A multi-disciplinary journey in music, sound, and field recording.

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…

[soundcloud url=”http://soundcloud.com/noisejockey/amb-bird-dawnchorus-sierravalley-01″ params=”show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=dd0000″ width=”100%” height=”81″ ]
[Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 recorded as mid-side pair into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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5 Comments on “Field Workshop Notes, Part 2: Gear + Dawn Chorus”

  1. 1 Lawrence Barker said at 2:12 am on July 4th, 2010:

    Hi Nathan, That is a lovely recording. I am surprised how you managed to obtain such a clean recording, especially given the number of other members present with their gear and vehicles seen in your video.
    As an aside: considering the frailness of the 702 firewire port (I’ve recently had to return mine for a blown firewire controller IC under warranty), I am interested in the file storage and transfer method you use with your 702. Do you use the rear CF card and later removal, a permanently plugged firewire CF card reader/writer, a permanently plugged external RAM drive, or just post-record firewire cable link between 702 and computer?
    Best regards

  2. 2 Michael Raphael said at 7:30 am on July 4th, 2010:


    Yet another nice post. Curious, why do some many folks prefer tripods instead of mic stands? Just more stability?


  3. 3 Sam said at 2:39 pm on July 5th, 2010:

    What are those pads on the headphones? I have the MDR-V6’s and am thinking of getting the pearstone earpads. Those look different – a little more plush.

  4. 4 Nathan said at 9:42 pm on July 6th, 2010:

    @Lawrence: I had no problems plugging my 702 directly to my computer until MacOS X 10.6, which causes the CF card to not mount. Sound Devices knows about this and there is no workaround. I therefore pop the card out and put it into a FireWire 800 CF card reader. Fast and easy!

    @Michael: As a photographer, I’ve got tripods to spare, plus I find adjustable-length legs way more stable in uneven terrain. Plus, they can be way lighter than mic stands!

    @Sam: Those are Garfield Softies. They rock. Bought em atB&H, but you can find em at plenty of places!

  5. 5 Andrew said at 2:07 am on July 11th, 2010:

    Lovely recording.

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