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

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]

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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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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]

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Gas Lantern

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, sound design
This rare Mt. Hermon June Beetle kept trying to mate with our propane gas lantern. Randy fellow!

This rare Mt. Hermon June Beetle kept trying to mate with our propane gas lantern. Randy fellow!

(I’m on a bit of an nature recording roll since my last post about recording rutting Tule Elk…)

As much as I love backpacking, car camping can be pretty cushy. You can bring as many “luxury items” as you want. One such item is a propane-powered gas lantern. It’s such a staple of camping that I never thought to record it until a recent trip, when the forest went almost dead silent one morning. With the significant other still asleep in the tent, out came the battered Zoom H2.

This recording has just a couple of distant bird calls, but otherwise turned out pretty clean. It’s a simple hissy drone, but as a layer for other sound design purposes, I’m sure I’ll find a use for it someday (like shortening a piece of it for wind effects from airlocks, sci-fi helmets, or the like).

Gas Lantern by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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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?Â

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

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Posted: September 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording
Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

Note to self: Don't melt microphone.

There is something so primal about fire. Everyone I know considers just sitting and watching/listening to a campfire burn is better than television, and can be done for hours, pleasurably, in silence.

Of course, when I get excited, ideas like physics kind of go out the window, like the whole heat-rising thing…nothing got damaged, but in retrospect a lower position would have allowed the recorder to get closer. I am sure the makers of the Zoom H2 didn’t intend to have its plastic case survive high temperatures.

I recorded the sound of my campfire while backpacking California’s Sierra National Forest and the John Muir Wilderness on a nice, still evening. This particular campfire had a log that made some, uh, gassy emissions, and sounded very much like a milk foamer on an espresso machine. You’ll hear it about halfway through the clip.

Campfire by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Request: Recording Opportunities on New Zealand’s South Island?

Posted: September 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, news

I’m bound for the South Island of New Zealand this winter (or, their summer). I’m traveling with the Significant Other, so all I can really bring with me for sound gear is the ol’ Zoom H2 (now with its spiffy new wind-busting afro!). However, the question remains: What are the killer recording opportunities there?

I’ll be exploring the entire nothern coast from Abel Tasman to Akaroa, driving through Otago, and spending many days in the alps, ranging from Doubtful Sound up to to Arthur’s Pass. We’ll be there for three solid weeks.

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears! Feel free to offer ideas and suggestions in the comments on this post, via Twitter, or at nathan [at] noisejockey [dot] net.

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Posted: August 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, found sound objects, sound design
I'm pretty sure this paddleboat was not intended for wilderness exploration.

I'm pretty sure this paddleboat was not intended for wilderness exploration.

Before embarking on mountainous backpacking trips, I like to acclimate to the altitude for a day with some light activity. On a recent, trip, my girlfriend and I wanted to do some lake kayaking. Sadly, the sole outfitter in the region didn’t bring their kayaks that season…when offered a paddleboat instead, we shrugged, thought it was incredibly silly, and said, “Sure!”

The next thing we knew, we were out for four hours in this damn thing. We paddled halfway across an alpine lake, and fought 10-knot wind on the return trip in a craft with the hydrodynamics of a brick. The only way we survived was to sustain ourselves by playing Ghost and Twenty Questions like we were eight years old. From those plastic bucket seats, my ass was complaining for days afterwards.

It was a silly, weird, and fun…and oddly mechanical-sounding. There was this constant thrumming that sounded really regular and sustained for a muscle-powered vehicle. Early in the day there was no wind or chop, so I managed to get several minutes’ worth of clean recordings from this thing. It could easily be processed just a little and recontextualized as a mechanical texture for some device or ambience.

I almost didn’t bring my Zoom H2 on this trip, but I’m sure glad I did. I’ll have more examples from this trip in future posts. (Technical note: Dropping six rechargeable batteries at once into a cold mountain stream does not improve battery life.)

Oh, and photos from my trip can be viewed online if you’d like.

Paddleboat by noisejockey
[Zoom H2 recorder, 120°-spread rear stereo pair]

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Music of the Garinagu

Posted: July 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, music
These dudes could rock. Can you spot the Zoom H2?

These dudes could rock. Can you spot the Zoom H2?

[Update: Managed to find my photo of the drummers on this track!]

Belize has a really unique history as a Central American nation. First, it’s national language is English, not Spanish, but everyone there speaks a locale Creole that makes it sonically feel a lot more like Jamaica. Second, one of its most colorful ethnic groups is the Garinagu, who were a native people who lived in the region at the time of the slave trade (it was called British Honduras at the time), who sacked the slave traders and intermarried with their “cargo.” The Garinagu’s African roots run deep, so much so that drums are their icon and totem.

We had Garinagu guides when we visited Belize, and they were nice enough to have a night of song and dance on the beach. Once again, toting along the ol’ Zoom H2 allowed me to record part of the evening’s festivities. The sound is all surf (though it sounds like white noise), sand, drums, voices, sweat, and beer. The singers were dancing around a bonfire, hence the odd stereo panning; the recorder was about 8′ behind the drummers. Truly a night to remember.

[Zoom H2, 120°-spread rear mic pair]

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Caribbean Creaking

Posted: July 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording
Sunset at Glover's Reef, Belize

Sunset at Glover's Reef, Belize.

I stayed at Glover’s Reef for a week last winter, an atoll 30 miles off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean. There was nothing out there but a small mesa of ancient coral, surrounded by 2 kilometers of deep sea, and a few of us kayaking and chilling out on an atoll barely a mile across. No lights from urban areas, not even any airplane flights overhead (that I could remember). It was the furthest linear distance from civilization that I’ve ever been. It was phenomenal.

Nighttime was just as cool as the daytime. Bioluminescent worms zipped through the water at night, and there was no sound but the waves against the reef’s edge.

Well…not quite. We were in heavy tarp tents (seen in the photo above), stretched over galvanized metal pipes, probably decades old. The winds hit us from unbroken western horizon, so the tents constantly groaned and creaked all night long. The metal frame had a “ping-yness” that one doesn’t usually hear in similar wooden creaks and groans.

Here’s a short sample.

[Zoom H2, 90°-spread front mics]

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