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

Underwater Finger Cymbals

Posted: March 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
Dipping struck finger cymbals into water creates some great filtering effects.

Dipping struck finger cymbals into water creates some great filtering effects.

[Credit where credit’s due: This is a technique I’ve always wanted to try, and I first heard of it in a great video by Roger Gregg, at around 02:45. The entire series is worth watching.]

So a fellow gets a hydrophone. He’s excited, and starts recording all sorts of crap. But then he has a free hour to himself and realizes that he’s got a box full of sound-making toys and objects that could sound pretty interesting underwater.

Let’s say I’m that fellow.

Before work one day, I sifted through said toybox and decided to give this a whirl. In search for a large container to fill with water, I decided to record in the executive washroom of Noise Jockey World Headquarters, and the photos in this post will give you a glimpse of the sumptuous luxury in which we conduct our noisy business.

Since our high-tech executive spa didn’t have a stopper handy, I grabbed a plastic tub and filled it with lukewarm water. I put the hydrophone halfway between the surface of the water and the bottom of the tub, suspended from a boom arm so the cable would be isolated from noise and the mic element wouldn’t sit on the bottom.

An Aquarian H2-XLR hydrophone set into a tub of water.

An Aquarian H2-XLR hydrophone set into a tub of water.

The Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone is pretty heavy and holds quite still. One gotcha is that a high-frequency hiss can occur from air bubbles forming on the microphone casing. This can be a challenge if the water coming out of your spigot is highly aerated. I’m still working on solving that one.

I donned a pair of finger cymbals (truly something every sound recordist should own!) and dipped one or both of them in the water after striking them together. They went into the water at a 60°-90° angle, so that they’d not create entry splashes or secondary water drips. This created a really neat tone that combined a pitch bend with a very resonant filter cutoff.

I’ve attached an edit of the raw recordings to this post. Pitch-bent down or up, obviously, there’s a lot of sonic possibilities for sound design. As with all such experiments I do, I tracked at 192kHz to ensure enough latitude for further sonic malfeasance.


[Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Hydrophonic Cocktail

Posted: February 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, gear, sound design
hydrophoneTonic

Hydrophone + Ice + Tonic. Sound and cocktail design in one easy step.

The latest addition to my microphone quiver is the Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone. For less than US$200, you get a really well-built unit with a high specific gravity (less sway in moving water) and a thin, flexible cable with an extremely supple “hand.”

I also got the rubber cup that enables it to be used as a contact microphone, and I must say that it also excels in this capacity: Super-low noise and very articulate, even recording human heartbeats with clarity (Hint: Aim for the sternum, the pecs have too much muscle and fat in the way). The H2a’s weight, however, prevents it from being easily taped upside-down or held in odd positions like my other contact mics I’ve used in previous posts.

I can’t hope to improve upon Darren Blondin’s excellent review of the Aquarian H2a, so in the short term, I’ll instead offer some quick and dirty recording results with it, with perhaps some more detailed results and analyses in the future. (Oh yes, some very strange recordings to come…)

When the H2a came in, I placed this device in all the usual places you’d expect for some quick tests: the sink, the bathtub, the cats’ water fountain. But having just discovered some very tasty tonic water for making cocktails, it struck me that I’d not recorded carbonation before. After hearing the clear, but not overly-bright, tones of the carbonation, I decided to mix up the room-temperature tonic water with some ice cubes.

The ice’s cracking, melting, and expansion was largely in the same frequency neighborhood as the carbonation bubbles and added an interesting dimension to the sound. Some initial sound processing makes me think that melting ice in still water might make for a cool creature sound pitched down -3 octaves or so, but for today, let’s listen to the original recording, unadorned and unprocessed.

[Aquarian H2a-XLR hydrophone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Of Cicadas and High Frequency Sound

Posted: February 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, gear, nature recording
New Zealand Cicada from the Queen Charlotte Track, South Island.

New Zealand Cicada from the Queen Charlotte Track, South Island.

I’ve heard cicadas on three continents, and they all sound different. I remember in Thailand they sounded like a constant-tone fire or burglar alarm, the high-pitched ones you hear in modern office buildings. In New Zealand, they have more of an overlapping start-stop pattern with more distinct “crrrkk”-ing, rather than a constant drone. they’d only seem to really get loud when in direct sunlight. It took me a day to finally be able to spot them consistently, get a photo (above), and then finally find some spots with minimal birdsong to record them (although I included one bellbird call in the sample below just for fun).

This post also should serve as an example to other field recordists around how specifications do not a microphone make. The Zoom H2, while handy and theoretically able to capture sound up to 20kHz, really muddies high-frequency audio content. In person, these cicada sounds were rhythmic, pulsing, and you could even hear each individual start and stop their rhythms. In the final rendered audio – sure to be made worse by conversion to MP3 for Internet posting – feels flat, inarticulate, and less interesting than what my ears heard. One just can’t expect excellent frequency response from a $200 device. Still, once again, it’s what you have with you that counts, so at least one comes away with something.

It’s worth noting that Samon has the H4n’s frequency response graph on their website, but not the H2’s. (If the same capsules used in each unit, it’s interesting how a peaks above 5-8 KHz still doesn’t always translate into improved fidelity.)

Respected wireless manufacturer Lectrosonics tests the frequency characteristics of their hardware with what they call “The Dreaded Key Test.” This consists simply of jingling a keyring with a lot of keys in front of a mic, specifically to test the reproduction of high-frequency transients. I’d recommend that anyone evaluating a microphone do this test. If the recorded sounds are articulate and discrete, that’s a pretty darned good sign. Otherwise, this test will result in tones that are harsh, indistinct, and more like a blast of static. As many other folks will recommend: Rent gear you’re interested in before you buy it, if possible!

New Zealand: Cicadas on the Queen Charlotte Track by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

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New Zealand: Engines of the M.V. Tutoko

Posted: February 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
The smokestacks of the M.V. Tutoko, motoring towards the sea on Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.

The smokestacks of the M.V. Tutoko, motoring towards the sea on Doubtful Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.

I went on an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound on the M. V. Tutoko. Her diesel engines made a throbbing hum that I found enveloping, comforting, and even calming. I headed to the upper deck and recorded her at the exhaust stacks. It took a little EQ to get rid of the splashing water alongside, but this recording should give you a nice sense of the unique timbre and rhythm. Easily looped, this could absolutely make a cool vehicle sound (with granulation and dopplering), or a unique interior thrumming for a vehicle or mechanical interior.

MvTutoko by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

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Sliding Door Stutter in Maine

Posted: January 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects

My father was recently in the hospital, so I visited him in Maine. While in Brunswick, my mother and I stopped at Barnes and Noble to pick him up a crossword puzzle book to occupy his mind until he was released. The sliding doors of the store opened with a strange stuttering, sputtering, and nearly-pneumatic flanging, and I stopped in my tracks. “Whoa, did you hear that?” My mother looked at me quizzically. “That door, wow…that was a great sound!” She picked up her pace to look like I wasn’t shopping with her, surely thinking I was hearing things.

The dynamic range of the H2’s mics isn’t as good as my other recorders, but to paraphrase Saint Chase, the best audio recorder is the one you have with you. Better to have this odd and very distinctive mechanical sound than miss that chance…only to, I’m sure, return someday and hear that B&N fixed the doors.

SlidingDoorStutter by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

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Robot’s First Steps

Posted: November 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
I'm now the proud owner of an NJ-1 Heavy Lifting and Utility Unit!

I'm now the proud owner of an NJ-1 Heavy Lifting Utility Unit!

I’m very excited to share a new audio recording: The first steps of my new NJ-1 Heavy Lifting Utility Unit (HLUU). The HLUU is a do-everything kind of robot, and I’m hoping to use it for landscaping and home improvement projects. It was a big purchase in a pretty down economy, but my significant other and I think it’s a solid long-term investment.

I was so excited that I had to grab my field recorder and document its first steps. The manual says to let it charge overnight and then calibrate its voice command recognition system, but I just couldn’t wait to just let ‘er rip. Unfortunately, that meant that it only took a few steps before losing power and automatically shutting down, so that’s why this clip is so short.

This puts my Roomba to shame. Check out the recording below and say hello to HLUU!

WalkingRobot 001 by noisejockey
[Røde NT4 stereo microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Doom Vibrations

Posted: November 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
That tiny little hand massager created holy aural hell inside that metal shed.

That tiny little hand massager created holy aural hell inside that metal shed.

How could I possibly have guessed that a cute little  hand massager from the impulse-buy bin of our local office supply store would sound like a tool of pure, unmitigated doom?

There’s a motor inside, of course, and its four round, glowing “legs” are for distributing vibrational goodness. Its animal-like appearance made me put it on the floor for my cat’s amusement…and when I turned it on, the entire floor of my dining room groaned. The vibrations went into the long floor planks and just sounded lucious. What else could I put this on for even cooler sounds?

Glowy vibrational awesomeness

Glowy vibrational awesomeness

I quickly was testing this little bugger out on all sorts of things, and then I put it on the roof of our all-metal outdoor tool shed. It sounded like space/time itself was coming apart, or like a 60′ metal automaton was coming to life after hundreds of years of dormancy…the possible uses were many. I used my modded Oktava MK-012 with its omnidirectional capsule – a first for me, in fact – and stuck the mic into the center of the shed on a boom pole, where I assumed most of the sound waves were meeting. My steel wheelbarrow was whining, every surface was vibrating…it was intense.

The unholy racket you’re about to hear is about three layers of this sound, from different takes, one of which is pitch shifted down just over half an octave as a slight thickener. The lowest bass rumbles, however, are from the raw recording.

Who says subtlety and dynamics are always good things? ;-) Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

MassiveVibration by noisejockey
[OktavaMod MK-012 microphone into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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“Pew! Pew!” Part Deux: Gutter Lasers

Posted: October 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
Photonic, sonic goodness through rainwater diversion? Maybe!

Photonic, sonic goodness through rainwater diversion? Maybe!

Anyone who’s got an interest in sound has heard the story of Ben Burtt using the sound of struck guy wires to create the Star Wars blaster sound. This changed the sound of science fiction forever; before this, all energy weapons were basically analog synth patches. Part of what makes this sound so unique (and repeated – Burtt himself used struck springs for Wall•E) is how high-frequency sounds travel faster through a metallic medium than low-frequency sounds. This is what gives these sounds their “PEEEWWW!” sound effect. Heck, even I used these principles to synthesize some similar sounds.

Which brings us to my rain gutters on this Halloween.

My house has thin metal rain gutters, from which I ritually hang hard-plastic LED holiday lights, usually right before Halloween, my most important holiday (today!). So when hanging the lights one year, one of the bulbs struck the middle of a 30′ run of solid metal and made this muffled, “block” peewwww sound. Laser-like, but different, loads of low-mid frequency content. I live pretty close to a highway, which was line of sight from my roof, so the only way I could record this sound cleanly was by using a contact microphone. (Recording a length of rain gutter with a small condenser mic in an indoor space would sound less clacky and “square,” but I don’t have a 30′ long recording studio!)

After some EQ, compression, and limiting, the results are below.

LaserGutters by noisejockey
[Contact microphone, Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Brownie

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design
The Kodak Brownie. Man, what ever happened to lens turrets, anyway?

The Kodak Brownie. Man, what ever happened to lens turrets, anyway? I

I bought this Kodak Brownie 8mm film camera at a yard sale, way back when I was actually gonna shoot with it. I never did, so it wound up on my desk as a tchotchke, next to my baboon skull, remote control zombie, and tofu skeleton.

This turreted Brownie, as best as I can tell, was manufactured from 1955 to 1963 (the Brownie brand, by the way, is 109 years old this year). Its most prominent feature is a wind-up motor on the side of the case. There’s a small catch that clicks on every seventh rotation, but otherwise it’s a neat, small sound that has a fair amount of character. It has a rhythmic, “breathing” quality to its sound. I wound ‘er up tight and opened the side lid for sonic clarity. The low volume required a large diaphragm mic to capture it in loads of detail with a super-low noise floor.

I thought that it was evocative of clockwork servos on a steampunk robot, or as a smaller loop on top of  footage that’s treated to look like a newsreel or home movie. It’s pretty midrangey, so it holds up well to being sped up or slowed down. You’re guaranteed to hear or see this used in actual media to be posted on Noise Jockey in the future!

Brownie by noisejockey
[Røde NT1a mic, Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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By Request: More Metal Madness

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design

That’s right, Noise Jockey does requests!

An earlier post spurred a couple of commenters to wonder about hearing some sounds from my shovel-in-wheelbarrow recording session pitched down by an octave. I recorded that session at 96kHz, so the sounds could easily manage to be stretched and pitched down.

So, here are the results, as requested. Definitely leans towards a cinematic feel, and I find that sounds like these have 1,001 uses! Enjoy, and happy Pitchshiftember!

Heavier Metal, By Request by noisejockey

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