Field Recording

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: 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


Club Meetup at Handel House – Recording Creaks

Last week myself, Raoul Brand and Tony Gibson met up at the Handel House Museum in Mayfair, London to record floor and stair creaks for our collection.

I’d come across the building a while back when I went to an event called The New Atlantis and immediately noticed (it’s hard not to, as you can probably tell from the video above!) how creaky the floor was.  Therefore, I thought it’d be a perfect location for our latest Sound Collectors’ Club recording meetup.

I brought along a Sound Devices 744T and Schoeps mic which was used as the main recording rig but Tony and Raoul also brought along their Zoom H4N’s which were used as room mics to pick up wider recordings.

I used the Schoeps to cover 2 positions in each of the rooms we recorded in:

  1. Approximately head height in order to imitate a typical boom position.  This is for when the recordings are needed to supplement foley or production sound footsteps.
  2. Very close (about 10 inches) to the creaking floorboards in order to provide a potential element for sound design.  Part of the reason I recorded at 96kHz was also to support this type of usage.

Most of the rooms’ flooring provided similar kinds of creaking.  The main distinction you will notice in the recordings (if you contribute to the set) is between the actual rooms compared to the landing at the top / bottom of the stairs. The stairs themselves had been renovated relatively recently so didn’t make as much noise as, say, the landing, which Tony nearly managed to put his foot through!

We also tried to cover a mixture of different walking:

  1. Not really walking; just moving our feet in a way so as to coerce the biggest creaks out of the boards.
  2. Walking slowly and more naturally so as to get separation between creaks (for easier editing) and making smaller, more ‘everyday’ creaks (as opposed to the loud, ‘Haunted House’ creaks we were otherwise achieving).
Hopefully, by considering these different aspects, the consequent recordings will be useful to you in a variety of different ways.  For example, I could imagine using some of the recordings as a foley supplement in a period drama but others I could imagine using for creaky doors in a horror film.

By the way, apologies to other members for having to limit our number to the three of us – it’s only a small building and because of the type of sound we were recording it would have been impractical for loads of us to go along.

Many thanks to Martin Wyatt at Handel House for allowing us to record there, and also to Ella Roberts for being a very friendly and helpful guide to us on the day.  If you’re in the area, I strongly recommend visiting the museum.  They have an ever-changing programme of interesting recitals, talks and events which you’ll find listed on their website.

Finally, I’d be interested to hear what other participants in the ‘Creaks: Floor and Stairs’ Collection think of the recordings – feel free to comment here or drop me a line directly at thescclub@btinternet.com.

P.S.  Thanks to Raoul for providing the vid!

P.P.S.  Yes, I do normally keep my mic cables wound up more neatly!


Club Meetups, Old and New

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It’s been an intention of mine, ever since I started The Sound Collectors’ Club, to organize a club meetup in London; to create a chance for members to get to know each other better than just virtually over the internet.
 
I finally got round to making this happen for the first time a few weeks ago back in April when the current theme was Echo Space.  As I explained in a post at the time, I ended up choosing the Rotherhithe Tunnel as our glamorous destination and when the agreed upon day arrived I was happy to be joined by @eesn and foster.fog.

I tweeted the above pics throughout the evening; en route to the pub where we met up, I stopped riverside hoping to get some good London skylines.  Unfortunately this proved tricky thanks to the endless flow of pleasureboats blaring music which carried surprisingly far up the river after they had passed by.  No matter, after a swift pint at The Grapes, we headed off to the tunnel.  The results are now uploaded into the Club’s ‘Echo Space’ set if you want to check them out – all 15 minutes of it before we succumbed to the fumes and retreated back to the cleaner confines of The Narrow pub nearby for beer to wash the grit from our mouths!

Many thanks to Georgi and Tom for making the effort to come along; I look forward to hopefully catching up with you both again at future meetups.

Speaking of which, my plan for the next meetup is based around the club’s ‘Wind’ theme which was started a couple of months ago.  This stems from a recent trip to Kew Gardens with the family, where I was struck by the wide variety of trees that were there and, because it was a windy day, how different they all sounded blowing in the breeze.  Kew Gardens is a very big place, so I was thinking that if a few of us met there and each took a separate section of the grounds then there could be the potential to create the mother of all ‘wind in trees’ collections when we pool our results in the club’s ‘Wind’ set!

Kew Gardens

Any feedback on this idea would be much appreciated; as far as I can see, potential problems are as follows:

  1. Choosing a windy day.
  2. Planes.  The day I was there the plane noise was pretty minor.  However flight paths change all the time so there’s no guarantee that this won’t be a problem.
  3. Kew Gardens is pricey to get into (£13.90).

One alternative I’ve found to Kew, if these problems make it an unsuitable location, is Winkworth Arboretum in (or near) Guildford.  This could solve the problem with plane noise (it can’t be worse than West London, surely?!) and is cheaper (£6.20, though you’ll pay more for travel).


If you’re interested, let me know your thoughts in the comments below, like last time, and we’ll take it from there.


London Echo Space Meetup Anyone?

I’ve been mentioning my intentions for a recording meetup to a few people for quite a while now but haven’t had a chance to really give it much thought……until now!

I was having a quick scan of the internet the other day looking for interesting ideas for Echo Space, this month’s sound collecting theme.  My first thought was to find out about the Woolwich and Greenwich foot tunnels under the Thames but as far as I can tell from online comments these tunnels are closed for refurbs at the moment.

If they are, it’s a shame because I know the tunnels sound great.  A Chris Watson workshop I signed up to a few years back went around this part of London.  I didn’t make it in the end due to my first son turning up but I did hear some of the results (Uncannily, I also missed Chris’ subsequent workshop last year in Kew Gardens because of my second son arriving on the scene!  The lengths my wife will go to to stop me going out recording…..!):

thames_footpath_tunnel (copyright of Tom Lawrence)

(Apologies to Juan Gil and Tom Lawrence if i’ve misunderstood the licensing terms of the audio and image.  I’ve taken it as a typical creative commons agreement: i.e. usage is ok if non-commercial and author-attribution is given, but obviously I’ll remove them immediately if there’s any issues with that).

Anyway, if I’m wrong and these are open then it’d be great to go and get our own recordings if anyone’s interested.  However, if they are closed then there’s always that glamorous London destination, The Rotherhithe Tunnel, which I’ve seen described online by a non-soundie as ‘an acoustic hall of mirrors’.  Bingo!

Image of Rotherhithe Tunnel from diamond geezer's Flickrstream under the Creative Commons Attribution License

The tunnel’s right near to some nice pubs on the river so perhaps we could meet up at one of them and then have a quick recording sortie into the tunnel (don’t  personally fancy walking right the way through it!) before returning to one of the pubs for a couple more jars.  Let me know if you’re interested; leave a comment here or DM me.  I finish my current film project next week so from then until early May is best for me.  One thing’s for sure – if no-one comes I ain’t going down that tunnel by myself!

 


November’s Theme

So to get things started, I’ve picked the theme for this month.  Hopefully  it’s something that’s pretty accessible to most people – it certainly is here in the UK at the moment!

Rather than just ‘rain’, I should perhaps say rain on surfaces, i.e. rain on windows, roofs, pavements, etc. – whatever sounds interesting. Rain on surfaces such as corrugated iron or greenhouses can sound great but in some ways I think it’s a bigger achievement to simply get a great recording of the sound of rain on a window which doesn’t just sound like white noise.

The club is primarily meant to be a stimulus for people to go and make new recordings but please feel free to dip into your archives (as long as they’re recordings made by you, of course!) if it’s as dry as a bone where you live at the moment but you’d still like to get a copy of this month’s collection.

I haven’t had a chance to go out recording yet but didn’t want the tank to be empty if and when people started uploading so I’ve just uploaded a token offering for now until I get the chance to make a better quality  contribution over the next week or so.

Let’s see what we can get together!