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

New Zealand: Gull Colony

Posted: February 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
A small sampling of the red-billed gull colony at Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand.

A small sampling of the red-billed gull colony at Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand.

While on New Zealand’s South Island, I visited its largest colony of native red-billed gulls.

It’s tough when you’re presented with nifty creatures in large numbers that you can get close to (like the rutting elk from one of my earlier posts). You’ve got to balance getting as close as possible while respecting the animal and not threatening or stressing it. Well, I wound up getting nice and close, only to be dive-bombed by angry gull parents, all Hitchcock style. Too close after all! (I also got growled at by a sea lion, but that one wasn’t my fault, I swear! Another story for another day…) At any rate, I got a stereo earful of the chatty little bastards, with some background hiss and rumble from the pounding surf nearby.

New Zealand: South Island Red-Billed Gull Colony by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

New Zealand: Portage Bay Birdsong

Posted: February 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording, sound design
Portage Bay on the Queen Charlotte Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

Portage Bay on the Queen Charlotte Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

This will be the first of several posts that highlight some interesting sounds that I gathered from the South Island of New Zealand, from December 2009 to January 2010. Big thanks to Tim Prebble and others for offering advice!

I walked the 71km Queen Charlotte Track with my photo gear and my beat-up Zoom H2, and gathered quite a bit of sound over the 3.5 days I spent hiking. The last morning I awoke early to this unusual dawn chorus of birds…the more I listen to it, it might just be a handful of birds or even just one loud one, with echos coming off the walls of the surrounding hills. It sounded synthesized to me, like an ambient song. Give it a listen below, with some occasional post-rain water drips falling from the trees. (While this is unprocessed, I applied some spectral processing to it and it sounded like it came out of Avatar…may share that later on…)

[UPDATE: Reader Tom Williams from Devon, UK correctly identified this as the call of the tui. Thanks, Tom!]

Dawn Chorus at Portage Bay by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Bird Ambience, Point Lobos State Park

Posted: November 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
Birds can be so demanding...and chatty!

Birds can be so demanding...and chatty!

While tiny, Point Lobos State Reserve in of California’s Big Sur region packs a wallop. Big surf, sea lion colonies, petrified dunes, amazing rocks, and a dense forest with many birds. There’s a loop trail that is full of rocky, coastal, dramatic goodness, but there are also little-used paths that cut right across the park. They’re not long and have a utilitarian feel, but one August I was there alone and happened upon a pocket of songbird insanity.

I wasn’t equipped for, or anticipating, an audio recording event, but one must always be prepared! I stood recording for about five minutes and was surrounded by what I think were juncos, sparrows, and warblers (although I’m not a birder, so I could be mistaken – identifications in the comments are encouraged!). I was surrounded by surf but the forest and hills kept the background roaring to a minimum. But the main reason for the clean recording was the volume – the birds stayed in their trees, ignored me, and were just singing their hearts out.

A pretty magical moment, captured as best as I could on the gear I had (some bandpass filtering was used to clean up the recording a bit). Enjoy.

PointLobosBirds.mp3 by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder]

Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Stalking the Tule Elk

Posted: September 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
This male Tule Elk was pimpin' with more than a dozen ladies in his harem. With that rack, who's gonna argue with him?

This male Tule Elk was pimpin' with more than a dozen ladies in his harem. But really, who's gonna argue with a burly, mangy, and horny twelve-point bull about his dating habits?

The wind and fog were almost enough to dissuade me from visiting the Point Reyes National Seashore to capture images and audio of the California tule elk, one of the largest species of deer in the world. September is the end of the tule elk’s rut, so I was nearing the end of the time-window when I had the best chance of seeing and hearing bulls fighting, courting, and generally carrying on in order to secure mates.

As I drove down the windy, isolated road past long, undulating fences and remote dairy farms, I didn’t find the protected elk herds where I usually see them. I saw and photographed a few stray females, but they don’t typically make any vocalizations. Finally, I saw a harem of sixteen females and one male (“bull”) near the very end of the road. I used my car as a wind break for my microphone and windscreen, settled in, and waited for the stag to vocalize (snapping pictures with my telephoto lens when the opportunities arose). It’s rough to get ambience-free recordings out there; it’s a spit of land surrounded by storm-whipped water on all sides, and the wind was gusting to around 25mph, so the waves and wind were constantly roaring. (Side/tech note: Soundtrack Pro did a far better job on noise reduction, while preserving the desired frequencies and dynamics, than Sound Soap Pro.)

My patience and stillness was ultimately rewarded by several pretty clean recordings of the bull bugling. Trust me, it doesn’t sound like a bugle. More like unholy screams. The male tule elk’s call is as loud as it is piercing, with gigantic 2kHz frequency peaks that are 25dB higher than any other frequency. You may want to turn down your headphones or speakers at first. (I probably should have issued this warning for certain other posts, too.)

Tule Elk, Bugling by noisejockey

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Creeping Crawlies and Contact Mics

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear, nature recording
Full-Contact Audio: Contact microphones are cheap, fun, and beg for questionable uses.

Full-Contact Audio: Contact microphones are cheap, fun, and beg for questionable uses.

There are Japanese beetle larvae living in my planter boxes. When we turn the soil, we sometimes unearth over a hundred at a time. We usually dig them out, leave them in a shallow bowl, and the local birds have a feast. I always wondered what disgusting critters that small sounded like, crawling around in a big ol’ pile.

This seemed like a job for contact microphones, the small little piezo elements that detect vibrations through objects rather than through the air. You can make your own for less than $5, but being a complete soldering nimrod, I ordered two hand-built, XLR-equipped and Plasti-Dipped contact microphones from Jeff Thompson at ContactMics.com. I jammed  one of them into this slowly writhing mass. Totally gross. However, the sound was not at all as I had expected: crisp, brittle, and not that slimy. Since I’ve just recontextualized what this sound is, you’ll probably get all creeped out anyway. So enjoy. (Sorry about the ground loop hum, I was in a hurry and didn’t properly troubleshoot…)


[Piezo contact microphone into Sound Devices 702]

Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Belize Dawn Chorus

Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
This Belizean monkey despises you and your audio tomfoolery!

This Belizean monkey despises you and your audio tomfoolery!

While staying in the Belizean jungle on vacation, I shoved my travel-worn Zoom H2 outside at the crack of dawn and let it run for a while. The jungle was simply alive with sound, and we were pretty far from any roads, so the recording was super clean and the birds were quite close by. Another great example of ensuring you have some sort of recording device – even if it’s not the best one – to capture such moments.

Apologies that I’ve not identified any species in this recording.


[Zoom H2, 90°-spread front mics]

Tags: , , | No Comments »