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

Magnet + Hydrophone

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear, sound design, video/motion

Magnet + Hydrophone from Noise Jockey on Vimeo. [Did you miss my first video?]

It is what is says, people! ;-) I ducked out some handling noise, but for the most part the audio is unaltered. Enjoy.

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Lite2Sound

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear, sound design
Rare Waves' Lite2Sound PX, by Eric Archer: A photonic microphone!

Rare Waves’ Lite2Sound PX, by Eric Archer: A photonic microphone!

I’ve previously written about the heavily-built, wickedly cool Grendel Drone Commander synth from Eric Archer. I check his site, Rare Waves, from time to time for new handmade electronic toys, and I was really intrigued by his newer Lite2Sound PX unit. This small device, in Eric’s words, “extracts audio from ambient light.” It’s a photodiode amplifier. Or a photosensitive microphone. Point it at light, it makes sound. It runs off a 9-volt battery, has a volume control, and a headphone jack. Simple, exciting, and a whole new world of sonic insanity. You can buy them as kits or, as I did, fully assembled.

Sounds pretty straightforward. If you just point it at bright, broad light sources, it’s kind of disappointing. It’s when you start listening to artificial lights in otherwise dim environments that some serious magic starts to happen. My experiments were conducted in and around high tech computer equipment, running an 1/8″ mini jack from the headphone output into my Sony PCM -D50 recorder.

Lights inside of PCs, modulated by fans…and further modulated by speaker grills as I passed the Lite2Sound from side to side. Ethernet network activity lights. Server disk access indicator lights. A close up of the power button of an XBox 360 while booting up. Pulsing lights of devices in standby mode. Halogen lamps behind spinning desk fans.

Lightly armored for future fieldwork!

Lightly armored for future fieldwork!

The resulting sounds were astounding in their range: Static, glitches, distorted synth pads, pure sinewave tones, sawtooth-like tones, and much more. You can’t control it, really. It’s a tool of discovery, and its very nature encourages constant experimentation. It was so small and so perfectly complemented a handheld field recorder, I just wanted to take it everywhere and point it at everything! It imparted the same joy as when you start recording with contact microphones, or hydrophones: A new way to listen to the world around you. The more I used the Lite2Sound, I put it in a small plastic container (hacked with an XActo knife for access to controls and the headphone jack) in order to keep the components better protected.

Lite2Sound is a pretty narrowly-focused device and how useful it is to you depends on your taste for the unpredictable. Me, I adore this thing. Hell, I bought two (for future stereo photo-phonic insanity). It encourages constant experimentation, weighs nothing, and I can see using its output in both sound design and musical contexts. Eric Archer nails it again with an odd concept and a rock-solid, focused execution that results in a toy that just begs to be played with.

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Milk Frother

Posted: May 16th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

milkFrother

This thing was given to me as a Christmas gift. I immediately wanted to not froth milk with it, but to record it. With a hydrophone.

It was initially disappointing…until I put it into a metal pan and realized that its interaction with the pan, not the water, was far more interesting. The hydrophone was still in the water, but the frother was used in the water, inside the pan, and outside the pan as well, at varying speeds.


[Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Hydromotordrone

Posted: January 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design

Yes, the Noise Jockey Corporate Yacht follows the Noise Jockey Online Branding and Color Usage Guidelines.

Kayaking on the Whiskeytown Reservoir in Northern California, I was surrounded by motorboats pulling wakeboarders. I wanted to see what all those speedboats sounded like underwater, so I dropped my hydrophone over the side and took a listen (with my field recorder safely under the deck of my kayak, in a dry bag). The inboard engines emitted a clean, high-tech whine with none of the chunky, air-gulping combustion engine sounds we typically hear in the air. “Spaceship,” I instantly thought.

I merged two recordings of these motorboats, each about half a kilometer away, futzed with them just a tad (sorry, my effects chain is lost to the dim mists of time!), and turned it into a loopable drone.


[Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone into a Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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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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Prosumerism

Posted: April 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: gear, theory
prosumerSign

Use gear made by those who make gear they themselves use, and make gear for other users. That's prosumerism.

[Gigantic über-thanks to Tim Prebble and Richard Devine for their contributions to this article.]

The title of this article isn’t what you think it is.

You can’t shop for electronics or technology without hearing “prosumer.” People assume this portmanteau is a contraction of “professional-consumer.” Only marketing wonks have made it so.

That is neither its original meaning, nor the topic of this post.

The term was coined in Alvin Toffler’s seminal book Future Shock as a contraction of “producer” and “consumer,” predicting the merging of the roles of consumption and production into the life of one individual, primarily due to customization of mass-produced objects and the creation of highly specialized products. That is, person A makes widget X, who sells X to person B who makes widget Y, which person A, in turn, buys…it’s a massively networked set of cottage industries. This trend has exploded in the last decade. When Wired writes about micro-manufacturing and “no more factories,” we’ve probably arrived at a prosumer tipping point.

That, dear friends, is what this post is about. And yes, this is audio-related. Chances are, this article is probably about you, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sump Pump

Posted: April 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design
Sump Pump

"Sump pump." I mean, ewww. What is "sump," anyway? Sure sounds like it's something in need of pumping!

Our house is very poorly placed on its lot. Since our place is downslope from the street, water runs down the driveway towards the house.  Thankfully, someone long ago put a pretty good drainage system with an electric pump that pumps the water back to the curb, where it can run to a drainage grate in the street.

In the midst of a week of spring rain, I decided to toss the ol’ hydrophone into the drain box and record the pump, which is activated when a bobber reaches a certain height. The drain box is poured concrete, so it’s acoustically reflective. The pump kicking in is my favorite part, sure to be used for something later on. The big dropoff in volume is where the hydrophone was left high and dry when the water level dropped. Notice how the sound of air bubbles become more pronounced as the water level meets the capsule, and then passes by it. Water turbulence right on the capsule tends to be very loud, as it imparts direct mechanical vibrations to the mic element itself.


[Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 field recorder]

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Underwater Bowed Metal

Posted: March 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear, sound design
Bow, Wok Lid, Hydrophone

Horse hair, water, mic, and wok lid. Now we're cookin'!

My last post featured teensy finger cymbals being dipped in water while resonating, recorded with a submerged hydrophone. This time we go a bit bigger.

Bowed cymbals are one of the classic clichéd horror movie sounds…clichéd because they’re awesome! (coincidentally, just yesterday, Chuck Russom posted some great examples on his blog.) I recorded some a while back, borrowing some cymbals from a friend at work who keeps his drum kit at work. During that session I also realized that the wok lid from my kitchen made similar sounds, but with a different timbre: More groany, throaty, less musical, but with a quality I liked.

So, I played the wok lid with a violin bow as I moved it into and out of a tub of water, again with the trusty Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone tracking to a Sound Devices 702.  The H2a can be overly bright on some material, but for this stuff it was pretty good! (Next time I should record the above-water sound to a second channel with a small condenser mic for more mixing flexibility.)

The recording below is 100% unedited except for some slight compression and normalization.


[Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Underwater Finger Cymbals

Posted: March 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Dipping struck finger cymbals into water creates some great filtering effects.

Dipping struck finger cymbals into water creates some great filtering effects.

[Credit where credit’s due: This is a technique I’ve always wanted to try, and I first heard of it in a great video by Roger Gregg, at around 02:45. The entire series is worth watching.]

So a fellow gets a hydrophone. He’s excited, and starts recording all sorts of crap. But then he has a free hour to himself and realizes that he’s got a box full of sound-making toys and objects that could sound pretty interesting underwater.

Let’s say I’m that fellow.

Before work one day, I sifted through said toybox and decided to give this a whirl. In search for a large container to fill with water, I decided to record in the executive washroom of Noise Jockey World Headquarters, and the photos in this post will give you a glimpse of the sumptuous luxury in which we conduct our noisy business.

Since our high-tech executive spa didn’t have a stopper handy, I grabbed a plastic tub and filled it with lukewarm water. I put the hydrophone halfway between the surface of the water and the bottom of the tub, suspended from a boom arm so the cable would be isolated from noise and the mic element wouldn’t sit on the bottom.

An Aquarian H2-XLR hydrophone set into a tub of water.

An Aquarian H2-XLR hydrophone set into a tub of water.

The Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone is pretty heavy and holds quite still. One gotcha is that a high-frequency hiss can occur from air bubbles forming on the microphone casing. This can be a challenge if the water coming out of your spigot is highly aerated. I’m still working on solving that one.

I donned a pair of finger cymbals (truly something every sound recordist should own!) and dipped one or both of them in the water after striking them together. They went into the water at a 60°-90° angle, so that they’d not create entry splashes or secondary water drips. This created a really neat tone that combined a pitch bend with a very resonant filter cutoff.

I’ve attached an edit of the raw recordings to this post. Pitch-bent down or up, obviously, there’s a lot of sonic possibilities for sound design. As with all such experiments I do, I tracked at 192kHz to ensure enough latitude for further sonic malfeasance.


[Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Hydrophonic Cocktail

Posted: February 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, gear, sound design
hydrophoneTonic

Hydrophone + Ice + Tonic. Sound and cocktail design in one easy step.

The latest addition to my microphone quiver is the Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone. For less than US$200, you get a really well-built unit with a high specific gravity (less sway in moving water) and a thin, flexible cable with an extremely supple “hand.”

I also got the rubber cup that enables it to be used as a contact microphone, and I must say that it also excels in this capacity: Super-low noise and very articulate, even recording human heartbeats with clarity (Hint: Aim for the sternum, the pecs have too much muscle and fat in the way). The H2a’s weight, however, prevents it from being easily taped upside-down or held in odd positions like my other contact mics I’ve used in previous posts.

I can’t hope to improve upon Darren Blondin’s excellent review of the Aquarian H2a, so in the short term, I’ll instead offer some quick and dirty recording results with it, with perhaps some more detailed results and analyses in the future. (Oh yes, some very strange recordings to come…)

When the H2a came in, I placed this device in all the usual places you’d expect for some quick tests: the sink, the bathtub, the cats’ water fountain. But having just discovered some very tasty tonic water for making cocktails, it struck me that I’d not recorded carbonation before. After hearing the clear, but not overly-bright, tones of the carbonation, I decided to mix up the room-temperature tonic water with some ice cubes.

The ice’s cracking, melting, and expansion was largely in the same frequency neighborhood as the carbonation bubbles and added an interesting dimension to the sound. Some initial sound processing makes me think that melting ice in still water might make for a cool creature sound pitched down -3 octaves or so, but for today, let’s listen to the original recording, unadorned and unprocessed.

[Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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