A pond, full of clouds

Pondofclouds

up Bullock Creek track, Punakaiki, West Coast, NZ
shot with Canon 5DmkIII and Zeiss Distagon 21mm lens

Complex reeds

Reeds

 

 

 

& more, or less complex reeds?

 

 

 

Compelxreeds2

shot at Lake Ianthe with Canon 5DmkIII, upper photo EF100-400L mm, lower with Zeiss Distagon 21mm

Detritus 351

▶ wow, amazing collection of insect sounds here

 

Experimental Practices and Subversion in Sound via Monoskop via Canadian Electroacoustic Community

 

▶ love this porcelain boombox by Katharine Morling

 

▶ damn those “amateur” composers!

 

▶ ‘instagram your ears’ as a catchphrase is probably enough to put me off, but I’m not really the target market for these so called ‘active listening’ ear buds – the video with musicians using it & reacting like it is something unprecedented seem a little disingenuous (or maybe they managed to find some musicians who have never done any recording & used outboard effects/pedals when playing an instrument before?)
As for its use as a ‘volume control’ or for noise cancelling, the limited battery life seems a bit of an issue eg they’ll only work on the first six hours of my 12 hour flight? But putting aside the questionable concept of ‘remixing’ a concert or movie or ‘real life’, the most important aspect has to be the audio fidelity, and for an audio company to state the “Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz” without any +/- X dB means they are deliberately withholding crucial information. A frequency response chart from mic > DSP > speaker would reveal just how accurate this system is – god forbid ‘active listening’ might actually mean “now you can hear the whole world like its an MP3!” – I’ve asked them for a frequency response chart, no doubt they have one as it would be a crucial part of testing & development, so lets see what they respond with…

 


▶ funny trailer for a non-existent horror film

 

Liquid versus solid

Carving

near Punakaiki, shot with Canon 5DmkIII and Zeiss Distagon 21mm
converted to monochrome via Google SilverEFX

Skills = Patience

This is a little bit of philosophy 101 as it applies to technical skills – it may well be more applicable to people early in their careers but I suspect it is also possibly a good reminder for more experienced people…

While it has been a few decades now since I first started recording sound, I still learn something new every time I go out field recording or do a session in the studio. Learning of this kind is incremental, every bit of experience adds to your pool of knowledge and your ability to cope in a new situation is increased due to accumulated knowledge… The main goal from any situation is the same: to come out of it with good results, and preferably GREAT results.

So it has been interesting to observe my own behaviour & process as I have slowly learnt skills in a different medium: photography & moving image ie. video, timelapse, motion control etc… When I first bought a digital camera it was a tiny point & shoot camera & I always used it in auto mode. So I would frame the shot & the camera would do everything else as best it could: focus, exposure etc… If I was somewhere interesting the results would be interesting and for a year or two that satisfied me – I just wanted to simply capture a photo. But after a while I started to long for more control eg I accidentally discovered I could trick my auto camera into shallow focus by eg standing close to a tree and letting the auto focus lock on to this close tree, and the background would be pushed out of focus. Its an effect I had seen many times before, and while I could achieve it with my little point&shoot camera, I didn’t really have any form of accurate control over it. So a desire developed to attain that control.

Another aspect that frustrated me with my little camera was when shooting landscapes and interesting buildings – its little lens just wasn’t wide enough. It could zoom ok so getting close to things wasn’t such an issue, but capturing a wide perspective was difficult & unsatisfying… So a desire to have more control over framing developed…

The solution to both of these issues was my first DSLR, a Canon 30D. Having decided on the camera I then did a lot of keyword searching on flickr, looking for wide angle photos that appealed – architecture, landscapes etc… Slowly a lens choice developed, the Canon EFs 10-22mm lens which being EFs meant it specifically matched the crop sensor of my 30D and retained its ‘wideness’ (a full frame lens on a crop sensor incurrs a multiplying factor with the 30D of 1.6, so a wide full frame 22mm lens becomes a less wide 35mm lens when used on a crop sensor)

Having gained access to the tools I wanted, now I had to learn to use them. As per my old point & shoot camera I started off in auto everything mode – auto exposure and auto focus. The results were so much better than my old camera and I continued to shoot this way for many months, but when I had conversations with friends who had been shooting for years I learned they always shot in manual mode, so they had control of everything. At the time, one friend explained the relationship between aperture, exposure and depth of field but I simply could not understand it – this bizo with the F stops seemed counter intuitive (wish I had seen this back then) so I continued shooting in auto mode, and slowly, very very slowly started to try the other ‘almost auto’ modes – particularly Av mode.

And so now, here I am: a decade older, five or six cameras and many different lenses later. I still have that first lens, the EFs10-22 and use it with my infra red modified crop sensor 40D but OMFG have I learned some things along the way!! When I was first introduced to the idea of shooting in manual mode I secretly thought to myself ‘I will never use that’ but a decade later I shoot almost everything in manual mode (apart from using bulb exposures for long exposures)

So what happened to ‘auto mode’?

First I learned to control exposure: using my eye & the viewfinder, the histogram & the built in exposure meter, and metering modes.

Parting with auto focus took longer. Having suffered from myopia since my teenage years I have never been confident with focus – my technique often relied on using auto focus lenses, letting the lens focus for me and if I really wanted to alter it, then switching the lens to manual focus & tweaking it knowing it was already very close to being in focus due to the auto. The final push to manual focus occurred relatively recently when I tested out the Zeiss Distagon lens, which has no auto focus. I wanted this lens the same way I wanted that wide angle 10-22 lens when I got my first DSLR (ie after lots of research) but could I cope with manual focus? Finding the answer to that question was a revelation: in hindsight part of my issues with focus were due to the lenses – the EF Canon lenses are not cheap but compared to the Zeiss fully metal lens the Canon focus mechanism feels cheap, like playing a cheap clone guitar & then picking up a beautiful instrument. The feel and the subtlely of control is like chalk & cheese, and the scaling and sensitivity of the Zeiss focus mechanism meant I actually could focus reliably! Its an observation with important ramifications: sometimes the tools can actually limit your development (of course I am not criticising all Canon lenses)

So its taken me a decade to arrive at a place where I shoot manual, I can control exposure and focus. And I am starting to learn the skills of controlling depth of field. The simple example of using shallow depth of field I discovered with those trees way back then, is relatively simple and even easier with good, fast lenses. But developing an aesthetic and instinctively knowing what depth of field best suits a shot is a different skill again – composing depth of field is arguably as important as composing the framing. But it is a far less obvious skill to think about than framing, and is not available to you when shooting in auto mode. So I have spent a decade learning to frame, but far far less time learning to control depth of field.

With video and timelapse, acquiring skills has taken a similar trajectory. While shooting a day time timelapse is relatively easy, adding camera movement to it is less easy, and shooting light transitions is difficult: how do you smoothly capture the transition from day to dusk to sunset to darkness? During my two Artist Residencies I learned this skill and the same for the slightly more difficult transition of night through dawn (focusing in the dark is a really fun challenge!)

Thankfully due to long rich history of photography and film making, there is a mountain of information easily available online. A good example is a new skill I want to acquire – you might have noticed I love photographing birds, and I am slowly learning to do it better. But I really struggle to capture birds in flight – I had a few opportunities on that last trip down south & I pretty much blew every one of them, at best the results were good, definitely not great. But a quick search & I found a bunch of articles on that very subject, and the next time I get the chance I will have a much better idea of how to approach it….

So a few thoughts in conclusion:

If you are a soundie or musician you might be getting tired of this becoming a photo blog, but an invaluable part of my learning these new skills has such direct & important parallels with learning to record sound, that I will draw attention to some that I think are crucial.

– Acquiring new skills takes time, which equates to patience. People who want to take short cuts are actually short cutting their own long term development – there is no better way to learn than through action. DOING whatever it is you want to learn to do. Do it lots, spend years doing it. Make mistakes and work out why the mistake occurred so its not repeated (or even better, learning the unintended benefits of the mistake, so it also can potentially become a useable skill)

– Most people start off in auto mode. Its a part of learning, but to progress and achieve better results you slowly need to say goodbye to auto mode. While most sound recordists do not use auto mode, controlling and managing dynamic range is very similar to controlling exposure. And as a sound editor there is nothing I dread more than inheriting sound that has been recorded on a camera with auto gain control. But as with exposure, the minute you turn off auto gain control, you need to be aware of the ramifications: appropriate levels have to be predicted and set AND they must be monitored – no one switches to manual exposure on a camera & then doesn’t look through the viewfinder, they monitor the exposure the same way audio levels must be visually monitored and listened to. If its a bright day or a loud sound, can you predict the basic settings/setup to capture it?

– Learning to predict the ‘reach’ of a lens equates to learning to predict the ‘reach’ of a microphone. When you start out you may only have one lens or microphone, and no matter how good you might think it is, learning its limitations is an important skill as it informs your choices when you learn its limits and need to expand beyond those limits. A good condensor mic is great for many things, but its reach runs out at a certain point & a shotgun mic becomes a far better choice, just as a wide lens is great for some situation but a long lens is more appropriate in others. Or a contact mic/macro lens is a better choice for some situations. Context is everything, and making the right choice for each context and situation directly reflects on your range and depth of experience, in different situations and with different tools.

– Obviously there are lots of parallels when moving into post production, but one universal truth applies: capture great material and you make the time spent in post far more productive and satisfying.

 

“Experience is not what happens to you.
It is what you do with what happens to you”

Aldous Huxley

 

Leaving Westport

Westport_ducks

early morning Westport, shot with Canon 5DmkIII and Zeiss Distagon 21mm ZE lens

Field recording: Okarito kiwi aka Rowi

lkiwi_road

If you know anyone from New Zealand you will have likely heard the colloquial use of the word ‘kiwi’ – the kiwi is our national bird, and what a bird it is: sleeps all day, wakes about half an hour after sunset, and is rarely seen or heard…. I’ve spent almost my entire life obsessing about sound & yet I had never heard a kiwi vocalise with my own ears…. So when a friend visiting from Japan said he would like to ‘see’ a kiwi, I gently explained that unless you can see in the dark you do not usually see a kiwi & that most people who live in New Zealand have never actually seen a kiwi. He checked on TripAdvisor and discovered even people who visited a kiwi enclosure at a zoo in NZ complained that the ‘kiwis were all asleep’ – but really, what else would you expect, visiting a nocturnal bird during daylight hours?

lkiwizone

Regardless it made me start researching: I wasn’t so interested in seeing a kiwi, but I would dearly love to hear one & preferably record it. Having suggested a field recording trip down the West Coast I was very happy to discover Okarito Kiwi Tours
I’ve made dozens of road trips down the West Coast, it may well be my favourite part of the country, but despite having driven past the turn off I had never actually been to Okarito. So I sent an email off to Ian Cooper, who runs Okarito Kiwi Tours and asked him what were the chances of us (a) doing a tour and (b) hearing & recording a kiwi. A few emails & phone calls later & we were confirmed, but with a caveat: his close relationship with the Rowi (Okarito kiwi) means he has over a 90% success rate of seeing kiwis, but hearing them was totally unpredictable. They may not voicalise at all on any given night, or they may sing once at 8pm or once at 3am… no guarantees but if we were keen he would do everything in his power to put us in the right spot to capture sound when/if they do vocalise… Challenge accepted!

lKiwisignroad

A bit more research & I slowly began to realise the extent of our plan: the kiwi we were aiming to record was also the rarest in extistence!

kiwiNZ

kiwi distribution map via DOC

Not only are kiwis rare, the Okarito kiwi aka Rowi is the rarest of the five species: there are currently only about 350 living birds, which is a major improvement on the all time low of only 150-200 birds in the mid-1990s. My deepest respect goes out to the people who work tirelessly to save these birds from extinction, especially as I read of the process for a Rowi kiwi to make it to maturity! From the DOC website:

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 8.10.53 pm

Wow!
So we arrived at Okarito on the 25th May, 2015 and found our rented cottage for two nights (any field recording trip needs some contingency for weather)
Okarito is a small coastal town, and when I say small the current population was in the order of just 30 people. No cell phone coverage, no shops, no bar, no restaurants – it isn’t somewhere you arrive without a plan. But it is beautiful! Surrounded by dense bush, the town is on the edge of a very large estuary, leading to the sea…

Okarito1

The interior walls of this great old boat house on the edge of the estuary displayed some of the fascinating history of the area, and I was surprised to learn that the fully intact Blue Whale skeleton that I admired as a kid at the Christchurch Museum was actually recovered from the sea near here in 1908 & duly transported across the alps to be preserved!

OkaritoWhale

As the sun began to set we headed over to Ians house, starting point for the Okarito Kiwi Tours

Okarito6

4.30pm meet for briefing
Ian explained the process of tracking and finding a kiwi – turns out the precious kiwi breeding pairs have transmitters attached to them & being territorial they tend to stay within certain areas of bush… But ‘their patch of bush’ can cover many square kilometres, so his recce the previous day had been to ascertain which pair were sleeping near a track that we could actually get to…
We also met a couple who would be joining us, and Ian was careful to check none of us were wearing ‘rustly’ clothes – not just to avoid ruining our recordings but to also avoid distracting him from audibly tracking the location of the kiwis in the dark…

lkiwi_doc

4.45pm drive into start of hiking track
Four layers of quiet clothing, hat, gloves, two pair of socks – we got in Ians van & he drove us into the start of a hiking track

dkiwi01

5.00pm hiked in 2km
The breeding pair who live closest to the carpark were a long way from the road or tracks, so we hiked about 2 kilometres further up the track… Ian regularly checked the location of our sleeping kiwis with his tracking device…

5.10 sunset

5.20pm set up & recording started
Ian had told us the kiwis usually wake 20-30 minutes after sunset, and then begin foraging…. So he made sure we were in position & recording well before then…. And so the waiting began… I had carried in a stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH8040 mics & a Manfrotto stand, plus an MKH8020 in a Telinga dish, capturing sound via a Sound Devices 744 recorder and 302 preamp.

After an indeterminate amount of time, Ian indicated the kiwis were both up & moving… And so began a gentle shuffling up & down the track, pausing to listen for sounds of movement. Turns out one part of a kiwis anatomy which is useful for tracking is its feet – Ian described them as being akin to a 4 year old human child walking slowly through dense bush, if they are close it is not a subtle sound…
He could tell their approximate distance from us using his tracking device, estimating them to be just over 100m from the track, moving in parallel to us… Suddenly the long awaited crunchy footsteps were heard, with my headphones cranked up & slowly moving the Telinga dish from side to side attempting to localise the source I suddenly froze, as the most ungodly sound I have ever heard began!

6.37pm

OMFG!

First the male kiwi screeched, and bear in mind I was monitoring via headphones at such a level that a footstep sounded big, so the screech was like someone standing right in front of me screaming their lungs out!! I grimaced & froze: this was such a rare event I wasn’t going to risk ruining the recording by bumping the mic!

OMFG#2 a duet!!

After a dozen calls the female kiwi joined in!! To hear one kiwi sing was rare, to hear a breeding pair sing a duet was so unlikely as to be a miracle! Eventually the male stopped, leaving the female to sing the last 4 or 5 phrases alone & then back to the silence… I stayed frozen for 30 seconds, hoping for more, but that was it. Slowly I became conscious again & with a moment of anxiety looked down to make sure my recorder was actually still rolling… YES! I hit the record button to start a new file & noted the filename of the successful recording: “KT10″ – I’d been recording for over an hour, constantly triggering new files each time we moved location…
I almost laughed out loud when Ian leaned over & whispered into my mic “Tim, you can go home now” – and while he was joking, he was kind of right – I could have gone home right then, ecstatic & 100% satisfied… But Ian was committed to enabling us to also see these kiwis, so our slow shuffle backwards & forwards along the track following Ians directions continued…

6.55pm sighted the male kiwi
No cameras are allowed on this trip, only sound – this isn’t my bias or Ians – it is a specification of the Department of Conservation allowing Ian to run these tours. Imagine a group of over excited tourists armed with cameras, who may or may not know how to turn off the flash on their cameras – suddenly they see a kiwi & blind/stress it like a gaggle of paparazzi stalkers…
Following Ians body language & direction we slowly realised the male kiwi was coming out, to cross the hiking track we were on & using a red filtered light at the crucial moment we all got to visually witness the male Rowi kiwi, mere metres away from us. What an incredible moment…

OMFG#3!

By this stage I could not feel my toes – it was that cold! But we weren’t finished yet. Having met all of our goals Ian persevered and slowly tracked the movements of the female kiwi, deeper in the bush & further up the track. We slowly tracked along and just as my patience started to whither…

7.52pm sighted the female kiwi
There she was!

OMFG#4!

8.00pm pack up & hike back to car
Buzzing & relaxed after attempting to remain silent for over an hour and a half, we headed back up the track to the carpark…

8.30pm light fire, check recordings, celebrate!
A nagging anxiety of having successfully captured such an awesome sound remained until I could check whether the recording actually sounded as great as my memory of it. And given I was monitoring so loud I was a little worried I had actually distorted the recording – I know the 8040s can handle VERY loud sounds but had I cranked up the preamps too much!??? I transferred just ‘KT10′ to my laptop, split the poly file and first checked the 8040 pair… YES!!! Next the 8020 Telinga rig… YES!!!!
I was thrilled – we had achieved the most unlikely of goals: to record the rarest kiwi, in their natural habitat. And we’d succeeded! We’d had to work hard & be well prepared, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was a gift: that kiwi pair chose to sing for us! God/Jah/Buddha bless them and those who work so hard to protect them. Thank you Ian for being such a gracious & encouraging host. And to Hide, who motivated the trip. And to Fiona & Stu, random travellers who we shared a truly amazing experience with!

 

Some stats & a compressed timeline:

The male kiwi is known as ‘Fancy’ and the female kiwi is known as ‘Joelene’
They are both 17 years old (Rowi can live to 100 years old!)

4.30pm meet for briefing
4.45pm drive into start of hiking track
5.00pm hiked in 2km
5.20pm set up & recording started
6.37pm recorded duet call
6.55pm sighted the male kiwi
7.52pm sighted the female kiwi
8.00pm pack up & hike back to car

So after we started recording, we waited over an hour in the freezing cold to hear their duet:

perseverance & patience FTW!

 

And the recording?

First the stereo recording via ORTF pair of Sennheiser MKH8040s:

Next a mono recording via a Sennheiser MKH8020 in a Telinga dish

& for fun, the stereo recording slowed down to half real speed

KiwiSpect

dOkaritoLATE1

 

Lastly, if you’ve appreciated me sharing this adventure can I ask a small favour?
Kiwis are an endangered species & need our help to survive – Kiwis for kiwi is carrying on the years of dedicated work by BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust, to help protect kiwi and the places they live.
Please visit their website HERE and consider making a donation to help support their efforts!

NationalPride-Slider

 

Learning to fly, too

myP3

A new toy? Nope, expanding my potential!

The short film project I’ve been shooting & working on for the past month or so has involved working with a drone pilot/aerial videographer on four seperate shoots – my initial motive was as an affordable alternative to using a helicopter for filming aerial shots, but after the first few shoots I started to appreciate what is possible with these incredible devices and those instincts developed to commission two further shoots which captured truly incredible footage! After a bit of research I discovered DJI were just about to release their latest iteration of the drone, the Phantom 3, which is relatively affordable, can shoot 4k video and 12 megapixel stills & includes the crucial downlink/video feed… Order placed, waiting, waiting…

So I posted this photo on FB a few days ago when it arrived… And made a comment about also being interested in using the drone to record sound. A few people instantly commented: “you can’t record sound with those, the props make too much noise” but they were just stating the obvious – if you’ve seen a drone fly then you’ve also heard its props & of course no one is going to record sound while its flying but that just shows a lack of imagination…. Lets take a really basic example: say you want to record some lake ambiences & the lake has a little island – the perspective from the island would be quite different from the shore, but recording on that island requires either a boat, or… a way to get your recorder & mics out to the island. Get it now?

One of the things that blew me away about our drone filming was the range. While the footage is amazing (we flew the drone to some places that no human could safely go even in a helicopter) the DJI drone the pilot was using also had a range of up to 2km. Two kilometres!! So that example of the little island in the lake doesn’t have to be close – we shot some material where I couldn’t even see the drone any more, it was that far away! But hit the ‘fly home’ button and via GPS the drone makes its way back…

What sort of payload could a drone such as this carry? Thats something I will start to experiment with, once I have some skills at actually flying it. While it may not be able to carry a pair of MKH8040s and a Sound Devices recorder, a pair of DPA4060 mics weight practically nothing & paired with a small recorder that 2km trip might just deliver some unique sounds! And just imagine where you could fly it!!

At first I thought removing the camera might be a way to increase the possible weight of mics & recorder, but then realised the camera & video feed would be essential for identifying a safe landing location. I can imagine the anguished shout, as the drone lands at some totally inaccessible location and topples over, unable to take off… “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo……….”

4L2A9654-crop

Detritus 350

 

▶ how brilliant is this: GCans, the massive underground flood control system near Tokyo that I visited back in 2012 can now be experienced via Google StreetView – check it out here

 

 

▶ cliche 101

 

privilege, explained via great little graphic novel

 

▶ that Foley documentary I mentioned a while ago wont make itself & needs your Kickstarter $$$

 

▶ this is a great synthy read (thanks Nathan!) – a thesis/critique by Peter Blasser (inventor of profound/unique Ciat Lonbarde synths

 


this is great/funny, but if you have a short attention span skip to 3’00” to hear the worlds weirdest music ‘worlidizing’ (or to 3’36” for a great raster noton-ish static beat)