Japan Field Trip – The gentle art of perseverence

Whenever I go out recording ambiences there are two primary factors that concern me: the wanted and the unwanted. I might find the perfect beautiful sounding location only to have it completely ruined by a single unwanted element. Sometimes those unwanted elements are provided by nature eg wind or rain and sometimes they are human. A few times i’ve been out recording beaches and had my recording opportunity blown by some complete dick person who turns up with their wet bike and proceeds to race around making a whiny noise for an indefinte amount of time. At times like that I secretly wish to switch over to a weapons recording session: “ground to sea mortar recording, take one!”
In these situations sometimes it can be a battle of the wills – how long are you prepared to wait for the unwanted noise to go away? Can you out last them? I had this very situation when I was recording in Japan a number of times, but no better example exists than this one. We’d tried recording at a number of locations in Onamichi but were thwarted by people every time. So we headed up into the hills, following the navi into what looked like pristine bush. I suddenly noticed a gravel road that wasn’t even on the navi, so we drove down there a kilometre or more but at the end of the road could see a couple of vans parked away in the bush…. Hmmmmm wonder what they are up to? All seemed quiet, so I reversed out & went back to an earlier clearing we passed, parked & got out to have a listen. Wow!!! Incredibly beautiful birds, insects and even a pair of crows were calling out…. So I quickly set up my gear…


I hit record, and within 20 seconds I hear this sound – a sound a bit like a tiny chainsaw… I immediately jumped to the worst conclusions – someone was going to proceed to use their chainsaw continuously for the next 3 hours, or race their dirt bike, or whatever it was.. and totally ruin any chance of getting clean sound. But then this came into sight:

ARG!!! So thats what those people in the vans were up to – messing with their remote control aeroplane! I started having my weapons fantasy & could imagine the beautiful silence just after the rifle shot… but then I thought about it a bit longer and came to two conclusions: first, those little planes have little fuel tanks & will only fly for a few minutes…. second, I’ve actually needed the sound of a remote control aeroplane before so best I keep recording!

Sure enough within 3 minutes the plane flew away back to where the vans were parked & all was beautifully quiet again. Hit record for a new set of files and recorded these beautiful sounds:

The crow is very recognisable but the other bird with the almost backwards sound of a pure tone ramping to a short song I think is the Japanese Bush Warbler heard mostly from Spring onwards…


This isn’t my video but it beautifully shows the bird in action:

“Due to the lack of a diaphragm and vocal cords, the birds perform breathe with a fixed lung like mechanism of the bellows, and vibrates at least equal to or more than one pair of muscles which adhered to the tracheal ampulla to make a FM sound.”


13 thoughts on “Japan Field Trip – The gentle art of perseverence

  1. Colin Hunter

    I’m not a religious man, but I often find myself praying (to whom I don’t know) for the un-wanted sounds to stay quiet once I’ve hit record. It really is one of the most frustrating / rewarding elements of field recording.

  2. Michael Manzke

    “ground to sea mortar recording, take one!”
    made me laugh……the only bad thing is that I was drinking coffee while reading that…now my screen is a bit coffeesoaked.

    When it comes to unwanted noise I mostly find myself waiting for them to disappear while reading a book. Most of the time that sound that disturbed me is something I need one or two weeks later.
    Therefore I try (!) to record those disturbing noises as good as I can and drop back later to what I wanted to record in first place.

    1. tim Post author

      a book is the sign of a seasoned traveller!

      Long after the kids iplod batteries have run out, you can still quietly be enjoying a good book! Time spent well is not time wasted….

  3. Javier Umpierrez

    Hi! I really love your field recording posts, and I find your setup very interesting.
    I have a little question.
    How much of the specifics of this ambience recording (like the crow for example) are contributed by the mkh 70 s?
    I imagine that the 8040s are giving you a more diffused feel, right?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. tim Post author

      Hi Javier
      The most diffuse channel in the recording are the pair of widely spaced omni DPA4060s, although I didn’t use them in the sound of the video… The 8040s in XY give a stereo point-of-view image while the widely spaced 70s give 2 discrete pointilistic images… When I get time I will put an example up on sound cloud comparing the mics from the same recording… But eg in some cases a bird would be close to one of the 70s and be quite isolated by it (which is very useful) while the other two sets of mics would pick it up in both channels to varying degrees…

      1. Javier Umpierrez

        Thanks for the answer. I´d love to hear the different mics!.
        One last question! How do you like the dpa 4060 for recording ambience? I ve heard a lot about the self noise being high.
        I m thinking to buy a pair, and I m curious about your thoughts.
        Thanks again.

        1. tim Post author

          Sorry for slow reply Javier – I dont use my 4060s any more for ambiences due to self noise, now using a pair of MKH8020…

          Dinesh – I just put a DP4060 in the side of each of the big MKH70 Rycotes… so they are underneath the fluffy (but not inside the cage) of the Rycote – so the photo you see is of all six mics

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