Field Recording 2001

a 20 year old repost #nostalgia – remember when we could travel?

While recently discussing recording crowds (and the issue of avoiding ambient music) I was reminded of a great crowd track I recorded while on holiday in Beijing, 2001. My sister was living over there for three years so I planned a big trip, first to LA and New York, then to my other sister in London and then to Beijing…. But things didn’t go as planned, my tickets to USA were for September 14th 2001 – yes! Three days after September 11! I remember waking up that fateful morning and spending the next few hours watching the horrific footage cycling over and over on TV in total disbelief… Later that day I went & visited my travel agent and asker her advice; she suggested I still leave on time but go straight to London, so I ended up having an extra few weeks in London…

Back then I travelled with my trusty old DAT machine – a Tascam DAP1… and I took a pair of Octavia Mk012 mics as I didn’t have room for a rycote…. I bought a pair of those little fluffies they use on video cameras so I had some wind protection, but it’s interesting to hear the results now, and to think how much technology has changed in ten years…. So here are a few sounds from my travels back in 2001; first recording? An airport room tone from a brief Singapore stop over…. Recorded at 4am so I’m surprised there’s no snoring!

I love that dislocated feeling when you are between time zones, William Gibson described it perfectly in Pattern Recognition: “her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”

And of course sooner or later after arriving in London I went & recorded the Tube/subway:

From London I did a few side trips including Amsterdam & Barcelona – here’s an interior ambience from Gaudis chapel in Barcelona – I love how diffuse the sound is!

And here is the restaurant I mentioned in Beijing. I think my sister took me there as she knew what it sounded like – it was basically a very large old noodle restaurant. But the interesting sonic character was the waiters – there must have been ten of them running around and every time a group of people arrived at the door they would all shout! My sister and I sat quietly slurping noodles while I recorded for ten minutes. Afterwards I asked what were they actually shouting, my sister thought it was the number of people in the newly arrived group, so the other waiters could shout back if they had a free table that could seat them.

Like any city the sound of traffic in Beijing is unique and I recorded half a dozen different tracks, surprisingly I didn’t record any accidents – the photos below show a few typical busy intersections, with literally traffic going in every direction at once!

Beijing traffic

Whenever I go travelling I do lots of research for interesting sound locations to visit and one that instantly appealed was a bell museum. This first bell is a 46 ton 600 year old bell that was just amazing to be near when it was struck, and by near I mean put your head inside! It resonated for maybe five or ten minutes, so this recording really doesn’t do it justice:

Beijing Bells

Another bell that was very intriguing was actually a bowl of water, with side handles which when you rubbed them fast enough created a resonating tone, but the weird thing was that as the bowl resonated the water bubbled almost like it was boiling:

Some sounds I heard in Beijing I simply could not record, I have a very distinct memory of being about six stories up a tower looking over the suburbs and noticing a flock of pigeons flying around. The pigeons had whistles attached to them and the sound was beautifully evocative.

Beijing pigeons

But one sound I came across in a park I just could not begin to think what was creating it!! I first heard it in the distance and followed the direction of the sound until I came across an old guy using what looked like a double ended spinning top, suspended & spinning on some string between two drum sticks!

My sister helped me buy one of these devices and at various times ever since I have practiced making these sounds… the main problem being that once you get it going to an audible level it is spinning very fast and if you make a mistake it tends to break the string and the top goes flying off… Its a little dangerous but that old guy in the temple was a master at it! I’ll update this post with a photo of it – mine is at my studio… Anyone know what they are called? I’ll update this post with a photo of mine in an hour or so….

They are known as ‘Kongzhu’

Spinning tops

To give an idea of scale, the drumstick with the string on is the size of a normal drumstick…

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