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

Beach, Please

Posted: April 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
The view west to the Pacific Ocean from Catala Island, British Colombia, Canada.

The view west to the Pacific Ocean from Catala Island, British Colombia, Canada.

During my 2013 kayak-camping expedition on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I spent a day by myself photographing and field recording Catala Island. You know you’re in a remote area when you refer to Vancouver Island as “the mainland.”

I found myself on a beach away from the direct Pacific swell, with a nice mix of pebbles and cobbles that made a wonderful rainstick-like tone when the gentle waves receded. (Of course, I’ve posted on recording waves before.)

Cobble cobble cobble.

Cobble cobble cobble.

But as isolated as I was, man made sounds still managed to intrude. A lonely acoustic buoy in the distance bleated like a seasick cow on every incoming swell. You may be able to hear this in the background of this recording, faintly, although an aggressive 130Hz high pass filter helped remove the worst of it. Luckily this also removed the distant roar of the sea, actually helping to focus the sound on the small waves that really didn’t have much low-end to them at all.

Many dozens of miles from any road, on an island off another island off the main continent, the sounds of man still pervade. Or perhaps invade.

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Bar Walla

Posted: November 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design

The Uptown, Mission District, San Francisco. Photo source unknown.

The Uptown is the closest bar to my office, and is a classic Mission District hipster dive bar. One hot, Indian Summer day in the fall, it was filled with patrons, windows flung open…but the jukebox was off. And everyone was concentrated by the bar and front door, leaving the back area empty.

Anyone who tries to record diffuse crowd sounds, or “walla,” knows that this is a golden moment. Human voices, but little intelligible conversation, no background music, not too far away from the noise source. I ordered a beer, sat as far away from everyone as I could, and started rolling on my handheld recorder.

I did a little trickery by taking a segment of the recording, swapping the left and right channels, and layering it with another segment, to effectively double the number of people in the room. Luckily there wasn’t too much background noise to also get multiplied. Perhaps not the most interesting of moments on its own, but the little details of the cash register ring, squeaky door hinges, and the general density of the human sounds represents (to me, anyway) a surprisingly hard-to-capture scene without the intrusion of music.


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

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Urban Trumpet

Posted: July 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, music

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.

And a guy noodling around on the trumpet.


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

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San Francisco’s Quiet Surprise

Posted: October 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording

On this day, the City was quieter at 1pm than it was at dawn.

I work in San Francisco. It’s one of the world’s great urban centers. Imagine my surprise when I took the subway to the financial district and walked for two full blocks and heard…well, not much.

It was 1pm just off the Financial District on a weekday, and I heard almost no talking, no horns, and very few “hard sounds.” All that came to my ears was the occasional footsteps of a non-talkative passerby, the sound of a water jug being put on a hand truck, and of course traffic. There was plenty of sound, sure, but it was a wash of hushed tones, very diffuse and distant voices, nothing jarring like you’d expect near one of the great cities of the American West. On lunch hour, no less.

Here’s an example. I’m walking this whole clip, but wearing my quietest shoes (my sweet camo Chuck Taylors, if you must know), so any footsteps you hear are passers-by. This kind of hushed background ambience would be a great layer to which more specific hard effects could be added to achieve a certain mood.


[Zoom H2 recorder]

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San Francisco Urban Ambiences

Posted: March 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording
Audio recorder and the Mission District

Ready for recording in San Francisco's Mission District on a rainy winter day.

Urban ambiences benefit from focused listening. Every city has its own sonic palette, and every neighborhood’s aural character is as unique as a fingerprint.

I work right in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, a culturally rich and very urban part of the city. Best known as the hub of the city’s Latino community, it has its good and bad sides. The good includes more eateries than one could possibly explore, great boutique shops, art studios, and amazing diversity. The bad includes drug dealing, prostitution, and gang violence. As you can imagine, that makes recording opportunities galore.

This post’s track is a compilation of urban ambience recorded out of my office’s windows, at varying times of day. This is only a small snippet of my huge library of urban San Francisco ambiences, every one of which reveals another aspect of the City’s character.

(A recent article on the human need for occasional silence by George Michelsen Foy, author of the upcoming book Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence,  is an interesting counterpoint to today’s sound recording. Give it a read.)


[Røde NT4 stereo mic into Sound Devices 702 field recorder]

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