Field Recording: The Bach

Here in New Zealand there are a couple of great websites that make travelling more affordable & accessible, but more importantly are also a source of some interesting sounds. Book a Bach and Holiday Homes both serve the same purpose that the Air BnB website does internationally, and that is to hook up travellers with places to stay i.e. empty holiday homes (I’ll leave couch surfing to the more adventurous) I haven’t used Air BnB but I’ve used the two local ones a lot, not so much to rent expensive gin palaces but more to find the classic New Zealand bach in some remote specific location… And thats what I did a few weekends ago in Patea.

I had driven through Patea a number of times and had researched the possiblities for taking photos, so when I checked the address of this particular bach on Google Earth, I knew it was going to be old school! End of one of the very few streets, right beside the river, one block from the beach! And old school it was:

Ain’t nobody winning any architecture awards for it, but character it obviously had by the truckload. And we like character… See, the great thing with old baches & holiday homes is that they are often owned by a family who are keen to help pay the rates etc when they aren’t using it themselves. And some of the baches on those sites are classic; creaky old beach side shacks, likely built back in the 1950s or 1960s and pragmatically maintained ever since….

This particular one in Patea was a stones throw from the beach and about 50m from the river, with a boat ramp right beside it. I arrived early evening on a Saturday night & a group of locals had already set up for a little party, at a picnic table by the riverside. But the really odd thing was I could hear them very clearly but I couldn’t see them, due to the bushes & shrubs on that side of the garden. Of course someone at the party had an acoustic guitar & the party seemed to veer from drunken ranting to atonal sing alongs… So of course what did I do? Set up some mics and left the recorder rolling for an hour or so… Realistic party crowd soudns are very useful, especially when they are real and to get reasonably clean recordings AND in an exterior location is also very handy – they’ll find a place in a movie in the future…. “Drunken party background take 1….”

But despite having no specific plans, that wasn’t the sound I expected find in such places – its more often great creaky doors or floorboards, weirdly functioning appliances… and the sound of the environment on the house…. And for the next 2 days I was far more focused on getting outside & enjoying the beach & shooting photos – I noticed sounds but I didn’t stop to record them… But the on last day the wind picked up & I suddenly became aware of a whole new sound that this bach helped create… Check that roof:

That chimney was connected to what in winter would be a godsend, a little woodburner… In summer it doesn’t see any use, but if you ever visit a house with a woodburner make a mental note that it is a source of some VERY useable sounds.

The sound of the wind hitting that chimney sounded fantastic to the ear, but via the contact mics? Magic!

But also note, the metal door on woodburners is a VERY useful source of metal groans & creaks, which as a sound effects editor you can simply never have enough of….

Being an old house located almost at water level also meant the water system was a little funky – god knows where the water was draining to – hopefully not directly into the river but maybe only a few steps removed… And the first time I had a shower I noticed how resonant the gurgle on the bath was… So once I had the mics out I filled up the bath a bit, pulled the plug & marvelled at how long the outlet glurped for – if I hadn’t been recording I would have started playing along with it, such a weird rhythm at the end!?!

Lastly, my apartment does not have curtains – not really my choice, it has blinds & I’ve replaced some of them with shoji… but any number of times I’ve needed to edit the sound of curtains & as this bach seemed to have about a dozen varieties I couldn’t help but record those too… maybe partly motivated by the fact this looks straight out of a David Lynch film:

So who cares about curtains right?


Here is the moral of this little rant.

Just before the Oscars were announced I figured I’d go see the few movies up for sound that I had any interest in, and I don’t want to cast specific aspersions – primarily because there is no point, but also because I don’t know the back story of how that soundtrack was put together, but anyway…. At what was in many ways the emotional climax of the film, a door is opened to reveal a profound moment. And guess what? I am pretty damn sure, the sound of that door open, THE door open of all door opens, was from Sound Ideas 60XX!?! Now I know, I know… Most of the audience don’t care… And by most I mean 99.99%…. but I was close to getting up & leaving at that point. To have done such great work all the way through this film, sculpting pure genius…. & then… totally ruin it by doing the sonic equivalent of cutting in an important cut away as a stock image?? Maybe I’m wrong, I’ll have to wait for the DVD release to actually verify it… but…

So anyway… please, have a weekend away, every so often. Do your psyche & your ears a favour & rent a characterful old house, that costs less than a single night in a crass hotel….
But take your record kit. Record the doors. Record the curtains. Record five or ten things that you didn’t expect to find there… And don’t be in a rush to use them… But when that magic moment arrives you will know you have the perfectly characterful sound for it… And it’s a sound no one else has, just you. And you know the back story to where you recorded it, and when… Sure 99.99% of the audience won’t care, but you will… because you have put a little bit more of you into your work….

8 Responses to Field Recording: The Bach

  1. bassling says:

    Ace! Used a contact mic last weekend too. Hear how lovely this fence resonates as branches and leaves brush against it in the breeze:

  2. I love this piece! I really agree with you that the sounds you use are better if they aren’t all “stock” sounds, you know, the sonic equivalent of Getty images. Your description of the lovely textures of the Bach is wonderful to read and conveys a rich sense of listening, place, and best of all, character. And how much richer sounds are when we connect them with our lives and the spaces we inhabit (even if only temporarily). I recently watched an Iranian film “The Day I Became A Woman” and was completely blown away by the use of field recordings throughout. The film has a unique atmosphere and presence because of the decisions the sound team made… It really felt like I was hearing the specific beach, the specific sand, the specific desert heat and the specific shiny mall featured in the images. I reckon it stands out a mile when the sound designer has put some of themself into the recordings.

  3. Oh yeah, how is “bach” pronounced? Is it said like the composer’s name or like the bach in bachelor?

  4. Rene says:

    i love this idea. I must do it.

  5. Tom says:

    Hi Tim,
    This goes straight in the to do list of another to do item: “Visiting New Zealand”
    I’ve been meaning to ask for some time. Which rycotes are you using for your MKH 8040’s? I’ve got mine build in sideways (ORTF) in a Röde blimp. Budgetary reasons;-) It works great but doesn’t look as neat and compact as your solution.

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