Never stop learning, never stop listening

I’ve been recording! I appreciate that is hardly news… but I’ve been recording rivers & streams sporadically for the last six months and the library is getting very near finished. But I decided I wanted more small streams, little babbling brooks, tiny trickles… My motive was that it felt like as soon as I point my mics at a river or stream it gets biggerized, i.e. it sounds larger than it actually is. And I wanted to make sure with this new library that the small scale details are covered, so after waiting for two weeks for the weather to clear I finally headed off to a remote area 2 hours from here (for locals, I was amongst the rugged bush over near White Rock – remote enough google maps doesn’t know jack sh+t!)

Anyway after finding 3 good locations & recording them extensively, I headed further into the forest park & recorded near the end of the road, here:

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It sounded good, there was practically no unwanted sound – too cold for insects & only a very occasional bird, I recorded for 20 minutes to make sure I could re-discover the birds later & cut them out…. But while I left the mics & recorders to do their thing, I walked upstream, out of ear shot…. And I found another location that sounded SO MUCH BETTER! More variety, more character, more discretely spatialized elements… And all from the same little stream…

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So I eventually went back, grabbed all the gear out of my 4WD and carried it upstream, set it recording & went & moved my 4WD so it wasn’t blocking the ford… And while it might seem there is an obvious moral to this story, there are in fact three morals:

1. sometimes boring is ESSENTIAL
Capturing steady state unexciting material (location 1) is as necessary as WOW! OMFG! LOOK AT ME! material. Take room tones for example, if you are needing to capture & recreate the steady state feel of an empty lecture room, no one needs WOW! OMFG! sounds. It might not provide the same instant gratification that an exciting sound does, but it still serves a very important role. Do not ignore it & do not neglect it. These days when the term ‘sound designer’ means pretty much anything & nothing, I am repeatedly reminded that for some people ‘sound design’ also actually just means overt WOW! OMFG! LOOK AT ME! sounds, when the deeper reality is that any medium has a massive spectrum – not just of frequency & dynamic but of attention: sometimes being in the background & invisible is exactly what is required (some ‘boring’ sounds might appear invisible in context, but just try removing them & you soon see the life & context they also provide!)

2. sometimes an exciting variation is only a 3 minute walk away.
What I found, just upstream looked like the result of a flood. Large amounts of water had pushed trees over & moved some of their broken branches & debris downstream, as far as momentum could carry them… And then they had stuck, still in the main flow of this little stream. The sound of that stalemate, between friction & momentum, is complex & beautiful, almost musical… One more flood and the little situation I recorded would likely be gone forever…..

3. But the real moral of the story & the true extended moment of beauty was this: the beautiful shifting mix of complex natural ambiences. After I had gotten used to listening to location 1, and had walked upstream and discovered location 2, as I slowly walked downstream to get the mics, I listened. Over the course of a 3 minute walk, location 2 slowly became location 1. Every step contributed, as did every head turn. Within five steps neither location was discrete, but 11 steps away & location 2 might well have not have existed, and the same vice versa… That mix, that perspective shift can’t be captured per se, but it can be recreated….

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I have to confess I also did thoroughly enjoy the fact that I could park on this bridge for half an hour & record, without being disturbed! It was time, well spent…

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One Response to Never stop learning, never stop listening

  1. bassling says:

    Did it make you want to pee? 🙂

    Actually, you’ve reminded me of a line from TV lecturer. He said something like ‘there are 10 shots to get every time you set up your tripod’ and I think he meant that it’s better to adjust your framing than to get carried away adjusting the location of your tripod.

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