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

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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5 Comments on “Mountaintop Insect Ambience”

  1. 1 mbs said at 9:54 pm on October 17th, 2010:

    cool :) I liked that the recording was in stereo. Very fun on headphones :P

  2. 2 Ryan said at 4:37 pm on October 18th, 2010:

    Wow. My old stomping grounds. Grew up in Sacramento and snowboarded in those mountains every weekend.

  3. 3 Tyler said at 3:38 pm on November 15th, 2010:

    The mystery beast might well be a hummingbird — they can sound very “giant bee” up close. I have a few recordings of hummingbirds fighting over territory; if I hadn’t been there and seen the birds, I’d have guessed they were the world’s largest bees. Great recording!

  4. 4 JesterMgee said at 6:31 am on January 16th, 2011:

    That sounded great. I could picture the big bug at the end… Comming from the middle country in Australia we have a lot of creapy crawlies that fly. I have just got into recording nature sounds after 15 years of working with Audio in a studio and I love it. I have found the same thing I am sure you hear… The hiss of the noisy preamps… Only ever so slightly but fully noticable to the trained ear. My friends never hear it but on those quiet recordings it’s always there… At least I know I am on-par with what others are doing. Great work.

  5. 5 Samples said at 10:34 am on September 29th, 2011:

    Beautiful recording!


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