FX Recording in Bali with a Zoom H2 Recorder

Arriving in a new country I am always excited to discover what is unique in this new sonic environment… The trip from the airport to Sanur, where we were staying, gave me a pretty good idea of the crazy traffic & the swarms of motorbikes that seemed to fearlessly weave around cars & trucks, but later on in the evening I walked past this incredibly loud night cricket & for a little while was convinced it was a cellphone hidden in the bush – it sounded so electronic! I just had to stop & record it: 01 Night cricket
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On New Year’s eve in Bali there are processions through all the towns of huge models of demons & bad spirits, called “Ogoh ogoh.” Some of them are very elaborate & beautifully made. While marching through the streets with them, each group of people was usually accompanied by percussion or singing, so whenever I heard a good one approaching I would stop taking photos & quickly put the H2 into record… I love the natural slow doppler and distance as each group approaches & then walks past…

02 Ogoh ogoh percussion passby 1:
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03 Ogoh ogoh group vocal passby
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04 Ogoh ogoh percussion passby 2
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New Years day is supposed to be silent, and mid afternoon I sneaked out to the front of the villa complex we were staying at to record some quiet ambiences, free of traffic noise… in film terminology, recording the sound of an empty set (to be used to fill backgrounds) is called recording a “buzztrack” at east partly because it is often just recording lighting buzz etc… but on Nyepi, the Hindu day of silence, I was surely recording insect buzztracks, along with a few birds… And while I was recording these tracks I wondered what nature makes of the sudden human quiet?

05 Nyepi Ambience 1
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06 Nyepi Ambience 2
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Later that evening a tropical storm passed through & the rain literally poured down! But the temperature didnt change (a typical day in Bali had a high of 28 degrees C, and an overnight low of 26) and after standing recording & sweating for a few minutes I decided to go for a swim! It was pitch black as Nyepi is also a day where no electric lights are allowed, so I put on my togs & (quietly) jumped in the swimming pool that was right outside our villa & had the most memorable swim of my life! Above the surface I was getting pounded by torrential rain, while underwater I could hear the subdued sound of the rain hitting the surface of the pool. It was so incredibly beautiful that I was almost willing lightning to strike me then & there, so I could die happy!!! FWIW I think this recording illustrates some of the short comings of the H2 mics – even the 24 bit 48k sound file tends towards white noise, when the reality was that the sound WAS dense but it was very complex & layered… I’m convinced if I had my sanken CS5 mic there I would have ended up with a far more detailed, less harsh recording….

07 Bali Rain Nyepi
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As I ranted in the previous post, the Gamelan workshop we did was hugely fun & inspiring but alas most of the recordings overloaded and it wasnt just preamp clipping/going past digital FS either! Much of the sound is distorted when it is nowhere near full level in the recording, which indicates the SPL is too high for the actual microphones… In the end I should have put the H2 further away from where we were playing but it was hard to do both things ie learn to play Gamelan AND monitor the recordings… And I was primarily there for the former! I am always a bit cynical of tourists who spend most of their holidays looking through the viewfinder…. As it was I rescued this piece from the surround mics, but most of it will have to reside in my memory…. c’est la vie!

08 Gamelan workshop
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This Gamelan recording was done at a more sensible distance, and was the accompaniment to a traditional dance that we enjoyed at The Lotus Cafe in Ubud… Relatedly, one aspect of Gamelan that intrigued me is that there is no written form; it is learned through playing, not through reading sheet music. Hallelujah!

09 Gamelan dance accompaniment
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Thanks to the time difference (+5 hours from NZ) I found it easy to get up before dawn to go & shoot photos of the sun rise, such as the one above, which was taken a ten minute walk from our villa in Sanur. On one of these early morning missions I left the H2 sitting on our front door step, recording the dawn chorus & as luck would have it I managed to capture the intriguing sound of a gecko! Almost every night I was woken by the sound of a gecko – its such a beautiful accelerating rhythm, almost like an arpeggiated laugh… and such was my determination that on the last night I left the H2 recording all night, or at least until the 4GB RAM card filled up… and what did I get? No geckos, just some random snoring! Doh!!! Anyway the gecko appears in this recording @ 11 seconds…

10 Dawn + Gecko
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On the advice of our fantastic driver Wayan, one evening we went to a temple at the bottom of Bali called Ulumatu. The temple is built on cliffs far above the sea & the view & sunset were incredibly beautiful… We also bought tickets to attend a traditional fire dance, which started off in daylight;

And ended well after sunset:

Considering the performance went on for more than an hour I was very impressed with the stamina of the performers, who were moving AND singing/chanting almost the entire time….

11 Bali fire dance vox 1
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12 Bali fire dance vox 2
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Lastly, one of the most memorable meals we had on Bali was a great seafood restaurant in a town called Jimbaran. The seafood was so fresh,a sin it was in tanks & we chose which snapper, lobster & shellfish we would like cooked for us, but the best surprise was when we were seated. We walked through the restaurant & out the front door on to a huge sandy beach & were seated literally 20 metres from huge pounding waves!! The funny thing was that because it was dark & also because we had dropped to the restaurant via driving through the town I had no idea we were even near the beach!!! So a sonic backdrop to a beautiful dinner such as this was a lovely surprise!!!!!!

13 Dinner on the beach
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I can’t recommend Bali highly enough as an interesting & creatively stimulating place to visit! Until this trip I had presumed it was just a beach resort, much like Australias Gold Coast (a place I would happily pay money to avoid) but that couldn’t be further from the truth with Bali. We were lucky as took good advice & didnt stay in Kuta (the popular surfie & tourist town) & also didnt travel during the tourist high season. Also with the help of research & our driver’s great advice we easily managed to enjoy a lot of fascinating adventures, while also relaxing….
I’ll definitely be returning to Bali & exploring more of Indonesia!!!

8 thoughts on “FX Recording in Bali with a Zoom H2 Recorder

  1. Pingback: The Sound of Touch, FX Recording in Bali, Key Chain Studio, Korg DS-10 international release, Hybrid Toys Workshop, and Wii Guitarduino

  2. kadek agus

    You have some very good recording as well as pictures! They are great! The Ogoh ogoh will be very lively next time you try to watch it again on the next Balinese New Year. I am thrilled to read your impression of the atmosphere here, well, I was close to nature when I was a child (I could hear the buzz of various insects near my room at night and birds in the morning).
    Look forward to reading the next post

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  4. dan

    Hi Tim,

    I wonder – what licence are you releasing your samples under? Can a fellow remix some samples if he asks nicely enough?

    1. tim Post author

      for sure – help yourself!
      Someone asked the same question, have a read here for a more specific answer 🙂

  5. Pingback: Disquiet » What a Picture Sounds Like (MP3s)

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