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.
[Contact microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]
Rusty? Heavy? Covered in graffiti? You KNOW it will sound good.
Many people are unaware that the San Francisco Bay Area was once thoroughly fortified against attacks from the sea. Remnants of this past dot the entrance to the Golden Gate, in the form of bunkers that once housed gun emplacements.
One such installation was Battery Yates at Fort Baker. Located at the best vantage point for southward-facing photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, Battery Yates was meant for nothing other than picking off minesweepers that might try to get through the minefields inside the ‘Gate in wartime…minesweepers, of course, that would never come.
Battery Yates was active from 1905 through 1946. Now, only the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a station at Fort Baker, primarily for saving the lives of boaters and wind/kitesurfers. Now Battery Yates is a tourist attraction, is fun to scramble on and around…and, in swords to ploughshares style, is also a great source for cool sounds!
Each of the gun emplacements has four lockers, each sealed with a massive steel door. Some doors have outer latches that have been left to swing freely in favor of just welding the doors shut. These latches, rusted by more than 60 years of salty mist, are quite expressive when swung, manipulated, and otherwise mishandled. The perfectly square concrete rooms behind these doors caused them to have a lot of low end and resonance.
I decided to try my luck with recording some groaning metal effects on these doors, despite the fact that:
I only had some time before work one weekday, which meant that…
I could only record during rush hour, made worse by the fact that…
The Golden Gate Bridge is only 1/8 of a mile away, plainly visible from the recording site.
All this meant lots of background traffic noise. I mitigated these risks by using a hypercardioid microphone for off-axis rejection of sound (a shotgun would have been a better choice in terms of pattern, but I just loved the sound of my MKH-50 too much to not use it), careful placement of the mic relative to the bridge (making sure that either the mic element faced away from the bridge or a thick concrete wall blocked line of sight), and the judicious use of the Denoiser plugin from iZotope RX. And, for effects like these, the small-condenser-mic proximity effect only helps!
The result came out pretty well, all things considered…although the editing in today’s post is pretty sloppy, so apologies for that. Everything was recorded at 24-bit, 192-kHz, as best befits complex groaning metal sounds, since pitching this stuff down can yield pure sound-design gold. I recorded even more massive metal hits from this session, which may be a topic for a separate post… (And until then, you can hear yet more heavy metal hits/impacts here, here, and here.)
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!
Posted: July 21st, 2011 | Author:Nathan | Filed under:gear
The home studio, circa summer 2011.
Following on my previous post, here’s how I break down data storage, redundancy, and backup in my own home studio. These strategies won’t work for everyone, but having tried lots of different configurations, this setup balances redundancy, backup, flexibility, speed, and most of all, cost. And, of course, this breakdown is only useful in the small home studio. Larger studios have totally different needs!
Posted: July 14th, 2011 | Author:Nathan | Filed under:gear
Bits and bytes are mighty tasty. How does one store them for maximum freshness?
Portrait of the Artist as an IT Professional
Artists, designers, composers, mixers, and audio folks of all stripes must be conversant with the tools of their trade, and in this digital world, that means playing some role in managing hardware and software. This is where your hard-won creative output of blood, bits, and tears will be stored…and possibly lost.
This article is meant to help frame the challenge of selecting hard drives for one’s own home studio. I’m no IT professional, but I’ve been dealing with digital multimedia production for nearly 20 years, so I’ve at least got some perspective as a creative professional. I’ve seen my share of hard drives literally catch fire, glitch out, play the national anthem, and just simply stop working, sometimes one a day for three days in a row. I’ve had to manage IT issues from single machines to small clusters to an entire small studio. What follows, then, is what home-studio creatives of all stripes should consider when thinking about storing their creative output on hard drives.
Hand-built one at a time by Eric Archer, the Grendel Drone Commander is a two-oscillator synth built inside of a metal surplus ammo box. Its apparent simplicity belies its sonic complexity. I’m still feeling my way around the thing, but I wanted to post an example of what it makes possible. (Next step: Play with CV control!)
This heavy, drone-y, smeary track was created using only the Grendel Drone Commander, recorded live thee times, each on a different track, in Logic Pro (with a few plug-ins as well).
Hot days in the city can force people into the street, where it can be cooler than in their apartments or homes. I usually reach for my field recorder when the mercury rises, which I hang out of a third-floor office window.
This is a recording (longer than most I usually post) that features everything I like in an urban ambiences: Sirens. Heavy trucks. Busses. Voices in different languages. Motorcycles. Car horns. Murmuring and footsteps.
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]
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!
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!