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

Field Workshop Notes, Part 2: Gear + Dawn Chorus

Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear, nature recording

Neither dirt, nor fog, nor clouds of mosquitos keeps a field recordist from his crack-of-dawn tasks!

I’m finally unpacked and rested from the inspiring (and exhausting) 26th Annual Nature Sounds Society Field Workshop in California’s Sierra Nevada. Since my last post was a compilation of high-level personal experiences, I thought that I’d report back about what worked, or didn’t work, in the field on the technology side of things…as well as share a recording from our first early-morning field session.

  • Outdoor Gear. My REI trail stool was instrumental in keeping my body still (I can be a fidgety so-and-so), the importance of which can’t be understated when your preamp gain is at 80% of maximum and you can hear birds’ wing flaps 20 meters away. [Hint: For nature recording, more layers of softer materials - like fleece, soft-handed polyester, and wool - are the best for staying warm and silent. Consider gaffer-taping your metal zippers, too!]
  • Microphones. My primary MKH 50/30 rig performed brilliantly, with a strong signal-to-noise ratio even in the quietest moments. I also got a chance to try out a rather large parabolic microphone…more on that in a later post. [Hint: If you want a mic for nature recording, you need to be looking in the <-16dBA self-noise range, the lower the better.]
  • Recorders. The ol’ 702 worked its usual wonders. I monitored as mid-side in the field, only converting to left/right once I returned. A +8dB side signal using Tom Erbe’s +Matrix plug-in made for a wide, enveloping sense of space without losing center imaging.  [Hint: Batteries drain faster when cold. Store spares inside your jacket, or in your sleeping bag with you overnight!]

The gear list across everyone was pretty insane: many Olympus LS10 recorders, several Sound Devices 744T’s, a Sony PCM-D50, and mics from DPA, Neumann, Røde, Sennheiser, and Telinga. Recording techniques varied from mono to mid-side stereo, XY stereo, ORTF, Jecklin discs, and even two binaural dummy-head rigs (see this site for a good explanation of all this alphabet soup). An outdoor mic directionality seminar helped to illustrate what each is good for, which was a rare opportunity and extremely educational.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. But what did it sound like?

Today’s sound was recorded around 5:45am on a day with a slight breeze and scads of ground fog. The location was Sierra Valley, north of state route 49 in the Sierra Nevada. This recording includes at least swallows (cave or barn, I’m unsure), American bitterns, red-winged blackbirds, white-faced ibises, yellow-faced blackbirds, and a bullfrog, and certainly more that I can’t identify.

Get those headphones on and close your eyes…


[Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 recorded as mid-side pair into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Gas Lantern

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design
This rare Mt. Hermon June Beetle kept trying to mate with our propane gas lantern. Randy fellow!

This rare Mt. Hermon June Beetle kept trying to mate with our propane gas lantern. Randy fellow!

(I’m on a bit of an nature recording roll since my last post about recording rutting Tule Elk…)

As much as I love backpacking, car camping can be pretty cushy. You can bring as many “luxury items” as you want. One such item is a propane-powered gas lantern. It’s such a staple of camping that I never thought to record it until a recent trip, when the forest went almost dead silent one morning. With the significant other still asleep in the tent, out came the battered Zoom H2.

This recording has just a couple of distant bird calls, but otherwise turned out pretty clean. It’s a simple hissy drone, but as a layer for other sound design purposes, I’m sure I’ll find a use for it someday (like shortening a piece of it for wind effects from airlocks, sci-fi helmets, or the like).

Gas Lantern by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Campfire

Posted: September 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording
Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

There is something so primal about fire. Everyone I know considers just sitting and watching/listening to a campfire burn is better than television, and can be done for hours, pleasurably, in silence.

Of course, when I get excited, ideas like physics kind of go out the window, like the whole heat-rising thing…nothing got damaged, but in retrospect a lower position would have allowed the recorder to get closer. I am sure the makers of the Zoom H2 didn’t intend to have its plastic case survive high temperatures.

I recorded the sound of my campfire while backpacking California’s Sierra National Forest and the John Muir Wilderness on a nice, still evening. This particular campfire had a log that made some, uh, gassy emissions, and sounded very much like a milk foamer on an espresso machine. You’ll hear it about halfway through the clip.

Campfire by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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