Japan Field Recording Trip

1. What the….?
I’m off on a field recording trip to Japan!

2. Why?
Collecting ambiences for THE EMPEROR by Peter Webber


3. Where?
As the film is set in 1945 I’m mostly going to spend time recording in rural areas and small towns in Japan, my itinerary is: Wellington > Auckland > Osaka > Kyoto > Okayama > Onomichi > Osaka > Tokyo > Ofuna > Kamakura > Tokyo > Kiso Valley > Nikko> Tokyo > Auckland > Wellington…


With huge thanks to Florian at Abandoned Kansai I’m also visiting a few haikyo locations, one of which I can’t share the location of, but this one in Okayama is going to be very interesting!! I’m planning to meet up with Florian in Osaka and while in Tokyo I’m also aiming to meet up with some kindred sound recordists: the guys from Nature Sounds Society Japan (check some of their recordings here) and Hide Aoki (check some of his recordings here) – I am so looking forward to it!!

4. How: Tim’s Field Kit v4
As per each of my previous off shore field trips, my recording setup has evolved somewhat – not wanting to be the gaijin lugging huge amounts of baggage around the Japanese train system means I have put a lot of thought into compacting my setup, and making it scaleable…

Kit 1 – stealth
Sound Devices 722 + DPA 4060 + a pair of Rycote Lavalier Windjammers

Japan record kit

Kit 2 – walk about/semi-stealth quad recording
Sound Devices 744 + 302 + MKH8040x2 + DPA4060x2 + travel tripod

Japan record kit

The tripod I’m using is an amazing little device: it weights only 780g and collapsed is only 350mm long but fully extended the mic sits at 1090mm!

Japan record kit

The model is the SLIK SPRINT MINI II GM and Bhphoto have it for only US$76! – of course you also need an adaptor to go from camera thread 1/4″ to mic stand thread 3/8″ – I am using a Manfrotto adapter 088LP adapter – bhphoto has them for US$8.90 so for about US$85 you have a very stable, light compact mic stand. Compared with the Manfrotto nano light stands the tripod weighs 780g vs the nano 930g, but the reach of the latter is a lot to gain for 150g!

Kit 3 – 6 channel
744 + 302 + 722 + 8040×2 + DPA4060x2 + MKH70x2 + tripod + 2 nano stands

Japan record kit

I’m taking two different bags than on previous trips – after taking my recorders etc down to the local photography store and testing out every option they had, I settled on a Lowe Pro Classified AW250 bag – its accessible from above and is big enough to hold the 744 + 302 + 722, along with the pair of 8040s, the tripod, the DPA 4060s and my little camera…. and yet it just looks like a normal laptop bag (ie. it has room for laptop too)

Japan record kit

Japan record kit

Japan record kit

The bag I’ve found for the big MKH70 mics & stands will be especially useful when I ditch my hard suitcase (necessary for checked baggage but a PITA to lug around… Thankfully Japan has great luggage courier services!), as it has room for basic living stuff as well…

Japan record kit

It also cleverly has some backpack straps hidden in the back of it, very useful when I need to go for a bit of a trek….

Japan record kit

I’ve applied the Tim Neilson approach to the Rycote handles using tennis racket handle tape to secure the XLRs more reliably… And the other upgrade I’ve done is on the camera front. I decided I wouldn’t have room to take my Canon 7D and lenses, but while researching cameras I came across the new version of my trusty little s95, namely the Canon S100 and while the lens & functionality has been improved (it now shoots 1080p!) Canon has also cleverly added GPS functions! So now I’ll be able to track on Google Earth etc exactly where each sound was recorded!

Japan record kit

So when you compare this to the rig I took to Papua New Guinea and to Samoa it is less bulky and much lighter…. One of my first aims was to reduce the number of stands I was carrying – taking six stands to PNG was a little nuts in hindsight! One of the other options I experimented with involved using a grip head to mount boom arms, to spread/space the DPA4060 omnis…

Japan record kit

It kind of worked, and although that grip head is aluminium it still added up in weight… But even more importantly I would still need two nano stands… so it ended up not being the best option for this trip. If you’re interested the grip head is this one: Impact KCP200 2.5″ GRIP HEAD and the boom arms are these: Matthews EXTENDABLE BABY STND EXTENSTION 18-54″

I also experimented with a K&M 236 4-MIC BAR to mount both MKH70s on one stand but came to the conclusion that I like the ability to capture discrete elements with the MKH70s when spaced & pointed wherever I want them, hence the two nano stands. When I am recording 6 track I’ll place the DPA4060 omnis in the sides of MKH70 Rycotes so they will be much better spaced as well.

Japan record kit

Given the amount of travelling I’ll be doing when jumping between record locations, I suspect I may well assume the Japanese habit of sleeping on trains (but maybe not to the master 5 level of the last guy in this set of photos) but you can count on some definitive recordings of the Shinkansen!

And lastly no, I haven’t booked (or have the budget) to eat at Jiros, but I am so looking forward to enjoying some regional Japanese food – oishii!

And a philosophical sidenote for anyone who has made it this far…. Believe me when I say this, there are far more “convenient” ways of recording useable sound than what I am evolving… One pair of mics and a single recorder means you end up with what you get – a single point of view or perspective. But its a long way to go, to experience & record sound in only 2 dimensions. What interests me is multi faceted: capturing the moment, capturing aspects of the spatial dimension and then, choosing what to do with it all afterwards, when it is in context. A single recorder and a pair of mics would be so much easier to travel with… but if such things were ‘easy’ and convenience was the primary goal then anyone could do it (& they’d likely turn up with a portable recorder with built in mics or an iPhone app)
I’ve lugged my MKH70s across three continents now, why? Well, when Sennhesier released the new generation of MKH80X0 mics I rejoiced, not because of the MKH8020 or 30 or 40 or 50 but because I was deluded and hoped for a new generation of the MKH70 i.e. a mic that exhibited the same focus & side rejection of the MKH70 but was tiny, almost pencil in size… So when they finally released the MKH8070 I was slightly non-plussed. The new MKH8070 is almost the same size as the MKH70 – how can that be? I don’t pretend to understand the maths but I can well appreciate that complex physics is like that sometimes. It seems an omni mic is far easier to miniaturise, as the DPA 4060 illustrates….. but when it comes to the incredibly complex mathematics of a sound source within a complex environment it seems 20+ years of evolution have not helped the MKH70 get smaller. Every time some random stranger or kid is curious enough to ask what I am doing, and I give them the headphones… It is when I point at the MKH70s and switch monitoring channels so they can hear them that a big grin spreads from one ear to the other…. It seems that when it comes to capturing an image of what you see, there are many, many options – all of which do the job to varying degrees… But, when it comes to focusing & isolating elements it seems there are far fewer contenders eg check this article on the role the Sennhesier MKH816 played in the Thin Red Line….

This explains it a bit: “The length of the interference tube determines the frequency above which most of the improvement in directivity happens. The following chart is derived from Figure 6.4 in Eargle’s Microphone Book.

0.8 meters (31.5 inches) – 900 Hz
0.4 meters (15.75 inches) – 1,800 Hz
0.2 meters (7.9 inches) – 3,600 Hz
0.1 meters (3.9 inches) – 7,200 Hz
0.05 meters (2 inches) – 14,400 Hz

12 thoughts on “Japan Field Recording Trip

  1. rene

    wow, thanks for the detailed writeup! I’ve also been working on evolving a rig that strikes the right balance between portability and number of channels available while staying at max quality.

    You’ve done yeoman’s work on that front. hope the shoot all goes well!


  2. Stephen Saldanha

    Nice have a save trip, btw do you happen to know if can you find those manfrotto stands locally in Auckland?

  3. Tamas Dragon

    Have a nice trip! I have one question about the first stealth kit. How do you mount or hold the dpa mics? Just hold in your hands? Or do you have some special tricks?

  4. nick reich

    If you are looking for a lighter option for outrigger bars for your 4060s, try replacement telescopic aerials for radios or old TVs, available from most electronic stores. The will hold a DPA 4060 and rycote fluffy just fine.

  5. Hide Aoki

    Tim san!!
    Thank you very much for kindly mentioned our link!
    We are very looking forward to meeting you soon!
    Wish your nice & safe recording trip.

  6. Justin

    Hey Tim,

    About the 8070’s…technology and physics can only go so far. The only mic I know of that is as ‘pointy’ as the ’70 or the 816 in a SMALL-ish body is the Sanken CS3-e. It’s a phased array of 3 capsules (that’s where the 3 in the name comes from) to give it excellent directivity even at very low frequencies. The trade of is that it has reasonably high self-noise that makes it no good for recording quiet ambiences like you are…

    Then of course there’s the Schoeps SuperCmit with it’s DSP’d ambient noise reduction….but a price tag that’s out of reach for most people.

    Oh, and thanks Nick, I’m definitely stealing your idea of tv aerials for my spaced omni lavs. 🙂

  7. Ollie

    Hi there Tim,

    These posts regarding your trip to Japan area really interesting. As a field recording hobbyist I found that my holiday in Tokyo and Kyoto was an amazing experience.

    Wish I could get as inspired by my every-day surroundings! I’m sure it’s an entirely different approach when you’re recording professionally.

    Best regards.

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  9. Kirill Belooussov

    Hey Tim. Great fun you’ll have there! Kamakura is me and my wife’s beloved place to visit when we are together in Japan. Good luck and have pleasure recording! Also eat some oishii food! Haha.

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