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

Omnious Pipes

Posted: October 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design

Pipes along the side of the road. This is the kind of "a-ha!" or "ooh!" moment recordists wait for!

[Just had to post something orange and slightly eerie. Happy Halloween, all!]

It was a quiet night in a San Francisco warehouse district: Calm wind, not a lot of people on the streets, the sun was going down. A bunch of pipes – probably for redoing water lines beneath the street – were stacked on the sidewalk, perpendicular to the street.

This is precisely the reason that I carry a small, handheld field recorder with me at all times. I shoved it into a few pipes to check out what I could hear. I got some really nice drones with that added pipe/tube resonance and comb filtering, which will definitely go in my growing and rather extensive “unsettling drone” library. Some of the car passbys in the street had a resonant, screaming quality, which may make good spaceship pass-bys as well, or aggressive layers for expressive car ‘bys.

But, I quite liked some of the passages where this drone mixed with the activity of the street. Today’s sound is recorded within a 12″ diameter concrete pipe about six feet long. A lone man walks down the street singing, followed by a bicycle, he continues singing then crosses the street in front of me, a breath of wind really amps up the resonance for a moment, and then a few cars pass by, kicking up loose asphalt. Although it sounds like a mix of street noise with a synth drone underneath it, this is unedited except for some compression and normalization. The imaging is incredibly tight because there was about six feet of 12″ pipe in front of the mic capsules, narrowing the stereo field.


[Sony PCM-D50 recorder, 90° capsule spread]

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The Bear Locker

Posted: October 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects

Beer, toiletries, ice chest, field recorders. Yep, that's a well-stocked camping trip!

The metal bearproof food locker is a common sight in the developed campgrounds of the Sierra Nevada mountains. They’re infamously noisy to open, close, and move things around in, and are usually the first sounds you hear in the morning. They do their job, though…provided you have them closed. I once had a close encounter with a bear whose head was stuck right into my slightly open bear locker (in my defense, it was in the midst of dinner preparation), but that’s another story for another blog.

I finally decided to record one on a trip this summer. It was a kayaking trip, so I had both my Zoom H2 [yeah, this is an older sound] and a hydrophone, so I decided to use both: The Zoom would get the stereo effects and the hydrophone would pick up the raw vibrations. I placed the H2 horizontally centered in the locker, and placed the hydrophone on the single shelf inside. Holy resonance, Batman!

Today’s sound is a collection of hits from this outdoors session, made with hands, metal objects, and a rubber mallet, first at normal pitch and then an octave lower. It wound up mixing rather well with my collection of shovel-in-wheelbarrow sounds from a while back. Get those subwoofers ready for the second half…


[Zoom H2 (120° capsule spread), Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Semi-Call of the Pseudo-Wild

Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Animal Calls

Trust me, those are animal calls, and this is a PG-13-rated show.

Not all of us have the long schedules or big budgets that support going out to exotic locations – or even the local zoo – to record unusual animals for sound design. There are an increasing number of excellent creature-specific effects collections out there, too.

But another fun alternative is to use animal calls. Mostly created to lure or flush birds for the benefits of hunters, some also mimic the sounds of squirrels and other small animals…they’re not exceedingly realistic, but they do sound pretty neat. These calls can be used as the instructions suggest for some level of realism, but using them in unusual ways can create great base sounds for more extreme uses. On their own, they’re OK, but they’re high-pitched enough that they hold up well to heavy processing. They come in many shapes and sizes, but those that feature bulbs that pass air over a reed can be played more expressively.

These calls have the added benefit of garnering very curious, or suspicious, looks from visitors if you display them in your studio.

Today’s sound is a cute little number called the Squirrel Buster. I  rattled it back and forth, cupping my hand over the horn to filter the sound just a little. The first portion is the call being shaken back and forth. It doesn’t really sound like any squirrel I’ve heard…in fact, it doesn’t sound unlike the tail end of a hornbill’s call (which many mistake for monkeys, thanks to Hollywood’s use of the hornbill call in jungle films). Perhaps it would be a nice background layer in an exotic ambience. The second portion is the first that’s been sped up to 200%, then pitched down 1.5 octaves; this sounds a bit more gutteral and almost simian. The third portion is the second, run through the GRM PitchAccum plug-in and sped up again by 200%, and it starts to sound like a layer of rapid-fire alien utterances, a la District 9.


[Røde NT1a microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Mountaintop Insect Ambience

Posted: October 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording

Sierra Buttes, California: Less than 9,000' high, but the tallest thing around...with active insect soundscapes!

The thing that strikes me the most about recording at high altitude is the quiet. Sounds that get masked by wind, rustling leaves of trees, traffic, and other sources become extremely articulate. Unless there are birds nearby, this usually means that insects are what comes to the ears most clearly.

Atop a California mountain on a sunny summer day, I came upon a patch of blooming buckwheat that was being visited by bees and other insects. The trees were pretty far away, but cicadas were singing loudly, and the wind was pretty still. I set down my recorder and walked away for about 20 minutes to bag a nearby peak.

The killer moment in this otherwise quite ambient snippet is right near the end, when a huge, fat something buzzed right past the mics. I’m assuming it’s a type of bee, but with such a deep, rumbling sound, it sounds like a cartoon or a parody of an insect sound, like something out of A Bug’s Life, as opposed to a real creature. Since I walked away during the recording, I’ll never know!


[Sony PCM-D50 field recorder]

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Drones in Questionable Places

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design

Yes, I recorded audio in a bathroom. Draw what conclusions you like, you twisted little Intarweb Monkeys!

Sometimes, you need to record in embarrassing places to get the good stuff. A recent example for me was in a bathroom of a local supermarket.

Longtime readers and listeners to Noise Jockey know my obsession with cool drones. This one was an ancient, badly-needing-to-be-cleaned ventilation fan. It was really not that large, but it made this intense, deep thrumming sound that just had to be recorded. Luckily, no one came in while my recorder was rolling, presenting at best a challenging set of questions I’d have to answer…

[Note: This will be the last post you'll see on Noise Jockey using my battered and worn Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. It's been replaced with the Sony PCM-D50, which you'll be hearing more of this fall and winter! When the card and battery tray doors break off, and you've dented the mic grilles, and you've dropped it two dozen times, and its recording settings won't stick between sessions, it's time to just let go and upgrade...]


[Zoom H2 field recorder]

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Fatty Lumpkin

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

There is no photo to accompany today’s sound because it’d surely put you off your lunch.

We were cooking pork – making carnitas, maybe – and part of the food preparation process was to separate out gobs of fat from the meat. It took all of three seconds before I knew that I’d have to record the sound of this disgusting spectacle.

After dinner, I positioned a large condenser mic very close to a metal bowl, in which were the fatty leavings of our meal. I used my hands to get all sorts of slishy, squishy, disgustingness out of it until I had broken it into such small pieces that it didn’t sound so good. Or look so good. Or smell so good. But my skin was silky smooth for a week.

To my surprise, the tones were quite bright and rather subtle. But put against imagery of an alien ovipositor or similar disgustipating slimy thing, it’d be audio-layering magic. [Hint: Other good ways to get these kinds of effects is to scoop petroleum jelly into your hands, but that's pretty messy. You can try massage oil instead, which smells better and is easier to clean up, and try manipulating a bar of soap or other oval object.]

So, today’s lesson: If at first you don’t succeed, try larder.


[Røde NT1a microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Site Maintenance: Old Sounds are New Again

Posted: October 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: news

It’s been entirely my fault that, for some reason, all the pre-SoundCloud audio samples here on Noise Jockey were not showing up (July 2009-August 2009). Now they’re fixed and all hosted at SoundCloud. So, come with me, will you, and walk down memory lane while we…

Thrills! Chills! Stuff! Things! Excessive Punctuation!!!!!

Yours ever so truly,
-The Management

| 1 Comment »

San Francisco’s Quiet Surprise

Posted: October 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording

On this day, the City was quieter at 1pm than it was at dawn.

I work in San Francisco. It’s one of the world’s great urban centers. Imagine my surprise when I took the subway to the financial district and walked for two full blocks and heard…well, not much.

It was 1pm just off the Financial District on a weekday, and I heard almost no talking, no horns, and very few “hard sounds.” All that came to my ears was the occasional footsteps of a non-talkative passerby, the sound of a water jug being put on a hand truck, and of course traffic. There was plenty of sound, sure, but it was a wash of hushed tones, very diffuse and distant voices, nothing jarring like you’d expect near one of the great cities of the American West. On lunch hour, no less.

Here’s an example. I’m walking this whole clip, but wearing my quietest shoes (my sweet camo Chuck Taylors, if you must know), so any footsteps you hear are passers-by. This kind of hushed background ambience would be a great layer to which more specific hard effects could be added to achieve a certain mood.


[Zoom H2 recorder]

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