I have found that the best way to record planes at an airshow is NOT to go to the airshow. Too many noisy people and canned muic make it impossible to record anything. Going the day before to the practise however can often get some good results. To that end, Anna and I went down to Tyabb south of Melbourne today to check out the set-up for tomorrows Tyabb airshow.
For something as big as an airshow I bring all of my gear with me. I set-up the tripod as close to the runway as I could with the Sennheisser MKH60 attached to the Zoom H4. Airfields are often very windy as they are big open areas, so its very important to have wind protection for all your mics. I also had the Rode NGT3 attached to the Zoom H4N mounted ont he boom pole so I could move around easily and follow any aircraft moving through the staging area. In this way I could cover more material and effectively be in two places at once. Most of the time I managed to record planes as they taxied in from landing or where heading out to take-off, but the staging area allowed me to get some good idle and start-up sounds.
I find propeller aircraft much more interesting to record as they have a more complex sound in my opinion than a jet. In general older vehicles have more interesting sounds than modern ones often. A lot of prop planes have an interesting procedure before they shut-down their engines. I talked to a pilot and he explained what they actually do. Just before they shut-down the engine they rev it quite high for a few seconds. This drains the oil out of the propeller and sends it back into the main engine area, so there is the maximum amount of oil there for next start-up. This revving is usually much louder than the general idle and taxiing sound the plane will make as it comes in, so you need to set your recording levels appropriately otherwise you risk peaking when the pilot revs before shut-down. I discovered this the hard way with my first couple of recordings.
I still had to deal with some noisy people, and every now and then there would be some very noisy children, but in general today was a better day for recording sounds than coming down on the day of the main event. I also got some very good information on some other sources for good aircraft recording so I will be looking into that over the next few weeks. Days like today are both exciting and frustrating for me. They are good because I get the opportunity to record some excellent material from really interesting sources, but they can be frustrating when a rare opportunity is lost because people in general are not very sympathetic to what you are trying to do and will quite happily continue to talk when something interesting is happening.
For the last couple of days I have been travelling down the Great Ocean Road with a colleague of mine that I have finally met after knowing him for 10 years. Barny is over form the UK for a couple of weeks on holiday, so I thought I'd show him some of the beautiful sights of Southern Victoria. We made plenty of stops along the Ocean to see the beautiful sights, but the first thing that provided anything sound wise was Cheese World, just outside of Warnambool. The factory itself was not open, but I could stand outside and get some material from the machinery which was good. More importantly they have a museum with lots of really old engines, and they all work. I talked to the people there and they gave me contact details for the Warnambool historical society, so i will be organising a special trip back here to record all the old machines. Oh and the cheese here is fantastic, I bought two blocks, they have cheese tasting and it was well worth it.
Later in the day we could see smoke up ahead. I could tell it wasn't a bush fire as it seamed to be in several small columns so I guessed it was burning off. As we got closer we could see the actual flames from the road, so we detoured down a small dirt road and found some local council officials doing some clearing and burning off. This was a great chance to catch some big fire sounds under safe conditions so I approached the people in charge and asked if it was ok for me to record. They were fine with it as long as I was careful. I planned on being very careful with a fire this size.
The flames might not look that big but this fire was giving off so much heat that I could get closer than about 5 meters. Even then I could only stand there for about 30 seconds at a time before I had to move back. I have a very healthy respect for fire and fire fighters after witnessing first hand just how bloody hot they can get. There was an earth mover that they were using to pull down brush and stack it into new piles to burn, it was quit loud, but if I put the fire between myself and the tractor, I could not hear the tractor at all. This was not because the fire was so loud, it just seemed like the flames were actually blocking the sound of the vehicle. I am not sure if the extreme heat was effecting the sound waves, but it was very unusual. I will need to look it up. Again I was very patient and made sure I collected a lot of material, but after a while I just felt I was going to burst into flames myself if I stayed there too long. This was great material to record, and I would like to get more fire and flame sounds, but it is going to have to be something I plan and approach very carefully.
Easter day 4
The Policeman from last night was so nice he said he'd let me record the siren on his truck if I visited the station. Never one to pass up an opportunity like that we headed to the local station before we left town and I made sure I got a good recording of the police siren. Its so much better doing this out in the country where its nice and quiet. City background noise gets in the way of everything. Now all I need to do is talk to a fire man and ambulance driver. Apart from the siren it was a pretty uneventful drive home. Back to normal life tomorrow. Looking forward to the next fun trip.
Easter Day 3
Lots of driving today. We left Lake's Entrance and decided to head over the mountains towards Bright and Myrtleford. I have never driven this way and it was really interesting. Lots of lovely countryside. When we reached the top of Mount Hotham they had one of the chairlifts going, so we decided to catch a ride up and have a look around. We then walked back down as it was only a short chairlift. This was an unexpected but really good opportunity for recording as usually the lifts don't work unless its ski season, and during ski season there are tons of people around making noise, so not only did we go for a ride, but I recorded some good material.
We continued over the mountains and stopped in Harrietville, which is one of my favourite little towns, we had the best scones we have had in ages at the Lavender farm there. It was a beautiful outdoor setting which was perfect on a fine sunny day. We drove through Bright and stopped for the night in Myrtleford. After a great dinner I went out wandering around to try and record some crickets. I had very little luck as there were a lot of other sounds around anywhere the crickets were, but I did record a great sound from a broken street light that was humming quite loudly, it felt very Twin Peaks, standing under a humming street light on a road in a country town in the middle of the night. The local Policeman came past and wondered what I was doing. He was great and when I explained what I was up to he was cool with everything.
Easter Day 2
The weather was not great today, so we decided to head to Buchan and check out the cave network there. Unfortunately for us so did everyone else within a 50 mile radius. The cue was so long we took one look at it and decided to pass. We wandered around the area for a while and then drove back to Lake's Entrance. By the time we had gotten back the weather was clearing so we thought it would be good to take out one of the hire boats. We had looked at them yesterday and now the weather was finally good enough to enjoy the trip. The boats are very small with inboard engines that put put like something out of an old movie. Anna was enjoying driving the boat which left me free to record the engine and even drop the hydrophone into the water and record the wake of the boat as well. We headed out into the lakes area and that's where things started to go not so well.
As we headed out into the lakes area the engine started to cough and splutter a little. I thought it might be struggling with the waves a little so we tried to steer a course that might make it easier, but after a few minutes it was obvious this boat had some serious problems. We were just thinking about turning around when the engine failed completely. Of course we were located perfectly where we had no mobile phone reception, so we couldn't call for help. I restarted the engine with the little crank handle and it ran again for about a minute. I then repeated this process about 40 times over the next half an hour as we tried to limp back to where we hired the boat. At the time it was very frustrating and I did vent a bit to the open sky, but the result was a whole bunch of samples of a really crappy boat engine that will work very nicely in the library, so I guess there was a silver lining to today's cloud.
We finally got back into mobile phone range and the owner came out and towed us back in. He was very apologetic and gave us a full refund, so I guess it wasn't too bad. I was determined not to let this spoil our holiday. Anna had wanted to visit a place called Mitung which was just down the road and apparently very pretty so we went for a drive before dinner and I am really glad we did. What waited for us is probably the most beautiful sunset I have ever witnessed. It was a wonderful way to finish the day. I also realised something important
Humans write music because there is no sound in nature with the beauty to accompany its most magnificent scenes. Music is humanities greatest gift to the universe
Easter Day 1
In what is becoming a bit of a tradition Anna and I hired a car for the Easter break and picked a random direction to head in. We did this last year and despite everyone telling us there is no way we would get accommodation anywhere without booking ahead we had a fantastic holiday and wandered aimlessly around Victoria for a few days. We decided we would try our luck for another year, so Thursday night all packed and ready we headed down to Philip Island on Western port Bay.
The Thursday before Easter is usually easy to get accommodation as many people don't head off till Friday. We managed to get a hotel room directly across from the beach which was nice. On the Friday we had a wander round the island. I was disappointed the weather was so nice as I thought I might be able to record some good wave noises near the blow-hole, but the sea was virtually calm. Easter is a holiday for us, so I don't specifically go looking for sounds, but as always I have the gear in the car and if something offers itself I will take the opportunity to capture interesting sounds. Anna is amazingly patient which makes things easier.
We got to see a lot of things today including a farmer market just off the main island, some very large Pelicans being fed on the mainland and lots of fantastic green grass and trees, which living in he city has made a real novelty. The only thing I got to record today was one of the horses near the farmers market. There was a lot of background noise from visitors and campers so all I got was a single horse snort. Its a very good snort, but it is not much for an entire day's exploring. Oh well, we'll see what happens tomorrow.
Stephan Schütze has been recording sounds for over twenty years. This journal logs his thoughts and experiences