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

6 Responses to fun with a contact mic..

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