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?

4 Responses to Samoa Field Trip Debrief

  1. Enos Desjardins says:

    Thanks for another interesting post Tim! Look forward to hearing some sample recordings! By the way that previous post’s beach looks unreal!

  2. John says:

    Another handy way to track where/when photos were taken is with something like these devices

    http://tinyurl.com/6b66bdn or http://tinyurl.com/z5sqx

  3. Pingback: A Sonic Trip to Samoa « Sonic Terrain

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