Sonic Tourism Auckland – North Head

I’ve been working on a couple of new photoblogs (eg one for Little Spaceman) and in the process I decided to recatalog all my photos, exciting stuff I know…. not! It took 2 days to log my 37,488+ photos and its been invaluable for making it easier to select photos to include in the new sites but the side benefit that I hadn’t even thought about was the fact that it also has reminded me of many field recording trips I’ve done & documented.
When I go out recording it is usually with a purpose ie I’m working on a film and I’m collecting specific ambiences or effects that I need, but like any good recordist I always keep an open mind & record anything interesting I come across and it is those sounds that I was happy to be reminded of. The sounds I recorded for the film of course get used in the film, but these others sit in the library waiting to be used in some unknown context, and it’s a pleasure to be reminded of their existence… which is another good reason to always document your recordings visually!

So this particular record trip was to Auckland when I was working on Under The Mountain – I was primarily after ambiences, first the Britomart train station and secondly North Head… With the Britomart centre I didn’t even think to ask if I needed permission, so I wandered in there, stood around for maybe an hour recording different perspectives of trains coming & going, and people coming & going.. Eventually a security guy came over to ask what I was doing, I explained, he went away and ten minutes later his boss came back & escorted me off the premises, telling me I needed a permit to film there… I thought they were very kind to let me do all my recording before they told me this, because its not like they didnt notice me – a six foot guy waving a dead cat around tends to get noticed! Anyway moral of that story is sometimes its better to plead ignorance & do the crucial recording before you get stopped, although of course next time I would contact Film Auckland and make the necessary arrangements….

So after I left the underground Britomart centre I did a series of exterior recordings of the city and as I headed back to my car for the first time noticed this huge building site and realised I’d been hearing it in the distance for a little while:

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So I walked around the outside of it & recorded a few tracks & was awe struck by the beautiful resonance & space in some of the percussive sounds – it was like they’d hired some Taiko drummers to do the manual labour!

Building Site 01 by timprebble

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Building Site 02 by timprebble

But that isn’t the sonic tourism I am referring to though…. Some of the scenes in Under The Mountain were filmed at North Head, which is a peninsula & as the name suggests its the north head of the entrance to Auckland harbour. Apart from being a public park with a beautiful view of Rangitoto, the harbour and the city it is also a site of historical significance, first for Maori and later it became one of a number of defence forts that were rapidly set up in the late 1800s to defend Auckland from a feared Russian attack. The fort was later expanded as part of Auckland’s coastal defence system during World Wars I and II, and is covered in gun emplacements with interconnecting tunnels….

So first I recorded some general sea ambiences:

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And then I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: make some fixed level recordings of an exterior and interior location, just to see what the level difference is. This is something we balance on every film ambience predub, layering & balancing the levels of eg an exterior shot of a house, and then doing the same for the interior. Of course we aren’t making a documentary about ambiences so we arent locked into any rules – its what feels right but considering that sea was like a giant pink noise generator I figured this was a good chance to try it. So I recorded a bit of the exterior and then went into one of the tunnels and recorded more, without changing record levels….

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EXT INT cave by timprebble

The level difference? Exterior metered at -28.4dB and interior at -36.8dB, so a 8.4dB shift…. interesting!

Apart from being out in the open & all the fresh air, there are fantastic acoustic contrasts to be enjoyed at Northead for example imagine walking around an open park and then coming across this:

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Its a pleasure to the ears to transition from an open field acoustic to such enclosed spaces… but it gets better!

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Some of the tunnels are seriously long & join on to larger underground rooms… And every space has such different acoustics & resonance. I asked my friends to go further down one of the tunnels & make some sounds – they found some metal enclosures and did some hits for me – check out the beautiful resonance, on one of the hits it almost feels like its feeding back!

INT NorthHead 01 deep hits by timprebble

They also found a metal pipe & did some hits with it (three at real speed, then repeated at half speed)

INT NorthHead02 Pipe hits by timprebble

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That dog looks like its having the most fun! Ditto for those kite surfers!

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Heres a photo of the map of North Head – more info & a PDF map is available here – you can catch a ferry over to Devonport from downtown and then walk to North head. Just be aware they lock the gate at 10pm, we had to jump the fence to get out as stayed there quite a bit later…..

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So if you live in Auckland where would be your favourite spot to visit for interesting sounds, acoustics etc? The West Coast beaches are always overwhelmingly beautiful & the gap at Piha is about as raw & dangerous as a beach/inlet can get…. Where else?

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