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

The Paymaster Ribbon Writer

Posted: June 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

The bottom reads, "WARNING: Beware Unauthorized Personnel." How true.

My downstair work neighbors are an art collective, and all sorts of weird things show up in our lobby from time to time. One that caught my eye was a vintage adding machine. It sat in our lobby for weeks, unclaimed and unmoved (the thing is about 20lbs, despite being the size of a lunchbox), so I decided to borrow it and see what sounds I could get out of it.

It’s in amazing shape for its age. There is a panel that is removable, ostensibly for where paper tape or imprinted ribbon would come out; removing this panel let the inner mechanisms be heard more clearly.

Having close-miked small objects many times before, I guessed that this wasn’t a job for my usual small-condenser hypercardioid mics. The result would be too bass-heavy, sounding “out of scale.” If the sounds were going to be repurposed for, say, the mechanisms of a heavy doorway or industrial machine, the low frequencies would be deepened with downward pitch-shifting anyway. I wound up using a large condenser mic, since I was going for brightness, detail, and clarity.

Here’s a compilation of some of the sounds it generated, stitched together from the two or three dozen discrete sounds I culled from it.


[Røde NT1A microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Raven Chatter

Posted: June 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording

Thus quoth the raven, "Press record, idiot!" (This picture was taken years ago in Oakland, CA, not where today's sound was recorded.)

[One in a series of posts from my spring 2011 trip to the southern California desert.]

I love ravens. Not because I’m all Mr. Gothy McLordbyron, but because they’re big, majestic, smart as hell, and have gravelly voices. Like crows, but drunker. They’re the Tom Waits of the bird world.

Ravens aren’t exactly rare, and perhaps because of this, they’re hard to record in the wild. They can be anywhere: Urban areas, tops of trees, windswept hills…but by the time I show up with a recorder, they’re either deciding to be quiet or are surrounded by traffic noise, intense winds, other birds, or even people. I’ve had the darnedest time capturing one cleanly.

Thankfully, the ravens of Joshua Tree National Park are pretty fearless…well, they’re also always looking for snacks, and have learned that people can be a good source for tasty (dropped) morsels. I’ve noticed that they often travel in pairs or groups of less than four to six, and one day we were followed by a pair of ravens as we wandered the desert trails. The vocalizations aren’t anything super-special, but they’re (for once) pretty clean, articulate, and detailed. Just what I was hoping for!

This raven was talking to his companion quietly as they spread out looking for snacks. He landed about twenty feet from me and I recorded him as he was hopping around. I like the little lilt he added at the end!


[Sony PCM-D50 recorder, capsules at 120°]

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