Posted: June 3rd, 2014 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects
Contact mics are bloomin’ fun.
They say that wind in the San Francisco Bay Area doesn’t blow, it sucks. Actually, that’s physically accurate.
When California’s Central Valley heats up, the Sierra Nevada mountain range prevents the air from moving east, so it goes straight up. The cool, heavy air from the western coast then rushes in to fill the gap. This is what causes San Francisco’s famed summer winds and fog, creating summers that feel colder than winters.
Depending on what you’re trying to record, this can be a blessing or a curse. When I saw part of my fence moving about in 15-20 knot winds, I figured something interesting was happening. I could hear some subtle creaking, but if my ears were hearing it, I figured more was going on beneath the surface.
Windy days, of course, are great times to pull out the contact microphones. (Coincidentally, Tim Prebble just announced his second contact microphone sound library at the time of this writing.) No windscreens, no infrasound distortion, nothing. When I placed my contact mic on a fencepost, I got not only wood creaks, but the strain of metal wires tied into the fence to promote upwards growth of roses and vines. This added a metallic overtone that’s quite interesting.
It feels evocative of the strains and groans of a ship heaving at sea, or a castle gate straining under the weight of many warriors or beasts of war (recorded as always at 192khz, this kind of material sounds great pitch shifted -2 octaves). It’s been nice to get back to the world of contact microphones! Posted with no processing whatsoever, so you can actually hear some nearby windchimes in the background if you listen carefully, whose vobrations must have been picked up by the planks in the fence.
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Posted: April 25th, 2014 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects
This post doesn’t have a whole lot of details around it, but the sound is neat.
I don’t remember the hotel. Was it the crappy motel in Monterey? The mildewed joint in Fort Bragg? Something more upscale on a work trip? I really don’t recall. But I remember the showerhead.
There was an aerator on the showerhead that, when the water wasn’t quite all the way off, made the most interesting sound as it sputtered out small air pockets in between drops. It sounded purely electrical and nothing like water at all. Check it out.
Tags: field recording, noise, urban | No Comments »
Posted: May 16th, 2013 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
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.
Tags: hydrophone, metal, sound design, sound effects | No Comments »
[Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]
Posted: October 13th, 2011 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
My mecca on a foggy morning: Urban Ore!
I went to the granddaddy of thrift stores recently, so much so that it’s more of a glorified junk store…but oh, what glorious junk. I’m talking about Urban Ore in Berkeley, California. Sometimes I’m self-conscious shopping for things by ear, picking up random things and just listening to them, but at Urban Ore – heck, Berkeley in general – I can ear-shop in peace.
I was in a metallic mood, so I filled a bag with things that squeak, resonate, creak, clank, and sproing. Based on the dronetastic results of striking wire shelving last year, I picked up a few thin-wire metal grills that had sonic promise, among other things that will surely find their way to this blog later this fall and winter.
For the grills, I decided to trot out my much-neglected piezo contact microphones. The resonant notes were so subtle that it seemed like the best way to capture the sound at a reasonable volume. I plucked them, struck them, and played them with a cello bow. The magic happened, though, when I realized one was easily played with a bow and the other was not, so I stuck the bowable one inside of the other, and played away, causing both of them to resonate when played appropriately.
The results were like ultra-low-fi bastardizations of stringed instruments played in horror movies, and I just loved the character. The rawness of hearing the actual hairs of the bow on the metal, in my opinion, lends to the eerie charm.
Tags: creepy, digital audio, eerie, found object, groaning, horror, metal, resonance, sound design, sound effects | No Comments »
[Contact microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]
Posted: July 28th, 2011 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Pumps lift me out of the dumps.
This thread on Social Sound Design made me start thinking about all the manual pumps I had in my shed: One hand sprayer for my fruit trees, one for cleaning off my kayaks with fresh water, and another for bilging out my kayak in case I get water in my cockpit.
I gathered these all together and did a short recording session. As is usual, the proximity effect of closely-placed small-condenser mics were far too bassy, so I went back to my favorite solution for up-close foley and effects recording: The large-condenser mic.
Today’s post is just a small smattering of these sounds. Depending on which pump type it is, they range from sounding silly to serious, low-tech to high-tech, smooth to rattly. These sessions were more exploratory than looking for library-quality; the more rattle-filled pumps probably won’t be as useful as the smoother-action ones. The Bilgemaster hand pump was the cleanest-sounding of them all, with basically no moving parts except the plunger and a small rubber valve. But, the pressure sprayers have pressure release valves on top which can be most useful for air release or hissing sounds!
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[Røde NT1-A into Sound Devices 702]
Posted: June 9th, 2011 | Author: Nathan | 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.
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[Røde NT1A microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]
Posted: May 12th, 2011 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
Eton Mine, Lucky Boy Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA.
[One in a series of posts from my spring 2011 trip to the southern California desert.]
Joshua Tree National Park is beautiful, but much of its history (prior to being designated a National Park) has scarred and pockmarked its landscape. In the Gold Rush, the Joshua Tree hinterlands held some of the most productive mines in California until well into the 1900′s. These mines were big, sprawling, and deep. To my knowledge, no Balrogs were released as a result. But that would explain a lot about Golden State politics.
We hiked on some lesser-traveled trails and found an acre of land with no fewer than five vertical holes in the ground: Mine shafts. They were all wired off and had metal grates over them. One in particular, the Eton Mine on the Lucky Boy trail, had warning signs on the wire fence surrounding it.
It was quite windy that day, and I just knew I had to get the creaking, squeaking sounds of this battered sign on the rusty wire. It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out how to protect my handheld recorder from the wind, but ultimately I decided to use my body as a shield and then stick it under my microfleece hoody. (I had the OEM fuzzy windscreen on it, which is one of the most useless strips of fabric I’ve ever seen, er, heard.) I just hoped that my body protected it from the 25+ mph wind gusts and that the fabric wouldn’t dampen the high frequencies too badly…and because of the sound, I had high-frequency content to burn.
With some judicious noise reduction in post – subtle, as always, gives the best result – it didn’t come out too shabby, considering the horrible recording conditions and super-no-budget wind blocking techniques!
Tags: creepy, desert, digital audio, eerie, field recording, found object, industrial, joshua tree, metal, resonance, sound design, sound effects, travel | 1 Comment »
[Sony PCM-D50 recorder, capsules at 120°]
Posted: May 4th, 2011 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
"Ol' Wheezy" the Water Spigot, as we called him, at our campground in the desert.
[One in a series of posts from my spring 2011 trip to the southern California desert.]
Joshua Tree National Park is in the Mojave Desert. It’s dry. Only two campgrounds in the entire park have running water of any kind. Bad weather on the coast of California caused us to decide to stay in the desert at the tail end of a week’s vacation, so we were lucky to just show up at Joshua Tree and grab a spot at one of these prime campgrounds.
I camp a lot, all over the place, but I had never seen a water spigot quite like the one near our site. It was like the wet dream of a post-apocalytpic film production designer: Big, industrial, heavy, and red. If a common water pump could be bad ass, this one could.
Anyway, the draw-up of water sounded really neat, so I whipped out the ol’ handheld recorder and took some samples on our last morning there. It reminded me a bit of the sound of EVE coming out of her landing ship’s tube from the film WALL•E.
In developed campgrounds, you need to be up really early to avoid noise from fellow campers. No wonder I like backpacking so much…
Tags: desert, digital audio, field recording, industrial, joshua tree, machine, sound design, sound effects, travel, whoosh | 4 Comments »
[Sony PCM-D50 recorder, capsules at 120°]
Posted: April 21st, 2011 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
While this isn't the rig used for today's recording, this window's cruddy construction and age yielded some interesting sounds!
At work one day, I noticed that a large truck on the street was causing one of our single-pan glass windows to rattle. I whipped out my Sony PCM-D50 and captured some of it – that’s today’s sound you can hear below.
The audio quality of this clip isn’t great (lots of bleed from outside noises, but hey, it’s a cruddy old window – and that’s why it was rattling like that!), but it brought to mind an interesting idea: Windows rattling in their casements are pretty strange sounding, and it is a sound I’ve not heard used in films (or if it has been, it’s rare and I don’t recall consciously hearing it before). It struck me as an interesting idea for future sound design in buildings under stress, or just for creepy interiors. I did a lot of shaking of the window manually, but nothing quite captured the high-speed rattle of this original recording, so I hung onto it for a reference.
It’s a craptastic recording, though. But it just goes to show you that sometimes pressing the “Record” button might not give you the cleanest sound, but can still capture a reference sound that you can try to emulate, re-use in different ways, or to suggest whole new concepts that you might not have considered before. In this case, it made me realize what parts of buildings might have deteriorated when they get to be a certain age, which can help to inform the design of such ambiences or effects in the future.
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[Sony PCM-D50 recorder, 90° capsule spread]
Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: Nathan | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Mr. Heater, the oddest and loudest camping stove ever.
One of the guys at work loves camping gadgets (as do I), and he shared a video of his odd little Mr. Heater camp stove making some weird unholy racket. Naturally, I asked to borrow it and did some recording sessions with it over the holidays.
A metal reflector lets the unit be used as either a heater or a camp stove. This ring of steel doesn’t make much sound when it’s running (all you hear is the hiss of gas emission, much like this recording), but it sure resonates when the stove fires up, starting as one tone and diverging into two separate tones, creating a harmony. Very effective or driving away bears, or as a means for summoning the dead.
The only processing applied to this sound is some noise reduction to minimize the gas regulator’s hiss, to pull the resonance forward. Recorded at 192kHz, a clip like this is ripe for pitch shifting for even scarier tones! (Mic placement was tricky; placing the mics right in front would melt them instantly.)
Tags: field recording, industrial, metal, resonance, sci-fi, sound design, sound effects | 5 Comments »
[Sennheiser MKH 50/30 pair, rigged for mid-side stereo, into a Sound Devices 702 recorder]