Tusi (director of the film) who was following Samu. After about ten minutes I was ready to stop: why go further? the ambience hasn’t changed much…. But with 20kg of gear on my back I was doing well to keep up with them both, and they weren’t meandering. When we arrived at the shelter (a tin roof supported by four stakes) and the rain started I suddenly realised why they had been hurrying: it was about to bucket down! The sound in the video is about 2% of the experience, apologies but I am keeping my best efforts for the film not my little tourist videos! I recorded five different rain storms while I was in Samoa, each in a different location…. But the experience of recording this particular one is permanently imprinted in my psyche….

Field Recording – Castlepoint 2

Recording wind drafts approx 11pm – above photo was taken the next morning… The wind was hitting the front of the house and if I left the front slider door open a bit, and then opened the window the mics are pointed at a crack I ended up with this sound:

CASTLEPOINT WIND DRAFT by timprebble

Then at half speed:
CASTLEPOINT WIND DRAFT half speed by timprebble

Then at quarter speed – I love the way the sub bass rolls/sweeps through the frequencies
CASTLEPOINT WIND DRAFT quarter speed by timprebble

A sidenote: I don’t know what algorithm soundcloud use to create their waveforms but it seems to crush all dynamic from the view, here is what the waveforms should look like (BTW have you noticed the waveforms in PT9.0.2 are much better? Apparently the waveforms are now 16 bit)

Field Recording – Castlepoint 1

 

Castlepoint

 

I arrived at Castlepoint about an hour before I took the photo above – I’d carted all my gear into the house I was renting, made a few drinks & then noticed the sky was kinda red outside. Grabbed my camera & the photo above is what I saw. It was a necessary reminder that some natural phenomena are ephemeral & fleeting. I took maybe a dozen photos in five minutes, and then it was gone, like it never existed….

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

I slept with the windows open, as the house was literally 5m from the beach…. but before I went to bed each night, I shot a bunch of long exposures of the light house. I love how glassy & silver the sea is in this photo, like its turned into mist (no post processing)

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

This is a frame from a timelapse I started about 6.30am – had I been awake when this frame occurred I would have walked down & offered those fishermen serious money for whatever they caught before dawn….

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

Despite being out of focus (how do you focus when its night?) I love how moody this shot is – must try processing it with Poladroid

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

Of course this is why I was here. As anyone who knows will tell you, this reef is seriously scary. Towards my left by 5m is open, deep sea that rise & falls metres in a moment…. Any time other than low tide and I simply could not be standing where I am: any rogue wave would pick me & my gear up & sweep me into the lagoon in the blink of an eye, and that would be preferable to being sucked out into that deep pounding sea …. Each wave through the gap that I was recording varied – I haven’t loaded up the recordings yet but I am intrigued to see if the big surges follow the same pattern as the blow holes in Taga, Samoa. I’d guess 2 out of every ten waves was BIG, like the one in the photo, and it was created about 30 seconds prior by the turbulent sea just off the reef. There is a saying worth never forgetting: Never turn your back on the ocean.
Some randoms came wandering along at one point “Just being nosey…” – I offered them my headphones & made the shhhhhh symbol – they were listening to the boom with the CSS5 which I was putting into the void, where the wave would surge through…. “WOW Sounds like thunder” – Shhhhhh!

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

This was a new recording spot I found along the no exit road to Mataikona. With the tide out, but on its way back in, I noticed the big waves smacking into the rock outcrop in front of the mic. I walked across a weirdly slotted rocky beach, and the 300m I crossed to get there would all be underwater when the tide was in. Ten minutes recording and I was out of there!

 

 

 

Castlepoint

 

Referring back to the first photo, this was what greeted me at dawn on the second day. OMG thats right!!! I actually recorded that weird sound I heard last night! If anyone correctly guesses what I was recording I’ll give them a copy of the 192k files…

 

 

 

Samoa Field Recording 03 – Night and Day

I did a few lengthy recordings of night in Samoa eg rolled for 2 hours when I went to bed, set an alarm for 3am, rolled for 2 more hours, set an alarm for 5am, rolled through dawn… This is night crickets recorded at 1.40am at Manunu Village, which was where most of the locations for film were…

01 Night crickets 1.40am Manunu VIllage by timprebble

 

And this is a Gecko, recorded at 11.30pm when I was on Savaii. I learned that Geckos are attracted to the light, so they can eat insects that are also attracted to the light, so I pointed one of my mics at a light & went to bed… skipping through the waveforms later this was the closest one…

02 Gecko Savaii 11.30pm by timprebble

 

Roosters in Samoa seem very confused – they crow at any time of the night or day, but there was a dawn chorus of them at Manunu Village – this was recorded at 6am and while I dozed I listened and was amazed at how spatial their sounds were, especially when I was listening to the MKH816+70, which were panned super wide! I could clearly hear the distant roosters, while the slap echo of the close roosters was present…. Is it some kind of rooster telegram system?

SAMOA 03 Dawn Roosters 6am Manunu Village by timprebble

 

These are dawn birds recorded at Daves Eco Lodge, up in the hills an hour from Apia.

SAMOA 04 Dawn Birds 7am DavesEcoLodge by timprebble

 

These birds & crickets were recorded on the Cross Road at 6pm, which traverses from one side of Upolu to the other… I was on my way back to Apia after a swim at that wonderful beach… Theres one bird in particular that sounds a lot like manually running 1/4″ tape across the heads of a reel to reel….

SAMOA 05 Birds CrossRd 6pm by timprebble

 

While driving around I tended to alternate between having the air conditioning on, and having the windows wide open listening. I stopped in my tracks when I drove past this zone of cicadas, and when I hopped out to investigate it seemed to be a huge tree full of them…. Other insects were omnipresent in Samoa but I only came across dense cicadas a few times…. and they were sure having a party in this tree, also on the Cross Road…

SAMOA 06 Cicadas CrossRd 6pm by timprebble

 

These birds and insects were recorded near the plantation that we trekked into for the rain recording (video to come in next few days) – it was so hot, the car thermometer said 35 degrees!! Set up the mics and hid in the shade…

SAMOA 07 Birds Plantation 1pm by timprebble

 

Recorded these soon after, attempting to record the sound of a single cricket is no easy task!!

SAMOA 08 Cricket single Plantation 1.15pm by timprebble

 

These birds were recorded on the drive back from the plantation to Manunu Village – the road was really rough going, but it was just amazing to be in such remote dense bush, in such an intense sonic environment. There is one bird that is very high frequency, almost skittering around the top of human hearing… and another that is more owl like…

 

 

Samoa Field Recording 02 – Alofaaga Blow Holes, Taga

Alofaaga Blowholes

The variation from these blowholes was huge – here’s a waveform grab of a four minute sequence:

Taga waveform

Having been there for a while you could predict how big each blast was going to be, by the height of the approaching wave…. And you will notice in the video, there was a sequence of big, bigger & really freaking BIG waves came crashing in and @0.42 just before the third blast, the camera does a bit of a lurch, as I momentarily feared for my life (or at least my recorders lives) and ducked down to get a good solid hold of my recorder bag, ready to run like hell! One of those moments I shall never forget….

Recorded at the Alofaaga Blow Holes, Taga, Savai’i, Samoa

Samoa map

Samoa Field Trip Debrief

What worked and what didn’t? What got used lots and what didn’t…
What was critically important and what wasn’t…
What did I take & never use, and what did I not take ?

Maybe to start off with I should do a ‘whats in your bag’ of what I did take…. So consider this part 3 of the two previous posts: Safe travel with gear part 1 and part 2.

In the week before I left my plans necessarily evolved fairly rapidly. So here are the two bags I actually took, the one on the left went as checked baggage inside my giant Pelican 1650 case, the bag on the right, a Lowe Pro Photo Trekker AWII went as carry on.

Samoa bags 01

I originally planned to take my recorders in my Petrel PS602 bag, but a couple of issues changed that plan. First I needed to be able to carry on all the breakable gear I was taking, which apart from the recorders also included two cameras, three lenses, a laptop and hard drives. There was no way those were going to fit in my Petrol bag, so I went googling “largest carry on photo bag” and the LowePro Photo Trekker AWII came up repeatedly…. Unlike my existing Lowe Pro camera bag this one was also deep enough to have my Sound Devices recorders sitting vertically. Once I had the new camera bag I set to and pulled it, my Petrol bag and my other Lowe Pro bag apart, and assembled a Franken-bag™ with parts from each of them.

Apart from the issue of carry on baggage I also knew I would need to be very self contained i.e. grab the bags & go. While we had a rental car, I knew some locations would require a bit of a hike, so I also liked that the LowePro bag was designed for carrying serious gear serious distances. Another requirement was that we were travelling to Samoa at the end of the rainy season, which meant we might well be caught out during a downpour, so I had to be prepared. Cue bag photo #2!

Samoa bags 02

So my big mic bag on the left has a waterproof pack cover that I bought at a local hiking shop, while the Lowe Pro bag actually has the rain cover built into the base of it! I’ll post a video of one of our rain recording missions next week, but needless to say I was very happy to have these rain covers – for peace of mind AND for eventual use!!

Samoa bags 03

Heres whats in my mic bag – on the left & still in the bag are mic cables, that rain cover bag and the shiny silver box is a very handy device that Pelican make called the Peli Desiccant – its basically a reuseable Silican gel container that ‘drinks’ dampness and prevents condensation from trapped air when cases are opened in damp, high humidity climates – I bought two of them, one for each bag. The three mics are, as you’re probably sick of hearing by now, my Sennheiser MKH70, MKH816 and Sanken CSS5. Alongside them are three Manfrotto lightweight mic stands and a K-Tek traveller boom – all courtesy of Nathans great advice

Samoa bags 04

And heres my Franken-bag, the one on the right is how its supposed to be used, and mine is on the left, with a bit more detail in closeup photo below

Samoa bags 05

So you can see I borrowed the dividers & splash cover from my Petrol bag to store the preamp & two recorders in the bottom of the bag. As these three were the heaviest elements in the bag I wanted them lowest when the bag was on my back. The LowePro bag was deep enough that as with the Petrol bag the recorders could sit in it with their heavy duty batteries attached, and there was room for audio cables to be routed between preamp & recorder, and CLink between 744 and 722. The 302 preamp is quite shallow so I put my Petrol rain poncho underneath it.

Samoa bags 06

The other half of the bag was filled with headphones (in centre) and Canon s95 camera plus my Canon 40D camera (with 10-22mm lens attached) in the empty space on the left (its not in there as I was using it to take the photo) while in the centre was my 60mm lens and beside it my 70-300mm lens. On the right was my stash of batteries – I took a total of six heavy duty batteries, plus a box of AA batteries for the preamp, which I would keep refilling the AA battery holder from my Petrol bag. There was also room beside the 302 preamp & 744 for my tiny traveller camera tripod along with my timelapse controller, the Canon TCN80-3….

The lid of the LowePro bag has room for a laptop, although it wasn’t protected very well & also had to be taken out to actually fit in an overhead locker on the plane, which was a compromise I could live with and definitely better than putting my laptop in checked baggage. When flying I also put one of the two small external 750GB drives in my carry on bag and the other in my checked baggage. I also kept all the media I created on my laptop drive too, so my data was always securely in three places….

Overall I was very happy with how this whole kit performed, and I’ll be taking the same bags & mics on Samoa trip number 2 in June. Neither of the recorders ever failed me. But having the two recorders gave me peace of mind plus I could split the kits up, which I did a few times eg one day when I went rain recording I took only the 722, the Sanken mic, headphones & a brolly… Funnily enough also in the lid of the LowePro bag is another backpack! Its a lightweight one, a daypack really, but perfect for quick lightweight missions!

Samoa bags 07

What else did I learn on my mission? Well let me talk a little bit about time. This subject is prompted partly by the film I was recording material for – O Le Tulafale by Tusi Timasese – which features a couple of scenes where time of day, and time passing is very, very important. Knowing this meant I had writ large on my record list: TIME OF DAY MATTERS. Its funny, I’ve been recording sounds and specifically ambiences for films for over 2 decades now, but this was the first time I really truly realised how important time of day is to a recording.

Arriving in any foreign culture really opens your ears & makes you listen. The minute I stepped off the plane I was listening, but for my first two days I was staying at a rural eco resort, up in the hills, half an hour from Apia. As soon as I hopped out of the car when I was dropped there, 11.30pm, I was just sonically overwhelmed by the night crickets – OMFG!!! Just LISTEN to them!!! I was too tired to unpack & start recording then & there, so I went to bed and listened. What soon struck me (obvious in hindsight) is that night crickets are not a constant, their sound changes, ebbs & flows… I noticed how some elements of ‘night’ were seemingly constant, while some was momentary, and other aspects were periodic but with a longer timeframe present for eg one minute in every ten…

Samoa bags 09

In hindsight I am stating the obvious, but have you ever included the time of recording in the file name of ambiences you’ve recorded? I never had, but from day one in Samoa I have changed that, and will now ALWAYS note time of day. Sure its stored in the creation date, but how reliable is that? Especially by the time you’ve exported a 192k file out to 48k for the picture editor etc… Crickets at 10am are very different to crickets at 4pm or 8pm…

Especially relevant to this concept is time sync. As I mentioned in previous posts Samoa is 23 hours behind NZ. So my time stamps are only accurate if BEFORE I do any recording, filming or taking photos I set all the clocks in my devices. This isn’t something you will want to do when the first great sound presents itself to be recorded eg OMG A FLYING FOX!!! HIT RECORD!!! Stifle breathing… You will want to set all devices at the first chance you can. So I set about resetting the clock on the 744, 722, the 40D, the s95, my laptop and my cellphone…. And since I’ve returned home & been wrangling the material I’ve been noting record times in both the filenames and the pieces of files I’ve exported for picture editorial (eg started recording night crickets at 11.30pm, but this chunk is from two hours into the recording, therefore its time of recording is 1.30am the following day)

Another reason why this is so very important is because despite always intending to, I do not always record a verbal ID. Under ‘normal’ circumstances I always record myself muttering “I’m in Taihape & this is a recording of a blah de blah….” not because I like the sound of my own voice, but because I know how memory blurrs. What is obvious today is oblique tomorrow eg “So this is crickets and birds take number six?? Where was I when I did this???” But the problem is that when you are travelling, having the palangi mumbling into his microphones is sometimes not the best way to start a recording. Whether its other people you might offend or make feel self conscious, or wildlife that you might scare off, there will be times when you simply do not want to open your mouth. You may not even want to breath because of what is in front of your microphones, but you MUST be able to remember the context of the recording – it is VERY important. I filled a moleskin with notes but even more valuable was taking photos and shooting video. While my Canon 40D takes the best photos it also has a loud mechanical shutter and is fairly obvious – its not designed to be stealthy. So if I could wait until after recording I would shoot a photo or three with my 40D, otherwise I was shooting ID photos with the little Canon s95 – silent & stealthy. But the point I am reiterating is re time stamps. Thankfully, of the many hundreds of photos I shot, the time stamps relate. So for every recording I made I can dive into the photos and find the shot of the recording. Do time stamps matter? Imagine wrangling & relating this data if I hadn’t synced beforehand:

Sound Devices 744 and 722 Field recordings: 139GB as 440 files
Canon 40D Photos: 6.7GB as 2,257 photos (including two timelapse sequences)
Canon s95 Photos/HD vid: 15.8GB as 149 files

It would be a world of pain if all the devices were not time synced!!

Samoa bags 08

As I mentioned in a previous post, my morning ritual was transferring data. Devices to laptop, laptop to the two drives. The first thing I did when I got back to New Zealand was transfer everything to my work computer & created a spreadsheet of all the recordings, with the record time of day and date and then began documenting them with descriptions. I filled a Moleskin while I was away with notes; I started a daily diary & recording log from the front of it and added random notes and ideas from the back… But plenty of times I had to refer to the photos and videos to confirm actual locations.

I then used SoundMiner Pros mirror function to create a 48k version of all the media, and created an edit session from which I began outputing TempFX and Ambiences for the picture editor, who I knew was very keen to get material into the cut. This week and the following two weeks I am on hiatus from the Cirque De Soilel 3D film so I will start work on the Samoan film and properly go through all my recordings, clarifying what I got, trying it in the current cut of the film and then starting a record list for field trip 2. I’ll also get some more recordings uploaded for you to have a listen to….

Lastly, I asked you all for book suggestions and here is what I actually took with me to read: as an actual book: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott… I also read two eBooks via Stanza on my iPod Touch: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes and 8 Minute Meditation, an interesting introduction to meditation, especially week 2 of its program: Naked sound – can you listen without judging?

Samoa Field Recording 01 – Saleapaga beach

I shot this video not because it is a fantastic sounding ambience – the roar from the reef is fairly dominant & diffuse – I shot it because it was such an amazing place to go for a swim on a very hot day… and I wanted some evidence that it wasn’t just a dream! Its 720p shot with my little Canon s95 so watch it on vimeo in HD if you want to be fully immersed… More recordings to follow…

Samoa map Saleapaga1

Beautiful Tech: Nagra SN

Following on from the first edition of Beautiful Tech: Bolex H16 comes part 2: the Nagra SN.

Nagra SN

The Nagra SN was first released in 1960, and was apparently commissioned by the CIA, accordingly they were unavailable and unknown to civilians for the first 10 years.

I borrowed this one from John Neill at Park Road Post (thanks John!) who have two mint condition Nagra SNs as well as a collection of pretty much every model of Nagra. (Park Road Post was launched when Peter Jackson bought the previously government owned National Film Unit and along with the film lab and mixing stages out in Lower Hutt came a fantastic collection of equipment dating back to the origins of film making in New Zealand) So who knows what has been recorded with this particular Nagra over the years…

Nagra SN

The design is so throughly well developed, notice how the cover has three small viewing windows, which lets you see the record level, supply reel and take up reel.

Nagra SN

Apart from winning Academy Awards for the Nagra III in 1965 and the Nagra IV in 1977, and for general excellence in 1978, Nagra also won the Film Producers of America: Alan B. Gordon Award for Technical Excellence in 1972 for the NAGRA SN! And to appreciate why that might be, consider that before radio mics were invented these were the only way to record dialogue for some scenes.

Nagra SN

To access the battery compartment you turn three screws and the bottom cover comes off, also revealing the circuitry… And like all good hardware there is a block diagram in on the inside of the lid:

Nagra SN

According to the Nagra site: “The SNST-R and its miniature jewel-like construction is a perfect reflection of the engineering and manufacturing expertise at Nagra. The SNST-R is milled from a solid block of metal, with top and bottom covers drawn from a light metal alloy. Its stunning look and superb engineering allow analog enthusiasts to maintain the values of Swiss crafting. Nagra-made heads, the meter, equipped with two scales, giving the recording level and indicating the status of the internal batteries, the manual rewind crank, offer the famous Swiss-watch precision. Measuring 146 x 101 x 26 mm and weighting just 590 g, the SNST-R becomes a discreet high-end miniature recorder.”

Nagra SN

“The Nagra SN has a frequency response of 50 Hz to 15 kHz ±2 dB. The wow and flutter performance of 0.05% is also state-of-the-art. Its small size renders it an ideal candidate for all portable, location or discreet recording applications. The machine uses 0.15” (3.81 mm) tape on special open reel spools. Operating at a tape speed of 3.75 inches per second (9.5 cm / S), it yields duration of approximately 40 minutes per reel of tape. The Nagra SNST-R uses two “AA” size batteries or rechargeable cells. This enables more than 5 hours of operation.”

Nagra SN

Check out this great virtual visit to the Nagra factory – particularly page 9 which has many photos from the Nagra museum room, with this great story: “Below shows the very first Nagra recorder which forever changed the arts of location recordings. The story goes that Kudelski participated in a French competition where he played back a tape of the Notre-Dame bells he had recorded in the actual cathedral tower. Being used to the minor tank contraptions of recorders of the day, the flustered jury demanded to know just how he had managed to transport the necessary equipment up said tower. When Kudelski presented his small and lightweight machine, history was written. Naturally, he also walked away with the award.”

Nagra SN

Of interest to any johnny-come-latelys; this Guide to the Nagra 4.2 Production Sound Recording PDF is definitely worth a read. Apart from explaining how to use a Nagra 4.2 the author also works through the process of production sound for films, circa 2003 and there is a LOT of very valuable, honest advice!

Nagra SN

I haven’t been able to find an owners manual for the Nagra SN – anyone got a link or a copy they could scan to a PDF?

SAMOA FIELD RECORDING TRIP 4


My morning ritual: transferring data off four devices.
First to the laptop, then cloning to two external drives….


Alofaaga Blowholes, Taga Village – I was looking forward to recording these and I sure wasn’t disappointed! I timed it right for the tides: when a decent wave came in the main blow hole would send a jet of water 25m up to into the air! On the first few surges sound ramped from barely audible to red lighting in an instant! A few tweaks and I rolled for another 20minutes, shooting video some of the time… And even though I was standing well back I still got a few adrenaline surges at the sheer power of some of the waves – I was ready to grab my kit and run if one broke right over… so thats another vid I’ll upload when I’ve been home long enough to sync it up!


Stayed in Asau for the night


Dusk


Shooting bulb exposures at dusk/night…


Hunting geckos!


and later…

After data transfer this morning I checked total data so far: 137GB!


“Echo locating birds” was all I needed to know to add this to my list of stops on Savaii


This photo is of the entrance to the cave referred to in the sign – its well developed with steps & electric light, but by the time we got in there & heard some Swiftlets they all flew past us & the cave was quiet. So the guy who was the guide there took me to another cave, 10 minutes through bush with no discernable track, then into a cave entrance small enough that I had to take my backpack off… It opened into a big long cave, so I set up my mics with one pair facing deep into the cave and the stereo mic pointing in the direction of the entrance. My guide went way further down the cave, so far his torch light couldn’t be seen…. Five minutes later and I heard the clicking of an approaching Swiftlet – its clicks accelerating and decelerating, then dopplering right past my mics!! I recorded for another ten minutes, just totally amazed at this beautiful sound. As I understand it bats use ultrasonic sound to locate themselves but these birds were audibly clicking, like little geiger counters – I’ll upload some to soundcloud so you can hear them, I can’t wait to hear the quad dopplers in my studio! One of those moments I’ll never forget – my guide said I was the first tourist to ever go to that cave….


Goodbye Savaii…

SAMOA FIELD RECORDING TRIP 3

Spent an hour or so at Tufutafoe, Falealupo Peninsula, Savaii
(No sound was recorded here, but the memory is indelibly imprinted – eerily quiet & still)
Was listening to Codex off the new Radiohead album while transferring these photos…
The place & the music are now linked, permanently…

Radiohead – Codex by mariocon

SAMOA FIELD RECORDING TRIP 2


Bliss!


These buses are the main form of transport in Samoa for a lot of people and they make me smile every time I see one approaching; apart from the great paint & decorations they always, and I mean always, have loud subby music booming from them. The night I stayed at Manunu Village I was woken at 6.30am by the distant bassline of the first bus of the day… as it got closer I started to assimilate the beat it was playing, then fell back asleep…


It might not look that hot but the thermometer in the car said it was 35 degrees! I set up the mics, hit record & lay down on the grass… but within about 3 minutes I just about passed out from the heat & had to retreat to the shade…. music for insects….


Recording curfew #2 at Manunu Village


Using the rental car as a mic stand – Le Mafa Pass Road


Taelefaga, the mics are pointed into a beautiful wide valley, looking down to Fagaloa Bay


Catching the ferry to Savaii – the water is even more beautifully turquoize than these photos!


My first morning on Savaii I was woken before dawn by this pinky orange glow – the fale I stayed in was built out over the water of a lagoon & it faced the sunrise so I purposefully left the curtains wide open…. I woke just long enough to take this photo, and to then set a timelapse going… A few downpours passed over while my timelapse was running and watching it afterwards it is so beautiful to see the surface of the lagoon pixelate and then smooth out again…. will upload it when I’m home… and have found the right sound to sync…

SAMOA FIELD RECORDING TRIP 1

Talofa! So far I’ve been in Samoa for five days, recorded 84GB of audio, shot 307 photos, and have a LOT of stories to tell! But some photos will have to suffice for now…

Samoa
This is why I always sit in the window seat

Samoa
View of Apia from Daves Eco Lodge

Samoa
Recording EXT from INT – at night recorded some flying foxes/bats!

Samoa
Moody beach – first few days were grey & rainy but humid & hot!

Samoa

Samoa
Will write more about this photo later – shot some video getting there, it was a 20minute trek through dense bush… Got to this shelter literally a minute before a torrential downpour (which is why we went there – it features in the film) Three minutes later & we would have got drenched!

Samoa

Samoa
Recording curfew at Manunu Village – the families singing hymns was so beautiful, especially with mics 20m apart! One of the older chiefs of the village came and sat beside me while we recorded. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he listened…..

Samoa
Recording coconut splitting & husking

Samoa
Fish for lunch!

Samoa
Beautiful sunny Sunday at Saleapaga Beach

Samoa

Samoa

Bittersweet – across the road from this beach are the many ruins of houses & lives destroyed by the Tsunami

Samoa

My Today is your Tomorrow

Crossing time zones is a funny, disconcerting concept – I’ve always enjoyed arriving… & then savoured the psychological adjustment of actually arriving. A few hours of time lag is fun – you can instantly stay up (or get up) a few hours later/earlier without effort. A six or eight hour shift is a challenge, but beyond ten or twelve hours things just start to get weird. Los Angeles is a -12 hour shift from here and I remember returning home years ago and consciously questioning whether I should be driving on the motorway: I was more used to enjoying REM during my lunchbreak, than avoiding life-threating non-indicating lane-changers.

But shifting 24 hours? Isn’t that time travel?

Time travel to Samoa

I gain exactly a day on the way to Samoa, and lose a day on the way back. Other than that (& the lack of a Dolorean 4WD) everything is normal. While I’m away I won’t be doing much/if any posting here – I’ll definitely try & upload a few photos & sounds but that depends on access… So rather than there be a two week silence I thought I’d try an experiment of shared experience. I’ve set up a series of automated daily posts, with each being a single question – some literal, some philosophical. Answer them as & when you see fit, via a comment, But, there is one proviso for this to work….

Through necessity I have all first comments set so they must be approved by me before they appear – you would not believe how much spam would otherwise appear here! I’m not sure which is more annoying, obvious spambots, or spambots that pretend to be human by writing stuff like “great post, I have learned so much on this subject. By the way have you heard of vi@gra?”

So if you have already commented at any time on this blog then you’re fine, but if you haven’t and you want to participate while I am away then you better comment on this post now, so I can approve you for any future comments. Otherwise if you suddenly decided to stop lurking & participate your first comment will sit for 2 weeks waiting for approval…. which would be a little underwhelming in terms of shared experience!

 

Time travel to Samoa

 

 

This isn’t one of the sonic questions but it will do as a starter for any first time commenters:

What is the first film you ever remember seeing, on film, in a picture theatre?

Mine was either The Wizard of Oz or Charlie & The Chocolate Factory – in psychedelic technicolour at the Ashburton Picture Theatre during school holidays with my Gran (thanks Irene, RIP)

You?

Cicadas, meet Pitch Shift

The start of summer in New Zealand is heralded by the sound of cicadas & while the start of summer is reason to celebrate, some people hate the cicada, especially production sound recordists! There is nothing more difficult to deal with than an exterior scene during cicada season. One local recordist I know has a special technique involving giant water pistols, but even that only buys a short moment of quiet. Heavy cicadas tend to mean ADR – there are multiple problems with their sound: they vary their frequency and intensity depending on direct sunlight so their intense sound can change radically between take 1 and take 3, and even more so between different camera angles etc… Even recording sound effects or ambiences I’ve headed out with the best of intentions only to be stopped by the cicadas. The only option then is to do what I did just now: record some cicada tracks! This one was happily chirping away in a tree outside my studio, so I put my MKH70 on a boom and went & stalked it!

cicada close up

photo by Antoine Hubert

Such a dense sound, but its rhythm becomes clearer once its slowed down. Here is the same track (recorded at 192k) at half speed, quarter speed and finally one eighth speed. If you’d like to know how & why the cicadas make their sound, have a read here

Just needs a bit of space echo!

There is no movement without rhythm

“Life has a rhythm, it’s constantly moving. The word for rhythm ( used by the Malinke tribes ) is FOLI. It is a word that encompasses so much more than drumming, dancing or sound. It’s found in every part of daily life. In this film you not only hear and feel rhythm but you see it. It’s an extraordinary blend of image and sound that feeds the senses and reminds us all how essential it is.”

By the brothers Thomas Roebers en Floris Leeuwenberg

Filmed during one month in Baro, Guinee Afrika.
Beautiful sound recording and sound design Bjorn Warning
Translator and Rhythm specialist Thomas Bonenkamp
With special thanks to the chief: DJEMBEFOLA |: Mansa Camio

Extraordinary! via Synthopia

Safe travel with gear 2

Following on from part 1 I’m still researching my trip to Samoa. With the prospect of recording music on location I’ve become obsessed with ethnomusicology and have ordered a few books on the subject, so expect a post or two about them in the future (one of the older books cost me US$3 on ebay, shipping to NZ? $13)

Last week I luckily managed to buy a secondhand Pelican 1650 case which seems huge (because it is!) but its the only one big enough to fit my 816 & MKH70 in it. So it solves my problem of getting the mics, stands, boom and anything else I’ll be taking thats not breakable. The 1650 case will travel with me as checked luggage, while all the breakables (recorders, cameras, lenses, laptop) travel as carry on baggage. You can see the Rycote W8 rig holding my 816 in the photo below (12″ LP is for scale)

Pelican 1650 case

A number of people have emailed me asking what mic stands I’m using in the last batch of field recording photos & video; they are the Manfrotto 5001 nano stands as reccomended by Nathan in this Noisejockey post. Despite them actually being lighting stands the native thread on the stands fits the Rycote pistol grips perfectly, no adaptors needed! I also discovered while down south that the little old mic stand I was using for my Sanken CSS5 actually weighs more on its own than two of those Nano stands! And its reach is feeble in comparison, check the photo below to compare them… So its days are numbered – I’ve ordered a third nano stand.

Nanostand

Heres a photo to show how small the stands are when packed, again an LP for comparison.

Nanostand

I’m totally happy with the Petrol PS602 bag – its big but I need it big because I won’t be carrying my usual camera bag… Most of the time the Petrol bag will have the SD744+302 plus my Canon 40D DSLR (or a 7D if I upgrade in time) with a few lenses & the little Canon s95 HD/stills camera. At other times it will have the 744+302+722 in it (as below) which entirely fills the main compartments but still leaves the front & back pockets for a camera, headphones etc… And hey it still probably weighs less than a single Nagra reel to reel! I’ll shoot some video of the PS602 bag, showing all the pockets and the clever spaces built in for cable routing & battery access – its a little hard to show it via photos…

PS602.jpg

FWIW my usual camera bag is a LowePro Mini Trekker AW – AW stands for All Weather, it has a clever rainproof jacket hidden in the base of the bag!

DSLRCamBag.jpg

Once I get over there I obviously won’t be carting the big Pelican case through the rain forests etc, so my next problem to solve is a lightweight bag which is big enough to hold the MKH70+816+CSS5+stands. While researching this very problem I came across these great alfa cases, which I had never seen before. Apart from the Combo-case which is like a rifle case designed to take your boom, mic and softie, they also make the waterproof MicTube – a hard case for securely carrying your shotgun mic, the BoomTube (for your boom) and the Softi-Case for carrying the mic in its Rycote – check here for the right size cases for your mics.

Alfacase

They seem very well thought out & I’ll check out pricing etc but I think what I am after is almost a lightweight backpack, but a rather tall one because the MKH816 is 82cm long in its Rycote…. Suggestions welcome, but I may just have to go into a local sports shop with my mics and try some out!

Two other gadgets I thought worth mentioning – I bought a Petrol rain poncho but did quite a bit of searching for possibilities for mic rain protection. I never realsied Rycote actually make a rain cover: Duck cover: “The Duck Cover is made of open cell foam that diffuses rain droplets’ sound, with a weatherproof backover spaced away from the windshield to minimise rain noise.”

Duckcover

The other nifty device is intended for cameras but got me thinking: Popabrella – not that i want to record the sound of rain on a brolley, but maybe if I covered it in palm leaves!?

Camera brolly

The shoot for the film finished in Samoa in December and the producer sent me 30 or so stills and wow! I never felt so incredibly inspired looking at mute photos! I wish I could share them but I can’t so here are some from Flickr that might help give some idea! Try this one or this one or this one or this one or the blowholes in this one!

So problems remaining to be solved: lightweight carry bag/backpack for MKH816+MKH70+CSS5+3 nano stands+boom. And then to decide which camera lenses to take!?! There must be advice on this subject out there – if anyone wants to offer advice my lenses are:
– Sigma 8mm fisheye
– Canon 10-22mm
– Canon 60mm
– Canon 70-300mm

I am prepared to leave the 70-300 zoom lens at home (its largest & philosophically I prefer the other lenses) but its a hard call between the fisheye & the 10-22mm, I love shooting with both of them! And the 60mm is essential…. and the timelapse controller… and the mini-tripod…. and the mosquito repellant….

Update: Might have found a suitable bag, these baseball gear bags look close to perfect: especially the ones with a seperate bat compartment (bat = mic stands!)

mic bag?

Field recording NY 2011 video

The first beach is Karamea, up the top of the West Coast of the South Island, near where the Heaphy Track starts. The second beach is by Granity (love the sound of the stones being dragged out by the outgoing wave) and the blowholes are Punakaiki. And a little explanation of the Sudden Sound at the end: the big inlet in the previous shot, known as the Devils Basin, has blowholes that go hundreds of metres up through the rock and exit through vents like the one in the flax by that sign. When you’re standing by that vent you can hear the distant wave crash followed by a huge rush of air being forced out through the vent. I couldn’t video the actual surges as I was using a boom with the CSS5 but its a fearsome sound!

Field Recording Jan 5

Visited Punikaiki blowholes yesterday and timed it perfectly for the tide – they were going off!! The sub from the waves pounding into the blowholes made the ground shake!! See this post for more info on location etc…

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

And my last West Coast photo – dusk at Westport:

Westport dusk

Field Recording Jan 4

Field recording

This was near the town of Granity and twice I ran to pick up the recorder & mics, thinking a freak wave was going to swamp them…. Needless to say my paniced stony beach foots & verbal comments/cursing won’t be in the edited file! As it turns out it was about every 5th or 6th wave that made it up the beach, to the foot of my mics (you can see the darker/wet stones in the fisheye photo below – what was I worried about?) The best sound of all was the lovely granular swell as the sea dragged stones out from the beach, but it only occurred on those big surges in…. Patience is a virtue is an essential part of ambience recording. I set levels so the CSS5 mic matched the 816/70 wider pair, and when I listened with no headphones and then inputs 1&2 vs 3&4 it was the 816/70 pair that ruled supreme. I love wide/discrete mics for interesting ambience recording – good to have the tighter stereo image of the CSS5 (on ‘normal’ setting) but the wider/discreet image is so much more engaging and closer to how I hear it at the time: our ears ARE discrete after all…

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

This was literally many miles up a 4WD track off a remote back road, and up here somewhere was the second time I would have been royally screwed without four wheel drive. I don’t take serious risks (eg attempting river crossings or mud traverses) when on my own, but theres nothing like wandering off the beaten track a little & finding your wheels spinning, only to kick in 4WD and idly drive out of any problems to appreciate why owning a 4WD is wise, if you do go exploring occasionally.

Field recording

This was one of many ruins that I stumbled across, dating back to the gold rush days of the West Coast. But this was the best one to record: I started to think about how many rainy winters were contributing to the rusty heavy metal creaks I recorded while manipulating the hatch door to this random thing…. 50 seems too few, maybe 100 is closer?

Field recording

Field recording

With a nor wester & a bit of drizzle the colour pallet was totally shifted from yesterday… As any photographer will tell you, grey overcast days are great for shooting photos due to consistent light… but for sound recordists such as i, it seems the bitey sand flies were out in force today!

Field recording

Field Recording Jan 3

I’ll post sounds & video when I’m back home but right now I’d rather head out & do more recording than spend time in doors! But for now heres a few holiday pix (MKH816+Sanken CSS5+MKH70, recording 192k 24 bit to SD744+SD302 preamp)

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Field recording

Favourite field recording of 2010

This post is in reponse to a great question asked at Social Sound Design site: What was your most interesting recording of 2010 which will surely lead to some fascinating sounds & stories… I’ll post my answer there too but I figured I’d post it here first as I wanted to include some photos…..

Imagine we’re living in the future and space travel is easy; anyone can afford to travel anywhere in the galaxy and the means to do so are so refined that you don’t even need breathing apparatus when you go for a walk on the surface of some distant gaseous planet. This describes my favourite field recording trip of 2010. Here is the location:

Some of the larger & denser mud pools sounded like a very large pot of porridge! But here is a piece of the original field recording of a close up mud pool which is more singular :

MudPool original field recording by timprebble

An interesting aspect of these mud pool sounds is that they are almost like a set of random triggers; accordingly they interact in interesting ways with impulse responses. Below are some processed versions, three through Eventide H8000 impulses, then convolved with a huge metal grain silo impulse & lastly convolved with a piano impulse (mud pool playing piano? WTF?)

MudPool processed01 H8k1 by timprebble

MudPool processed02 H8k2 by timprebble

MudPool processed03 H8k3 by timprebble

MudPool processed04 silo by timprebble

MudPool processed0 5 piano by timprebble

Film Lab Pump Recording

While working on the next HISSandaROAR library I was doing some recording in a workshop and I suddenly noticed this rhythmic sound start up in the ambience. I recorded a bit of it & then asked the guy helping me what it was – he took me through & showed me – it was coming from the film processing lab next door and was a pump for flushing chemicals etc… Of course I recorded some, but I went back through the doors to the workshop and recorded some distant/through the wall perspective just for a reference – the recordings in the lab were peaking at about -5dB while through the wall with doors shut it was -22dB, a 17dB shift… Have a listen (note I’ve cranked 9dB of gain into the perspective) It’d be fun to take some percussionists into the lab & have them play along to the solid pulse of the pump!

Safe travel with gear

I think the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in an airport was on my way to Bali a couple of years ago. I was sitting in Sydney airport waiting for the connecting flight & watched this middle aged gent walk past with something hanging loose from his back… About five metres further the object fell to the floor and he kept walking, totally oblivious. A kid sitting near me jumped up, ran over, picked it up and chased after him & returned it to him. What had he dropped? Just one of those security pouches containing his passport, tickets and cash! I laughed out loud at how ridiculous the situation was, here was someone attempting to be security conscious…. and totally failing! To the point where it could have ruined his holiday; he was obviously transiting and wouldn’t have been flying anywhere without the contents of that little bag.

Keeping a careful track of where your essential documents are is one aspect of travel that you need to learn fast, if only so you can relax. A good friend will never live down the fact he left his passport in the pocket of his jeans while staying at his in-laws in Osaka, his mother-in-law helpfully put it through the washing machine! He likes to pretend its her fault but who leaves their passport anywhere other than somewhere safe!?! Travel documents are at least small and can be locked up in a safe if necessary but how does one travel with a lot of equipment & do it safely? This is a subject I’m researching before my trip to Samoa, not because it is a dangerous place – quite the contrary – but because I want to be able to relax & know all my equipment is safe & secure. Now obviously I am not the first person to travel with equipment – we all do it to a degree – but this trip I’ll have gear that I’ll use constantly, as well as a lot of other gear that will effectively be in storage until the need arises. Talking to the production sound recordist for the Samoan film, the only problem he had last time was having an iPod stolen from his bag while staying at a resort after the shoot. A minor incovenience as its repalceable, but it would also mean no music for the rest of the trip, which would really suck….

carry on baggage?

Working through scenarios, there are discrete stages in travel – the first is of course getting there. It is common sense to pack anything breakable in your carry on baggage, which would include recorders, preamp, laptop, hard drives, cameras, lenses… But there is also the theory of planning for the worst case scenario: you arrive at your destination and all of your stowed/checked baggage has been lost/misplaced. Now that would be a pain but with a bit of forward planning it should only be an inconvenience, not put the purpose of the trip in jeopardy. So if I think about the core purpose of why I am travelling – in this case to record sound – then my carry on baggage needs to include everything essential that I need to achieve that. So its going to have to include one or two mics, as well as battery chargers for the essential gear. When travelling locally I would usually just put all the chargers into a soft bag and put them in checked baggage, but in the worst case scenario I want to be able to record for longer than one set of charged batteries!

Lockable checked baggage is essential and hard shell cases make immediate sense, whether they are pelican cases or other varieties. But apart from carefully packing the other gear (mics, cables, stands etc) & padding with clothes I’ll also be having to pack my sound recorder petrel bag in there too. So its starting to sound like an excess baggage scenario especially when you consider the empty weight of a large pelican case. Note to self: find out what the baggage allocation is & the potential excess baggage cost.

Once I get there I’ll reorganise all my bags and gear and leave one case at the picture editorial suite, which is secure. But regardless there will be times when a pelican case full of gear is sitting in a hotel room or somewhere unattended and it is this scenario I’ve been thinking about solutions for. With the problem of the recordist losing his ipod, I don’t want someone having a look through my pelican case & just for their own amusement taking the fluffy dead cat thing (with the $3000 microphone inside it) – I can keep the bag locked but I can’t lock that stuff in a safe. How to make it immoveable (ie cant steal the entire case) and unapproachable (ie cant quietly spend half an hour forcing their way into the case)

safe bag?

In doing research I read a few different sites selling products for eg locking a hotel door yourself (eg at night) or keeping passport etc which is as much about personal safety as anything, but this site appears to have products more along the lines of what I imagine and I figure I’ll get these two for each hard case:
– a 130dB alarm that can be rigged to a bag, door or window
– a cable lock for securing luggage to physical immoveable objects

The other two forms of protection I’m going to need in Samoa is (1) from insects and (2) from sudden downpours – I don’t mind getting wet but my recorders & mics sure don’t! Apart from picking up a Petrel bag for my recorders I’m also going to get one of these Rain Ponchos

rain poncho

So whats your experience? How do you protect and secure your gear when travelling? Whether its sound gear, cameras, laptops – how careful are you when staying in a foreign country? Know any resources or links covering such things ie packing gear for travel, keeping it secure etc?

A few links I’ve found since…

pack a starter pistol to get extra special security treatment with your gear? If I was going to be shooting IRs I’d consider this, but not sure its legit for international travel

travel tips for photographers

Sonic Tourism Auckland – North Head

I’ve been working on a couple of new photoblogs (eg one for Little Spaceman) and in the process I decided to recatalog all my photos, exciting stuff I know…. not! It took 2 days to log my 37,488+ photos and its been invaluable for making it easier to select photos to include in the new sites but the side benefit that I hadn’t even thought about was the fact that it also has reminded me of many field recording trips I’ve done & documented.
When I go out recording it is usually with a purpose ie I’m working on a film and I’m collecting specific ambiences or effects that I need, but like any good recordist I always keep an open mind & record anything interesting I come across and it is those sounds that I was happy to be reminded of. The sounds I recorded for the film of course get used in the film, but these others sit in the library waiting to be used in some unknown context, and it’s a pleasure to be reminded of their existence… which is another good reason to always document your recordings visually!

So this particular record trip was to Auckland when I was working on Under The Mountain – I was primarily after ambiences, first the Britomart train station and secondly North Head… With the Britomart centre I didn’t even think to ask if I needed permission, so I wandered in there, stood around for maybe an hour recording different perspectives of trains coming & going, and people coming & going.. Eventually a security guy came over to ask what I was doing, I explained, he went away and ten minutes later his boss came back & escorted me off the premises, telling me I needed a permit to film there… I thought they were very kind to let me do all my recording before they told me this, because its not like they didnt notice me – a six foot guy waving a dead cat around tends to get noticed! Anyway moral of that story is sometimes its better to plead ignorance & do the crucial recording before you get stopped, although of course next time I would contact Film Auckland and make the necessary arrangements….

So after I left the underground Britomart centre I did a series of exterior recordings of the city and as I headed back to my car for the first time noticed this huge building site and realised I’d been hearing it in the distance for a little while:

ak

So I walked around the outside of it & recorded a few tracks & was awe struck by the beautiful resonance & space in some of the percussive sounds – it was like they’d hired some Taiko drummers to do the manual labour!

Building Site 01 by timprebble

ak

Building Site 02 by timprebble

But that isn’t the sonic tourism I am referring to though…. Some of the scenes in Under The Mountain were filmed at North Head, which is a peninsula & as the name suggests its the north head of the entrance to Auckland harbour. Apart from being a public park with a beautiful view of Rangitoto, the harbour and the city it is also a site of historical significance, first for Maori and later it became one of a number of defence forts that were rapidly set up in the late 1800s to defend Auckland from a feared Russian attack. The fort was later expanded as part of Auckland’s coastal defence system during World Wars I and II, and is covered in gun emplacements with interconnecting tunnels….

So first I recorded some general sea ambiences:

ak

And then I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: make some fixed level recordings of an exterior and interior location, just to see what the level difference is. This is something we balance on every film ambience predub, layering & balancing the levels of eg an exterior shot of a house, and then doing the same for the interior. Of course we aren’t making a documentary about ambiences so we arent locked into any rules – its what feels right but considering that sea was like a giant pink noise generator I figured this was a good chance to try it. So I recorded a bit of the exterior and then went into one of the tunnels and recorded more, without changing record levels….

ak

EXT INT cave by timprebble

The level difference? Exterior metered at -28.4dB and interior at -36.8dB, so a 8.4dB shift…. interesting!

Apart from being out in the open & all the fresh air, there are fantastic acoustic contrasts to be enjoyed at Northead for example imagine walking around an open park and then coming across this:

ak

Its a pleasure to the ears to transition from an open field acoustic to such enclosed spaces… but it gets better!

ak

Some of the tunnels are seriously long & join on to larger underground rooms… And every space has such different acoustics & resonance. I asked my friends to go further down one of the tunnels & make some sounds – they found some metal enclosures and did some hits for me – check out the beautiful resonance, on one of the hits it almost feels like its feeding back!

INT NorthHead 01 deep hits by timprebble

They also found a metal pipe & did some hits with it (three at real speed, then repeated at half speed)

INT NorthHead02 Pipe hits by timprebble

ak

That dog looks like its having the most fun! Ditto for those kite surfers!

ak

Heres a photo of the map of North Head – more info & a PDF map is available here – you can catch a ferry over to Devonport from downtown and then walk to North head. Just be aware they lock the gate at 10pm, we had to jump the fence to get out as stayed there quite a bit later…..

ak

So if you live in Auckland where would be your favourite spot to visit for interesting sounds, acoustics etc? The West Coast beaches are always overwhelmingly beautiful & the gap at Piha is about as raw & dangerous as a beach/inlet can get…. Where else?

Boom Case

How cool are these repurposed suitcases!?!

boom case 1

Check out his blog or buy one from his etsy store – they contain an amp, are rechargeable & for a small fee he will also add an iPod charger!

boom case 2

thanks for tip Guy!

Listening to Sculpture

Wellington has great public art scattered throughout the city, from concrete poetry embedded in the windswept waterfront:

public sculpture 01

To wind-powered kinetic art that I can see from my lounge: Phil Price’s Zephyrometer (I swear sometimes the wind is so strong that I have almost seen that orange pointer so oblique its blocking traffic!)

public sculpture 02

And Phil Dadson’s Akau Tangi which glows beautifully at night via wind powered LEDs

public sculpture 03

But there was one sculpture that I knew existed, but had been delaying visiting, so as to savour it…. So last Saturday, on what felt like the first day of spring (& coincidentally while my girlfriend was here on holiday) we went for a walk to find it: Andrew Drummonds Listening and Viewing Device

public sculpture 04

While taking these photos it was interesting to see other people come across the sculpture and engage with it – you don’t get a sense of scale from the above photo, but the sculpture would be over 4m high & as the sign says, it is a Listening and Viewing Device

public sculpture 05

If you can imagine what an old fashioned ear horn does for the hard of hearing, then you will have an idea of what its like to experience this sculpture. But like any environmental art, it is influenced by its surroundings. When we visited on a sunny day it amplified the drone of the distant city, but I can only imagine what it sounds like during gale force winds…. And the next time we have one I’ll be revisiting it with my record kit!

public sculpture 06

Listening via Andrew Drummonds sculpture reminded me of an experience I had in Japan, visiting an art gallery & coming across the work of sound artist Fujimoto Yukio – to see an empty chair sitting in a gallery with two pipes mounted obviously at head height made me smile at the beautiful simplicity of it, but also at the anticipation of what the world would feel like sitting on that seat, quietly listening…. Such moments are to be treasured.

Fujimoto Yukio

Field Recording 2000

(Oops I actually mean 2001!)

While discussing recording crowds (and the issue of avoiding ambient music) over at the new forum, I was reminded of a great crowd track I recorded while on holiday in Beijing, 2001. My sister was living over there for three years so I planned a big trip, first to LA and New York, then to my other sister in London and then to Beijing…. But things didn’t go as planned, my tickets to USA were for September 14th 2001 – yes! Three days after September 11! I remember waking up that fateful morning and spending the next few hours watching the horrific footage cycling over and over on TV in total disbelief… Later that day I went & visited my travel agent and asker her advice; she suggested I still leave on time but go straight to London, so I ended up having an extra few weeks in London…

Back then I travelled with my trusty old DAT machine – a Tascam DAP1… and I took a pair of Octavia Mk012 mics as I didn’t have room for a rycote…. I bought a pair of those little fluffies they use on video cameras so I had some wind protection, but it’s interesting to hear the results now, and to think how much technology has changed in ten years…. So here are a few sounds from my travels back in 2001; first recording? An airport room tone from a brief Singapore stop over…. Recorded at 4am so I’m surprised there’s no snoring!

I love that dislocated feeling when you are between time zones, William Gibson described it perfectly in Pattern Recognition: “her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”

Singapore Airport 4am by timprebble

And of course sooner or later after arriving in London I went & recorded the Tube/subway:

London Tube by timprebble

From London I did a few side trips including Amsterdam & Barcelona – here’s an interior ambience from Gaudis chapel in Barcelona – I love how diffuse the sound is!

Gaudi Chapel Interior by timprebble

And here is the restaurant I mentioned in Beijing. I think my sister took me there as she knew what it sounded like – it was basically a very large old noodle restaurant. But the interesting sonic character was the waiters – there must have been ten of them running around and every time a group of people arrived at the door they would all shout! My sister and I sat quietly slurping noodles while I recorded for ten minutes. Afterwards I asked what were they actually shouting, my sister thought it was the number of people in the newly arrived group, so the other waiters could shout back if they had a free table that could seat them.

Beijing Noodle House by timprebble

Like any city the sound of traffic in Beijing is unique and I recorded half a dozen different tracks, surprisingly I didn’t record any accidents – the photos below show a few typical busy intersections, with literally traffic going in every direction at once!

Beijing traffic

Beijing Traffic by timprebble

Whenever I go travelling I do lots of research for interesting sound locations to visit and one that instantly appealed was a bell museum. This first bell is a 46 ton 600 year old bell that was just amazing to be near when it was struck, and by near I mean put your head inside! It resonated for maybe five or ten minutes, so this recording really doesn’t do it justice:

40 ton 600 year old bell by timprebble

Beijing Bells

Another bell that was very intriguing was actually a bowl of water, with side handles which when you rubbed them fast enough created a resonating tone, but the weird thing was that as the bowl resonated the water bubbled almost like it was boiling:

Water Bell by timprebble

Some sounds I heard in Beijing I simply could not record, I have a very distinct memory of being about six stories up a tower looking over the suburbs and noticing a flock of pigeons flying around. The pigeons had whistles attached to them and the sound was beautifully evocative.

Beijing pigeons

But one sound I came across in a park I just could not begin to think what was creating it!! I first heard it in the distance and followed the direction of the sound until I came across an old guy using what looked like a double ended spinning top, suspended & spinning on some string between two drum sticks!

Spinner by timprebble

My sister helped me buy one of these devices from him and at various times ever since I have practiced making these sounds, the problem being that once you get it going to an audible level it is spinning very fast and if you make a mistake it tends to break the string and the top goes flying off… Its a little dangerous but that old guy in the temple was a master at it! I’ll update this post with a photo of it – mine is at my studio… Anyone know what they are called? I’ll update this post with a photo of mine in an hour or so….

Update:

Spinning tops

To give an idea of scale, the drumstick with the string on is the size of a normal drumstick…

Why Use High Sample Rates?

This is a question I see often: if the final form of the project is 44.1kHz or 48khz, why bother recording at high sample rates? There isn’t any one answer to that question, there are lots of answers. But I thought it might be useful to illustrate a reason by using a real world example…. And if you cannot be bothered reading all of this, then just remember this: Plugins LOVE dense data!

192k

When I was working on a film last year called HOME BY CHRISTMAS I had the challenge of creating the sounds of memories – sometimes beautiful, happy romantic memories and other times the horrific memories of war, World War II to be exact. The film deals with the directors father telling stories about his experiences in WWII, first in the infantry and then as a prisoner of war. Before I started work I had a number of discussions with the director about how to approach the archival footage. One sequence in particular showed a distant battle at night with flashes of bombs going off and we realise this is memory and not ‘reality.’ So we didn’t want any full resolution dynamic explosions, and the scene ends with an introspective moment with her father in the garden of his house now, thinking about it all. So amongst other things I went looking for sounds that could evoke falling bombs and one of the elements I ended up using was a screech from a falling fireworks, except I processed the hell out of it. To start off with I pitched it down, way down. I sent it from SoundMiner into ProTools at 17% real speed, so what was a high fast screech became a long drawn out doppler that was almost vocal. But the problem then became the grain – the original recording was recorded on DAT quite a few years ago so was only 16bit 48k and pitching that much revealed the grain nastily. Partly to hide the grain but also to push the sound into memory I started playing around with processing it through various impulse responses – some were natural acoustics while others were weirder IRs (such as the Sanitarium collection) – with a little help in the final mix from the lovely reverbs at Park Road Post, the end result worked beautifully! But it made me think: I need some source material like that recorded at high resolution!!! And so the idea of recording the FIREWORKS library at 192kHz became a fixture in my mind.

Now the annoying thing is I don’t actually own a 192kHz interface, my ProTools HD2 rig has a 96io interface so I cant actually play or edit sounds at 192kHz. Back when i recorded the SEAL VOCALS library I actually recorded it at 192kHz but had no choice but to edit it at 96k, but this time I was determined to pursue the 192kHz from start to finish. So I called a favour in from a friend and rented his 192io for a week and set to and edited all the FIREWORKS material as well as recutting the SEAL VOCALS library (which will be a free update next week to anyone who bought SEAL VOCALS MAX)

Anyway once I had finished editing & output the FIREWORKS 192k library I started experimenting with plugins and tried some extreme pitch shifting. Using the plain old Digidesign Pitch AudioSuite plugin I took a sound with plenty of high frequency content and pitched it one octave down. Beautiful!! Totally continuous with no grain artefacts. Ok lets try 2 octaves… Wow!!! I was sold! Here is that first trial (a Predator firework) first at normal speed and then at -24 semitones down.

Heres another example (a Red Dragon firework) first at real speed, then one octave down, then two octaves down:

Heres a more percussive sound (a Solar Flare firework) – first at real speed, then 1 octave down, then 2 octaves down…

And a Might Cannon firework fired from inside a pipe, first at real speed, then one octave down, then two octaves down

Now obviously these examples are no longer full rez – the Soundcloud embed is limited to 128k MP3, if you go to the Soundcloud page they sound a bit better, but believe you me they do sound great!!! Apart from on their own such deeply altered sounds can also really contribute when layered with real sounds eg imagine a slow motion body fall and layering one of those Mighty Cannon hits pitched down two octaves! With real speed sounds layered on top your ear wont read the pitched layers as being altered due to masking, but the ooomph of thaose slwoed sounds is potentially VERY useful!

So apart from buying a 192io interface or one of the new Apogee Symphony interfaces, what use is all of this to you? Well there is a quick & dirty way to alter the playback speed of high resolution files in ProTools. If you go to the Workspace Browser in ProTools and find eg a 192kHz file, if you scroll across to the sample rate you will find it can be edited! So if I take a 192khz file and edit its sample rate to be 96kHz it will then play at half speed (one octave pitch shift) when it is imported into a 96kHz session! Now I haven’t compared this method with pitch shifting a sound in a 192kHz session and then exporting it to 96khz, but I will!

But as I mentioned at the head of this rant, the real moral of the story is that plugins LOVE dense data. Whether it is linear or variable pitch shifting or time stretching, the denser the data is in the source file, the more data the plugin has to use when interpolating. So even if your work session is 48kHz, if you intend to do some serious pitch manipulation it would be well worth your while recording the source files at 96khz or 192kHz and doing that processing in a 96khz session. Then transfer the processed files back into the 48k session for syncing/editing etc…

Geothermal

I spent the latter half of last week in Rotorua a city you can smell well before you arrive! But not in a bad way, as the smell of sulphur has natural origins; the city exists within New Zealand’s most active geothermal region…

 

rotorua

 

rotorua

 

rotorua

 

rotorua

 

rotorua

 

rotorua

 

And with a small amount of research its easy to find somewhere to stay with your own private mineral pool – bliss!
rotorua

And a recording sidenote: relative to Bruce Tanis’ post about recording accidents; on my last morning in Rotorua I went to visit the largest geyser which they trigger to blow at 10.15am… I naively thought I might record the initial blast but when I arrived I noticed how big the carpark was… and how set up for tourists it was… By 10am there were maybe 50 people milling around, and I was starting to get a little annoyed as the prospects of cleanly recording the geyser diminished but I suddenly realised: here was a chance to record 10+ minutes of clean exterior crowd chat! I smiled to myself, hit record & stood quietly waiting for the show to begin. The geyser was sonically underwhelming – I recorded much more interesting sounds elsewhere, but that crowd track will prove useful (once I edit out the LOUD American tourists! What is it with American tourists – do they ALL talk louder than everyone else? I noticed the same in Tokyo, standing in a train station at rush hour with literally thousands of people passing by, but the loudest dialogue was….. American tourists! Whats the deal? Are they all a bit deaf?? Why not just talk quietly? Maybe next time I’ll ask….)

Recording near the Sea

Recording the sea presents its own challenges, but recording something other than the sea while near the sea presents a very difficult challenge – how to avoid varying degrees of broadband noise over everything? This was one of many facets of recording seal vocals that I had to work through and I thought it might be worth sharing a few things I learned in the process.

The first consideration has to be the weather. We had a southerly storm come through Wellington earlier this week and I heard the surf report that morning on the radio: “there’s currently a one metre surf but by lunchtime it will be 3-5 metres, and round Cape Palliser it will be 8 metres” HOLY CRAP!!!!

Here’s some video/sound of a beach about 1km up the road from the seal colony and when you watch it, imagine that same beach with an 8m swell!

So how did I know it was going to be such a gentle swell as per the video, and not 8m? Well part good luck and part good management: I told a friend of mine about my planned trip and he sent me a link to Swell Map a site often used by surfers amongst others… Now I obviously knew the tides are predictable and that was the information that I primarily thought I needed, as I figured if the tide is out the waves are further away from where I’ll be recording… Here is a copy of the swellmap for the weekend I was at Cape Palliser:

Swell Map

So Friday was raining when I left town, but I knew from the weather forecast that the storm was to clear Friday night & the weekend was meant to be pretty settled. So I arrived there Friday afternoon and from the bottom tide chart I noted that low tide was 5.40am Saturday morning, so I paced myself to get up as early as possible Saturday & Sunday morning. Saturday morning I made it to the seal colony as dawn was just breaking; there is a lighthouse at Cape Palliser and I noticed it was still shining when I arrived. I also noticed the waves at that beach in the video were pretty small & further out the sea was pretty flat, and if you look at that swell map again you can see that it predicts what I describe in the middle chart, with a swell less than 1m. I was mightily impressed by the swell map – I knew tides were predictable but I printed out the swell map above almost a week before my trip; how do they know? But also note, they predict the wave periodicity, wind direction and wave front complexity!!

Ok so if factor 1 for recording near the sea is weather and factor 2 is tides/swell, then factor 3 is microphone choice. Friends of mine own Sennheiser 816 microphones and I’v used them a few times when doing vehicle recordings, to capture the maximum approach and away of vehicles as the 816 is a long, directional shotgun mic with far greater ‘reach’ than any fo the shorter shotgun mcis that I’ve used… Last year a secondhand Sennheiser MKH70 mic appeared on local online forum and as I knew it was the new version of the 816 I bought it. And if you’re ever shopping for mics, it really pays to be patient and try for second hand – to give you some idea of the saving I made the MKH70 retails for US$2,975 – I paid US$800 for this one and it came with a Rycote and fluffy! But other than a few vehicle recordings I had never had a real reason to use it much, but the more I thought about it the more I realised the MKH70 was the perfect mic for the seal recording.

MKH70

A friend who owns an 816 advised me to be careful when using the MKH70 with regards to the rear of the microphone. The important aspect with this advice is that these mics are good at rejecting the side information (ie sound at 45 degrees from the mic) but the rear of the mic is vulnerable, so eg if the front of the mic is pointed at a seal but the rear of the mic is pointed at the sea, then the results won’t be so good. So I was constantly careful to keep the front of the Rycote ‘on mic’ at the seals while the rear was pointed either at the ground or at the sky ie NOT horizontal with the rear pointed towards the sea! The image below is a typical polar response of a shotgun mic:

shotgun polar

And heres the polar response for the MKH70:

MKH70 polar

Apart from the mic choice, I also for the first time ever used a boom for the seal recording. And wow! Did I sleep well Saturday night after spending 5 hours wrangling a boom while climbing all over the rocks!

mic + boom

My primary motive for using a boom was safety – I knew I wanted to get the mic close to the seals, but I wasn’t keen on getting bitten for obvious reasons. In tests that I did, I noticed that seals rarely took any notice of my presence until I was within a few metres of them, and having observed how fast they can move I decided to use a boom, and generally speaking I had the boom on full extention which put the mic 3m away from me. So I would be in record (ALWAYS be in record!) and would slowly edge into the seals comfort zone, and often times the mic would be within half a meter before it took any notice!

One aspect of recording with the MKH70 that messed with my senses was the idea of recording with a mono mic. When I was slowly, carefully moving around through the rocks recording I would be monitoring through my headphones but as the MKH70 is mono I lost my sense of direction. A few times I would hear an interesting call in the distance, and had to take my headphones off and use my ears to locate where it actually was coming from! The things you take for granted!

The last aspect of recording by the sea was that I discovered how important proximity & masking can be. The conclusion I came to with this was that it was acoustically possible to hide from the direct sound of the sea! I noticed this more as it got towards lunch time and the tide was coming in, so the waves & waterlap became more pronounced, but monitoring through headphones I noticed it was almost like line of sight: if I was down amongst rocks the sound of the sea was considerably muffled! And this aspect accounts for some of the best recordings I got of the seals – sometimes the seals would not retreat to the sea but instead would move into one of the labyrinth of caves & tunnels underneath the rocks… And of course my microphone tended to follow them into some of these contained spaces, but it was amazing to hear the ambient background shift from being present, to being muffled (behind rocks) to being totally subdued down underneath the rocks! if someone had suggested this phenomena I would have been sceptical but the results speak for themselves – there are more than a few seal vocals that almost sound like they were recorded in an ADR studio!

 

SEAL VOCALS LITE preview by timprebble

 

Shifter Kart FX Recording

Exactly a week ago today, I had that nervous sense of anticipation when you have a major record session happening that day. And at times like that I remember the words of some forgotten performer who explained that those butterflies in your stomach are important, because they keep you on edge & slightly worried so that you are fully prepared, double-check everything & make sure you can give it your best shot. Thanks butterflies!
So the reason for this kart recording session was primarily because the previous kart I recorded was too low revving; it was a 250 and the one I was now set up to record at the Mt Wellington track was a 125 that can rev past 12,000rpm! And it has a wild expansion chamber on the exhaust… so YES!!! its pretty damn LOUD!!! Spot the good Dad in this photo:

loud!

The previous Kart session wasn’t a total write off – I got some useable material, but in hind sight I realised the main benefit was experience. I doubt I would have been half as prepared nor got such great clean recordings from this session if I hadn’t already tried once before. So maybe thats a moral of vehicle recording; if the vehicle plays a prominent role in the film make sure you can have multiple access to it. Even if the session goes perfectly, when you are back in the studio cutting the material, you may discover you need to do a quick revisit to pick up a few specific extra sounds…

So the most difficult aspect on the first recording session was rigging the mics; when you see how small & low to the ground these karts are you realise two things: firstly there isn’t a lot of room for bulky gear, and secondly the engine, chain, wheel etc are all VERY close to your mics & cables – if something were to come loose eg a cable to get tangled in the axle, the results could be very dangerous to the driver…

loud!

So first I set about mounting the mics – on the last record session I got a lot of low end vibration which at times overloaded the mics, so this time we used a small piece of high density foam, and gaffer taped the mic (which was wrapped in polar fleece for wind protection) to the top of the radiator. I wanted to use two mics for a couple of reasons: first is paranoia – if one of the mics distorts then maybe the second mic will be ok… the other is for variation, so even though both mics are close to a very loud sound generator we mounted the other mic on the back of the seat & gaffer taped it to radiator hose. Obviously all of this was done with help & advice from the drivers eg how hot that does that radiator hose get?

setup!

I bought a bag with me to put the recorder in, but also to contain any spare cable – ideally I needed some very short mic cables eg 1m, but all of mine are more like 4m so I knew I’d need to route the cables, gaffer them in place & then safely wind them up & secure the spare cable beside the recorder. You can see the bag lieing open in front of the radiator in the photo below.

setup!

Now a word about the recorder – you might think I’m nuts but I decided to use a DAT machine as the onboard recorder. I have a few good reasons, firstly because it worked well in the past – we used the same DAT machine to record the onboard sounds for Burt Munros V Twin Indian and got great results, and as this session was critical (& expensive to repeat) I did not want to be experimenting. I also know a friend had a bad experience using a hard disk recorder when recording onboard Formula 1 sounds – the G Forces & vibrations caused the hard drive to produce errors & stop recording. I understand the solution to this problem is to transfer the OS onto the CF flash card & disable the hard drive, so recording to the CF card too… I will give this a try when I have spare time to experiment eg on my own car or something, but I wasn’t game on this session. I also wanted to use my Sound Devices 722 to record exterior moves at the same time as the onboard recording, so DAT it was! The DAT machine I have (a Tascam DAP1) has built in switchable -20dB pads which I used from the start as those dynamic mics produce a hot signal which will distort the mic preamps, even with the input gains turned down. A sidenote: you can see distortion in the meters – on the first kart recording, I did a first run without the pads in, but with the input gain turned down so the level was peaking at -12dB or so… As soon as I stopped him to check the recording, I rewound & hit play and before I even listened I could see the meters went rapidly up to -12 and then had practically no dynamics or movement in the meters. It was like they were smacking into a brickwall limiter and thats exactly what was happening, but it was happening BEFORE it got to the recorder side of things. After turning on the -20dB pads & turning up the input gain to compensate the levels similarly went up to -10 or so, but there was dynamics & movement in the meters. Experienced soundies will already know all of this but for everyone else, be very aware that loud sounds can distort the mic preamps BEFORE they become a digital signal. So while your meters are nowhere near clipping, you may well just be cleanly recording an already distorted signal. Accordingly every record kit should contain some inline pads!
Heres a photo of both mics rigged & ready to go:

both mics

So……. what’s it sound like? Well small high revving motors like these need to be warmed up, so there is a ritual of starting them while they are on their stands & then blipping the throttle for a while. Along with warming up the motor this also gave me a chance to check levels etc… I recorded this on both the onboard DAT and my 722 with Sanken CSS5 mic, so I’ve synced up the recordings & I switch mics on the video so you can hear the difference in tonality. There are also some shots from on the track, where I repeat the footage switching mics each time (please excuse the shaky cam – its hard recording sound & shooting video at the same time!) I’ve also added captions identifying what mics you are hearing – Onboard Mic 1 is an EV RE27, I need to check what Mic 2 is… Last time I used an AKG D112 but it really captured too much bottom end (which is what it is designed for)

 

Obviously when we premix these scenes the dubbing mixer will EQ and compress the onboard mics… And I have another whole stem of FX dedicated to onboard tyres, movement, vibration etc… Serious fun! Next week we are doing Ambience & then Foley predubs, so it will be mid the week after before we crank up the Kart FX in Theatre 2 at Park Road Post – I can’t wait!!!

 

PRP mix

ps I’d really appreciate hearing about others experiences with onboard recording in similarly tricky situations – I wish I could find that article about people recording F1, I’m pretty sure it was in an old Mix magazine…. A solidstate recorder would be the ideal…

ps if you are into gaming, check this video

Favorite Field Recordist Sites

We like living vicariously, especially when it involves a favorite sense, so here are some of my favorite field recordists blogs. And while I appreciate all of their work I’m going to highlight one recording from each which I think you should cue up, close your eyes & enjoy.
And I am totally obliged to say I appreciate the fact that all of these artists place their work online for us all to enjoy, be enlightened & transported by. I suspect it may prove to be the ultimate sign of digital immaturity when people attempt to assign zero value to things they can “get for free” – art is created by those who provide a context for their work and whether its created via a brush, a camera lens or a microphone the experience is everything! Keep up the great work!

 

Andreas Bick’s Silent Listening – listen to: Dispersion of sound waves in ice sheets

Field recordist 01

 

Michael Raphael’s Sepulchra blog – listen to: Plaster City Rockets

Field recordist 02

 

Local, Grant Finlays Nature Sounds of New Zealand – listen to: Tawharanui rain

Field recordist 03

 

Listen to Africa is Huw Williams and Rebecca Sumners two year 24,000km cycle powered field recording expedition across Africa – listen to: Life in the mangroves

Field recordist 04

 

Lastly, of specific relevance: Field Notes is a PDF magazine “concerned with the phenomenon of sound from the most varied perspectives: artists, scientists and sound researchers” – check out the first two issues

And please feel free to reccomend other good field sound blogs – I’m all ears!

UPDATE:
Chuck Russom’s blog
Noise Jockey
Quiet American’s collection
A Quiet Reverie
Soundwalk Blog
Touch Radio
Domestic Soundscape
CSW Blog

Sonic Travel: South Island, NZ – part 1

Nathan, who hosts the excellent Noise Jockey blog DM’d me on twitter the other day to say he is spending 3 weeks in New Zealand’s South Island & did I have any reccomendations as to essential recording locations? I sure as hell do!!! And voice them I shall, but any locals reading this feel free to add your own favorites….

So first something that isn’t maybe immediately apparent about New Zealand is that its a small country. Sure there aren’t many people living here, especially if you ignore Auckland (like most of the South Island prefer to) but more specifically its a physically small country – you can drive from the East coast to the West Coast in maybe five or six hours, and from the top of each island to the bottom in ten hours. What I’m saying is you can see a lot of country in a small amount of time, but (and its not a small but) not if you want to stop every half hour to take photos & record sounds…. suddenly an easy 8 hour trip turns into an 11 hour mission! Plan accordingly… but its food for thought – having transport & being independent makes NZ a different place to visit than for the poor people who buy into the bus trip version of NZ tourism…. I’ve heard horror stories of people who spend most of the day asleep on the bus missing the scenery because they had to have their bags packed by 6.30am etc…. Iggy says it best & accordingly I cheer every time I pass a free ranging campervan of tourists off on a mission exploring…. hint: you can probably circum-navigate the whole South Island in 2-4 weeks & see a lot of amazing territory that no bus will every go near…

Another aspect of NZ that will be foreign to some people is that NZ is an island nation – almost everyone lives within sight or at worst a few hours drive from the sea. But OMG how that sea changes!!!! What on one coast is an idyllic summer swimming beach, on another coast will drown people within the blink of an eye, regardless of how good a swimmer you might think you are…. Be warned!

I would say the two sonic aspects of NZ that are the most beautiful to experience are the sea & the wildlife. So rather than try & generalise I’ll instead give you some specifics of the places in the South island I most rate (& its based on equal amounts of growing up in the South & also going through the same process, of how to show my GF the best parts of the South Island in less than a week, while she was over from Osaka on holiday last year) But rather than try & write the ultimate post all in one hit, I’ll do it as a series, starting with the most important….



1. BEST SONIC SITE in the South Island? PUNIKAIKI (pronc: Poon – a – kai – key)
What makes Punikaiki, or Pancake Rocks as they are known, so great is the blowholes. Go there on a lame day (flat sea, tides out) and they are ‘just’ scenically stunning, but go there during a storm when the tides in & you will fear for your life! For this reason it is pointless to go there for a quick visit, you need to go & stay there for a night or two. You also need to find out about the tides when you arrive & visit a few times. Luckily there are a few places to stay right near there, so you can check in, unpack, relax & walk to Pancake Rock at any time of the day or night… A good example; I did a road trip with two friends half a decade ago, spent a week in the general area but stayed one night at a cheap-ish motel nearby. We all visited Pancake Rocks late afternoon & nothing much was happening. Went back to the motel, had dinner, drinks… more drinks…. one of us passes out, it gets to midnight, full moon, theres a storm brewing…. me & the other conscious traveller wander off to Pancake Rocks & far out! I have never experienced anything like it! Let me explain….
During the day its touristy; buses stop, tourists get out & follow the well marked track to the Blowholes. But at night, the track is still clear & safe… If you are lucky a daytime visit will coincide with serious wave action but if it doesnt, revisit at night! (hint: bring a torch!) As we got within 300m of the sea we started to hear a very subby erratic pounding, once every 20 or 30 seconds…. slowly we got closer to it… Now every time the sub booms we also heard flax moving… We slowly came to a fenced off area which was an air vent to one of the blowholes – the sea is crashing in 300m away & forcing air into tunnels, which vent beside the track… AWESOME!!! We kept following the track & eventually come to an open area where the sea is 200m below, but there are bridges & a fenced in track across the rocks… & now the sea is crashing into contained spaces & sending spray 20m into the air above… time to put a jacket on & protect your mics! This is the kind of sea where, were you to fall in I’d suspect you’d only survive 5 minutes or so…. heres a few photos:


 

 

 

 


And a few recordings I’ve made there back in the day, using my dear old steam powered Tascam DAP1 DAT machine & a pair of 416 mics…

First, the wind coming out of a blowhole (you hear a sub hit of the wave impacting, then the air travels down the tunnels & exits by where I’m recording)
[audio:http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/zstashedbits/Puni01.mp3]

The waves impacting & sending spray flying:
[audio:http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/zstashedbits/Puni02.mp3]

Waves in the inlets:
[audio:http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/zstashedbits/Puni03.mp3]

The rumble of the sea pounding the rocks:
[audio:http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/zstashedbits/Puni04.mp3]

In terms of where it is, Punakaiki is about 45 minutes drive north of Greymouth. If you are arriving directly into NZ via the South Island then you will be flying into Christchurch airport. So presuming you are driving it would be maybe 4 or 5 hours drive from Christchurch on the East Coast across the Southern Alps to the West Coast to Greymouth….



The road from Christchurch to Greymouth is a dramatic road to drive (& equally the train ride is rated as one of the best in Australiasia) – it used to be arduous & slow but thanks to some serious engineering its now mostly breath taking… Heres a few photos taken on the trip across the Alps:


 

 

 


Heres a link to info and places to stay – budget will dictate what suits best, with a couple of drinking buddies we stayed somewhere cheap & cheerful, which was fine… with my GF we stayed in the Eco Resort which was very beautiful & comparatively expensive….

Heres what the blowholes don’t sound like:

Also while on the West Coast, definitely aim to try some whitebait – a tasty seafood that looks a bit like worms & is usually eaten in a patty…. delicious!!

Stealth Recording

Do you have any experience with stealth recording? If so I’d love to hear your experiences & mic/gear setup… So why would anyone need to do stealth recording? Well other than recording concerts there are a few scenarios that immediately spring to mind, one that I have done & one that I was asked advice for…
Firstly the easier scenario: a film I did called Stickmen (IMDB + trailer) back in 2000 was set in bars, cafes & pool halls and since the film was shot here in Wellington I did a lot of recording – firstly visiting each of the locations when they were empty (to get clean backgrounds/room tones) and then visiting each place at different times to get various crowd tracks. Recording the room tones was easy as I was the only one there but the crowd sounds took a bit more thinking about – pulling a Rycote out in a crowded bar would probably mean I get a lot of recordings of people asking where the cameras were etc… So I made a very simple stealth recording kit by putting my DAT recorder (this was 2000) in a ‘normal’ looking bag & recorded using two Oktava MK012 omni mics, each with mini-fluffies on them, like what people use for on-camera mics. Being condensor mics any wind, even in interiors, can cause mic rumble/buffets eg someone opening an external door to the bar. The Oktava mics were small enough to just poke out each end of the bag when I was ready to record and I happily recorded lots of very useable crowd tracks. I would do a quick headphone check when I started recording, but sometimes wouldnt even bother & if it was say a bar, I would often set the recorder rolling before I even entered the bar, with the mics in position so I didnt miss anything but also so I didnt have to mess around once I was inside.

The second scenario for stealth recording is more critical, and thats recording in a public place where (a) you don’t want people to know you are recording but also (b) it may not be safe to record. I don’t have a lot of experience with this but I do have this to say: PERSONAL SAFETY is THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR! There was a sad case in the local news recently of a man being shot dead while on holiday in Jamaica when someone grabbed his girlfriends cellphone, a struggle ensued & the thief shot the guy dead. This is very sad, but best you learn from their mistake: if you had the choice of being stabbed by a pschotic meth junkie with an infected knife OR losing your brand new Schoeps microphone which would you choose? (If you choose the former then its maybe something you should discuss on your next visit to the analyst) Same goes for your iPhone, your hard disk recorder, your wallet, camera, and anything!!! To clarify your decision making make sure you are fully insured so getting robbed will actually just mean a free upgrade in gear. And also constantly duplicate your data so losing your recorder doesn’t mean losing the previous days recordings. I also strongly reccomend not recording on your own, so there is someone to help should you get hassled..

Ok so back to the practicalities: its easy enough to carry a recorder without it being obvious, whether its a small handheld recorder in a jacket pocket or a larger hard disk recorder in a small camera bag. Whatever you do use its probably best it isn’t some brand new stylish bag – something bland & maybe dark… People wearing iPod headphones are pretty common nowadays but if it is a truly dodgy area you are going into then maybe even wearing those makes you a target. But wearing headphones is not even critical – you can happily record without them, and you can do a test recording with headphones before you head outside, to insure there are no problems with cables, mic placement etc….
Speaking of cables you can of course route those inside your clothes, but the tricky part is what microphones to use? I know of a couple of options but havent used them myself so I would really appreciate comments from people who have used them or have better solutions.
Firstly, DPA make some very high quality very small microphones – here is a link to their miniature mic catalog
Secondly, Core Sound make a range of high quality miniature binaural mics which are worn as though they are headphones… But thats about the limit of my knowledge, whats your experience?

A Sound You Will Never Forget

Is there a sound from your past that you will never forget? A memory so vivid that even reading this question takes you straight back there? If so i’d love to hear about it & via the comments on the previous post heres one from Brendan Hogan (thanks Brendan!)

“Did you know that there are hundreds of species of cicadas and that in places where there are many species living together (like the jungle’s of South East Asia) they take turns singing throughout the day? It is possible even to tell the time of day with a margin of error of only five minutes; just by listening to which species of cicada is singing at that moment. Most sound like a horror movie sound track but once, when I was sitting with a group of monks in a monastery on top of a fogged in mountain, I heard a cicada sound that sounded exactly like a violin section playing one continually sustaining note. I will remember that forever.”

Wow!

A sound memory that will stay with me forever similarly occurred while travelling in another country & culture. Late in 2007 I needed a serious break from work, having just finished six months working on 30 Days of Night, so I decided to go to Japan for six weeks. I spent the first 3 weeks based in Tokyo, getting lost lots but slowly learning my way around the city & visiting nearby regions. I then headed south to Kansai region & I had been there a week when I got an email from a friend in NZ who had just got a new job & as he had a few weeks off before it started he decided to come join me & suggested a road trip. So he met me in Osaka & we planned where we wanted to go – we had both previously been to Naoshima, a small island in the Japan Inland sea which has a number of incredible Tadao Ando designed art galleries on it, so we decided to revisit it & figured since we were in the region we should check out some of the other islands in the inland sea. I was keen on Awajishima as I knew there were two major works by Tadao Ando there & then my friend suggested Shodoshima. Now the weird thing is, any Japanese people we mentioned visiting Shodoshima to tended to scoff, as if theres nothing much to see there… but for some reason we persevered & I am so glad we did.

We caught a ferry over to Shodoshima & drove all around the island & then headed inland, as I had read there was a pretty stunning gondola from about half way up the mountain range. And we weren’t disappointed. I suffer varying degrees of vertigo, not so much panic as bouts of anxiety, but I decided to base my level of concern on the Japanese tourists who were in the same carriage as us & they didnt seem to be even slightly nervous… Once we got to the top the views were stunning & I managed to record a whole tribe of monkeys, who had an obvious system where adult monkeys acted as lookout & if you got within 100m of where the young monkeys were playing the guard monkeys would shriek & shake the trees to warn the rest of the clan… But that wasn’t the most memorable sound of the day…

On the way back, driving down through forests we came upon a beautiful old temple & without saying anything we decided to stop & have a look. The main temple was up quite a few steps & parts of it appeared to be built into the actual rockface. As we walked up the stone steps an older Japanese man came wandering up the other steps, carrying some gardening tools & a big bag of leaves & weeds. He grinned at us & said hello in english & asked where we were from & then wandered off…

We had a look around the temple, without going in & then at the surroundings – it was a beautiful location & I stopped to record some echoy water sounds that were coming from a gap in the rocks, and I heard my friend go back down to the temple & then heard him doing the traditional hand claps outside the temple & a few minutes later he called out to me to come… So I wandered down & here was the gardener we had met previously, although now he was dressed in full robes & invited us to go into the temple. So we took off our shoes & walked inside & from the main room there was a set of stairs that literally went up into a cave. We followed him up the stairs & came to a small antechamber that was above the temple & had a bit of a view, but from there was a set of really steep metal steps that went up about 5 metres! So we followed him up there & entered what was truly one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever been in. There was only a little natural light, but the room was glowing from from more than 50 soft lamps, and as our eyes adjusted I noticed the beautiful big metal bell. The priest asked us our names & then lit a small fire, lit a large handful of incense & then proceeded to perform a ritual prayer for us. As he chanted he would occasionally hit the big bell & the resonance of both his voice & the bell combined in that chamber to just the most astoundingly beautiful sound I have ever heard. As soon as we got to the upper chamber I asked the priest if I could take a photo, to which he shook his head no. Just before the prayer started my friend nudged me & pointed at my little H2 recorder & I didn’t hesitate & shook my head – this was to be a memory, not a recording. I will remember those sounds forever.

Exposed Springs

The Ekdahl Moisturizer is a spring reverb desktop unit which has its springs exposed so you can ‘play’ them…. heres a good demo video:

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They cost US$300 and are available here. It would be interesting to hear it played sparsely/gently with the gain cranked up cleanly… As the video shows, apart from the spring the unit has a built in filter (variable LPF, BPF, HPF) & LFO as well as control voltage inputs, heres a block diagram:

Rycote Afro for your Portable Recorder!

I love how these fluffy windjammers from Rycote start to anthropomorphisize these handheld audio recorders – that one on the right just needs some eyebrows!

I must order one for my Zoom H2, there is nothing more frustrating than having an otherwise good recording ruined by wind buffets & the light foam protectors they come with are only really any use in the lightest breeze – even the subway trains wooshing past would buffet my poor little H2 when I was in Tokyo… Order them here or via your local Rycote dealer

NZ Birds vs Extreme Pitchshifting

National Radio in New Zealand has a lovely daily ritual where just before the news they will play a recording of a native NZ bird, and I just discovered that their website has the full collection available for listening to, but also helpfully includes a photo so that next time you’re out wandering around in the bush you can put a name to the face, so to speak – the specific page is here

One of my favourite native NZ birds is the Tui; They are beautiful to look at & are reasonably common wherever there is bush (even in cities) but the sound they create is just so amazing – if you heard a single sound in isolation it is unlikely you would think that a bird created it, more likely an ARP or a Synthi!
Heres an example recording from my library:

Tui mp3

What makes Tuis vocally unique is the fact that they have two voice boxes, and as the pioneering ornithologist Guthrie–Smith observed “much of the Tui’s singing we cannot hear, the notes too high, I suppose, for our human ears, for I have often watched the bird’s throat from but a few yards distance swelling with song entirely inaudible.” I havent as yet recorded a Tui with a microphone like the Sennheiser 80X0 which could capture those frequencies that we can’t hear, but its still interesting to pitchshift the Tui down, as it gives your ear more time to hear what those sounds are made up of….

Tui one octave lower mp3
Tui two octaves lower mp3
Tui three octaves lower mp3

Heres another piece of Tui vocal, with pitch shifted versions:
Tui 2 mp3
Tui 2 one octave lower mp3
Tui 2 two octaves lower mp3
Tui 2 three octaves lower mp3

And another:
Tui 3 mp3
Tui 3 one octave lower mp3
Tui 3 two octaves lower mp3
Tui 3 three octaves lower mp3

Apart from hearing the rhythmic & tonal effects more clearly its also interesting to note the reverb which isnt so apparent at normal speed….

Now this is where it gets a little weird, see it seems there is a talking Tui by the name of Woof Woof, who lives in a bird sanctuary in Whangarei… dont believe me? Well go check Woof Woof’s videos out here

Tims Travel Tips: Japan

A friend is off to Tokyo soon so I thought I’d collect up a few recomendations for him… Tokyo is often most peoples arrival & exit point for Japan, but if time allows I highly reccomend visiting Kyoto and Naoshima…

Tokyo

Getting around Tokyo:
1. Narita Airport is about 90minutes train ride from central Tokyo; the best way to get into town is to catch the Narita Express (N’Ex) train. You buy a ticket at the airport but they also do a special cheap deal for the N’Ex ticket plus a Suica card thats good value….

2. buy a Suica card as soon as you arrive (as above)
They are like an EFTPOS card except you put money on them & then you use them to pay for subway… it makes it easy to use the subway as, presuming you have credit on your Suica card you never have to worry about what the fare is (usually you have to work it out & prebuy the right ticket…) You just wave the Suica card past the scanner (stand by an entrance way & watch other people use theirs) and there are machines in the entrance of all train stations for refilling your card.

3. Tokyo has a main circular subway line called the Yamanote line which goes between all the main areas/suburbs – you’ll use it lots to get around…

4. Its important that you note what EXIT from a subway station you are wanting eg a bar or art gallery might say on their map:
take East Exit Shinjuku Station or take the No.2 exit Ueno Station…

5. Finding places can be tricky – most websites will have an access map with directions from nearest Subway station – it pays to print out the map & address so you can ask people, even if they dont speak english or as a last resort jump in a taxi & let them find it for you!
UPDATE: having an iPad and a wifi portable modem is imho essential in Japan! Google maps is excellent (& even tells you what time next train is leaving on any planned route)

6. Rent a wifi modem! Apart from email & keeping in touch, its essential for google maps, website access & directions etc…. These can be picked up (& returned) from whichever airport you arrive at/leave. I’ve used this company: Japan Mobile Rental 4 or 5 times now, and highly reccomend them – excellent service!

7. If you need a Hotel in Tokyo one of my favourites is Sutton place as its right beside Ueno station (on Yamamote line)… More expensive (depending which floor you stay on) I also really like Hotel Metropolitan which is close to Ikebukuro Train Station – improtant note: you can often get better discounts via booking.com than if you walk in off the street. I stayed in a very nice hotel, then tried to extend my booking and they couldn’t match the discounted price on booking.com (so I rebooked online) – just be aware of how far your potential hotel is from the nearest Yamanote line station, especially during your first visits to Tokyo it simplifies access if you are close to the Yamanote line.
I also highly reccomend staying in a traditional ryokan at some point during your visit

UPDATE: I mainly use Air BnB now – my favourite is this sound proof apartment with a grand piano!

My favourite things to do in Tokyo:

1. ICC Gallery near Shinjuku station
Best art gallery in the whole world, especially for digital art! (& a note for soundies: they have an anechoic chamber!) Its a 20-30 minute walk from Shinjuku Station although I tend to catch taxi there/walk back as means you dont get lost quite so easily… But getting lost is half the fun! Also very useful is the Tokyo Art Beat website which lists all the current exhibitions. Also very useful is the book Art Space Tokyo

2. Mori Tower – Roppongi
Another good contemporary art gallery but its also on the 53rd floor & you can buy a ticket for the gallery that also gives you access to the 360 degree viewing floor! This is good to do in first few days to give you an idea of the sheer scale of Tokyo – also good to do at dusk & watch the day turn to night & Tokyo light up! For other art gallerys/events: ArtBeat website lists all current exhibitions on in Tokyo

3. Ghibli Museum (Mitaka station on Chuo line)
This is a fantastic place to visit – a museum & theatre for Miyazaki animated films; you have to prebook as its hugely popular, especially at weekends, but its so great!

4. Yoyogi Park on a Sunday (Harajuku station on Yamanote line)
Lots of people go to the park on a sunday & especially kids in weird cosplay costumes & lots of bands (eg every 50m a different genre band)
A few examples:

5. La Jetee – the best bar in Tokyo!
A friend introduced me to it & you would otherwise never find it! Its tiny, upstairs, holds ten people max & everyone there tends to be film people…. Tarantino has a sake bottle kept there etc… its run by a French/Japanese woman who speaks a little english if she has to… I’ll scan the map sometime as its otherwise impossible to find, it is in an old part of Shinjuku called Golden Gai – full of tiny tiny bars….. Address is: La Jetee; 1-1-8 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku

Kyoto
Kyoto is definitely worth visiting – catch the Shinkansen/bullet train from Tokyo in about 3 hours… There are literally hundreds of temples in Kyoto – I’ve been to maybe a dozen or so over the course of 3 visits, many are not open to public or are only open via appointment or at certain times of year… They are so beautiful words can not express the experience. A few I reccomend visiting are:

Daittoku-ji (a good first one to visit as close to central Kyoto) which is a collection of temples including Daisen-in, Ryogen-in & Koto-in

Ryoan-ji beautiful but often busy with busloads of tourists… has a zen dry garden with 15 stones, but no matter where you stand you can only ever see 12 of them!

Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) – beautiful, park like grounds

Naoshima
Naoshima is the ultimate art destination – its a small island in the Seto Inland Sea & contains two major art galleries, both designed by Tadao Ando, plus a dozen art houses; traditional houses that have been rebuilt as installations by noted artists… Each time I’ve been to Naoshima we got a rental car from a town called Okayama and drove to the port of Uno, where we caught a ferry over to Naoshima. Then its easy to explore the island in the car…. basic Naoshima info etc here
If you do rent a car, get one with a NavMan in it & ask the rental company to enter the phone number of your destination. Then the Navman will display map of how to get there – we didnt use any other maps at all!

Places to go on Naoshima:
Chichu Art Gallery (Tadao Ando designed gallery – so so beautiful!)

Bennesse House Art Gallery

Miniderma Art House (James Turell/Tadao Ando)

The first two times I went to Naoshima we stayed at a hotel on the mainland & just went over for the day, but last time we stayed at the very flash (& youch! expensive!) Bennesse House beach Hotel, also designed by Tadao Ando….
But, its on a beautiful beach & just along from it were some great little cheap cottages which is where I will stay next time….

I’ll post some info about Osaka, Kobe & a few other places I’ve been in Japan & recommend…
Check my photos from travels in Japan here – if you go back through previous photos/visits you can get a feel for many of the places I have been in Japan… I cant wait to return!

I’ll reformat this & find a better place to keep it & update it…

A great online source of info and advice is the Japan Guide site

Car FX – another classic movie!

Location recordist Ken Saville also reminded me of the great car FX in the film The Vanishing Point, starring one mean sounding Dodge Challenger, check the trailer:

What other great car FX movies are there? I remember reading about the Robert DeNiro film Ronin a few years back, for its car FX, but I am damned if I can find the article/interview online….

Ronin: BMW vs Peugot

And a few more, from this thread:

– Fear is the Key (old Alistair McClane based movie)
– For Your Eyes Only – Citroen 2CV vs Peugeot 504
– Tomorrow Never Dies – BMW 7 in action
– Opening sequence of Cannonball Run with Countach and Pontiac police car
– Car-Train chase scene from French Connection
– MI 2: the Audi TT/ Porsche
– Romeo Must Die, with a Merc c class amg
– TAXI and its sequel TAXI 2; a Peugeot 206 flying(literally) around marsielle!

Bond…

Car FX – part 2

Thanks to Michael for the question: “Just wanted to ask you how you found the dynamic mics handled wind and vibration noise when recording the Valiant Charger?”

I’ve never had any trouble with either wind noise or vibration using dynamic mics. Sounds too good to be true but it is – I must have recorded half a dozen cars or more & gaffer taped a dynamic to the rear bumper right by the exhaust = no problem! Gaffered a dynamic mic in the engine bay & almost always no problem, the only caveat being; beware of mounting the mic too close to the distributor – once or twice i’ve had to move the mic to get away from periodic static generated by the distributor. If you dont know what a distributor is, & presuming you know what a spark plug is; the distributor generates sequential voltage to each of the spark plugs so they fire (or zap!) in time, so if you trace the cables going from each of the spark plugs back to the round black plastic thing (the distributor) then mount your mic nowhere near it. It isnt a noise you hear in the engine bay, more a signal caused by interference in your mics or cables..

Re wind noise: I wrap the dynamic mics in what i think is called ‘polar fleece’ – its a material a bit like what sweatshirts are made out of, although slightly thicker… You can buy lightweight jackets made of it, that will keep you warm in a very cold wind. Wrap & then gaffer tape the mics tightly with this… I’ve never had a problem with wind buffets. I think this is due to a few factors: dynamic mics are way less sensitive to wind than shotgun mics. Consider how much trouble you have to go to, to protect a shotgun mic from even the wind generated by slowly moving the mic. Compare that with the pop shield involved in someone basically shouting at a dynamic mic… the shotgun mic is floated to avoid vibrational movement, then protected by a Rycote cage (light foam) then wrapped in the inner softie and then the exterior fluffy… a pop shield is like 2 layers of nylon stocking….
You definitely need to protect the mic but remember dynamic mics are placed one cm away from a drum skin, while someone smacks them with sticks!

Vibration: no problem! I’ve always gaffer taped the mic directly to the rear bumper bar. Depending on how far out the exhaust protudes; with the Valiant I could position the mic vertically as the end of the exhaust was directly below the bumper. On another car I recorded this week the exhaust was like 1 foot closer to the engine than the bumper, so I angled the mic so it was pointed at the exhaust.
The engine mic I have always partly gaffer taped & partly wedged it into whatever space there is in the engine bay. I would offer practical advice but every time is different. That Valiant was different to the lovely old 4 cylinder Singer Vogue I also recorded, which was also different to the gang car; a Falcon big block V8, which was the loudest V8 I have ever heard!!!

And that is my final word of advice: be ready to pad the level of the dynamic mics down prior to your mic preamps. Some cars are very LOUD! I remember reading about people recording Formula 1 race cars & they had Shure SM58 mics mounted by the exhaust & in the engine bay. But they discovered that the incredible SPL was such that these dynamic mics were generating like 3 or 4volts rather than the millivolts that the mic preamps were expecting. So they had to use lots of inline mic pads to reduce the voltage down to a level that they could cleanly record. When I was recording the Valiant the Fostex PD6 kept throwing up ‘clip detected’ errors oncreen, which i had to manually clear before I could see the actual level. After I turned down the record levels such that they were no where near hitting 0dB & I was still getting ‘clip detected’ errors I realised the mics were clipping the mic preamp inputs, so I switched in the inline pads that the PD6 has (pre-mic preamp) and no more problems. I should really get a few 6dB and 12dB XLR inline pads for emergencies & I sure as hell will before ever recording a seriously loud vehicle. They could easily make the difference between a totally distorted unuseable recording & a multi-track recording you can be proud of!

Also a tip from people micing up drum kits, use your ear as your guide. Literally! For example in the engine bay, open the bonnet & get someone to rev the engine & use your ears to localise where the best sound is. Too close to the fan belt & you’ll just get belt whine. Does it have a turbo? How about the sound of the air intake? Whats the most interesting sound you hear? Put your ear right in there & locate a perspective you like, then gaffer tap your mic there! Remember that dynamic mics only see/hear a short distance…

I just got home so tomorrow & over the weekend will load up all my recordings & quickly make notes/tag info & metadata & embed photos with each recording while all the memories are still fresh. Theres nothing worse than revisiting a recording a few months later & trying to work out where it was recorded by a few vague verbal comments… Right now my psyche is still back on the beautiful East Cape, but even the drive through rush hour traffic getting back into town has started to erode that….

ps heres a photo of the two mics I used, still wrapped as I used them… in fact I leave them wrapped like this until i need them for something else…. Excuse the gaffer tape mess, I literally pulled them off the car & threw them in a pelican case…

A final warning: you must be careful leaving any loose wires hanging anywhere on the car – i’d hate to see what would happen if a mic cable got tangled with the fan belt! But also be very careful with routing cables back to your recorder. I usually just put them through a window that is open enough to allow it, but again you end up gaffer taping loose cable to the car body & be very very very careful removing that tape! The owner of that car will not be your friend if you remove some of their paintwork when you remove your cables!!!

Car FX, Car chases… & submarines

I spent most of this afternoon recording car FX with a V8 Valiant Charger being used in a film that I’ll be doing post on later in the year & meanwhile had a revelation – I need a six track recorder! Stereo just doesnt cut it any more…. I went & visited the set last night & sat with the production sound recordist (Ken Saville) & during the meal break we got to discussing vehicle recording and when I mentioned I only had a 722 stereo recorder but always like to record 4 tracks for car interiors (engine, exhaust & stereo interior) & he promptly volunteered to loan me his Fostex PD6, which he wasn’t using on set. Of course I jumped at the chance!

I ended up recording 5 tracks for the car: tracks 1&2 were my Sanken CSS5 stereo shotgun interior, track 3 was a dynamic mic in the engine bay and track 4 was a dynamic on the exhaust. I plugged my Sennhesier MKH70 into my 722 and synced the two machines together with a verbal ID and a finger click and left both machines rolling the entire time. When I was onboard I used the MKH70 out the window to get tyre sounds & objects passing by – there is a very distinctive bridge in the film, so it as great to capture the whoop whoop as we crossed it. But as soon as we stopped I could jump out with the 722 & MKH70 & record exterior FX (passbys, start/aways, up/approaches etc) and meanwhile left the PD6 still recording interiors… It will be weird to be able to play in sync an onboard & an away – two perspectives in sync! So anyway, after such fun I realised I ‘need’ a six track recorder, but i just need technology to catch up with my expectation/budget ratio!

After I got back from recording the car today I got into a rant with the picture editor his assistant about great car chases from films past & these three instantly came to mind:

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

The French Connection

& the ultimate Mini chase in The Italian Job

I must watch those three movies on DVD some time soon, with the sound cranked up!

And the submarine? Well I didnt get to go in one but The Wire blog has a great set of links worth a visit (here) about a project by sonic anthropologist Stefan Helmreich who went on a mission in The Alvin, a three-person submersible…. hmmmm I’m not sure what would be more claustraphobic, a big submarine or a small one! Beautiful sounds though!

The Sea – part 1

“They remained silent for some time. The coffee in their cups clouded up and grew cold. The Earth turned on its axis while the moon’s gravity imperceptibly shifted the tides. Time moved on in silence…”

I’m quoting from a short story called Airplane by one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murikami & that phrase has stayed with me since I first read it many years ago. When I was a kid, if I had asked someone why the tide goes in & out every day & been told its partly because of the moon I would have laughed & asked for the real answer. And I’m still not sure I believe it… “You mean the suns involved too? No way!”

Living on an island nation means the sea is never far away – New Zealand is so small you can drive from one side to the other in about half a day & the length of each island in a day & a bit… Accordingly I’ve recorded the sea many different times, in many different places & as I am about to head off on a bit of a road trip (which will inevitably involve recording some more of the sea) I was listening through some recordings in my library and came across a recording I did in Takaka back in 2006. The start of the recording as usual had me verbally identifying the location and then I clapped, twice. Ahar! There is only one reason I ever clap on the start of field recordings – because I was also shooting it on video, so I dug through my box of DV tapes & sure enough there it was! And so here is a little excerpt from my favourite beach: Totoranui Beach, Takaka, top of the South Island, New Zealand and here is a link to a Google Earth KMZ file if you really want to see where this beach is exactly!



Totoranui Beach, Takaka, NZ from tim prebble on Vimeo.

And let me explain the claps as I often see youtube videos that sound appalling & depsite some of them being specifically about the audio (eg synth demos) the creator hasn’t bothered to seperately record & then later sync up the audio. Now my theory is that some people think the sync up will be a pain but really it isnt if you do one simple thing at the start of the recording. Let me illustrate – once I had set up my DV camera and my sound recorder & mic (back then it was a Fostex FR2 recorder & CSS5 shotgun mic) I set both machines recording & then did this:



Sync Clap from tim prebble on Vimeo.

Yes it is exactly like the clapperboard you see on film sets, although when shooting film they are even more important as the camera records no sound. When you shoot video the process is much much easier.
All I had to do was digitise the DV footage into the computer (I used Final Cut Pro but it doesnt matter what you use) and then import the DV footage into ProTools, also bringing in the audio from the crappy camera mic. Now I imported the lovely 24bit recordings from my HD recorder, layed them on tracks alongside the camera mic tracks & moved the 24bit recordings until they roughly synced their waveform of my handclap to the one on the camera mic tracks. Zoom in a few times & nudge the 24bit region until its tightly in sync & then delete that crappy camera mic!

The problem with camera mics are threefold: 1. usually they are a cheap mic eg my DV camera is maybe worth $2,000 so they probably invested $100 at most on the mic…. 2. the mic is physically attached to the camera so any bumps get transferred to the mic (& its often hard to get decent wind protection/fluffy for small camera mics) 3. the ultimate sin – autogain control – yuck! Nothing sounds worse than hearing the overall level duck down just because someone slammed a door or a seagull sqawked!

If its a synth demo you are shooting then the process is easier in that any home studio owner is used to recording their own instruments so simply patch the instrument into your computer to record it, but here you want to find another means of generating the clap, since the synth is not a microphone! In this case just try & record a short percussive sound at the start of the recording, even if its produced by another device but as long as its being recorded by both the camera mic AND the computer capturing the audio in high rez. Another sneaky way i did it once was to actually film a closeup of the VU meters on the computer screen & then it was a simple case of syncing the high rez audio to the visual VU meter jump. Obviously once you have edited the video & are ready to output it, you delete the clap off the front.

Ok thats enough tech-speak for now – I’ll do a rant in the future about why you should also always use a SMPTE leader and an audio 2 pop on every project you work on involving syncing audio/music to picture…

GPS for field recording

This is one excellent project: Aporee Maps with GPS located field recordings!

And best of all, its an open project: “This project is about sounds in relation to spaces & places, the interferences of public sonic layers with our everyday life. get yourself a recorder, go out and listen… it’s not about music!… so please don’t send songs, your CD collection or some greatest hits! excessive workings or sound manipulations are also undesirable. in case of doubt, send an email”

The first sound from New Zealand was uploaded & geotagged by Grant Finlay; its an Auckland suburban ambience with distant dogs, night crickets & some really creepy sounding frogs; have a listen here! Grant also has a great blog of his recordings here.

There is more info here about the project as well as their other projects.

I’ve been thinking about uses for GPS ever since I read Spook Country the excellent novel by William Gibson – theres a good review of the book & interview with the author here and I’ll quote a piece of the interview:

Q. ‘In “Spook Country,” you write about “locative art” — that is, viewing historical happenings and contemporary artistic images in situ through virtual-reality devices. How much of this technology already exists?’

A. ‘The software that Bobby (the novel’s reclusive GPS genius) uses exists, but I have no idea if it conceivably could be made to do what he uses it for — the rest of it you can buy on eBay. I don’t know if anybody actually can do what Bobby does, but if you Google “Locative art,” you get millions of hits.

One of my more technically adroit colleagues pointed out that you can’t use GPS indoors (as Bobby does in “Spook Country”). We hadn’t quite gone to press. But then he said, if you need to use GPS indoors, you can just triangulate it off the nearest cellphone towers. I spent a busy afternoon updating Bobby’s skill set a bit. Whatever relationship I have with the technology … it is not in understanding how it works. I think what it is is seeing the forest for the trees. I don’t know how it works, but what I watch is how people react with it. Which is generally not what the manufacturer had in mind.’

And he is right, the devices are out there. This thread on the forum at William Gibsons site lists a few (including GPS enabled platform shoes for sex-workers!?) but for sound the issue is more about actually embedding GPS metadata into sounds. I presume some of the sounds uploaded to Aporee Maps are located manually although the author describes sound walks, where you can follow the trail of his GPS and hear the sounds at various locations along the way so I presume they have automated it to some degree.

The application I have in mind is to not just to embed sounds into google maps, but to embed QTVRs with sound into google maps… As an example this link is a small (1.6MB) version of a Quicktime VR I shot at Castlepoint. (If you downlaod it, make sure you hit the full screen button before you click in the image & rotate the view; the original is 1920 x 1200.) I haven’t yet found Mac software that will let me embed audio into a QTVR but that is my intent; whenever I am out recording ambiences I will shoot a QTVR (and vice versa) and I was thinking it would be quite amazing to record 4 stereo ambiences at the location of the QTVR, one pointed North, East, South, West…. then somehow have the sound mix crossfade from one audio stream to the other as you rotate… more research to do, but it seems photography is the field leading the way, with many means of automatically embeddign GPS data into the EXIF metadata of each photo. Heres a few links I found worth further reading:

O’reilly basic guide to GPS
Mac GPS
HoudahGeo
Jobo photoGPS is a device that sits in the hot shoe of your camera & captures GPS info every time you take a photo.. B&H have them for US$174 – review here

IF anyone reads this post who has experience with using GPS I would really appreciate your thoughts via the comments. Thanks!

Kelp/Tentacle sounds

Ok, as promised heres a couple of kelp recordings from last night… The results were good & got better as the session went on, mostly because the backgrounds got quieter… After having a good listen i realised some of the freakiest sounds are actually very quiet sounds – bits where the kelp is sticking to the ground & sliding etc so I decided i will get some fresh kelp & do a late night session on the next quiet windless evening…

download mp3

download mp3

And if security or a passing police car decide to come visit I’ll make sure I leave the mics rolling!

“I have two suspects flagellating some kind of alien looking sea creature in a carpark. I am going to investigate, over!”

Recording Tentacles…

One of the main challenges with the film we’re working on at the moment is creature sound design…. Apart from creature vocals I’ve been working on movement & as these particular creatures have tentacles I’ve been trying various approaches – using mud recordings, various plant material etc but yesterday I had a spark of inspiration to try recording some kelp/seaweed & as it was such a beautiful summers day I was desperate for an excuse to skive off/i mean do some work at the beach so I grabbed a bucket, the record kit & headed off for a drive around the South Coast from Wellington. It is one of the best things about this little city; within 15 minutes you can literally be in the wild! And its my excuse for owning a 4WD, because you sure need one to get to this place (or a few hours spare to walk)

There was plenty of kelp but it was so hot that it was impossible to get away from cicadas… I had kind of suspected that would be the case, hence the bucket, so I climbed down on the rocks & managed to break some slimey long pieces of kelp off… And sheesh it is hard to break – its seriously strong! I also took a broom as figured I would need something to try & entangle the kelp – either that or go for a swim & swimming in kelp isnt my idea of fun! Anyway I managed to drag some kelp up on to the rocks & proceeded to break through it by hitting it with the broom… About this point some tourists came wandering along & asked what we were doing… ‘ah we’re collecting kelp to make sounds for the tentacles on a monster’ ‘for a movie?’ ‘ ah yes!’

There was no way in hell I was going to throw slimey smelly seaweed around in my studio so this evening I waited until most everyone had gone home & set my mics up outside. I hadn’t really thought about it, but a neighbour came wandering along & once he realised what I was about to do offered me some rubber gloves (he does prop building etc) and in hindsight, man was I grateful!

I recorded about half an hours worth of material, slithering & slapping the kelp down on concrete, and shaking the daylights out of it. The sound seemed like a cross between rubber & leather, except it also had a wet component to it – creepy! But the best material was when I was throwing pieces around that had multiple tendrills… I’ll upload a few bits tomorrow once I’ve loaded it up & sifted through it. Will definitely be putting some of this through the Doppler plugin too!

A fun day at the office!

Sonic Childhood Memories

Ok so I am hoping to only write one hundredth of this post, since I know/suspect pretty much everyone who reads these random rants of mine is (a) sentient and (b) has keen ears…. So I am going to ask you to contribute a sonic memory from your childhood… To start the ball rolling, heres three of mine:



I grew up on a farm (near the Rangitata River mouth, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand) & occasionally I used to potter around in the shed making things… quite what I was making I can’t actually remember, but I do remember the huge old bluegum tree that was behind the shed. This tree was huge, maybe 100 feet tall… And at a certain time of the year it would randomnly drop bluegum nuts from its branches & these nuts would fall from a great height, land on the tin roof of the shed & slowly roll down the angled roof, until it fell off & dropped to the ground. I close my eyes & I can still hear that sound…..



Also farm related; every day after lunch, as my Dad headed back out to work he would walk out of the dining room, down the hall & then he would go over to the barometer attached to the wall & tap it, to see what the weather was likely to be doing in the immediate future. This barometer was like a giant old watch, so tapping it had a lovely glass & just slightly loose metal mechanism sound to it…. hmmm must get me a barometer, I’d bet its more (locally) accurate than the TV weather girl…



Lastly, this one is a smell & sound memory: scratch & sniff! My parents farm backed on to the Rangitata River and when I was young my idea of fun at the weekend was to jump on a motorbike & go for a blast up the riverbed, navigating through gorse & bush, crossing streams and finding my way upstream or down… But one summer I heard a funny/weird story of some dudes growing some kind of huge marijuana plantation in the gorse an hours ride up the river from home. Imagine such madness as local policeman pretended to be fishermen, waiting to catch the stoners; as a teenager I was intrigued as hell. So after the bust goes down me & my motorbike head upstream to go see what the hell they were up to… And after riding around all the trails I know & eventually finding a path into their deviency I ended up crawling through gorse & broom to a beautifully tended but empty strip of soil, recently stripped of 6 foot ganja plants! Now some people consider gorse & broom as weeds but ever since I have considered them to hold some ulterior purpose… And on a sunny day if you are anywhere near a broom bush, you will hear its seed pods exploding…. and you will smell the sweet aroma of gorse flowering…… that memory is just up the river…



So when you think of your childhood, what is the FIRST (or best) sound you remember?


reSEARCH: Aztec Death Whistle

“MEXICO CITY (AP) – Scientists were fascinated by the ghostly find: a human skeleton buried in an Aztec temple with a clay, skull-shaped whistle in each bony hand. But no one blew into the noisemakers for nearly 15 years. When someone finally did, the shrill, windy screech made the spine tingle. If death had a sound, this was it.

Roberto Velazquez believes the Aztecs played this mournful wail from the so-called Whistles of Death before they were sacrificed to the gods. The 66-year-old mechanical engineer has devoted his career to recreating the sounds of his pre-Columbian ancestors, producing hundreds of replicas of whistles, flutes and wind instruments unearthed in Mexico’s ruins.
For years, many archaeologists who uncovered ancient noisemakers dismissed them as toys. Museums relegated them to warehouses. But while most studies and exhibits of ancient cultures focus on how they looked, Velazquez said the noisemakers provide a rare glimpse into how they sounded.
“We’ve been looking at our ancient culture as if they were deaf and mute,” he said. “But I think all of this is tied closely to what they did, how they thought.”

read more here

And some low rez samples (some of them sound scary as hell!)

More about Roberto Velazquez in this video:

FWIW I just ordered an Aztec Death Whistle from here

Barcus Berry Planar Wave Contact Mic Review – part 1

Ok so after some prompting, this is just going to be some initial feedback on how I’m finding the Barcus Berry contact mic & preamp to use, as I havent used it enough yet to come to any definitive conclusions, such is my workload with the imminent temp mix…

In terms of sound quality; the preamp is excellent – very low noise, even under high gain situations and the fact it runs off phantom power is just brilliant!! No more worrying about how fresh the 9 volt batteries are… Compared with my Trance Audio preamp (admittedly now an old/non-stock preamp) I would say the Barcus Berry is noticeably quieter in the bg noise stakes..

I found the actual piezeo contact mic unit a little fiddly to use, but I am getting used to it… At first I thought it made contact with the vibrating object the same way my Trance Audio one did, but compare the two units in this photo, Trance Audio on left & Barcus Berry on right:

With the Trance Audio contact mic element, I apply double sided sticky tape directly to the element & stick it to the object, whereas with the Barcus Berry the sticky tape is applied to the two brass bridge pieces which surround the element & these then transmit vibrations to the suspended contact mic element. Is there a difference in tone between the two elements? I imagine there is, but without having two identical preamps its hard to ascertain…. Heres a few recordings I did with dual contact mics, Barucs Berry is left, Trance Audio right:

download sword scrapes mp3
download oven rattles mp3
download bowed cymbal mp3

Its hard to judge & compare the sounds as the placement on each object was not identical eg sometimes I would have one contact mic at each end of an object… but my conclusion so far: the Barcus Berry is really high quality & I suspect I will order another of their Planar Wave preamps & use it with the Trance Audio contact mic element… I’ll post some more sounds in part 2 in a few weeks, when I get time to try them both on some acoustic instruments eg Gheng zu, zither, piano etc…

Beach Record Mission

Spent yesterday at the beach, no not relaxing – working! We were on a mission to record a lot of sand FX; body falls, bodies being dragged on sand, objects being dropped on to sand, sand debris… Getting packed up always takes ages as there is nothing worse getting somewhere remote & remembering a prop or tool that was really essential…. the beach in question is a small town called Foxton, two hours drive from Wellington and the main reason I chose the location was because there are massive sand dunes that are well back from the ocean – we needed to be recording sand FX without ocean roar in the background. And we needed quite a few props, hence this pile of gear & objects:

We stopped at a vegetable shop on the way & bought pumpkins, cabbages & a sack of potatoes. And I am sorry to say they all died a sorry death. The pumpkins got stuffed inside a jacket & then dragged by a long rope… and then thrown from quite a height…. ditto for the potatoes, but the cabbages were killed slowly and with a big nasty looking sword:

As the location was very quiet we also did a lot of cloth recording – as tent flaps for ambiences but also close up & violent moves as elements for character movement & wooshes… Using such a long piece of cloth made for very nice stereo movement – I’ll post some examples once all the has been split up, named & organised… My recorder captured 5.7GB of 96k recordings, and Matts would have been a similar amount. I used my Sanken CSS5 stereo shotgun mic while Matt alternated between a pair of Oktava mics and then dual recording with my Neumann KMR81 and his hydrophone, which we buried in the sand – I am very intigued to hear how the latter sounded… I also tried burying my Sanken mic (in its rycote) under a cloth & then tipped sand (& potatoes on it) and got some really interesting sounds – slightly muffled but with an interesting low frequency acoustic….

Back in the studio now, and all my muscles are achey… and I guess that is the vegetables revenge!

FX Recording Missions & Near Misses….

Have you ever been arrested while out recording FX? I almost was, although it was more like having a run in with the Keystone Kops… I was out recording car passes by the motorway – I needed that specific percussive sound of car tyres hitting the join between long chunks of motorway… The place I chose to go recording is down town Wellington & unknown to me, right beside the American Embassy. This was a few years ago, but as there was a big international conference approaching it also turns out their security was kind of on alert. Anyway I parked the car, walked a block to the motorway, stood & recorded half an hour of car passes, wander back to the car & headed home. This was Friday.

No one spoke to me at the time & I was blissfully unaware but it turned out the Embassy had called the Police & claimed I was spying on them & that I had run away when a security guard approached me…. Run away? Say what? But anyway, back to the sequence of events…

On Saturday the police sent a car around to my last known address for a chat. But I wasn’t there as I had moved from that flat six months prior, so they asked my old flatmates for my contact number & called my cellphone. Would I mind coming down to the station & explaining what exactly I was doing by the American Embassy? I laughed & said for sure, it would be my pleasure. So me & my record kit head on down to the central police station, find the man assigned to my ‘case’ and go into an interview room where I explained my job, made him put on headphones & listen to the lovely sound of cars passing on the motorway, hitting that join in the road just so…

Turned out they knew it was nonsense anyway, but were obliged to follow up & provide an official explanantion to the Embassy. As they agreed I would have to be the worst spy ever to park outside the Embassy in my own car! I got a card from the policeman & enquired about recording sirens in future incase the need ever arises & headed off home & promptly forgot about it all… but then one day had a horrible thought – what if I had been added to some list of potential security threats (yes, i’d been watching too much TV!) Anyway I set to & wrote a letter to the Embassy, apologising for wasting theirs & the polices time and very very politely mentioning that I would hate to think my name had been added to a list of known troublemakers when in fact all I was doing was going about my business… A week later I got an official reply, equally apologetic… Phew!

Recording vehicle FX can be a bit of an issue at times, especially if you’re quietly trying to do it without causing too much trouble. A film called No.2 that I worked on a few years ago featured a crazy ute which had air suspension, as in the kind that can raise or lower the truck from sitting on the ground up to maximum clearance. I arranged to meet the owner & go out recording FX with him, only problem is no one warned me the guy was (a) a young slightly crazy boy racer and (b) the ute had no WOF. One of his tricks that he liked to do with his air suspension was go screaming down the motorway & then drop the suspension so the chassis scraped on the road, showering sparks everywhere… Thankfully he told me about doing this rather than giving me a personal example, but what he didnt tell me was that everyone in a one kilometre radius knew who he was & hated his damn loud ute!!!!
So I get him to drop me on the side of the road in a quiet suburban cul de sac street & we start recording passbys, up & stops etc…. I ask him to do the quieter, saner moves first & then he slowly starts doing louder & faster passbys – this ute doesnt have too much in the way of a muffler, so when you floor it, its rather loud. Anyway after two or three loud passbys & a few skids etc (this guy just couldnt help himself) a very angry short man comes storming down the footpath to see what the hell is going on. Just as I’m empathising with him & pretending innocence along comes the ute and its like a red rag to a bull, you can just see this guys blood pressure going through the roof. Of course the ute pulls up right beside me & cover blown I jump in & we get the hell out of there…. or so I thought, but no, this guy just had to go around the block one more time, for no other purpose than rubbing salt on the wound.

One last tale of having reality intrude on a good recording session. Twice in the last ten years friends have donated a car to us to collect sounds from before leaving it at the rubbish dump for recycling. Accordingly I ended up with this old wreck of a car parked in one of my car parks for a week until we could arrange a suitable recording session. I started recording some individual sounds as my spare time allowed. As my studio was inner-city back then I tended to have to wait until the evening until it was quiet. So it was about 10pm one Sunday night & I had the genius idea of recording footsteps & stomps on the roof the car, but recording from inside the car to capture that enclosed resonant space…. So I put a pair of mics inside the car, set a level & start thumping & hitting the roof of the car. Once I got tired of that I climb up on top of the car & started walking around on the roof, first gently trying to make the roof buckle a little under my weight, and then slowly getting more adventurous/aggressive. Of course I am totally oblivious to how this must look from across the street, until someone from the apartment building next door opens his window & shouts out ‘WHAT THE FCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING???’
I stopped for a minute & thought hmmm… how do I explain this easily? It was pretty obvious an indepth explanation wasnt really what this guy was after so I told him it was my car & I could do whatever I wanted to it… He explained (rather unpoetically) that he just wanted to go to sleep & could I please be quiet, at which I conceded, apologised & packed up my gear. But whoah those recordings were fantastic & have been used so many times!!!!

Enough of my ranting – you ever found yourself in a funny position while out recording?

I am always VERY careful to seek approval/pre-warn Police if we are recording firearms at all, even if its just my starter pistol for recording Impulse Responses… Explaining yourself to a Policeman as to why you are smashing some of your own property is one thing, whereas being involved in an Armed Offenders Callout is in a totally different league!

More springs & contact mics!

Following on from a previous post, heres another great example of springs & contact mics making intriguing sounds… thanks for the tip Kevin! via deviant synth

More info on the “tomoring’ here including a great little quicktime movie

I’m still hunting for a few big old springs, someone wisely suggested looking inside old armchairs…. but I came across this box set of smaller springs which arrived yesterday…200 springs for $18 from here

Bowed spring vs Contact mic

skip to 2’00” in if you want to cut to the chase – its music to my ears! I’ve been hunting for a similar size spring ever since & damn they are hard to find!?! But I have been messing with bowed cymbals & also have some large I-beam chunks of metal that I’m going to try – will post some samples…

Sound Effects for DUNE

I rescanned the article from an old issue of American Cinematographer (1984 I think)
which has an inspiring article about Alan Splet & Anne Krobers work on Dune… and was the first time I became aware of using a contact mic!

The article is here

Meditation & Wood Pigeons

I have never purposefully meditated in my life, not even once… I understand the how & why, I even read David Lynchs book on the subject… but I have always thought that some of what I do is totally meditative & as it also actually achieves something I figured that I should just do more of it. And that something is recording ambiences. Heres a little montage of locations from the West Coast of the South Island where I’ve spent lots of time recording:

The last one is a fantastic place to visit during a storm. Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks is a limestone coastal inlet which is riddled with blow holes… Heres a recording of air being blown out of a blow hole – the actual ocean is about 500m away and as a wave surges in, air is forced out through these blow holes… I could well imagine finding this place a few centuries ago & on a stormy night easily believing a Taniwhi lived here!

download Blowhole Air mp3

Heres a recording of the Devils Basin, a large inlet where the waves just pound in & spray goes flying!
download Wavespray mp3

The fantastic thing about recording ambiences is with good equipment it really is like having supersonic hearing! Many times I have been sitting in bush, with my eyes closed listening to the environment & suddenly almost ducked because I could hear a birds wings swooshing towards me…. only to open my eyes & discover its 20 metres away!
One beautiful recording I made totally by accident was of wood pigeons flying away. I was driving around the countryside with the car window down, listening for any interesting bird calls & I stopped by a tree where I was sure I’d heard one. I quietly got out of the car, set the recorder rolling & went to ID the recording. Just as I side the ‘t’ of ‘this will be…’ an entire tree full of wood pigeons flew off. I froze & held the mics as still as I could & captured this beautiful sound:

download Woodpigeons mp3

Seal meets Sound Recordist

I was out recording the ocean on the South Coast of Wellington the other day & had an unexpected chance to record some seal vocalisations… The best parts of that coast are only really accessible by a long, long walk from Owhiro Bay… or to use a 4WD. I’ll justify my carbon emmissions by saying I took lots of equipment with me, but while I was wandering around recording waves I almost stood on this seal… And I smelt him just before I saw him.. and sheesh did I smell him after he opened his mouth!!!

As far as frights go: seal 1, sound recordist Nil

FX Recording in Bali with a Zoom H2 Recorder

Arriving in a new country I am always excited to discover what is unique in this new sonic environment… The trip from the airport to Sanur, where we were staying, gave me a pretty good idea of the crazy traffic & the swarms of motorbikes that seemed to fearlessly weave around cars & trucks, but later on in the evening I walked past this incredibly loud night cricket & for a little while was convinced it was a cellphone hidden in the bush – it sounded so electronic! I just had to stop & record it: 01 Night cricket
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

On New Year’s eve in Bali there are processions through all the towns of huge models of demons & bad spirits, called “Ogoh ogoh.” Some of them are very elaborate & beautifully made. While marching through the streets with them, each group of people was usually accompanied by percussion or singing, so whenever I heard a good one approaching I would stop taking photos & quickly put the H2 into record… I love the natural slow doppler and distance as each group approaches & then walks past…

02 Ogoh ogoh percussion passby 1:
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

03 Ogoh ogoh group vocal passby
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

04 Ogoh ogoh percussion passby 2
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

New Years day is supposed to be silent, and mid afternoon I sneaked out to the front of the villa complex we were staying at to record some quiet ambiences, free of traffic noise… in film terminology, recording the sound of an empty set (to be used to fill backgrounds) is called recording a “buzztrack” at east partly because it is often just recording lighting buzz etc… but on Nyepi, the Hindu day of silence, I was surely recording insect buzztracks, along with a few birds… And while I was recording these tracks I wondered what nature makes of the sudden human quiet?

05 Nyepi Ambience 1
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

06 Nyepi Ambience 2
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

Later that evening a tropical storm passed through & the rain literally poured down! But the temperature didnt change (a typical day in Bali had a high of 28 degrees C, and an overnight low of 26) and after standing recording & sweating for a few minutes I decided to go for a swim! It was pitch black as Nyepi is also a day where no electric lights are allowed, so I put on my togs & (quietly) jumped in the swimming pool that was right outside our villa & had the most memorable swim of my life! Above the surface I was getting pounded by torrential rain, while underwater I could hear the subdued sound of the rain hitting the surface of the pool. It was so incredibly beautiful that I was almost willing lightning to strike me then & there, so I could die happy!!! FWIW I think this recording illustrates some of the short comings of the H2 mics – even the 24 bit 48k sound file tends towards white noise, when the reality was that the sound WAS dense but it was very complex & layered… I’m convinced if I had my sanken CS5 mic there I would have ended up with a far more detailed, less harsh recording….

07 Bali Rain Nyepi
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

As I ranted in the previous post, the Gamelan workshop we did was hugely fun & inspiring but alas most of the recordings overloaded and it wasnt just preamp clipping/going past digital FS either! Much of the sound is distorted when it is nowhere near full level in the recording, which indicates the SPL is too high for the actual microphones… In the end I should have put the H2 further away from where we were playing but it was hard to do both things ie learn to play Gamelan AND monitor the recordings… And I was primarily there for the former! I am always a bit cynical of tourists who spend most of their holidays looking through the viewfinder…. As it was I rescued this piece from the surround mics, but most of it will have to reside in my memory…. c’est la vie!

08 Gamelan workshop
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

This Gamelan recording was done at a more sensible distance, and was the accompaniment to a traditional dance that we enjoyed at The Lotus Cafe in Ubud… Relatedly, one aspect of Gamelan that intrigued me is that there is no written form; it is learned through playing, not through reading sheet music. Hallelujah!

09 Gamelan dance accompaniment
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

Thanks to the time difference (+5 hours from NZ) I found it easy to get up before dawn to go & shoot photos of the sun rise, such as the one above, which was taken a ten minute walk from our villa in Sanur. On one of these early morning missions I left the H2 sitting on our front door step, recording the dawn chorus & as luck would have it I managed to capture the intriguing sound of a gecko! Almost every night I was woken by the sound of a gecko – its such a beautiful accelerating rhythm, almost like an arpeggiated laugh… and such was my determination that on the last night I left the H2 recording all night, or at least until the 4GB RAM card filled up… and what did I get? No geckos, just some random snoring! Doh!!! Anyway the gecko appears in this recording @ 11 seconds…

10 Dawn + Gecko
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

On the advice of our fantastic driver Wayan, one evening we went to a temple at the bottom of Bali called Ulumatu. The temple is built on cliffs far above the sea & the view & sunset were incredibly beautiful… We also bought tickets to attend a traditional fire dance, which started off in daylight;

And ended well after sunset:

Considering the performance went on for more than an hour I was very impressed with the stamina of the performers, who were moving AND singing/chanting almost the entire time….

11 Bali fire dance vox 1
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

12 Bali fire dance vox 2
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

Lastly, one of the most memorable meals we had on Bali was a great seafood restaurant in a town called Jimbaran. The seafood was so fresh,a sin it was in tanks & we chose which snapper, lobster & shellfish we would like cooked for us, but the best surprise was when we were seated. We walked through the restaurant & out the front door on to a huge sandy beach & were seated literally 20 metres from huge pounding waves!! The funny thing was that because it was dark & also because we had dropped to the restaurant via driving through the town I had no idea we were even near the beach!!! So a sonic backdrop to a beautiful dinner such as this was a lovely surprise!!!!!!

13 Dinner on the beach
download mp3 or download 24bit 48k stereo .WAV

I can’t recommend Bali highly enough as an interesting & creatively stimulating place to visit! Until this trip I had presumed it was just a beach resort, much like Australias Gold Coast (a place I would happily pay money to avoid) but that couldn’t be further from the truth with Bali. We were lucky as took good advice & didnt stay in Kuta (the popular surfie & tourist town) & also didnt travel during the tourist high season. Also with the help of research & our driver’s great advice we easily managed to enjoy a lot of fascinating adventures, while also relaxing….
I’ll definitely be returning to Bali & exploring more of Indonesia!!!

Recording FX at 96k

Last weekend I did my first FX recording session for Laundry Warrior I’ll talk about the 96k aspect in a moment but so far I am just providing temp sound effects for the picture editor. Personally I believe it is much better to provide temp FX that are original. The main reason for this is that the last thing you want is a director falling in love with some generic library sound effect which, even though it may not be the best sound for a moment, through the repetition of cutting & screenings a scene or moment might later feel weird without it.
Providing temp FX also gives me a chance to see some scenes from the film & to start thinking about what we are going to need to find. When I worked on 30 Days of Night, I started work the earliest I ever have on any project, ever. Literally at the end of the shoot, once the picture assembly & then a first editing pass of each scene had been completed, they turned over a quicktime of the whole movie, scene by scene, for me to provide temp FX. What this equated to was a very fast pass through the movie, cutting crucial sound effects & ambiences, focusing particularly on sounds that directly contribute to the story. I would then send picture editorial a little stereo mix of my temp FX for the scene, which they would incorporate & also cut as they tightened up the scenes.
But what was interesting to me in hindsight was that my process became informed primarily by instinct & pragmatism. Instinct because it was my first look at a scene and I would just dive in amongst it… and pragmatism because i knew I couldnt make it “perfect” and some sounds I just either didnt have immediately at hand or couldnt provide worthy versions of… but the funny thing about first impressions was that some of them made it into the final mix! Of course every scene benefited from further work, from all of the team of sound editors over the six months of sound post production, but in terms of overall approach some initial ideas turned out to be very valuable. The other benefit of this approach is that it starts the ongoing conversation with the director about the sound of the film.

So here is the little collection of swords I rustled up for a first recording session. Most are borrowed from the foley room at Park Road Post (who knows how many films these swords have already been heard in!)

The more observant amongst you will notice a few non-swords… on the extreme right is a small metal crowbar, which is very resonant. Beside it is a Tibetan singing bowl and below it a pair of finger cymbals. If you have never played with a singing bowl before then you really should experience it – I bought mine at Trade Aid By gently rubbing the wooden beater around the ouside of the bowl a very pure tone is created, in fact so pure that apparently the bowls are given to trainee monks who are learning to meditate, as it takes a placid form of concentration & effort to create a continuous tone… The finger cymbals are interesting as they are much higher frequency than the singing bowl, and being attached to a piece of leather means they can be moved while they are ringing, creating small natural dopplers and beating tones….

Ok so why record at 96k? I have read many a rant in online forums by people almost offended by the concept, you know how they go; “why bother, you can’t hear that high? who are you recording it for – dogs? blah blah…” Well I can provide an answer that proves those naysayers wrong, without a doubt, because unlike them I have actually tried it & found what the benefits are, for me.

In a nutshell, there are two aspects I find beneficial about recording at high sample rates. Firstly, I am capturing a lot more data than usual. I do all my editing etc at 24 bit 48k, as that is what the Euphonix mixing desk is natively working at at Park Road Post. But when I am working on creating sounds I am often interested in manipulating them in many ways & having more data to start off with means the artefacts created through manipulation are far less readily apparent. Take a simple pitch shift. I love to hear sounds at half speed and at quarter speed, as it both slows the evolution & envelope of a sound but also adds gravity to it, through lower frequencies becoming more dominant. But at quarter speed you are talking about a two octave pitch shift. Most software I have used starts to sound bad after a one octave shift, simply because at half speed every second sample has to be artificially created, and at quarter speed the artefacts are doubly as bad. BUT with the much denser data stream of 96k I can play at half speed and it sounds as good as my old 24 bit 48k stream did! This is a serious advantage!!! The same benefit applies when you timestretch a sound… working at 96k I suddenly discovered plugins working sucessfully way past the point I would normally avoid….

The other aspect of 96k recording is that even if we cant hear above 20k, that doesnt mean there isnt sound up there. I remember reading a beautiful quote from someone watching a Tui (a bird native to New Zealand) sing, and they noticed that half the time the Tui was singing they couldn’t hear what it was singing as it was off the top of the persons hearing range. So presuming I have a microphone that has a higher frequency response than my ears I could record that Tui at 96k, pitch it down an octave and listen… see what I mean? The same theory applies to any sound generating object that creates high frequency harmonics, especially metal which is very resonant…
So recording sound effects it makes a lot of sense to record at 96k. Sure it creates twice the amount of data but I now tend to import my recordings into a 96k ProTools session and create pitched versions of the sounds before I output to a 48k session for syncing, cutting etc…

Microphones that capture frequencies higher than 20kHz include Sennheiser MKH 800 which is flat to 50kHz, the DPA 4004 and 4007 (flat to 40kHz) and Earthworks microphones such as the QTC50 which is flat to 50kHz (their preamps are flat to 100kHz!) There are also some good technical papers on the Earthworks site, including this PDF: the world beyond 20kHz

Ok, I will post some 96k recordings as soon as I get time to output them, but it might have to wait until after Nyepi….

FX Recording in Japan with a Zoom H2 Recorder

Unfortunately just before I left for my trip to Japan my Fostex FR2 recorder died. Although I wasnt planning to take it and my Sanken shotgun mic & Rycote with me, I did want to be able to record sounds whiel travelling. For the next film project I will replace the FR2 with a Sound Devices 722 or 744 but I was after a small, portable, cheap alternative and luckily ZOOM released the tiny H2 recorder at just the right time. I read a great review here and bought one at Yodbashi camera on my first day in Tokyo.

The crucial specs that intrigued me were: it can record 24 bit audio, up to 96k and it has 4 mics built in enabling quad recording. And it costs only US$200!!! The idea sounded too good to be true and given the cost I was quite prepared to be sorely disappointed, but no! This unit performs amazingly well. But don’t get me wrong – it has none of the resolution of a seriously good mic, but theres the cost issue again – my Sanken CS5 stereo shotgun mic alone costs 8 times the price of the H2. You can’t expect miracles, but it does a remarkable job & is so easy to use.

I always used the H2 in 24 bit 48k Quad mode and was surprised to find it didnt have a gain knob but a switch – the gain could only be set to Low, Medium or High and I would say 90% of the time I left it set on High. The H2 also runs on penlite batterys and in total I recorded over three hours of quad recordings over a six week period and used just two sets of batteries. The advantage of no moving parts – it records to a flash card.

Ok so what does it sound like?
When you listen to the recordings in isolation the H2 sounds good and you can definitely perceive the surround components. But it leaves a slightly nagging feeling that some vitality or detail is being lost. It is a bit like listening to an ipod. With nothing to compare it to, an ipod sounds fine. But put it up against a good record player through good speakers and the short comings soon become apparent. This became obvious when I met up with a friend who was recording sounds for a dance project in Tokyo. He was recording with a Sound Devices 744 and a very nice Schopes mic in Rycote and when I compared some of the subway recordings he had made with mine it was like chalk and cheese – his recordings were more vital, detailed and alive. And so they should be, there is a US$5000 difference in the setup – its a bit like saying a Mercedes drives better than a Mini.

So the only complaint I have about the H2 is this: it doesnt sound like a million bucks!

There are a few little things that annoyed me, but none were critical eg the unit is very light plastic and any handling transfers directly to the mic, so dont try clicking the button to turn up or down the headphone monitor level or mic gain or you will get mic bumps in your recording. I also found it a bit odd that the LCD display is facing the same way as the front mics. So for example if I was recording a train pass, I would have the LCD screen pointed away from me & couldn’t see it. I prefer to know if I am clipping digital record levels while I record and it would make more sense for the LCD screen to be facing the same way as the surround mics. Virtually swapping the front and back mics doesnt solve this problem either as the front mics are set 90 degrees apart, whereas the surround mics are 120 degrees.

But the proof is in the pudding, so have a listen to some of my H2 recordings – as someone wise once said to me “Trust your own ears, only” so I will post some 24bit 48k quad recordings plus MP3 stereo versions of the same, incase you are only interested in instant gratification…

Zoom H2 Recordings:

H2FX01 Train bridge Shinjuku LR + sLR – recording underneath a train overbridge near Shinjuku Station – I love the aggressively percussive nature of this sound! There were some homeless people sleeping under this bridge & I couldnt help thinking about the city as an oppressively loud environment….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 9MB

H2FX02 Train int Yamanote Line LR + sLR – this recording in onboard the train on the Yamanote Line – it helped me with my pronouciation hearing these annoucnements each day….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 35MB

H2FX03 Temple singing Kamakura LR + sLR – this recording is from a temple in Kamakura – I love the bells!
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 28MB

H2FX04 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – a quiet temple ambience with mainly just insects & crows
download mp3 or download Quad .AV 16MB

H2FX05 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – ditto
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 12MB

H2FX06 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – ditto but much more arhthymic… note the mic bumps
for long ambience recording best to plant the H2 & walk away for a while…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 20MB

H2FX07 Int Shinjuku Station LR – busy busy busy Tokyo – the human river that is Shinjuku Station
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 14MB

H2FX08 Int Taya Cavern LR – this is a recording of water drips inside Taya Cavern, an amazing network of caves carved out by Buddhist monks a long long time ago… I figured the sound of these drips would not have changed over the centuries – the place filled me with quiet…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX09 Train to Ofuna LR + sLR – INT the train back to Tokyo from Ofuna & Taya Cavern, I had my ipod on & kept hearing weird strings everey time the train stopped & started again… turned off the ipod & realised it was the train – what a beautiful pitch ramp! The next station also sounds like its called “Kooky”
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 48MB

H2FX10 Jidai Matsuri drums Kyoto LR + sLR – Jidai Matusir is an annual festival where people dress in traditional costume from various ages & parade through Kyoto… some playign music, as in this recording
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 20MB

H2FX11 Temple ambience Kyoto LR + sLR – this is a quiet temple ambience near Daisen-In zen temple, I loved the pitch in the sound of the pigeon, had I looked up & discovered he had a flute I would not have been surprised.. the footsteps of the woman walking past gives some indivation fo the H2 ability to record spatial ambience but also notice the mic bumps – it was hot & I was getting tired – too much beauty! Wouldnt be a problem with a mic in a Rycote…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 19MB

H2FX12 Temple insects Kyoto LR + sLR – another quiet temple ambience, mostly insects & distant city….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX13 Temple insects Kyoto LR + sLR – another quiet temple ambience, mostly insects & distant city…. This is another example where 24bit helps, but a betetr mic & preamp would reveal a lot more detail & spatial information… the image feels smeared
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX14 Temple bell Kyoto LR + sLR – a temple bell and I had the H2 practically inside the bell
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 19MB

H2FX15 Subway train INT Tokyo LR + sLR – this is recorded interior subway & as opposed to the Yamanote Line in Tokyo which is above ground, I loved the shreiks, graunches & pitch ramps that the Tokyo underground subway produces…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

H2FX16 Monkeys Shodoshima LR + sLR – recorded quite wide because I preferred not to get bitten by one of them, towards the end of the file there is an outburst from one of their vigilantes/guardians over on the Left…. to translate: shake tree = F+CK OFF BIPEDS!
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

H2FX17 Birds Shodoshima LR + sLR – beautiful frequency sweeps by a number of birds, recorded by a temple built into a rock face where we experienced a zen buddhist fire ceremony – something so beautiful I won’t ven try and use words to explain it…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

So what an amazing device! My only wish is I could buy the exact same unit with US$1000 mics in it. And the true comparison, I think, should be between carrying a recorder/mic or not.
I am so happy to have all of these recordings, and no doubt some of them will make it into a film one day, but imagine the opposite ie no recorder, no mic….these would all be sound memorys, slowly fading as time passes with no ability to reference them – I know which i prefer… US$200 well spent! And its like the size of two cell phones… and it makes you listen, be quiet and listen… I stopped counting the number of times I suddenly realised I had stopped breathing & was starting to hear my heart pouding in my chest, why? Simply because of the sonic beauty of engaging with the environment in Japan…. a joy to behold!

Note: the visual record of my travels in Japan is here: steampunk.co.nz/travelzen & includes the best 50 or so photos of the 2,600 I shot in my six weeks of travel..

fun with a contact mic..

A few people have asked me what contact mic I use – mine is a Trance Inducer and they custom built it with a longer cable between the preamp & the mic for me. To explain briefly – a ‘normal’ mic picks up sound via sensing the moving air molecules whereas a contact mic is physically stuck to an object & picks up sound vibrations – the obvious use is to amplify acoustic guitar, violin etc but they are huge fun for recording less obvious sounds… I’ve tried a few different ones including a few DIY experiments plus one that I have for my double bass and but none get even close to sounds the Trance Inducer captures. I think this is more than partly due to the fact the Trance Inducer comes with a preamp that it seems is perfectly matched to provide plenty of gain – I’ve recorded a lot of weird sounds with it, heres a few examples:

[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/cymbal.mp3 |titles=broken cymbal] broken cymbal
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/triangle.mp3 |titles=triangle (ie the percussion instrument)] triangle (ie the percussion instrument)
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/basin.mp3 |titles=metal basin] metal basin
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/bikegears.mp3 |titles=mountain bike gear change] mountain bike gear change
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/bikespokes.mp3 |titles=mountain bike spokes] mountain bike spokes
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/plasticstrip.mp3 |titles=plastic strip] plastic strip
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/woodscrapes.mp3 |titles=wood scrapes]wood scrapes
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/raspfile.mp3 |titles=metal rasp file] metal rasp file
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/tapemeasure.mp3 |titles=tape measure] tape measure
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/slinky.mp3 |titles=slinky spring (both ends held)] slinky spring (both ends held)
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/slinkyfree.mp3 |titles=slinky spring (one end free)] slinky spring (one end free)
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/wmachine.mp3 |titles=washing machine (spin cycle ends)] washing machine (spin cycle ends)

The Trance Inducer has VERY good low frequency response too, but the oddest aspect is the fact that a contact mic doesnt pick up any room acoustic. This is probably obvious in hindsight as it is picking up physical vibrations, not air movement, but it means the sounds are more difficult to psychologically identify which can be VERY useful…

I also have to say I would never have even thought of the idea of messing with a contact mic if it wasnt for reading an old magazine interview with Alan Splet & Anne Krober which mentioned how they had used one when working on Dune to record sounds for the worms moving through sand. Anne was kind enough to answer my questions as to what model contact mic they used (which is no longer made) & in the process set me off on a voyage of discovery! It is rich territory to explore & makes you look at objects in a totally different light in terms of the possible sounds that could be extracted from them… Resonant objects are very interesting & you slowly learn to appreciate the differences in sound transmission & vibration in different materials….

I’d be interested to hear of any other peoples experiences with contact mics. A friend got some good results with a C-Ducer although I havent tried it, but I cannot recomend the Trance Inducer highly enough & I am aiming to get a second one soon so I can experiment with stereo movement/proximity effects – uber fun!
One tip to be aware of – the cable between the contact mic and the preamp is sensitive to handling so no waving it around while recording! Also I carry 2 or 3 kinds/thicknesses of double sided sticky tape – when recording in dirty places (eg i recorded some factory pipes recently) you end up replacing the sticky tape every time you relocate the mic…

Ambience – Neils Beach

I love recording ambiences in nature & living in New Zealand there is really no excuse not to spend quality time seeing & hearing the diverse environment we live in. Unlike many countries, no matter where you are in New Zealand you can drive to the opposite coast in 3 or 4 hours & in the process travel through many different ecosystems…
Recording ambiences to me is the ultimate meditation – your senses are heightened thanks to the directivity of the microphones (I mainly use a Sanken CSS5 stereo mic) plus the gain structure of the recorder – it’s literally like having very large, highly sensitive ears… But the meditative aspect also comes from the fact that recording ambiences requires total stillness, even an arm movement generates unwanted clothing rustle!
A few tips I have learned over the years is; take a small mic stand so you dont have to physically hold the mic perfectly still & take spare mic cables….
This last one can be crucial – the fist time I went recording down the West Coast of the South Island I got eaten alive by sandflys (especially at dusk) as I tried to stand still recording. I soon realised that if I ran cables I could set up the mic & retreat to the car while recording…

Here is a beautiful recording of a remote spot called Neils Beach, right down the bottom of the West Coast of the South Island.

download mp3

And heres the same location except recorded from a distance – its one of the most relaxing sounds, waking up on holiday when you are staying close enough to the beach to hear the surf! If you are feeling a bit stressed put this on your ipod & shut your eyes for 60 seconds…

download mp3

And here is a montage video of a few different places I have recorded ambiences down South (the third cut is Neils Beach)

BLACK SHEEP FX Recording 4

Aside from vegetables we also did a wood FX recording and some cloth ripping FX. We managed to find an old chest of drawers at the junkstore for $10, plus a selection of various blankets, towells, sheets etc for tearing apart… money well spent!

First to go was the individual drawers, then the outer shell filled with debris and then each of the remaining pieces until all we had left was a pile of debris.

I also collected up a bag full of drift wood from the beach, which provided many variations on breaks, snaps etc but we also found a number of great creaks by tightly bending & manipulating with pliers. Recording some of these sounds we switched the dynamic mic for my Trance Inducer contact mic, which made some of the very subtle creaks sound MASSIVE! Pictured is Age Pryor, FX Assistant, manipulating wood with pliers..


As the film is set on a farm there are a number of times when people clamber over wire fences so Age built a fence structure, great sounding but not so functional at keeping sheep in a paddock! By stressing & wrangling the wire, the wood resonated really nicely… another one for the contact mic, some of these sounds were also used as part of creepy ambiences when inside the shearing shed etc..

My one other inspired idea for violence sound effects was seaweed!
When I was out collecting some of the driftwood we recorded, I stood on some old dried out seaweed and it made some VERY interesting snapping sounds! I suspect its because seaweed has a lot of pockets of air trapped inside it, not sure… So we collected up a big stack of seaweed (well Kristin did, much thanks!) and then totally dried it out using fan heaters & set to & broke, twisted & gouged it in as many ways as possible. It also created some good debris sounds as it broke down into smaller pieces.

Its good for the garden too!
I’ll post a photo of my 11 foot high sunflower once it flowers!

BLACK SHEEP FX Recording 3

Ever since doing Worlds Fastest Indian I really enjoy recording vehicle sound effects and Black Sheep had two main vehicles we needed to augment – a good old Landrover and a classic Morris 1300… Luckily we got access to them both at Pikarari, a farm south of Titahi Bay..

The Landrover was a bit stuffed – first gear graunched & grated like crazy (which we also recorded for the library) but once I got going it ran well & I spent an hour or more performing variations of all of the moves in the film. We had the landrover wired up to record onboard sound the whole time so we ended up with lots of good onboard recordings (one dynamic mic on the exhaust & the other on the motor)

Matt Lambourn recorded all the exterior moves using his Sound Devices 722 & my Sanken CSS5 mic. We also recorded some good heavy body falls onto grass by throwing around an old tractor tyre that happened to be on the back of the landrover…

The mighty Morris 1300 – I drove again, but this was a bumpier ride as the Morris had been lowered & had hardly any suspension… a fun car though – i’d love a restored one except refitted as a hybrid, future retro style!

We got finished just as the sunset…

BLACK SHEEP FX Recording 2

For the sounds of violence & gore in the film I decided to do a major studio based FX recording session involving as wide a selection of sound generating vegetables as we could muster. I did this for a project a few years ago & got great results, but wanted new material for this film.
Age Pryor, the FX Assistant went off to the supermarket & came back with los of crunchy material (such as celery, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, eggs, nuts) and squelchy material (such as oranges, persimon, rock melon, water melon, mussels in their shells, baked beans, yoghurt) for some seriously messy fun! You would be surprised how wide a range of incredibly gross, revolting sounds can be made, even with a simple orange or a rock melon! If you dont believe me, wait until you see Black Sheep & have a good listen to the offal pit scene!


Matt Lambourn, FX Editor, manipulating some celery… this was great for bone break elements & wrenches. We also recorded some of the celery wrapped in cloth, which worked well as elements for some of the body tranforming sound design.
We recorded to my FR2 24bit/96k using a dbx preamp and a combination of a Neumann KMR81 short shotgun mic and an EV RE27 dynamic mic.


We also wanted a selection of bites & eating – so each person involved in the session had their turn at contributing variations. Pictured is Chris Todd, dialog and ADR editor, munching and fully in character!


Many vegetables died for a good cause, including these two!

BLACK SHEEP FX Recording 1

We did quite a lot of sound effects recording for Black Sheep and I was just sorting through the photos & thought I’d post a bunch of them…
it was a hell fun project!

Sheep recording
While I had a few sheep recordings in my library from my brothers farm, I knew I’d need more than a few for this film! I collected up some great recordings from the personal librarys of Kitt Rowlings, Don Paulin, Beth Treadray & Tom Miskin (much thanks!) & did a first pass of all of the sheep FX in the film. It became obvious there were still specific FX I needed (aside from vocals I also wanted sheep hooves on various surfaces) so I set up a recording session with the animal trainers for the film – James & Caroline of Hero Animals. Wow – what a great experience! The photo above shows the trained sheep responding to a few whistles from James.. After watching sheep attack people on film for the previous month I almost laughed out loud when this mob came bounding down the hill & swarmed us!

James could even blow a whistle & get the sheep to baaa as a group, very funny to see & hear I can assure you! I recorded lots of sheep vocals as well as close up breaths when the sheep were eating, for the carnivorous scenes in the film. I also recorded single sheep footsteps at various speeds, on grass & then inside the woolshed on wood. Everything was recorded using my trusty Sanken CSS5 stereo shotgun mic and Fostex FR2 hard disk recorder.

An intriging side note, James & Carolines farm is the one & same that was used as a main location in Peter Jackson’s first film Bad Taste and that James still had one of the alien’s masks form it! The trailer for Bad Taste is on youtube, here:

Ambience recording Dec 2006

I havent processed these recordings yet either, but here are a few snapshots of ambience recording locations from my travels….


The east coast of the South Island, near the Ashburton river mouth.


Lake Te Anau, Fiordland – the water was crystal clear.


Totaranui beach, Takaka
I captured three different timelapse shots/ambiences here & I plan to make them into a DVD. When winter gets nasty in Wellington I’ll just turn the heater up & watch/listen to it!


Wharariki beach, Takaka


A gentle breeze in dry long grass – near Wharariki beach, Takaka

I’ll upload the sounds soon, promise!

capturing the wind (part 1)

Obsessions are funny things… obviously one of mine is sound, which I appreciate is a fairly broad obsession, so to be more specific about it I love to try & capture the wind – not in a balloon or anything – but the many textures of sound created through the wind hitting things.
While there are plenty of obvious examples eg wind in wires, wind drafts, wind turbines, etc, the further into it you go the more specific it becomes…. so needless to say I have been searching for the perfect situation to capture the sound of the wind through a cabbage tree.

Last weekend I went for one of my favourite bush walks close to Wellington, up in the hills above Eastbourne, starting by where the buses sleep at night…

Of course I took my record kit (Fostex FR2 HD recorder & Sanken CS5 mic) but every time I stopped to try & record nice birds etc either a plane or the wind would pick up…
After half a dozen aborted efforts I was heading back down the track to Kowhai Street & realised the wind was making some crazy gusts up the valley & there before me was the perfect little cabbage tree…

So I put the mic up the side of the cabbage tree, sheltered from the main gusts but capturing the the leaves thrashing around.. so I recorded until my arm got too sore to hold the mic any more, but heres an excerpt:

recording metallic resonance

I’ve been recording & then messing with some lovely resonant sounds
generated by various bits of metal, suspended by cotton thread…
the largest have been some chromatically tuned wind chimes that
I just got from magnolia windchimes in nelson – add a breeze and
these generate beauitful aleatoric music all on their own!

have a listen to the mp3s below, first forwards & then backwards:
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/chimes.mp3]
[audio:http://www.substation.co.nz/zstashedbits/chimesBKWD.mp3]

far out! Just came across these wind chimes:

You’d get shut down by noise control
if you had those in wellington!
(US$2700 incase you’re interested)

recording vehicle FX

Its such fun to get out of the studio & do some FX recording! This a Ford Bronco V8 we recorded yesterday for our current film project: Bridge To Terabithia. We managed to track this vehicle down via TradeMe, since whatever we recorded had to match the one used in production. This one provided the challenge of having no WOF or registration and also being left hand drive… Needless to say we took it carefully but got some great material!
Recorded onboard using an HHB hard disk recorder using two dynamic mics (one on exhaust & one on motor) plus two Sennheiser 416s inside the cab… For exterior moves, passbys etc we used a Sound Devices 422 recorder with an MS mic setup using Sennheiser MKH 50 and 30.
After all that we went & recorded some interior bus moves (foley etc) plus recorded a few impulse responses with my starter pistol for use in Altiverb…