A multi-disciplinary designer’s journey in field recording, sound design, sound effects, and music.

Gas Lantern

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design
This rare Mt. Hermon June Beetle kept trying to mate with our propane gas lantern. Randy fellow!

This rare Mt. Hermon June Beetle kept trying to mate with our propane gas lantern. Randy fellow!

(I’m on a bit of an nature recording roll since my last post about recording rutting Tule Elk…)

As much as I love backpacking, car camping can be pretty cushy. You can bring as many “luxury items” as you want. One such item is a propane-powered gas lantern. It’s such a staple of camping that I never thought to record it until a recent trip, when the forest went almost dead silent one morning. With the significant other still asleep in the tent, out came the battered Zoom H2.

This recording has just a couple of distant bird calls, but otherwise turned out pretty clean. It’s a simple hissy drone, but as a layer for other sound design purposes, I’m sure I’ll find a use for it someday (like shortening a piece of it for wind effects from airlocks, sci-fi helmets, or the like).

Gas Lantern by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Stalking the Tule Elk

Posted: September 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
This male Tule Elk was pimpin' with more than a dozen ladies in his harem. With that rack, who's gonna argue with him?

This male Tule Elk was pimpin' with more than a dozen ladies in his harem. But really, who's gonna argue with a burly, mangy, and horny twelve-point bull about his dating habits?

The wind and fog were almost enough to dissuade me from visiting the Point Reyes National Seashore to capture images and audio of the California tule elk, one of the largest species of deer in the world. September is the end of the tule elk’s rut, so I was nearing the end of the time-window when I had the best chance of seeing and hearing bulls fighting, courting, and generally carrying on in order to secure mates.

As I drove down the windy, isolated road past long, undulating fences and remote dairy farms, I didn’t find the protected elk herds where I usually see them. I saw and photographed a few stray females, but they don’t typically make any vocalizations. Finally, I saw a harem of sixteen females and one male (“bull”) near the very end of the road. I used my car as a wind break for my microphone and windscreen, settled in, and waited for the stag to vocalize (snapping pictures with my telephoto lens when the opportunities arose). It’s rough to get ambience-free recordings out there; it’s a spit of land surrounded by storm-whipped water on all sides, and the wind was gusting to around 25mph, so the waves and wind were constantly roaring. (Side/tech note: Soundtrack Pro did a far better job on noise reduction, while preserving the desired frequencies and dynamics, than Sound Soap Pro.)

My patience and stillness was ultimately rewarded by several pretty clean recordings of the bull bugling. Trust me, it doesn’t sound like a bugle. More like unholy screams. The male tule elk’s call is as loud as it is piercing, with gigantic 2kHz frequency peaks that are 25dB higher than any other frequency. You may want to turn down your headphones or speakers at first. (I probably should have issued this warning for certain other posts, too.)

Tule Elk, Bugling by noisejockey

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Massive Buzz

Posted: September 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design

Today, no photo. No description. Just a sound.

This sound is a field recording of a bee captured in a plastic food bin. It was recorded by placing a contact microphone on the side of the bin, which was tracked at 24 bit/192kHz onto my Sound Devices 702 recorder. The bee was hitting the sides of the bin with his body and wings, producing the warbling and percussive hits. I lowered the pitch of the sound by a full three octaves while keeping the duration the same, which still kept a fair amount of dynamics given the high sample and bit rate of the recording. This is dying to be used in conjunction with an actively-automated Doppler plug-in, but a gent has only so many spare cycles in a day.

No bees were harmed in this recording. The little feller had air holes and he was released after 6 minutes, after which he promptly went back to pollinating my backyard.

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By Request: More Metal Madness

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design

That’s right, Noise Jockey does requests!

An earlier post spurred a couple of commenters to wonder about hearing some sounds from my shovel-in-wheelbarrow recording session pitched down by an octave. I recorded that session at 96kHz, so the sounds could easily manage to be stretched and pitched down.

So, here are the results, as requested. Definitely leans towards a cinematic feel, and I find that sounds like these have 1,001 uses! Enjoy, and happy Pitchshiftember!

Heavier Metal, By Request by noisejockey

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Roomba in da Kitchen, What I’m-a Gonna Do

Posted: September 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
The humble Roomba: Only a mistake could make it sound cool.

The humble Roomba: Only a mistake could make it sound cool.

We own two Roombas. When they’re not battling to the death like robotic Mexican cocks, they clean our floors.

I recorded one and, well, it wasn’t that interesting. A bit whiny. Not at all what one would expect from a 21st century robot: A lot of wide-spectrum noise without a lot of character.

But then I taped a contact microphone on the top of the Roomba…taped rather poorly, in fact. I followed it around all hunched over with a too-short cable, causing the contact mic to occasionally lift up from the Roomba’s chassis. (I could have turned it off to rig it properly, but y’know. Guy thing.) This sloppiness caused a pretty weird warbling as the flat piezo element wobbled around and slightly lifted off the robot’s chassis as it changed directions and the cable to the recorder alternated between taut and slack.

It sounded weird enough to post here, completely unedited other than trimming and normalizing, in all it’s lazy-man’s happy-accident glory.

Warbly Roomba by noisejockey
[Piezo contact microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Thrift Store Sounds: Wicker Basket

Posted: September 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
A wicker basket or ancient sailing vessel?

A wicker basket or ancient sailing vessel?

Today’s installment of Thrift Store Sounds features what I swore would never invade the walls of my home: Wicker!

So cliché, so antique-y, so damn…uh…wickery, the stuff can evoke New England and Celtic rituals at the same time.

Wicker’s very worst trait, however – the loud sound of it straining under pressure – finally, and sonically, piqued my interest. I picked up up a small wicker basket at the local Thrift Town. Such fibrous, cracking, and straining sounds have many uses in sound design, from metaphoric strains and stresses to emulating the deep creaks and groans of a pirate vessel at sea. A small basket won’t make loud and deeply resonant sounds “out of the box,” but hey, that’s what computers are for. After half an hour of coaxing sound out of one of these things, by the way, they do break. But there are a bunch more for $1.99 at the thrift store!

Here’s a sample of the wicker basket being manipulated with two hands, then pitch-shifted a couple of octaves for some wickery gravitas. It serves as great reminder of why sample rates as high as 192kHz are your friend, and that Oktava mics – even the OktavaMods – have too high of a noise floor for quiet sounds. :-(

Wicker Basket, Pitched Down by noisejockey
[OktavaMod MK012 mic with cardioid capsule into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Campfire

Posted: September 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording
Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

There is something so primal about fire. Everyone I know considers just sitting and watching/listening to a campfire burn is better than television, and can be done for hours, pleasurably, in silence.

Of course, when I get excited, ideas like physics kind of go out the window, like the whole heat-rising thing…nothing got damaged, but in retrospect a lower position would have allowed the recorder to get closer. I am sure the makers of the Zoom H2 didn’t intend to have its plastic case survive high temperatures.

I recorded the sound of my campfire while backpacking California’s Sierra National Forest and the John Muir Wilderness on a nice, still evening. This particular campfire had a log that made some, uh, gassy emissions, and sounded very much like a milk foamer on an espresso machine. You’ll hear it about halfway through the clip.

Campfire by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Request: Recording Opportunities on New Zealand’s South Island?

Posted: September 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, news

I’m bound for the South Island of New Zealand this winter (or, their summer). I’m traveling with the Significant Other, so all I can really bring with me for sound gear is the ol’ Zoom H2 (now with its spiffy new wind-busting afro!). However, the question remains: What are the killer recording opportunities there?

I’ll be exploring the entire nothern coast from Abel Tasman to Akaroa, driving through Otago, and spending many days in the alps, ranging from Doubtful Sound up to to Arthur’s Pass. We’ll be there for three solid weeks.

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears! Feel free to offer ideas and suggestions in the comments on this post, via Twitter, or at nathan [at] noisejockey [dot] net.

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Meet the Super Clamp: Rigging a Bicycle for Sound

Posted: September 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear
The Bogen Super Clamp held this OktavaMod MK-012 right near the action.

The Bogen Super Clamp held this OktavaMod MK012 right near the action.

I’ve posted before about photographic grip equipment for use in audio recording, but one little widget rises to the top of that list for me: the Bogen Super Clamp. While intended to position cameras and flashguns in unusual places without marring whatever it’s clamped to, the Super Clamp is super fun for audio, too.

Super Clamps come with a stud that locks into the clamp itself, and ends with a 1/4″-20 screw thread. All it takes is an adapter to change that to a more mic-mount-friendly 3/8″ or 5/8″ thread, and as long as everything’s screwed down tight, you can hang mics upside down, on the sides of vehicles, you name it. Combining them with other accessories like umbrella swivel adapters gives you even more mounting flexibility. The padding on their jaws also makes them pretty gentle on whatever you place them on. Just don’t overtighten them on surface that can’t take crushing pressure, like carbon fiber handlebars.

This bicycle mounting held pretty well on relatively gentle roads, and took 3 minutes to rig.

This mounting held pretty well on relatively gentle roads, and took 3 minutes to rig.

It’s large, bombproof, and heavy, so maybe it’s not something you might casually throw in your field recording bag. But if you want to position a mic somewhere that a mic stand can’t go, or shoot an unusual perspective, the Super Clamp can go there. I’ve used it to attach mics in all sorts of odd places. A great way to get some neat ideas is to watch this Chase Jarvis video, in which he uses Super Clamps and the Bogen Magic Arm to get unique point-of-view shots. Extrapolate by replacing the cameras with mics and it gets interesting.

There are other ways to get mics in weird places, too. The Super Clamp is not unique to Bogen: Matthews makes basically the same thing. There are many smaller jobbies, too, such as Cardellini Clamps, but they’re actually more expensive.

The photos in this post show my OktavaMod MK012 (who’d want to run a test like this with a really expensive mic anyway?) atop a Rycote Softie shock mount and inside a Rycote Baby Ball Gag windscreen, attached to the rear triangle of my Gary Fisher HiFi Pro mountain bike. I wore my field recorder on my chest, utilizing a Lowe Pro chest harness I use for my camera bag when I backpack.

I’ll end this post with a sample of me riding around my street…not horribly exciting, but you’ll get the idea. The clip starts with pedaling uphill, then freewheeling on the flats, the disc brakes kicking in, and finally me clipping out of the pedals. The rumbling noises aren’t traffic, but rather the knobby tires rolling on the pavement.

Rear-wheel, bike-mounted microphone by noisejockey
[OktavaMod MK012 mic with cardioid capsule into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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