The Sea – part 1

“They remained silent for some time. The coffee in their cups clouded up and grew cold. The Earth turned on its axis while the moon’s gravity imperceptibly shifted the tides. Time moved on in silence…”

I’m quoting from a short story called Airplane by one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murikami & that phrase has stayed with me since I first read it many years ago. When I was a kid, if I had asked someone why the tide goes in & out every day & been told its partly because of the moon I would have laughed & asked for the real answer. And I’m still not sure I believe it… “You mean the suns involved too? No way!”

Living on an island nation means the sea is never far away – New Zealand is so small you can drive from one side to the other in about half a day & the length of each island in a day & a bit… Accordingly I’ve recorded the sea many different times, in many different places & as I am about to head off on a bit of a road trip (which will inevitably involve recording some more of the sea) I was listening through some recordings in my library and came across a recording I did in Takaka back in 2006. The start of the recording as usual had me verbally identifying the location and then I clapped, twice. Ahar! There is only one reason I ever clap on the start of field recordings – because I was also shooting it on video, so I dug through my box of DV tapes & sure enough there it was! And so here is a little excerpt from my favourite beach: Totoranui Beach, Takaka, top of the South Island, New Zealand and here is a link to a Google Earth KMZ file if you really want to see where this beach is exactly!

Totoranui Beach, Takaka, NZ from tim prebble on Vimeo.

And let me explain the claps as I often see youtube videos that sound appalling & depsite some of them being specifically about the audio (eg synth demos) the creator hasn’t bothered to seperately record & then later sync up the audio. Now my theory is that some people think the sync up will be a pain but really it isnt if you do one simple thing at the start of the recording. Let me illustrate – once I had set up my DV camera and my sound recorder & mic (back then it was a Fostex FR2 recorder & CSS5 shotgun mic) I set both machines recording & then did this:

Sync Clap from tim prebble on Vimeo.

Yes it is exactly like the clapperboard you see on film sets, although when shooting film they are even more important as the camera records no sound. When you shoot video the process is much much easier.
All I had to do was digitise the DV footage into the computer (I used Final Cut Pro but it doesnt matter what you use) and then import the DV footage into ProTools, also bringing in the audio from the crappy camera mic. Now I imported the lovely 24bit recordings from my HD recorder, layed them on tracks alongside the camera mic tracks & moved the 24bit recordings until they roughly synced their waveform of my handclap to the one on the camera mic tracks. Zoom in a few times & nudge the 24bit region until its tightly in sync & then delete that crappy camera mic!

The problem with camera mics are threefold: 1. usually they are a cheap mic eg my DV camera is maybe worth $2,000 so they probably invested $100 at most on the mic…. 2. the mic is physically attached to the camera so any bumps get transferred to the mic (& its often hard to get decent wind protection/fluffy for small camera mics) 3. the ultimate sin – autogain control – yuck! Nothing sounds worse than hearing the overall level duck down just because someone slammed a door or a seagull sqawked!

If its a synth demo you are shooting then the process is easier in that any home studio owner is used to recording their own instruments so simply patch the instrument into your computer to record it, but here you want to find another means of generating the clap, since the synth is not a microphone! In this case just try & record a short percussive sound at the start of the recording, even if its produced by another device but as long as its being recorded by both the camera mic AND the computer capturing the audio in high rez. Another sneaky way i did it once was to actually film a closeup of the VU meters on the computer screen & then it was a simple case of syncing the high rez audio to the visual VU meter jump. Obviously once you have edited the video & are ready to output it, you delete the clap off the front.

Ok thats enough tech-speak for now – I’ll do a rant in the future about why you should also always use a SMPTE leader and an audio 2 pop on every project you work on involving syncing audio/music to picture…

2 thoughts on “The Sea – part 1

  1. Dan

    Lovely beach. I would so much love to visit New Zealand one day.

    By the way, your KMZ file creates an endless succession of zips when I unzip it… very odd.


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