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

Preparing for a Field Workshop

Posted: June 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear, nature recording, news

This weekend, I’m attending the 26th Annual Nature Sounds Society Field Workshop. Held in the Sierra Nevada mountain range at an SFSU field research station, this year’s instructors will include Gordon “One Square Inch of Silence” Hempton and others, with naturalist and illustrator John Muir Laws as a guest lecturer.

I thought it might be interesting to share what I’m bringing with me to this interesting outing. (Well, OK, fine, I really needed to make a packing list and I just suckered you into reading it.) Later this summer, I’ll not only share some recordings and photos from the field workshop, but will recap the gear used and how it all performed.

So, what am I bringing?

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Roam Home to a Drone

Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Rycote, Shelving, & Bear Canister

Today's lesson: Channelling resonance through a vibrationally conductive chamber!

[This post's title not ringing a bell? Read more.]

As regular visitors to Noise Jockey have read before, I’m pro-drone, and I vote.

Any rich, enveloping tone is like audio heroin to me. Why? It’s definitely psychoacoustic, possibly all alignin’ my chakras ‘n’ such, maybe it’s the resonant frequency of my skull…I have no idea. While they’re easy to synthesize, they’re harder to record in the real world, but can be much richer and full of sonic surprises.

But it’s not like they’re rare. Quite the contrary: Almost anything will resonate under the right circumstances, but thin metals seems to be the best, including commonplace wire shelving units.

In trying to record a set of metal wire shelves in my shed, I started with contact mics, figuring there’d be subtleties to be captured…but putting mics on the thin rods of the shelves prevented them from moving as freely, and it just lacked the character that my ears heard. I ditched the contact mics and moved a large, polycarbonate bear-proof food canister onto a shelf and stuck a hypercardioid mic right at the mouth of the canister. This amplified the sound, added more of overtones, and increased the sound’s sustain.

Today’s sound is an edit of decays and tones from striking these metal shelves with a hammer. I simply edited out all of the transients of the actual hammer falls, and layered many sequences of these resonant tones together, “boomerang-reversing” some of them to get more consistent volume and tone. However, no plugins have been used.


[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Hyperhopper

Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

Sunshine on his shoulder makes him jumpy...

No sound designer can resist sound-making objects, so I did some recent damage at ThinkGeek for some small, inexpensive musical items…but then I noticed the robots.

Sadly,  buying a spendy mechanical robot arm just to record servo sounds seemed like a horrible investment. I learned this lesson last year. ;-)

However, I did get a tiny solar-powered grasshopper kit. An offset actuator in its abdomen makes the whole thing vibrate on tiny wire legs when it’s solar-cell carapace is hit with sunlight or a strong halogen source.

Of course, that would sound tiny and delicate. Which is OK. But how to make that sound bigger? Well, you put it on something that will resonate: Something with air around it that will conduct vibrations easily. (I’ve had loud, racous luck with this before.)

Being a hot, sunny Sunday, I chose the top of my closed Weber grill. I tested the sound with contact mics, but the steel was too thick. Truly, and unusually, where my ears were – close to the top of the grill – was where the best sound was. I switched to a hypercardioid mic in a windscreen, and captured today’s sound.

To accentuate the lovely low-mid resonant tones, I applied a huge -24dB cut at 5.5kHz , where the metallic feet where vibrating against the grill (I still wanted a tiny hint of chatter  in there), tand a +9dB boost at 180Hz. Could make for a nice layer with some other design elements.


[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Mutant Starling

Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording, sound design

European Starling, hero mutterer and goer-on-forever.

[Photo by donjd2 (CC)]

The European Starling is a common bird that yammers like a manic street preacher. They have a really varied voice, quite expressive for standard birdsong.

I recorded one in my backyard and found that the frequency content really held up well under creative processing (unlike the raspy, high-mid-peaked calls of crows). Today’s sample is a continuous utterance from a starling that’s been pitched down 800 cents and run through the GRM Tools PitchAccum filter, which I just adore for thickening sounds in unusual ways.

For me, it’s evocative of an exotic or alien ecosystem, especially with those other weird R2-D2-like tones in the background…but, again, the vast majority of those tones are being made by a single Starling.


[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Creativity and the Body

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: theory

Understanding your relationship, or lack thereof, to your body can lead to creative insights.

Denial of the Physical

In 2005, I heard a 1993 radio interview with Frank Conroy, a now-deceased fiction writer, and he described how he preferred writing in bed. He spoke with another author who did this also. Nelson’s own take on it is that he wrote best when his mind flowed without concern for his surrounding. Staying in bed was a strategy to disconnect his brain from his body to facilitate creative flow. The less he was aware of his body, the more his mind could reel and wander.

While Conroy might have had a self-destructive streak, something about this insight seemed familiar. I started to notice my own patterns and methods for staying creative and generating ideas, and realized that, indeed, the idea of disassociating the body from the mind is something that I also do.

Over the years, I’ve learned to obey these rhythms and how to use them in order to stay creative in a deadline-centered world.

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Of Noise and Crows

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
Crows

Recording crows...it's murder, I tell ya.

Thanks to SocialSoundDesign.com, I’ve discovered the joys of iZotope RX, an amazing noise reduction tool that has made real one of my hopes: To capture reasonably clean sounds in my own back yard. I live pretty close to a major highway, so getting usable recordings has been impossible up until recently.

A neighbor’s willow tree harbors a very chatty and schizophrenic-sounding European Starling. While recording some of its yammering, a crow flew in, circled over me three or four times not more than 20 feet overhead, and then left, as if to warn me that I was too close to the community tree in Birdsville. I tracked him with my mic as he flew. Well, after that, I packed it in. It wasn’t going to get better than that.

The sounds of the background are still there, of course, but much less prominently than they were. The crow was close enough and I tracked accurately enough that while there’s a volume dropoff, there’s not a lot of apparent Dopplering. The caws are fairly shrill, so don’t turn this up too loud. (Note: From a sound design standpoint, pitch shifting crow vocalizations down doesn’t sound that interesting. They sound like asthmatic dogs coughing up a cat’s hairball, and not in a good way.)


[Sennheiser MKH 50/30 mid-side stereo pair with into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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