Location Melbourne Docklands Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Tripod Mount and R09 handheld
What do you do when the army decides to spend hours flying around the city chasing each other in helicopters? Set up your equipment of course! The Australian Defence Force had announced recently that there would be various military training exercises occurring over Melbourne in the near future. The first of these took place today and consisted of what appeared to be two Squirrel Class helicopters being pursued by up to four Blackhawk helicopters over the Melbourne city area. A lot of the time the helicopters where flying without running lights on in what I assume was a tactic to approach each other unnoticed. I am also assuming that the air traffic over Melbourne was completely cleared for this exercise as it would have been bloody dangerous otherwise. Because of the completely unpredictable nature of their movements I thought it would be pointless to try and find a “perfect” position to record them and just set up my gear on our balcony. It was more an opportunistic session than a planned one, but I did get a few good passes, most notably when the Blackhawk’s went past in close formation. Having a large memory card in my recorders means I can just switch them on and leave them for several hours just in case something good happens. This was the best approach as the helicopters would often fly off for quite sometime before returning.
Location Avalon Airport Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array and R09 handheld
Well today was something I had been planning for and looking forward to for sometime. The reality on the day was a series of annoyances and frustration. Perhaps the best thing I learnt was that some days are just going to suck. With any large event such as an air show I make sure I do plenty of preparation, checking all my gear recharging batteries, packing spares, clearing memory cards. This is stuff I do regularly anyway, but when it’s an unusual event I make sure I go through it all carefully. I even packed two cameras to help with the new video journals I am trying to add. Its just part of trying to be professional, check your gear, make sure you don’t forget anything and avoid dumb mistakes. Its never perfect but it helps. Anyway I had everything sorted and ready, and I drove out to Avalon with my special parking pass and media access stuff, I even had time to go around and take still shots of all the major planes I was planning to record during the day. Then the flying demonstrations started and everything fell to pieces.
Last time I had been to Avalon there was a fair bit of canned music through PA speakers, it was fairly annoying and got in the way of some of the recordings. I managed to position myself to be away from most of it. This year the geniuses involved obviously thought that no human being can possibly cope with watching an event as boring as supersonic jet fighters pulling death defying stunts without really loud, crap rock music and annoying commentary every single second. I had even gone to the trouble of contacting the organisers before hand and pointing out that media sound crews could not do their jobs properly with music playing and that it would be really nice if they could go without it on the media days and save it for the public access days. They obviously interpreted this as “turn it up please” The music and verbal dribbling was present almost everywhere, and I was very close to saying screw you and leaving. I did not however as I was determined to grab something from the day.
USAF B1 Bomber
From a learning point of view today was pretty useful I think, although at the time it was hard to think so. Earlier in the day before the flying show started I walked around to grab still shots of various planes. Because the airport was still being used for some commercial flights there were passenger planes landing every half hour or so. I found myself torn between rushing off and recording these and taking photos, and then a helicopter came in and my immediate thought was to rush off and record it. Seeing as the airport was laid out over about a kilometre strip with planes parked all along, this could very easily have lead to me spending the entire day running back and forth, missing everything and achieving nothing but exhausting myself. That would have been a total waste of a day. I knew that the fighter staging ground was up one end of the runway and that most planes would taxi out to the runway and start their take-off from there. This spot also happened to be fairly free of PA speakers, so I decided to stake out a spot and camp there for the day.
I did manage to get a good sample of a 747 Jumbo idling, and taxiing out to the runway and finally taking off, as well as a couple of other clean samples of planes. The problem with my position was that every time a plane was up, there would be another waiting to come onto the runway, and an idling plane tend to be fairly loud, especially fighter jets. So a lot of my material was contaminated by other sounds. It seemed no matter where I positioned myself for the day I was not going to get nice clean material.
As far as recording was concerned I needed to be very aware of the extremes of sounds I was exposed to. The planes when idling are fairly constant and quite audible without being too loud, but when a fighter takes off or does an extreme manoeuvre while flying the volume level is very extreme. Not only do you need to be very careful with your hearing, but it creates a big challenge for recording. At all times I had the R09 recording on its absolute lowest input level, and a lot of the material captured there is very good. The Sennheiser in some ways is far too directional and sensitive to be pointing at the business end of a jet engine during take-off, and while I got lots of material I also got a lot of distortion even with very low input levels. This was mitigated somewhat by having different levels set on the left and right channels. But sometimes the shear power of the sound waves coming from something like a jet engine is just too much. The problem with moving further away is that then you risk picking up other sounds in between. And frankly one of the fighters was still extremely loud even when it shot above the clouds, so it’s a tricky balance to work with.
USMC F16 Fighting Falcon
Some useful things to remember at an event with lots of noisy vehicles. -Remember planes travel so fast you don’t want to track the plane with a directional mic, you want to be aiming just behind it, because that’s where the sound is coming from. -I would always recommend having at least two devices for a day like this. Set one on very low input levels and use it as a backup for extreme sound levels. -Make a rough plan, but be prepared to be flexible, don’t however try and be everywhere at once, that will just get you tired and frustrated. -Don’t plan to sample everything, concentrate on getting what you can, and try not to be disappointed on what you might have missed out on. -WEAR SUNSCREEN! Yeah I got badly burnt because it was very cloudy in the morning, but it cleared, and airports have very little shade for obvious reasons. I had sunscreen in the car, but it was a fair hike back to the car park. My bad, and I’m suffering for it. I should probably buy a hat, but I look like a total noob in a hat. -It is worth checking your gear and having a routine for each time you go out. Of all the issues I had at Avalon, non of them were gear related, everything did what it was supposed to, and did it pretty well.
Location Queenscliff Victoria Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array and Roland R09 Handheld
We got up early today to drive down to Queenscliff to record some old trains. The Bellarine Peninsula railway is a short tourist railway that is pretty much run by volunteers. They spend their time restoring old engines and carriages and then on weekends they run the trains for the public. Today was a special “Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine” day and so there were going to be lots of people but also a good assortment of vehicles. By getting down there early we could get some material before all the generals public showed up. Anna has started helping me sometimes by taking notes and pictures of things as I record them, I have also been getting her to hold the R09 as a general backup recorder and this has all been really helpful as it means I can race around with the main gear and know that I still have photos being taken and important info being noted down. This makes documenting everything so much easier, and its also a lot more fun having Anna around.
1951 X Class Diesel Engine
The people at the railway were incredibly friendly and helpful and I got access to the trains in ways I wasn’t even hoping for. We both got to ride in the cabin in an old diesel engine as well as a little steam engine, and I was able to get down really close to the underside of the engines as they were running to capture some excellent material. Everyone was aware of safety and being really careful, but we didn’t have the litigation paranoia that seems to be coming the standard everywhere that prevents most people from doing their jobs properly.
1971 Bristol Double Decker Bus
The collection at Queenscliff is quite large and on the day I was able to sample several engines. Two old Diesel engines from Tasmania, (TGR X class 1950 and a VA1950) one from South Australia and a small steam engine that was used in a quarry in the Geelong area. The diesel engines all had very different and distinctive sounds and even different locations on the same engine provided me with very different results. At one stage the X class was idling in a siding and I walked a 360 degree circle around it while recording. The sound changed dramatically as I walked around the engine. This showed me just how complex sound can be when a single vehicle can produce a considerable number of different sounds just depending on where you are standing in relation to it.
Steam Engines Shunting
I also discovered another benefit to keeping fit and running about 10km every week, as I spent a good 30 minutes running along side some of the engines as they were manoeuvring in the shunting yards. This allowed me to capture longer samples of the engines as they were operating rather than just a “passing” sound as I stood still. There is a bit of a trick to running smoothly so I don’t alter the mics position too much, and I am very thankful for the excellent shock mount that I am currently using as it removes any vibrations as I move. I wouldn’t be able to do this with a quiet sound source as my footsteps would be too audible, but when you are running along side a giant diesel electric driven engine that’s not too much of an issue.
It was quite a warm day, but plenty of sunscreen and a lunch break with awesome chocolate pancakes and plenty to drink made the work easier. Riding in the cabins of the engines was great fun, and the area down at Queenscliff is really beautiful. so in all it was a good way to spend a Sunday as well as being great for recording. The tripod didn't get used today as everything was just far too active for any static microphones.
Location Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, Victoria Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array and Roland R09 Handheld
Time for a road trip! There have been quite a few sounds I have had on the list for a while that I have wanted to collect and a few sounds that would be useful for the Australian sound exhibit I am playing with. A trip to Ballarat and Sovereign Hill was something I’d wanted to do for a while. I knew they had horse drawn carriages and some mining machinery there as well as other sounds that would be worth grabbing. When we arrived it seemed far quieter than I remembered. (Yeah ok so it’s probably been over 10 years since I’d been there but still.), apart from LOTS of people including noisy children, initially there didn’t seem to be too much going on.I remembered they had giant noisy rock crushing machines and all sorts of stuff that didn’t seem to be operating. Anyway we started to have a look around and check out the different areas. Anna had never been to Sovereign Hill so she was enjoying doing stuff like panning for gold and generally wandering around.
Sovereign Hill Metal Turning
We did find a few period machines running and had a chat to an old guy that worked there, he told us that the crushing machines would soon be starting up and that there was a display with guys firing old muskets, so the day was starting to look up and get noisier.
We went for a ride on the stagecoach and I got to sit up front where I could record both the horses and the wagon moving, then we went across and got to record a whole series of period steam engines and the crushers. The different machine had an awesome selection of different operating sounds and I recorded a heap of material. The more we explored the more interesting sounds I discovered. In fact this has been one of the most useful and varied recording days I’ve had in a long time. 5 hours of walking around was well worth it for all the material it provided.
Horse Drawn Wagon
One thing that was noteworthy for today is a technical issue that I had to deal with. I had a problem a few weeks back when the main cable from the mic to the F4 started to play up and cut out. I did get it repaired a couple of weeks ago (supposedly) but it started to play up again a few days ago. I rang my usual suppler before we headed out today to try and get a replacement to find they were shut for the Christmas break. I did manage to rig something up to allow me to keep working today, but it did sacrifice the normal backup track I usually have so it wasn’t an ideal situation. I also found by the end of the day that I had almost drained all the batteries I had with me. Now while I could easily have bought some more as both my units run on normal AA batteries the point was that I had plenty more at home and should have brought them along. I also should really have a backup cable at home because if a cable is EVER going to break it will be in the middle of the night when all the shops are closed just before the alien invasion fleet arrives and you miss out on recording any of it. Obviously you can’t have two of everything unless you have a huge budget to play with, but for the obvious things that are prone to wear and tear like cables it’s a pretty good idea to be packing a spare. I think in general its going to be a good habit to make sure whenever I am going out I have an empty memory card, plenty of batteries and anything else I might need should I find myself recording so many good sounds that I am kept busy all day.
I guess the Police were chasing someone or attending a major accident nearby as the Police helicopter spent around 20 minutes circling around the docklands very close to our apartment. After about 5 minutes of this I realized they were here to stay for at least a few minutes and definitely close enough to warrant going out on the balcony with my gear.
The interesting thing about recording a flying vehicle around tall buildings is that it can often be hard to tell exactly where the vehicle is. The sounds of the helicopter reflected of the buildings a lot and often gave the impression it was coming from the opposite direction. I managed to capture a good two minutes worth of constant hovering at a distance and a couple of nice flyby samples. I would like to try and record a close up idle or hover sound sometime in the future, but I was surprised at how much material I captured tonight. I still don’t know what they were doing and I didn’t hear any other sirens in the area so if there were police ground vehicles then they were keeping quiet.
It did occur to me to run down outside and try to get closer, but one of the advantages of being on the balcony was that I was away from any traffic noise, so the advantage of getting closer to the helicopter could well have been mitigated by having traffic noise contaminate the samples. As it is I got some nice clean (if slightly distant) helicopter sounds from a model I have not yet recorded. (I’ll need to look up what model helicopter the Victorian Police use)
Today I wanted to grab the last few sounds to complete the series for the car we had been using up in Noosa. As we were driving a 5 year old Subaru Liberty I felt it was the perfect car to get a full range of sounds on. Subaru’s in general and this model in particular is a very popular car both in Australia as well as in other countries so it was a good generic modern car sound to have in the library. I am very disappointed to realize that I am not going to have time to record our neighbors old Chevy and his Harley bike. I guess I am going to have to put a Harley down on the list for a future session somewhere.
Today was the kind of recording opportunity I wish I hadn’t had. Late last night several bushfires started in the area. For anyone who does not know Australia very well, bushfires are probably the biggest threat to life and property over the summer months in Australia. They can be very serious and very dangerous. In this case they were also close enough that it only took me 10 minutes to walk to where they were being dealt with by the fire and rescue services.
I watched for nearly two hours as, initially two and then later three, helicopters water bombed the flames constantly. Even with the combined effort of the helicopters the fire front advanced over about half a kilometre in that time. The area was such that fire trucks couldn’t access it and so were waiting on a nearby road to intercept it. During this time I recorded a lot of material as the helicopters made numerous passes dumping water. The helicopters would then fly over to the river and hover and reload via a hose that dangled below the vehicle. They were able to reload and return to the fire front in under five minutes which was quite impressive.
Helicopter Water Drop
As much as I would have loved to record the flames more closely I have far too good an understanding of how bloody dangerous a fire front is, especially when it’s a hot dry day and in this case we also had a very strong wind. A single wind change in these conditions can send the fire off in a totally new direction in seconds. I waited on the road with the fire crews for the front to get closer and managed to sample a bit of the sound of the flames before they asked non fire personnel to move back.. At this stage myself and the news crews on the scene withdrew. The amount of damage caused in one morning as the fire moved through the national park areas was quite depressing, what was more depressing was that apparently it had been deliberately lit by some school kids. I wonder if I can get a recording of them being strung up by their toes!
Location Noosa Beach Equipment Roland R09 and a zip lock bag
In further tests to see how useful the R09 is for recording underwater I tried two different approaches today. We decided to go for a quick swim because it was about 30 degrees. On the way we made a brief stop at a small area with lots of rocks and I got some quick samples of digging and using a pick on the rocks. At the beach I once again wanted to try the R09 in the water. First off I put it in a heavy plastic waterproof satchel. I wasn’t sure how well sound would transfer through the heavy plastic. The pouch was well sealed and I had no problem diving with the unit and swimming through waves. No water got in. Next I tried a small zip lock sandwich bag for the sake of comparison. I think a little water may have gotten in, or it might have just been my wet hands leaving some damp on the unit, either way there was no problem with either setup.
When I got home and compared the recordings there were several notable things. In both cases I had the recording level set to absolute minimum, but even with this the levels peaked out quite often. It seems that being in surf or infact any decent wave is just too much for the unit to cope with. There wasn’t a huge amount of difference in the quality of the two recordings. The both peaked out when waves hit, then there was a sweet spot just under the water where they captured some nice wave movement, but once they got deeper both units seemed to not capture much of anything. It looks like the subtleties of deeper water currents are not being transferred through the plastic.
I will need to analyse further what bits sound useful and see if I can try and do another session to grab some usable material. This is all very much trial and error at this stage, but it is a good way of understanding the limitations of the equipment under these circumstances.
I was also lucky enough today to have our next door neighbour outside working on one of his cars. Lu owns a 1983 Mazda RX7 series 3 with a series 5 engine in it, and he was flushing out the radiator getting it ready for a hill climb race next month. Lu also owns a 1956 Chevy as well as an old BSA motorbike and a Harley. Today I got to record the RX7.
While Lu was flushing the system he had the car idling for quite some time, so I asked if he minded me recording, he said “go for it” I made sure I got as much material as possible, recording near the exhaust, under the front end, from inside and under the bonnet. The constant idle sound of a car changes dramatically depending on where you position the mic. I wish I could always have the liberty to spend this much time with every vehicle I get near. When he had the engine off I made sure I go t the door, boot, glove box and popup lights. Finally when he was finished Lu asked if I wanted to come for a drive, well of course I did! J
Cars will continue to be a challenge, because you really need to have them in a studio up on rollers so you can record a constant sample in each gear etc. But while that is not possible I will continue to gather as much material as I can. I plan on going to the hill climb competition to record Lu’s car as he races as well as, as many others as I can.
For the last two days someone over the road has been using a small earth mover to transfer a large pile of sandy dirt from out front of their house in the driveway around to the back of their house, one load at a time. For most of Thursday I studiously ignored the constant sound of this small piece of machinery trundling back and forth like some little robot. Today I decided that when I am presented with something so obvious and easy it would be awfully lazy to not walk across the road and record it. So I did.
The unit itself is so small it doesn’t even have a seat. The operator clings to the back and operates it standing up. It ran on rubber caterpillar tracks and so was fairly quiet. I recorded a few minutes of the guy running back and forth a few times. (stopping of course to ask what on earth I was doing, and then resuming contentedly when he found out I was not from the council or EPA). There was not a huge variation in sound between loaded or unloaded and even turning only produced slight variations. The sounds seem to downplay the amount of power this little thing must surely have.
Location Cooroy Queensland Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom pole array and Roland R09
1956 FJ Holden
Wow what a day!I met up with one of the gentlemen from the Noosa show today to record his old car, only to find out that in fact he owned several old cars. What I thought might be a good opportunity to record a few samples of a classic Australian car a 1955 FJ Holden became a two hour session where I recorded most of the sounds of the FJ as well as a 1965 HD and a …. As well.I also learnt lots about the old machines. Mr. Kenzler is a keen collector of old cars and passed on quite a bit of info and he was also very patient and very helpful with getting the recordings done. I have created a checklist for myself for future vehicle recordings where I can document make, model and year of the vehicle, and then work through a checklist to ensure I get a consistent sample with every vehicle. Today was pretty good, but I did forget a few elements of each vehicle. For instance I didn’t get the windscreen wipers or the hand break on the FJ, but I did on the HD. It can sometimes get a little hectic with trying to weld two recording devices, and take photos to document sound sources as well as explain what I am doing to the people who may be helping me, so I am hoping having a checklist will make the process more consistent in the future.
1957 FE Holden
I also popped down to the Noosa museum because it was only 10 km further down the road from Cooroy. I thought they might have one or two things worth recording, maybe some old machines etc. What I found was a wonderful resource of old hand operated machines, like old phones typewriters and adding machines, as well as some old mechanical engines and machines that they are prepared to start up for me. Because of the range of material there (and because my unexpected range of car sounds basically left me with flat batteries and full memory cards) I have organized to return to the museum next week and make major trip out of it. I think I am going to need to be fully prepared for this one as there is so much material to capture. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities.I will update the journal with my trip next week.