Field Notes

Field Notes #4: New York Ambiences by Michael Bates

NYAMB cover half size

In the spring of last year I went to New York with my family for a week and decided to try to get the best recordings I could whilst I was there, without annoying my family in the process!

I always take a portable recorder with me on holiday but having just got a pair of DPA 4060 omni mics and having used them to capture ambiences around London (one of which can be heard in the City Skylines theme) I knew that they handled city ambiences really well, so I was excited about trying them out in New York.

My rig is put together like this:

IMG_0001_Stealth rig laid out_half size

It comprises a pair of DPA 4060s into a Sound Devices 302 mixer which feeds an Edirol R-09 recorder. The 302 is powered by a Hawk-Woods NP65 battery, which never seems to run out, the R-09 by rechargeable AAs, which never seem to charge up. I monitor with a pair of Sennheiser HD25s.

All of this fits quite neatly into my shoulder bag and with the mics clipped to the far sides of the bag I get a good 40cm spacing. Also, it’s very stealthy as all anyone sees once the flap is closed are the Rycote windjammers peeking out either side of the bag.

IMG_0005_Rig in bag_half size

IMG_0007_Bag closed top view_half size

Most of the recordings were made with the rig in the bag over my shoulders whilst I stood still and looked nonchalant. However, the longer Canal Street recordings were made with the mics set up outside my bedroom window in the flat we were staying in.

I was really happy with the recordings other than a few issues that I encountered, which I’ve detailed below. The 4060s have incredible low end response and lovely mid detail which really helped to capture the characteristic acoustic that New York has. Combined with the clean quality of the 302 preamps, along with its detailed metering and quality limiters, it’s a setup which does a great job of recording really dynamic things like the Canal Street traffic.

I did vacillate a little about whether to roll off some of the low end in the recordings, but in the end decided not to and to leave it up to the end user to decide how much of it they wanted to use themselves.

Here are a couple of issues that I had that made some recordings unusable and that I’ll have to solve next time I record like this:

My major issue with the setup is that in motion whilst over the shoulder, the metal clips attaching the strap to the bag click with every step and I lost some good material because of this. I could probably have gone through those recordings and taken out each click with RX, but they were so frequent and loud that I think it would have badly affected the sound quality.

There are a couple of recordings in the library that I made whilst walking slowly where this issue didn’t arise (the Staten Island Ferry terminal recordings) but I think in future I need to find a way to damp this sound or alternatively carry the bag handheld.

I lost what could have been a really good skyline recording that I made at the top of Morningside Park because I lost one of my windjammers coming out of a crowded subway and so didn’t have adequate wind protection when I got to the park some hours later. I now carry an extra pair of windjammers as backup wind protection, as those Rycote ones are none too secure and the foam covers don’t stand up to serious gusts.

The one recording that I was seriously annoyed about not getting was a beautiful skyline that I tried to record from the 7th floor balcony of the New Museum on Bowery. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it’s very popular with visitors taking pictures, so instead I have a beautiful recording of people’s camera shutters clicking. If I’d been there on my own I would have stayed for as long as it took to get a clean take, but I sacrificed the recording to keep familial peace intact!

All in all I think it was a worthwhile set of recordings to make that taught me a lot about the strengths and limitations of this setup and of this style of stealth recording in particular. In the end I recorded over six and half hours of material, which I edited down to just over three hours for the library.

As a taster for club members, there’s an alternative take in the Echo Space theme of the Frick Collection Garden Court, a lovely, echoey marble hall with a fountain in the centre. There’s also a recording in the Car Passes theme of some passes on a cobbled street that I recorded whilst there.

For those club members that are interested in the library there is a discount code for 20% off on the LinkedIn group and for non club members you can get 10% off by signing up to the mailing list on tonemanufacture.com

You can see a full file list and more information at tonemanufacture.com/libraries/new-york-ambiences

I hope it turns out to be a useful library and my thanks to all the club members who share their great recordings!


Field Notes #3: Texas Freight Train by Kyle Hughes

CM3s Near Train Freight Train from Under Bridge, Denton, TX_KyleHughes R26 Under Train

Kyle describes how he approached the freight train recordings he’s shared with the club, over on his blog.


Field Notes #2: Texas Freight Train by Rene Coronado

train by 2

I was recently on my way back home to Dallas from visiting my alma matter in West Texas.  I always put a rig together when I travel – mostly to gather ambiences, but also to capture anything else interesting I may happen upon.  In this case I had a pair of schoeps CMC6 mics with the MK2 omni capsule, as well as a pair of Crown PZM 6d mics.

The ride back to Dallas along I-20 runs parallel to a long stretch of rail tracks, and its common to see big freight rigs crossing the state along with us.  About halfway home my wife and I spotted a train running the same direction as us, so we passed it and let it fall just out of sight of my rearview mirror before finding a place to pull over and set up.  I didn’t realize how fast that train was moving though, and by the time I got the trunk open the gates were closing and the train was already on top of me.

I closed the trunk, and we headed out again.  We caught up to the train relatively quickly, but this time I gave us a really good buffer of time to make sure I could get set and rolling without rushing.  I passed the train and kept increasing my distance for about 15 miles after passing it this second time.  When I pulled over again, I found a spot where I could cross the tracks and set up in a way that the train would pass between my rig and the highway on which I was traveling, obscuring the sounds of other passing cars.

My wife jumped out with her camera to take some rustic photos of the farm we were parked by, and my baby boy kept sleeping in the carseat while I pulled out my rig and got set up.

I placed the two omnis about 2 feet apart, and put the PZMs on the same general plane, but about 6 feet apart.  I had concerns about the omnis being phase-coherent without a jecklyn disk at that close distance because I had run some tests earlier in the trip that didn’t go as well as I had hoped – hence the PZMs, which I knew would be good for phase.  Once I was set up, rolling and slated I heard the train’s horn in the distance.  Trains are required to blow their horns at each intersection they cross that doesn’t have a gate with the clanging bells, and this train was one intersection away from me.

train setup

 

The train blew its horn one more time and then it was upon us – whooshing by with its crazy array of box cars, empty beds, tank cars, double decker cars, and open freight cars.  Each car had its own sound, and it created a real variety of unique dopplers as it cruised by.  Somehow the baby boy slept through all of this even though the back car door was open.

train by 1

Back in the studio I put the tracks up and was pleasantly surprised by how well the omnis did with regards to phase – even without a disk in-between.  They captured the low end perfectly and just had a remarkably clean sound all the way up.  The crowns (which I love) sounded very bite-y and midrangey in comparison, and also quite a bit “cheaper” than the schoeps omnis.  No surprise given the actual price difference, but pretty eye opening regardless.

I output three final files – an omni recording, a pzm recording, and a mixed recording that captured the best of both worlds.  Outside of gain matching, no processing was done to these files in any way.

enjoy!

train pano

 


Field Notes: Spontaneous Train Recording in Dallas

Rene Coronado has kindly shared a recording he grabbed on the fly this week (members can check it out in the ‘Trains: Design’ collection).  Here are his field notes to explain in full:
I was driving home last week down my normal route which is a 4 lane street next to a highway that runs across an active rail track.  I noticed that a bus was stopped at the intersection even though the light was green, and then a split second later I realized that the train crossing gate was coming down.  I zoomed up to the crossing in my car and stopped as quickly as I could, and then I looked left.  Sure enough, a giant freight train was approaching less than 50 meters away.
Time seemed to slow a bit, but I kept my head about me and did the following in about 5 seconds:
 – put the car in park
 – turn off the radio (I forgot to turn off AC)
 – roll down the window
 – reach beside me and grab my PCM M10 from the passenger seat
 – switch the button from hold to on (I never power this device down, I just put it in hold mode)
 – hit record
 – hit play (always important)
 – adjust the volume way down (metering ambient noise just barely)
 – hold the device out the window
Its actually a fair amount to get exactly right in that short of a period of time, but I managed to do it and just barely caught the horn as it began to blow.  The train gave me a nice full blast right as it entered the intersection 10 feet in front of my car and I managed to capture it without clipping anything.
Once the horn was by I just popped the recorder up on the roof of my car and let it roll while the train continued passing.  By then other traffic had pulled up and stopped around me and the bus as well.
When the train was all the way by I let roll as long as I could, then the gate went up, I grabbed my recorder, rolled up my window, kicked the radio back on and kept on driving.  🙂
Here are the few things I learned from this:
 – I can get from zero to rolling in about 5 seconds if my tools are set up around me well.
 – The PCM 10 even in high gain mode can record incredibly loud sounds without clipping.  Mics may have clipped a bit, but its really difficult to tell if that was them or just the air ripping around.
 – Even in traffic next to a highway with very ambient omni mics I can get a really good recording of a loud enough sound
 – The built in wind protection and always on battery management of the PCM M10 are incredible
 – this recording wouldn’t have happened with a PCM D50 (wind protection) or a zoom H4n (wind protection + startup time)
 – that train didn’t doppler very much, as it wasn’t traveling exceptionally fast
enjoy!
-Rene

Field Notes: Uncertain, TX

Wind Howling Through Swampland, Uncertain, TX_KyleHughes

I received a contribution to the ‘Wind’ collection recently from club member, Kyle Hughes.  It was called ‘Wind Howling Through Swampland, Uncertain, TX.  Now, to Americans this is perhaps not that out of the ordinary, but as an Englishman, I was fascinated by the name of this place and that it seemed very remote – and a little eerie!  Anyway, something I want to do more of this year is try and get members to write a little bit about their recordings when something out of the ordinary catches my ear or eye – Field Notes, if you will.  In this case, Kyle kindly agreed to tell us a bit more about Uncertain, TX.

Hi, Michael asked me to follow up on a recent upload to the ‘Wind’ collection. The reason is that it was recorded in such a remote location; i.e., the swampland of Uncertain, TX, USA.

I went out there to record for a short film in Winter/Spring of 2011, and visited a state park, as well as some local fishing holes. I am from Dallas, TX, and travelled out to Uncertain to shoot on Caddo Lake, at the border of Texas and Louisiana. The swampland is full of cypress trees and the infamous American alligator.

It’s funny- on the drive East, there is a point at which the landscape changes- the trees are all tall pines; it’s like a dividing line.

One night, a few crew members and myself ventured out to a dock on a small pond surrounded by a thick forest of trees. The trees are always covered in a great deal of moss that hangs from the branches, and in the winter it’s all brown and dry. I decided to record because of the howl that the wind made- we were surrounded by trees, but there was open air over our heads. In the distance, I could hear some strange sounds- cars driving over cattle guards, maybe, as well as a distant train blast.

The DP for the film compiled some extra footage into a short web video, which can be seen at the link below. None of the locations depicted are exactly where the wind track was recorded, but you can imagine what it looks like, based on what is seen:

http://vimeo.com/26854736

If anyone is interested in seeing the actual short film, you can contact me and I’ll share a private link. It was a student film, but it did have some moderate success, traveling around the world. As far as equipment, it was shot with an ARRI SR3 on Super 16mm film, and all audio was recorded into Sound Devices 702′s, primarily using the Sennheiser ME66.

It is a fascinating place. I find it as intimidating as it is relaxing- welcoming, yet unwelcoming by the twisted natural beauty that comprises it. There are no tourist attractions besides the humble, local diner and twice-a-month flea market. In spring, the colors turn to green and the birds and gators come out. I’ve heard that the town “Uncertain” was given its name because the line dividing Texas and Louisiana was unclear, due to the widespread swamp-lake.

That’s about it- if you’re from the states it may be nothing new, but it’s even quite different from where I live, just a couple hundred miles away. Worth a visit, I’d say.
Kyle Hughes