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 Portland Victoria Equipment Zoom H4 Zoom H4N MKH60 Tripod Mount
A long weekend is a nice break from work, but when it’s raining most of the time it does make it a little less fun. It’s still good to get out of Melbourne though. We hired a car and headed down the Great Ocean Road in Victoria's south west for a few days. There is some great scenery in the area and it was a nice way to relax. I usually carry all my gear even if I don’t have anything specific to record. I did keep an eye out for a good example of an Australia windmill (technically a wind pump) but its seemed that any that were close to the road were not moving. I didn’t really want to go wandering across someone’s property to record one, and I think I need one that doesn’t work properly anyway. I did get nice and close to one once but it was almost completely silent. I need to find a nice old rusty one that’s going to rattle and clank for me.
On Sunday we found ourselves in Portland which is one of the western most towns along Victoria’s coast and apparently the first town in Victoria established in 1839. Portland used to have a cable tram network, the cables are gone and I suspect the tracks that still exist are not the original route, but there is still a diesel operated tram for tourists. The engine car sounds pretty much like a small truck, but it was quiet enough to allow me to stand at the back of the passenger car and record the wheels on the track. I was very happy that I was able to record the tram without the motor being audible as this is pretty much how the original tram would have sounded. The cable pulley would have made some noise, but generally the tram would have only made the sound of its movement on the tracks. I’d love to record a working cable pulley system, but I suspect I might have to travel to San Francisco one day to achieve that. I don’t know how many other functioning cable cars there still are in the world.
I didn’t have my boom pole with me so I needed to use the tripod as a pole. It was not a bad substitute, but the tripod is much heavier than the boom pole and so it was more tiring to hold it off the back of the tram for half an hour. I had a minor issue with the H4 so quickly switched across to the H4N. I’m not sure if the H4 has a more serious issue as I have not been able to test it properly yet, It was switching between indicating full batteries and then wanting to switch off because of lack of power. I am hoping the rain hasn’t shorted the unit out. It only got slightly wet, but there might be a problem with it. I will test it sometime this week. I’m glad I took the H4n on the tram because it gave me an alternative.
Being a tourist tram there were lots of people on board and they were as noisy as most tourists. The advantage of a 60 minute round trip is that it gave me a lot of time to capture footage so I hope there is enough material without noisy tourists in the background. Funnily enough the children were all pretty quiet, it was the adults in this case that were noisy. I did have the microphone positioned almost underneath the tram for most of the journey so it should provide some clean samples. I also made sure to capture the sound of the brakes squeaking and the bell ringing.
The things I do
Lastly on Monday I recorded the engine bay of the Toyota Camry we had hired for the weekend. I didn’t want to do a full recording of this car at this stage. I just wanted to capture the engine bay sound so I can compare it to the Hyundai I recorded a few weeks back. I can record a Camry at any time if I decide it's worth it. I did a few more tests with the hydrophone down at the beach on the weekend, but I am still seeing what it is capable of before I do some serious recordings.
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 Bendigo Equipment Zoom F4 and R09 handheld
We arrived in Bendigo coincidentally on the same night as the Bendigo Parade which is the longest running parade in Australia. This year is the 149th parade. After we had dinner at a nice café we walked along the parade route as the parade went by. There were lots of fire fighting units on parade to say thanks for the excellent job they had done fighting the recent bush fires. I only took the R09 with me as I didn’t want to lug all my equipment to the café. I captured lots of sirens and people clapping as well as a few bands, specifically 2 different bagpipe bands. I don't know why but I’ve always loved the sound of a pipe and drum band, I think a lot of people hate the sound, but I really dig it, the sound of massed pipes playing Scotland the brave will simultaneously have me feeling 10 feet tall and crying like a baby, and no, I'm not Scottish, so go figure? I also recorded the fireworks after the parade. A lot of these types of sounds I have already, but you never know when more might be useful, or what might turn up while you are recording.
Location Echuca Equipment Zoom F4 Sennheiser MKH 60 Boom Pole and R09 handheld
Last night we stayed in Wangaratta and then headed towards Echuca through the Rutherglen winery region. We stopped off at a winery and bought a really nice bottle of muscatel. None of the wineries in this area had tours of their facilities. I might have to track down a big winery sometime and get some recordings of the production machinery. The weather today was gorgeous and sunny; in fact we both had to make sure we had sunscreen on so we wouldn’t get burnt. I have become really cautious since I got badly burnt at the Avalon Air show last month.
As we were driving we came across a farm where they were burning off. This is very common in Australia as farmers want to keep their land clear of dried grass and leaves as this can become dangerous fuel for bush fires. It seemed a strange day to be burning off as it was pretty warm and quite windy. I thought there might be the risk of the fires spreading. I stood about 15 meters away from a large pile of branches that were being burnt. This was about the size of a small bonfire and I was amazed at how much heat was coming from it. A bonfire might be a nice thing on a cold winter night, but on a hot windy day it felt uncomfortable. It also gave me a small insight into how dangerous a big bushfire would be as this fire had flames about a meter high, whereas the bush fires in February had flames over ten meters high. I still have no idea how people fight fires of that scale. Even with the heat being produced the sound itself didn’t carry very well. I could hear the fire crackling, but the distance just seemed to be too much to get a strong signal to the mic. I didn’t want to jump over the fence so I’ll just have to wait for another opportunity to grab some more fire samples. Next we drove on to Echuca which is an old town on the Murray River.
Burning off near Echuka
The Murray River is the border between Victoria and New South Wales and in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was a major trade route. Echuca was one of the biggest ports along the Murray and is still home to a collection of restored and working paddle steamers. We went for a ride on the Emmy Lou which was originally built in 1912 and worked for many years along the Murray. The Emmy Lou still has her original wood fired steam engine, which was incredibly quiet considering the power it was putting out. In fact the paddle steamers were the quietest vehicles on the river, all the speed boats and jet skis were much louder, so technology and advancement don’t always make things more environmentally friendly. I captured some excellent material of the noise the engine did make, as well as the paddles pushing the boat through the water, and a few blasts from the boats steam whistle, which were really loud. This boat has overnight trips where you stay in cabins on board so I think we’ll need to come back for that sometime as it was a great trip for just an hour; sailing downriver all night and having dinner on board would be fantastic.
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 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 Dalesford Equipment Zoom H4 MKH 60 Boom Pole setup
Just a quick one today, Anna and I drove up to Dalesford for a picnic. Dalesford is a beautiful area about an hour west of Melbourne with two really nice lakes. The days was very nice and on the way home I stopped to try and record a windmill, well to be more accurate a wind pump as they are actually used to pump water. These are an icon of the countryside in Australia and can be seen on farms everywhere. What I was really after was one that wasn't quite perfect as I wanted to record it squeaking. We found two of them close to each other on opposite sides of the road. One of them was too new and made no sound when it operated. The second one was suitable squeaky, but it was such a still day that I only captured about 5 seconds of it before the wind died. Even waiting for 15 minutes for it to come back I was out of luck. So I got a tiny bit of material, but the hunt for a windmill continues. Oh yeah, this picture shows exactly why I use the boom pole.
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.