Location Mt Dandenong Equipment Zoom H4N Beta 58A and MkH60
One of the things I love about my wife is, that not only does she tolerate me wandering around recording everything I can get my hands on, she actively encourages it. This weekend we stayed in a fantastic little hotel in the mountains to get away and celebrate our anniversary. We went for lots of nice walks in the forest and had some fantastic food at some of the really excellent restaurants in the area. But I also captured some good sounds because Anna insisted in saying hello to some dogs and making them play and bark, and we also found a few water birds in Emerald Lake. Anna even went to the café to ask for some old bread to feed the birds with in the hope it would make then noisy.
I learnt something, which on reflection should have been really obvious. Assuming you can actually get close enough to the animal in question a vocal microphone such as the Beta 58A is far better for recording animal sounds that the shotgun mic I use. Considering that many animals have similar vocal qualities in their calls to humans it should be very obvious that a microphone designed to record human vocals would be good for animals, but it was only after listening back to my captures that it really dawned on me. In Olinda I managed to record two dogs in someone’s front yard, a female Dalmatian and a male miniature Poodle. Anna would distract one of them from barking by throwing a stick for it so I could record the other and then we would swap. The dogs had a ball and I captured some really excellent clean recordings using the Beta 58A right up close like I was interviewing the dogs.
By comparison on Sunday I was using the MKH60 shotgun and we came across a beagle. Another really friendly dog, but she would bark every time you walked away from her. This allowed me to record plenty of material, but the shotgun was so sensitive that it picked up a lot of wind noise from the trees and other sounds.
I had decided to use the shotgun to capture the bird sounds around the lake as there was no way I was going to get close enough to record them with any other mic, but it really looks like I should keep the 58A in my pocket at all times as its far better for the rare occasions when I do get close. I carry my entire mic set-up in the new backpack I have in the car, but its a bit bulky to carry around everywhere when I am recording and I am also aware of the extra noise it might generate. There’s always a compromise somewhere.
Location Miteamo, Victoria Equipment Zoom H4N D112 & Beta 58A and Zoom H4 MKH60 Boom pole and tripod
I love trips to the country. It’s great to get out of Melbourne, and even better to be somewhere quiet with lots of green. About three hours north of Melbourne one of my work colleagues parents own 400 acres of farm. Anna and I got to spend a day on the farm recording all sorts of interesting things. It was the most fun I’ve had in weeks.
This farm is what I see as a typical Australian working farm. Lots of sheds, lots of space and LOTS of stuff. I love rusty bits of machinery and junk, I think the rust looks interesting, and it often produces really good sounds. The main reason we went to the farm was to record the sounds of my friends off road buggy that they made, but I decided to start the day with some of the sounds around the farm. Chopping firewood, hammering railway tracks, and generally bashing and crashing metal, wood and a ton of other junk took me a couple of hours. Each time I set up the MKH60 on the tripod close to the source, as well as the D112 on a mini tripod, and the Beta 58A usually just lying somewhere close. (I need to get another mini tripod) This gave me great coverage as I also had the H4N’s inbuilt mics working.
The mix of microphones achieves several things. Firstly it means I will usually get at least one good recording of any source as the mics are set to different input levels and all have different levels of sensitivity. The other aspect is that each mic has its own distinct sound characteristics. The D112 is great for low frequency sounds, while the built in mics capture nice crisp high frequency sounds. When I come to editing I will often blend the different mic recordings together to get a good final sound to add to the library. If a mic has too much noise or some other issue it can be dropped from the mix. I am still getting used to this process and on a couple of occasions I did place the d112 and the beta 58A too far away from the source. They both have fairly short range pick-up patterns so I need to place them carefully or I waste them.
Don't hit the microphones
My H4N received a few more battle scares today as well. I placed it too close to the logs I was cutting and one of them fell onto it and cracked the screen protector. It still functions fully, but its starting to look a little fragile and I’ll need to be more careful with it in the future. If I lose the screen its going to be mostly useless for recording. One thing I still suffer from is that when I have a lot of things to record and I am going to be moving around a lot I sometimes get lazy with mic placement and this is bad. I find myself putting the mics just generally where they need to be instead of spending the time positioning each mic to get the best result. I often feel that if I am just recording metal going crash it doesn’t matter too much if the mics are exactly right. If I am recording animals or sounds that are less common to find I am usually really careful, so I need to extend that to all things I record.
On the subject of animals, the chickens refused to do anything but quiet clucks, even when they were picked up. (damn domesticated animals :-) ). And the Cows were also stubbornly quiet. We did manage to get a nice snort or two out of a beautiful quarter horse, but I think I will need to plan another trip out here specifically with animals in mind.
Lots of noisy stuff in the shed
After a fantastic lunch we headed out to do some buggy recording only to have the buggy break after 3 minutes. My initial disappointment disappeared the instant I heard they would need to disassemble the buggy and grind and weld the parts to fix it. So instead of getting some buggy sounds I got a huge number of mechanical repair sounds. Grinders, hacksaws, arc welders and saws kept me busy all afternoon and I captured some great material. I think I could keep myself busy recording sounds on a farm for a couple of weeks, there are so many potential sound sources as well as a few challenges in capturing clean recordings of them all.
We both had a good day and it confirmed that I think I would prefer to live out in the country somewhere. I like trees, and I really prefer a quiet environment.
Location Echuca Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom Pole and R09 handheld
First thing this morning we headed back to the Echuca Port where there was a slot machine museum that had a large range of old machines that used penny coins to operate. They ranged from skill testers to fortune tellers and games of pure luck. These were the precursors to modern video games and some of them were very clever designs. Because they were all mechanical there were a good range of clunks wires and clicks to record, not to mention the sound of lots of pennies being dropped into the slots. The museum also had nice creaky floorboards so I grabbed some samples of those as well.
Antique Slot Machines
Later in the day we drove out to a horse riding ranch, and despite my previous bad experiences with horses we went for a ride and it was fantastic. I’m going to have to try it again in the future sometime. I think I’ll set myself the goal of learning to ride well enough to record the horse running while I’m on it, so I need to be able to ride one handed and carry the boom pole a little like a polo mallet. I can’t see myself achieving this any time soon, but it’s something to work towards. Now all I need is riding lessons :-) I did record some horses walking when I was on the ground, and also got a few squeaks out of the local cockatoo. Another great day, now we just have to wash off all the dust from riding.
Location Bright, Victoria Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom Pole and R09 handheld
Four days Easter break, my wife, a car and a random direction. We decided to just pick a random direction and go this Easter. I think both of us are feeling tied down being back in Melbourne doing normal office hours, so we both needed a bit of an adventure. We left Melbourne last night and drove for four hours to get to Bright which is up in Victoria’s alpine area. Today we started the day with pancakes for breakfast and then went for a walk around the town and down along the Ovens river through the gorge area. I brought my gear with me not for anything specific but just in case something interesting popped up. I recorded the river in the gorge as it had a nice gurgling sound as the water ran over some rocky areas; also the wire suspension bridge over the deep end of the gorge had a nice creaking noise so I grabbed that as well. The combination of the cables and wire mesh sides made a lot of noise when walked over. I recorded both mono and stereo samples.
Suspension Brige, Bright
Later in the day we went for a drive out of Bright, after a short drive down the road to a place called Wandiligong, we found some cows and a horse. The cows stubbornly refused to make any sound at all and the horse was more interested in eating the grass Anna was feeding it. There were some good munching and snorting sounds from him so it wasn’t too bad. Nice friendly horse as well. Later however I got some really good sheep sounds from a nearby farm where they were trying to heard them. The Farmer said they were a breed called Dorper. They were nice and noisy so I think the material from there will be good. Our entire Easter trip was just to get away from the city and enjoy doing something different, but I also ended up getting some really interesting and unexpected sounds today without even trying too hard. This is often the best way to "plan" a trip, don't plan at all, just pick a direction and see what surprises turn up.
Dorper Sheep, Bright
I also wanted to add one more sound. I have been going to Bright since I was very young and one of my favourite sounds was of a particular bird in that area. The Currawong can be found in various places in Australia, but for me it was always a sound I associated with going up and having fun holidays in the mountains. Its funny how some sounds can really effect you even years later. Anyway, this will always be one of my favourite bird calls.
Location Neerim South Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom Pole array and R09 handheld
We decided to go for a drive today with no direction in mind. We drove through a lot of the area that had been damaged by the recent bush fires and it was very sobering. Huge areas of land had been burnt and it was sad to think what people had lost in the event. It was however really positive to see how hard people were working to rebuild, and the determination after such a terrible event is a credit to the communities affected. As always I was carrying all my gear with us. I didn’t expect to be able to record much in the bush fire effected areas as even wild life would take sometime to return. As we travelled further south we left the worst effected areas and did find something worth recording.
Alpacas! Driving down a road we came across a large property with what we initially though were Lamas. We stopped the car to see if they made any sounds worth capturing and found they made all sorts of interesting sounds. We talked to the owners who were really helpful and even gave us some roses to feed to the Alpacas. One of the male Alpacas was making all sorts of noises, and the smaller ones made some cute sounds as well. I think I may have discovered the inspiration, if not the core sound material for the Tauntauns in The Empire Strikes Back. These things made some very similar noises. They are really friendly animals and the wool from then is the softest material I think I have ever felt.
The owners originally got them to keep the grass under control on their property as Alpacas need very little maintenance, but then they decided to start using the wool. They very politely explained all sorts of things about Alpacas while I recorded them eating, snorting and grumbling. This was one of the best animal recordings I have done for a long time.
Location Yandina Queensland Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array I finally managed to get myself out of bed early enough to record some of the early morning bird sounds around the Noosa area. I am terrible at waking up early and even when I have a really good reason to do so I find it hard. Today I was up at 4.30am and headed out to walk around the local area. As I had observed before many of the birds in Noosa seem to live around the residential areas rather than in the national park. I suspect it’s because the trees in peoples gardens might be more desirable to them, and also the possibility of food being available where people are living. Either way it had been difficult to record the many birds during the day as people and cars usually contaminated the recordings. 4.30am gave me far fewer people to compete with. I started out just walking around the residential streets of Noosa Heads. There were quite a few Brush Turkeys wandering around. The turkeys don’t really have any bird calls, but they do produce a low grunting sound when they run around. They often fight amongst themselves so it was easy to capture some of the sounds as they wandered the streets. I also got some nice clean recordings of a family of magpies. The adults were making the typical magpie calls while the young were making their usual pleading squawk when they want to be fed. While magpies are certainly not limited to Noosa this was the first chance I had had to get a clean recording the usual urban habitats that I see them in are far too noisy.
Closer to the waterfront I saw what I initially thought were Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, but I found out later they were Corellas. There were quite a few of them up in a large tree and I recorded a fair bit of material. A lot of it is mixed with Lorikeets as well, but I still got some good samples. I managed to get some other bird sounds that I have yet to identify, but I unfortunately missed out on recording the green catbirds that are in the area. They produce a sound that is a lot like a human baby crying. I did hear one way off in the brush, but I had no way to get closer and it was too far off to be worth recording. That one can go on the wish list for later. Overall it was an excellent mornings recording and well worth the pain of having to get up early. Anyway after I got back we went to the Market and I had Dutch pancakes for breakfast so that was good too.
Today was not about recording new sounds, but about identifying previously recorded ones. I rode my pushbike down to the Environment Centre in Noosa to meet some people from the Noosa Parks Association Bird Observers group who very kindly offered to help me identify some of the birds I have been recording. We spent about an hour going through most of my recorded bird sounds as the members sat around listening and trying to identify what bird they were listening to. We didn’t manage to work out what all of them were, but many of them now have correct labels which I feel much better about. I really want to have as accurate a labeling system as possible. Getting the Japanese birds identified is going to be a little tricky I think.
Location Yandina Queensland Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array Today was a simple trip out to a botanic garden and plant Nursery at Yandina about a half hour drive away. I packed both recording rigs just for the sake of always having it rather than because I was expecting there to be much to record. I am well glad that I did because the bird life in the area was staggering and I have since found out there is a bird watchers club that meetsat the garden once a month because of how interesting the range of bird life is. I was also given a sheet listing all the different types of bird life in the area which is going to be really useful as a checklist as I go through and record them all. I spent about 30 minutes wandering around the park and nursery recording a large range of bird calls from various species. I have no idea what most of them are, but I plan on contacting one of the bird clubs to see if someone can help me identify them all.
I have found that often the smallest birds have the loudest and most exotic sounding calls, and apart from noisy kids in the background it was quite easy to record a lot of material.
Kookaburras however are proving to be an ongoing challenge. I have observed that they seem to call most often just after they have relocated to a new tree, so a bunch of them will fly in, land, make a lot of noise and then sit there silently. This of course means that by the time I have located where they are and got to them they are very unlikely to make any more noise until they fly off somewhere else. No wonder they are always bloody laughing. I think I am going to have to be fairly lucky to get a good sample of a kookaburra call.
We decided to go for a walk further into the national park area nearby. I took my gear just in case, but as I have noted above there really seems to be far more birdlife in the suburban areas than deep in the national forest. I did manage to record a few birds, but ti was not until we came out near the beach at the car parking area and picnic grounds than we found lots of birds, and naturally lots of people, cars, surf noise etc etc. I think I will need to go for a wander around the Noosa suburban area sticking to some of the quieter streets to try and get some of the bird life in the area.
I have sorted through a lot of the material that I have recorded over the last month or so. It is the first opportunity I have had to do so since returning to Australia. There has been a lot of new material catalogued and added to the library. This is the first specific trip out to get some new raw material. The national park is only a few minutes walk away from where we are staying so I naturally thought this would be a good source for bird and animal sounds. It appears I am wrong on that count. For some reason there seem to be far more birds living right in the heart of the populated areas. I am not sure if the types of trees are more suitable or if the birds have better access to food from people, either way the more remote an area I find, the less birds there seem to be. This is somewhat frustrating as it means all the best bird sounds will be mixed in with traffic, people and general background noise.
I did get some material today. A few good insect sounds and a couple of very clear bird calls, so I would still call the day a success. I also managed to sample some good rock sounds from a small land area that was used to pile up several different grades of rock and stone.