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

Doors, and Saying No

Posted: July 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects

Mmm, so many tasty, carcinogenic choices.

Like over 100 other field recordists, I signed up for Tim Prebble’s crowdsourced special effects library of doors from around the world on his boutique effects label, Hiss and a Roar.

Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, I had to bow out of the project, and a number of other side-projects. (Saying “no” is a powerful tool to help rein in your life from your own over-committal. Just do it early enough.)

However, one of the more interesting doors I did manage to record was the hinged front panel of an all-metal, 1970’s-era cigarette vending machine. This thing lives in my office, inherited from previous tenants. It’s too big to get rid of, and too odd and ironic to let go of, since none of us smoke. This object has been heard here before.

In honor of the awesome work everyone has done on this upcoming release, today’s sound is a fragment of my own aborted contribution, in the hopes that everyone will support Hiss and a Roar and pick up the collection when it’s released.


[Sennheiser MKH 50/30 mid-side stereo pair with into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Satan’s Violin Lesson

Posted: July 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design

Noise Jockey: Taking the "E" out of "e-bow."

Almost exactly one year ago, I played a steel cable on a gate with an eBow, recorded with contact microphones. I decided to give it a go with a regular bow when I realized that this gate was basically a one-stringed guitar.

Think about it: Wound metal string under tension, wooden resonator. That’s all a guitar really is. What a wooden gate lacks is thickness, like a guitar, but at more than a meter in width and height, that’s a broad-enough surface to send air molecules running for cover.

I had to rosin the hell out of the bow to make it tacky enough to grip this oversized “string.” I found that also spreading rosin on the wrapped steel cable was helpful. I tuned the cable, as much as one can, by adjusting a turnbuckle.

I recorded in mid-side stereo. Today’s sample features is comprised of one mono track totally dry, one mono track run through Michael Norris’ Spectral Blurring effect, one mono track pitch-shifted down by 1.5 octaves, and the one stereo track pitch-shifted down by three octaves. Recording at 192Hz helps for such tomfoolery.

I apologize to my neighbhors for the unholy racket that I’m sure they thought was a demonic violin 101 class.

[Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 recorded as mid-side stereo into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Field Workshop Notes, Part 3: Parabolics

Posted: July 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear, nature recording

Lookit that man out there. He's quite a dish.

One of the best reasons to spend a weekend with other sound recordists is a chance to try out new gear. A classic nature recording technique is the use of a microphone set in a parabolic dish.

The general public knows of parabolics mostly from seeing people use them on the sidelines of sporting events. In nature recording, they’re for capturing species-specific sounds rather than ambiences. This is because the microphones in parabolic dishes are mono, and have sound pushed into them by the dish itself. This creates a very narrow “beam” of listening. Perceptually, parabolics seem like they “zoom in” on sounds, but this is simply due to such microphones just attenuating all the sounds outside that narrow cone.

Parabolics are also interesting because the frequency response is directly tied to the size of the dish. For most song birds, this is fine. Besides, making and transporting a 17-meter-wide dish just to get a 20Hz-20kHz frequency response just seems silly. At that point, you’re practically into SETI territory! :-)

I got the chance to use one at the Nature Sounds Society Field Workshop. The unit you see in the photo above was the one used by the founder of the NSS, Paul Matzner, so I was holding a bit of history: Hand-made of fiberglass and aluminum, the NSS archives have lots of photos with Matzner holding this thing. Had I looked at the archives before heading into the field, I’d have gotten a way better handling technique. Holding it by its edges introduced horrendous amounts of handling noise.

Today’s sound is from this unit, recorded at 5:01am at Yuba Pass, off California Route 49. As far as I can tell, this is a chestnut-backed chickadee. You can tell, even in this recording, he’s got a lot of pals around (woodpeckers and sparrows at least).


[DPA 4006 omni microphone in custom 1m parabolic dish into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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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…


[Sennheiser MKH 50 and MKH 30 recorded as mid-side pair into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Field Workshop Notes, Part 1: Video Diary

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording, news, video/motion

[Sound Design] Field Recording Workshop 2010 from Noise Jockey on Vimeo.

I’m just back from the 26th Annual Nature Sounds Society Field Workshop. I thought that I’d share some video diary entries that I shot with my new iPhone 4. As far as I know, this is the first time that video of this workshop has ever been seen online.

I’ll be sharing more of the learnings, experiences, and recordings in the coming weeks. For now, I hope you enjoy this set of dispatches from the field.

[You can read about the gear I took with me in a previous post.]

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Hyperhopper

Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, sound design

Sunshine on his shoulder makes him jumpy...

No sound designer can resist sound-making objects, so I did some recent damage at ThinkGeek for some small, inexpensive musical items…but then I noticed the robots.

Sadly,  buying a spendy mechanical robot arm just to record servo sounds seemed like a horrible investment. I learned this lesson last year. ;-)

However, I did get a tiny solar-powered grasshopper kit. An offset actuator in its abdomen makes the whole thing vibrate on tiny wire legs when it’s solar-cell carapace is hit with sunlight or a strong halogen source.

Of course, that would sound tiny and delicate. Which is OK. But how to make that sound bigger? Well, you put it on something that will resonate: Something with air around it that will conduct vibrations easily. (I’ve had loud, racous luck with this before.)

Being a hot, sunny Sunday, I chose the top of my closed Weber grill. I tested the sound with contact mics, but the steel was too thick. Truly, and unusually, where my ears were – close to the top of the grill – was where the best sound was. I switched to a hypercardioid mic in a windscreen, and captured today’s sound.

To accentuate the lovely low-mid resonant tones, I applied a huge -24dB cut at 5.5kHz , where the metallic feet where vibrating against the grill (I still wanted a tiny hint of chatter  in there), tand a +9dB boost at 180Hz. Could make for a nice layer with some other design elements.


[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Mutant Starling

Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording, sound design

European Starling, hero mutterer and goer-on-forever.

[Photo by donjd2 (CC)]

The European Starling is a common bird that yammers like a manic street preacher. They have a really varied voice, quite expressive for standard birdsong.

I recorded one in my backyard and found that the frequency content really held up well under creative processing (unlike the raspy, high-mid-peaked calls of crows). Today’s sample is a continuous utterance from a starling that’s been pitched down 800 cents and run through the GRM Tools PitchAccum filter, which I just adore for thickening sounds in unusual ways.

For me, it’s evocative of an exotic or alien ecosystem, especially with those other weird R2-D2-like tones in the background…but, again, the vast majority of those tones are being made by a single Starling.


[Sennheiser MKH 50 into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Of Noise and Crows

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, nature recording
Crows

Recording crows...it's murder, I tell ya.

Thanks to SocialSoundDesign.com, I’ve discovered the joys of iZotope RX, an amazing noise reduction tool that has made real one of my hopes: To capture reasonably clean sounds in my own back yard. I live pretty close to a major highway, so getting usable recordings has been impossible up until recently.

A neighbor’s willow tree harbors a very chatty and schizophrenic-sounding European Starling. While recording some of its yammering, a crow flew in, circled over me three or four times not more than 20 feet overhead, and then left, as if to warn me that I was too close to the community tree in Birdsville. I tracked him with my mic as he flew. Well, after that, I packed it in. It wasn’t going to get better than that.

The sounds of the background are still there, of course, but much less prominently than they were. The crow was close enough and I tracked accurately enough that while there’s a volume dropoff, there’s not a lot of apparent Dopplering. The caws are fairly shrill, so don’t turn this up too loud. (Note: From a sound design standpoint, pitch shifting crow vocalizations down doesn’t sound that interesting. They sound like asthmatic dogs coughing up a cat’s hairball, and not in a good way.)


[Sennheiser MKH 50/30 mid-side stereo pair with into Sound Devices 702 recorder]

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Stupid Lav Tricks: A Robotic Primer

Posted: May 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: found sound objects, gear
Roomba

To paraphrase Ned Flanders, "That set my beatbox all the way up to Roomba!"

Lavalier microphones (“lavs”) are used with wireless transmitters and receivers all the time in the world of film and video production because, well, actors move. Sometimes it’s the best way to mic someone if you can’t keep up with their movement or a boom can’t get close enough, as with a wide shot. They’re not usually the first choice for miking talent, but they’re a common one and a good tool for certain conditions.

Wireless lavs are also handy in sound design for the same reason: Some things move. When they move, you need to pan your mic with it, or accept off-axis sound falloff, or be trying to get a Doppler effect. If you want your mic point-of-view to stay on something moving, and a cable’s going to get in the way, then a wireless mic system is just the ticket.

But, as with everything, there are some caveats.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Project MoMA: West Coast

Posted: May 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording

[Today’s post is a cross-country collaboration of field recordists, myself  (Mr. Noise Jockey) and Michael Raphael of Sepulchra.com. We’re simultaneously posting recordings from our respective museums of modern art. I visited SFMOMA in San Francisco, and Michael visited the MoMA in New York City. Please read both posts to compare and contrast the recordings and our observations.]

SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was pretty dead when I got there. The bright, sunny day drove most people outside, and it was a bit early in the day. What I recorded, therefore, was as much the sound of the building as the people within it.

SFMOMA is built around a 6-story-tall cylindrical atrium. topped by a suspended interior footbridge. I recorded on each landing of each floor, all the way up to the bridge. I also recorded in a few galleries with varying amounts of people in them. The reverb was astounding, with long decays and high-frequency absorption that made any sound almost a drone. With light attendance, the building channels sound in such a way as to render it calming and enveloping.

Museums tend to be genuflective, introspective places. They have a reputation as being places to whisper, hold your chin and nod as you look upon the works. With this in mind, I found that SFMOMA’s art galleries and its public spaces have related but different acoustic properties.

Read the rest of this entry »

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