A multi-disciplinary designer’s journey in field recording, sound design, 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?

Personal Gear

  • Permethrin-treated clothing, bug headnet, insect repellent, and waterproof hiking boots. The Sierra Nevada had a very wet winter and the entire mountain region’s spring is about a month behind schedule. This will mean one of three things: Snow, soggy ground, or mosquitos (ooh, maybe all three!), depending on local conditions and the locations we travel to. Any recording will be ruined if I am rustling due to bug-laden distraction. [Side note:DEET is pretty awful stuff, but I've tried many alternatives in the Sierra Nevada with zero success over the years. It can melt plastic on contact, so wearer beware!]
  • REI Trail Stool, chosen to keep my behind high and dry for being the sturdiest, lightest-weight stool I could find.
  • Petzl e+LITE headlamp. While I use even lighter-weight LED lights for backpacking, the Petzl could be handy for navigation around camp and for gear setup, given that our wakeup calls could be as early as 3:30am. This’ll be clipped to whichever recorder I bring.

Recording Gear

  • Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 mid-side stereo microphone rig. A variant on the nature-recordist standard MKH 40/30 pair, I happened to invest in the MKH 50 because its hypercardioid pattern is much more useful the mono effects I capture in the field. This creates a bit more of a focused center stereo field, which I’m usually OK with. This rig will be mounted on a Rycote stereo suspension and inside a Rycote windshield.
  • Røde NT4 XY stereo microphone. My one backup mic will be securely wrapped with a dessicant pack unless needed, in a bag with a Røde Blimp. [Handy hint: Use a windshield like a mini box of its own. Use it to carry other stuff, from windbreakers to unmounted mics. Way smarter use of space in a bag or pack.]
  • Sound Devices 702 field recorder and Fostex FR-2LE field recorder. Given how remote this area is and because, well, $#!% happens, I’m bringing the FR-2LE as a backup. I’ll have two batteries for the 702, and both a battery sled with NiMH AA batteries and a RC-style Tamiya rechargeable battery for the FR-2LE, all fully charged the day before I go. Both recorders will be in model-specific Portabrace cases. I only use SanDisk Compact Flash cards, and will have two 4GB and two 8GB cards with me.

Grip & Cases

  • Slik SprintPro Tripod. Does for my mics what the trail stool will do for my ass.  I’m connecting the mics’ Rycote grip to the tripod head using a simple 1/4-20 to 3/8″ bushing and, as a backup in case that gets lost, a Manfrotto quick release system with a 3/8″ QR plate.
  • LowePro Magnum 200 case. This will hold all the extras, bits, and bobs I might need: the Røde NT4, Rycote Windjammer and its comb, screw adapters, tools, 2 backup CF cards, Rainman cover, and boom pole. This’ll probably live in the trunk of my car; I don’t anticipate shlepping it into the field.
  • My trusty adventure-racing-style Solomon backpack will carry all my personal effects for our outings, including extra sunscreen, clothing, rain gear, water, camera, and snacks.
  • Depending on the length of the hike to our recording locations, I may wear my recorder on my chest with a LowePro chest harness.

Wish me luck, and more info soon!

| 6 Comments »

6 Comments on “Preparing for a Field Workshop”

  1. 1 Tim Walston said at 10:32 am on June 25th, 2010:

    Hi Nathan – have fun! Last week I was in the Eastern Sierra’s (out of Reno) camping with family. One night, we had a terrific storm with weird dry, puffy hail and some good lightning and thunder… I curse my lazy butt for not recording it. Daytime weather was sunny and very comfortable, but the bugs were just starting to come out. Another note – we were lucky enough to pass by a small airfield, just off the 395 while returning from a visit to the Animal Ark (www.animalark.org) and I caught about 4 or 5 prop planes doing laps in preparation for the Reno Air Races in September. It was great… you never know what you will fund to record!

  2. 2 Andrew said at 4:16 am on June 27th, 2010:

    Wow! you’re so lucky. Can’t wait to hear some of your recordings!!

  3. 3 John said at 1:08 am on June 30th, 2010:

    OK, I’ve always wondered about something that’s different between USA & ‘the rest of the world’

    You mention ‘to share what I’m bringing with me’, whereas we’d say ‘to share what I’m taking with me.

    I’ve always wondered why the two statements, while used in the same context differ, in tense.

    I know this is a bit off track, but any thoughts. Any thoughts??

  4. 4 Tim Walston said at 2:08 pm on July 1st, 2010:

    Hi John,

    Since both “bringing” and “taking” are gerunds, the tense is the same. The only difference I see is the perspective and word order: “bringing” something WITH me from “there”, versus “taking” something FROM “there” with me. The meaning is the same as I see it… with “bringing” only sounding a bit more polite than “taking”.

  5. 5 Nathan said at 7:50 pm on July 1st, 2010:

    Sumdaye i hopez to speek well enuf to have mai own blog. i can bringz mics to mountayns?

  6. 6 Nathan said at 7:52 pm on July 1st, 2010:

    On a serious note, Tim, that was one of the biggest learnings of our trip: No, not grammar, but instead that one must have true “beginner’s mind” when field recording. If planes intrude, well, screw it: You should be recording the planes, not the birds. Bending one’s mind to the circumstances is the only way to not just stay sane, but to get great material, regardless of conditions. Glad to hear that you did just that and got great results!


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