Well even a trip to visit my Mother can be a source of samples, especially when my brother left a lot of his instruments at her house when he moved to London many years ago. I closeted myself in the hallway with all the doors closed and worked my way through a somewhat eclectic collection of noise makers. My mother inherited a few beautiful Tibetan bells from my brother and I think she liked the sound so much she has expanded on the original two and now has about a dozen bells of different shapes, sizes and origins. Included in this is a set of ships bells mounted on a hanging rack. I also recorded a couple of gongs (or more accurately tam tams) that were in storage. All in all a good hours work, oh and dinner was very nice as well.
Today I went to visit my Taiko teacher from before I went to Japan. Toshi Sakamoto has lived in Melbourne for a long time and is a fantastic guy, he also teaches Taiko drums about 4 times a week to dozens of students. I played with Toshi’s group for several years before I went to Japan. I have loved Japanese Taiko drums for ages and it was lots of fun to learn how to play them. I was lucky enough to play them for a while when I was living in Japan. Currently I just don’t have the time sadly.
I had asked Toshi if he would allow me to record the drums and he kindly said yes, he actually went on step better and played them all for me, this meant I got much better sounds than if I had played them myself. Taiko come in various different sizes, from the Shime which is the smallest, through to the Taiko drums which are the medium barrel or drum shaped ones, right up to the huge O Daiko which literally means “big drum” The have an amazing sound and a good live performance of Taiko has an incredible amount of energy and usually fantastic rhythm. Hopefully one day I will have the time to go back to playing Taiko, I have always found its really good for my rhythmic writing of music.
Location Melbourne CBD Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array and Roland R09 Handheld
There were a few specific sounds I had wanted to record in the short busy time that we would be in Melbourne. One of those was the bells at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne’s CBD. I contacted the Cathedral office and they put me in touch with the captain of the bell ringing group, who invited me to come along to one of their rehearsals.
What I initially thought would be an opportunity to get some basic bell sounds from the area in which they pull the bell cords proved to be a much more exciting and fruitful trip.
St Paul's Cathedral
Upon arriving I was shown the setup and then allowed to carefully climb right up to the actual belfry. This was not only incredibly spectacular, but also somewhat daunting. I was a long way up, and the bells were very large and VERY loud. I needed to have hearing protection on to be able to tolerate being so close while they were ringing. I set up my recording gear a level below because even on the lowest input settings the shear amount of sound energy produced by these bells was overloading the equipment if it got any closer. The largest bell at St. Paul’s weighs approximately 1500 kilograms and has a stunning sound when it rings. I recorded with both of my portable devices to try and gather as much material as possible. I think in total I captured nearly an hour of material which I will need to go through. This was a great experience and completely exceeded my expectations for the day.
I have previously recorded the local temple bell being rung in town on the handheld Roland R09, but I wanted to get another recording with the Sennheiser on the F4. Using the shotgun mic means I will get more detail in the sound, but it also increases the amount of external sounds I might get as it is much more sensitive. The recording was nice and clear, but I think I underestimated just how powerful the bell would be, with hindsight I guess a bell the size of a human being should be expected to have a pretty high output. I will go through the material and see what can be used but I am expecting to have to make one final trip to the temple to get the full range of sound the bell can produce.
Location Aomori Japan Equipment Edirol R09 Handheld
This is the first recording I made in Japan long before I started the organized journal entries. Thanks to my digital camera logging information like date and time I can add this entry under the correct date from the photos I took on the day.
Nebuta is one of the biggest annual festivals in Japan. It is held in August each year in Aomori City which is the capitol of the Amori Prefecture. People in Aomori spend weeks practicing for the festival and building beautiful floats out of paper in the lead up to the festival each year. They have to build new floats for each festival because the end of the festival involves setting all the floats out to sea where they set them on fire. This is a beautiful and tragic event as it is sad to see such amazing constructions destroyed each time. The4 festival runs for several days and has a gigantic street parade at night. There are over 2 million people who attend Nebuta every year.
I had not been in Japan for very long when my girlfriend (now wife) suggested we go along. I was still a little culture shocked from the huge difference between Australia and Japan, and I was actually reluctant to go along to things like this as I felt uncomfortable with there being so many people. To her credit Anna did convince me to go and I am so happy she did as it was truly amazing. We dressed up in the traditional yukata costumes and participated in the parade itself. Cheering and chanting and jumping up and down, there was so much energy it was incredible. Each person in the parade had dozens of little bells attached to their costumes to add to the noise, as we proceeded around the town we would detach the bells and throw them to people in the audience who were very keen to catch them as they were seen as very lucky.
The music itself consisted of a fairly basic drum and flute pattern and some chanting, but when that simple drum pattern is played by literally dozens of drums on giant trailers the result is incredible. The floats themselves had lights inside them to make them glow and they were carried by teams of people who made them charge and sway back and forth. Japan is full of festivals especially in Spring and summer, by comparison Nebuta is quite a late festival coming at the end of summer.