Shure Beta 58A
Tripods, mic stands
Well Victoria is still conspiring against me as far as weather is concerned. Most of the two hour drive up from Melbourne was it he rain, but it does stop every now and then so I will probably be able to record some material today. Today I am working with the North East Muzzle loading club about two hours north of Melbourne. The club is a group of people who are all interested in historical firearms. This includes a variety of black powder firearms including pistols, rifles, shotguns and even canon. Some of the designs date back over two hundred years. Because of the technology involved they produce very different sounds from modern fire arms.
For an event such as today I brought all my equipment as I want to capture as many different versions of the events as is practical. Different microphones and different positions will result in different qualities of sound being captured. From previous experience I have a better idea of how I should place some of my mics, but every time I do this I learn new things, so its always useful to write down what I did and what was good or bad about the results. The shotgun microphone was setup on the tripod with the H4 attached. I was happy to use this as an off target mic for the day. The shotgun is far too sensitive and directional to point directly at firearm when its discharged, and I find it is generally better when placed further back. I often point it “up range” in the direction of where the firearms will be shooting. This allows it to capture the echoes of the distant hills and trees, while still capturing some of the initial bang sound. The MKH60 is very good at capturing the low end frequencies and I find when I mix in the echoes it gives me a good warm aspect to the sounds.
I am still trying different positions for my other mics. Today I decided to place the D112 on a mic stand with a boom and position it very close to the firing positions. This would be the closest mic to the firearms, but it was still positioned at the back end of the weapons, closer to the firers’ head. It will take a very sturdy mic to be able to cope with being placed right at the muzzle of a firearm when ti goes off. I placed the beta58A on a small tripod and positioned it on the ground behind the firer. This was more experimental than with any real intent for results. The H4N’s inbuilt mics were also active and set to capture a general ambience. I also activated the R09 with its internal mics, but the lack of a wind cover meant that most of the material it would record would not be usable. I still have more mics than wind covers so when I deploy them all I need to hope there is no wind around. Today was very windy so it’s a good lesson to get some more covers soon.
The first event of the day was the firing of a 100 year old howitzer. One of the old members of the club had asked to have his ashes fired down range as his way of being laid to rest. There were several speeches and some bagpipes played. It was a solemn but also enjoyable event, and reflected the character of the gentleman that had passed on. I was worried about capturing a sound I had never heard and would only get one chance to record. I set my mics in a variety of positions, but more importantly I set them with a variety of input levels so I increased my chances of capturing as much usable material as possible. I was pretty lucky as the levels on most of the mics seemed to be pretty good. It’s not every day I get to record 100 year old canon unfortunately.
The rest of the day I managed to record a variety of old firearms from pistols to rifles and shotguns. I moved the mics around occasionally to capture different aspects of the sound. I always think about the idea of marking exactly what mic was in what position at what time, but invariably these events become disorganised and I am often struggling just to find out what model of firearm is being used, setting my levels appropriately and making sure everything is working as expected. I was lucky enough to be given the chance to fire a “Brown Bess” which is the nickname given to the long arm musket used by the English in the Napoleonic war and the American war of independence by both sides. I was very surprised to find it has no recoil at all. It was very interesting to fire such an old weapon and I got a good recording because I could position myself well in relation to the mic. I also got to fire an old cartridge rifle which was fun, but showed I am way out of practise as it has been over ten years since I last fired a rifle. I know it was very windy, but my aim was terrible.
The final part fo the day was another canon being fired. This was a much smaller field gun, but it still made a good bang. Again I aimed the shotgun mic downrange, but this time I positioned the D112 slightly in front of the canon to try and capture a more direct sound. It was raining by this stage so it was not very practical to move the mics between shots which was a shame. I spent all my time looming over my mics trying to keep the rain off them.
The final lesson of the day was to check off my gear thoroughly when I am packing up. Since I got home for the day I have discovered my Shure Beta58A is missing. I really cannot imagine myself putting it down somewhere and not seeing it, but I must have been distracted when I was packing up. I have since contacted the club and maybe it will turn up, but I am really annoyed at myself for not being more thorough with my pack up. If it does turn up it will have spent two weeks out in the weather which may not do it any favours. I am quite disappointed about this as it was a good study general purpose mic, and I certainly cant afford to replace it right at the moment as I am planning on getting some hi input mics to use on car recordings. So it looks like I may have learnt a good lesson, but at a fairly high price.
I would like to thank everyone at the club as they were really friendly to both Anna and I, and I was really happy to get a chance to fire a couple of rifles. John who had organised the initial contact and mike who taught me how to fire a musket were especially helpful. I hope to get up to Taminick in the future and maybe try and record some more canon and maybe some ricochets by placing my mics up range. I am sure that will be full of interesting challenges as well.
And on that farm he had a ....
Collingwood Children’s Farm
Shure Beta 58A
Jury rigged set-up
I got to spend this morning in the studio with my brother Paul. He is over from London to record a new album with some people in Melbourne. It was very interesting listening to the process. He has recently switched his focus to heavy metal music and believes that some of the highest standards in recording are to be found in the genre. I have never really liked metal music, but Paul's approach was very interesting and I learnt some good mastering processes by watching the session. I can’t wait to hear the album when it’s finished.
It was a good thing to spend the morning indoors as apparently it poured with rain all morning. By the time we came out at lunchtime it had cleared, and I thought I might actually be able to get some recording done. I walked from the studio in Richmond down to the Collingwood Children’s Farm. The farm is a small area of land in Melbourne’s inner city area on the Yarra River. It’s a great escape from all the noise and overcrowding of the city, they even have a cool outdoor café there. I had visited the farm a few years ago and recorded some ducks and geese. The recordings weren’t great and I think the main reason back then was a lack of patience on my part. Also Spring is a much better time to visit any location for animal recordings.
I have been fiddling around with various ways of holding the H4N and a couple of microphones, and I have yet to come up with something I really like. While at the farm I jury rigged a set-up that wasn’t too bad. After walking around for a while holding the mics and H4N separately I realised it really wasn’t practical as the cable movement was being transferred directly to the microphones, so I was getting lots of unwanted noise. I had tried to make a handle with threaded rods protruding that I could screw microphone clips to. I realised that with the Rode blimp cover I already had a handle, and it also had a threaded slot to screw onto a mic stand. So I used a small length of the threaded rod and attached it to the bottom of the pistol grip and then attached a regular mic clip. This allowed me to hold both the blimp array and a second mic. I then used Velcro tape to attach the H4N to the side of the Blimp cover. I did look somewhat like a Buck Rogers blaster, but it removed the nose from the cable movement, and allowed me to carry everything in one had which was much more convenient. I will try to make this set-up more organised, but I think it might work.
There were a lot of young animals on the farm, and being mid week, there were not too many people around either. My first success was a single duck. A white Peking duck decided to go for a wander by itself and proudly announce its presence to everyone by quacking. He was not bothered by me following him, so I managed to get some nice clean isolated samples. After this I tried to get the goats to make sound, but they seemed far to happy to play and lie in the sun, and even when they were taken into the stables later to be fed and rested they did so almost completely silently. There was one goat left outside that did make a little noise at being left behind, but overall today was not a day for goats.
The pigs were also a little allusive. They had been placed in an isolated pen away from human contact because of the current issues with swine flu. This was done for the sake of the pigs rather than the sake of people. I did get a few sounds from some of the piglets as they tried very persistently to feed from their mother, but they were too far away to get a good clean recording. If I had had the boom pole it might have helped me get the mic closer, but one of the big decisions I have to make each time I go out is what equipment to take and what to leave behind. As I was going to be walking all day today I decided to leave the pole behind. There is never a perfect solution for every contingency unfortunately.
There was a single calf in a paddock who initially was very reluctant to make any sound, although he was very enthusiastic about licking the blimp cover. I think the furry material made him very curious. As the day progressed he did call out a few times and I managed to capture a few samples. One of the biggest difficulties for me was the desire to respond to any sound I heard by running over and trying to record it, but animals are very unpredictable, and I decided it was better for me to finish one thing before moving on to the next, otherwise I would spend the entire day running around in circles arriving just as something finished making sounds. So I waited patiently in each area until I got some material, or at least had given it a good amount of time before I moved on. The farm was small enough that I was able to do two or three circuits and make several attempts to capture sounds. Ricky the calf was far noisier as the day progressed than he was earlier on.
The sheep were also conveniently noisy when one of the farm staff let them out of their paddock to feed in the lane way. This allowed me to grab some really good recordings, but also allowed me to get near the pigeons in the paddock. I have been wanting for sometime to capture the sound of a flock of pigeons taking off as they have a very distinctive sound of their wings as they take off. The main issue is that most areas where pigeons congregate are in city areas with people and traffic, so it was always going to be noisy. Here I had a nice quiet paddock away from everything with about 30 pigeons all eating. I captured a few minutes of them cooing as they ate, and then simply by taking a few steps forward they all launched into the air giving me a clean recording. Once I stepped back they all returned to eating. I wish all animal recordings were this easy.
The recording setup I was using seemed to be working quite well. I had set the input levels to maximize each mic and capture a good range of sounds. The Shure Beta 58A only really worked well at close range, but when I did get the chance to get in close it captured a good clean recording with almost no background sounds. This was really good when all the Chinese Silky chicken roosters decided it was time to crow. There were 4 different male chickens who all very politely took it in turns to call to each other and respond. The result was some beautiful clichéd “cockadoodle do” sounds at various distances. These were captured on all the microphones clearly once I set the levels correctly. A rooster call is actually very loud when you are standing two feet away from the rooster.
The geese were less cooperative. They insisted on calling as a choir, and while I managed to get a good recording of a group of geese as they wandered around, it would have been nice to capture one in isolation. The main issue with most animals is that, like humans, they make noise for the sake of communication. Many animals will make little or no noise unless there is another of their kind in range to hear it. Some animals once domesticated will call out to their humans when it is time to be fed or moved, but the very act of isolating an animal can seriously reduce the chances of it making noise. In some cases, like the roosters, the animal’s calls will be in a call and response pattern, and this makes it very easy to record each individual call, but often many animals travel as a group and call out as a group. This means you either need to be very lucky or incredibly patient to capture a single clean call.
Today had been a very successful day so far, but just as I was thinking of leaving I had one final surprise. I had noticed there were several peacocks in one of the barns. They had been sitting up in the rafters and looked like they would be there for a while. By the time I was heading out at about 4pm, one of the peacocks had moved out of the barn and was hanging around the composting area. I heard a single cry from him as I was walking up from the sheep paddocks. This is why I often leave me gear in record mode. Since I have started using digital recording devices that use SD flash cards I am able to record several hours of material without stopping. I have found that often if I am in an area with lots of potential sound source it is worth leaving the recorders actively recording at all times, this way I can capture unexpected sounds. The peacock’s first cry was exactly that, and I got a good sample of a call from about 500 meters distance.
As I approached the peacock I noticed he was going through the process of trying to impress the peahens in the area. He went through quite a few displays of feathers and little dances and also made a couple more loud calls. I was really happy to record the calls, but when he stared to dance to a female next to him, he did something I was not ever aware peacocks did. As part of his little dance the peacock opens his huge tail feathers, and then every now and then he makes them all shimmer as part of the dance. This is not only interesting to look at but produces a really interesting sound. The best part was that he was completely un-phased by me standing about 3 feet away from him so I managed to capture some really good recordings of this little dance step.
I had set out today with the hope of recording a couple of animal sounds, and the expectations that I would probably only get a couple of chickens clucking and maybe a duck. It turned out to be one of the most productive sessions with animals I have ever had. Springtime is definitely the best time to capture animal sounds as they are much more active coming out of winter and going into breeding season. I think I will need to plan to be somewhere interesting each spring where I have access to new animals to record. I will also need to get better at waking up early in the morning as this is usually when many animals are most active.
Shure Beta 58A
Just one busker today. A guy playing Soprano Saxophone. He was sitting under a bridge near the Melbourne Arts Centre. The location added a nice reverb to everything. I am recording about 3 minutes of each busker I come across. As I mentioned last time I am not trying to capture complete songs, just to get a sample of ambience that includes a busker in the city environment.
Shure Beta 58A
I rerecorded the coin sounds today. This time I positioned the microphones further away from the sound source. The results were better. The input signal was obviously less and this would account for not getting the “distortion” I was having. I have spoken to several industry people I know and there have been mixed opinions as to the cause of the original distortion effect. Some people thought it might be issues with the pre map in the recording device. (I am still not using a separate mic pre amp as I have not had a chance to get one) Someone thought it might be an issue with the analogue to digital signal converter being overloaded and causing artefacts. There is apparently a issue with recording brass ringing with certain types of microphones. I have some more information to look into regarding this. It might end up being worth creating a tutorial about when I find enough information.
Shure Beta 58A
I decided this week to add another aspect to the ambiance section of the library. I realised Melbourne has a huge selection of buskers who regularly play around the Melbourne city area. This is a great source of interesting and unusual music examples, and work nicely with the general ambiance of the city mixed in. It’s a far more real sound that the perfectly clean mixed music from a studio. Its not designed to be a piece of music, but more an ambiance of city life.
Of course when I went out on Thursday lunchtime for the first time to look for buskers it was pouring with rain and there wasn’t a busker to be found, fairly typical of Melbourne, and one of the reasons I am really growing to dislike the place. (I hate this weather) By Friday the weather had improved and I managed to find three buskers in my lunchtime. I recorded a Scottish guy in a kilt playing a semi acoustic Guitar and singing, a guy in a cowboy hat playing blues music on a harmonica, and a guy dressed up like a dishevelled clown playing sea shanties on a very old and slightly broken accordion. I think I might end up creating a completely separate section for busker music in the library. There seems to be a very broad range of amazingly weird music out there, so I think it’s worth sampling some of it.
Well I was originally going to try and record some swimming and squash sounds at the Melbourne Baths tonight, however when I went there they wanted me to officially request permission to stand in the public viewing area and point a mic at people hitting a squash ball. I do understand that what I am doing is slightly unusual, but it never ceases to amaze me how much ridiculous bureaucracy people want to go through. I always try to do the right thing by asking before I go and record stuff, but some people just seem so tied up in time wasting paperwork it makes it not worth the effort. I think I’ll go and find some small local squash centre, generally the smaller the business, the less time wasting occurs.
I decided on the way home to detour via the Ice Skating rink that is near our apartment at the Docklands. There is a brand new Olympic Ice arena being constructed, but in the mean time they have set-up a tent with a temporary ice rink to get people interested. Again I approached the person at the front desk to ask who I needed to get permission from, thinking I would need to organise an email asking permission etc.. Within less than 5 minutes I was talking to the duty manager, who basically said “ Sure, no prob, there is no one here tonight, lets do it now” Like I said, small business, real people, much less pain.
There were two people practising skating, so after the manger switched off the music for a few minutes I got to record some of their movement. I didn’t have my boom pole with me, so I needed to use the MKH60 in the blimp cover and hold the pistol grip, as well as holding the H4N. This in itself is not a big deal, but it became evident very quickly how much more convenient the boom pole set-up is when I decided it would be better to give my gear to one of the skaters. The different between one single pole that can be carried in either one or two hands compared with a mic and a lead attached to the recording unit is quite substantial when you need to be active.
Belle did a bunch of skating moves for me including spins, slides and runs and it was so much better than if I had tried to do the skating myself. She was much more confident on the skates and could perform moves I could never have done. This meant I got a good range of material. The MKH worked very well and the resultant recordings have a beautiful cleanness to them that captured the nice high frequencies of the ice. I was very happy with the results and it made up for the frustration at the Melbourne Baths.
For weeks now I have watched party and restaurant boats leaving the Docklands on Friday and Saturday nights. Last night while eating dinner I noticed one loading up with passengers and I noted the time so I could plan a recording session. Tonight I came out at 7pm in time to catch on of the boats loading up and preparing to go. This allowed me to capture a good amount of material over the 20 minutes it took to get ready. Using the hydrophone I got tons of material of its engine running underwater, as well as some material with the H4Ns built in mics to capture the surface sounds.
When the boat finally manoeuvred out of the docks I got a good sample of its engines as it reversed and moved out. Just as the main boat was pulling away a second boat headed in. This gave me a great opportunity to capture two boats and to be able to compare the differences in sounds. I could really understand how navel personnel could tell what type of boat they were near by the sound of the screws (propellers) the incoming boat was much older and I could hear that its motors were not running as smoothing as the first boat. I now want to sample some more boats so I can get a selection of different boat sounds.
I also captured the bilge pumps pumping out water onto the wharf. I think I might contact some of the boat operators to see if I can get access to one of the boats during one of its outings, I would like to record the sounds inside the boat as it runs, and especially the engine room if possible. I also plan to get down to station pier and record the spirit of Tasmania as it heads out. This is a much larger ship size vessel that transports people and vehicles between Melbourne and the Northern tip of Tasmania. I’d love t o record some naval vessels, but I am not sure they would be too happy about having the sounds of their ships being recorded. Something for the future maybe.
Beta 58A and MkH60
What was supposed to be a simple short session at work to record some material for one of our current projects has turned out to be far more interesting.
Today at lunchtime I purchased a small bag of old Australian pennies. These have dates on them ranging from 1900, up to when we converted to metric money in the 1960’s. The bag of about 30 coins cost me about $7 so I guess they have increased in value pretty well.
I have recorded some regular coins in the past, but I really wanted something with a different sound. I was looking for something suitable to represent pirate treasure and giant gold coins. The pennies are made of a different metal to modern coins and are much larger; this allows them to produce a stronger ringing tone. I set up the H4N using both its internal microphones as well as the Beta 58A. I wanted the mics to be nice and close to the coins as I dropped them and bounced them on various surfaces. I made sure I monitored the levels carefully to make sure there was no chance of peaking the signal. I spent about 30 minutes playing with the coins on different surfaces, from modern laminate table top, to concrete and an old wooden table. In general I was quite happy with the types of sounds I could produce by dropping, bouncing, sliding and otherwise manipulating the coins singly and in a pile to produce various sounds.
When transferred the sounds to my laptop I discovered that pretty much all the material was completely unusable. Even though I had been very careful to make sure non of the sounds had peaked, the extremely close proximity to the microphones had been an issue. The coins produced a very high frequency ping each time they impacted on any surface, and it seemed that this extremely high frequency sounds were a big issue for the mics to deal with at such a close range. All the material was effectively distorted even though the readout levels never came close to peaking. I have had a similar thing happen in the past when I tried to record some gongs and bells with my shotgun mic, and I placed the mic to close to the source. This is a behaviour I will need to look into and investigate its cause, and how best to deal with it. The obvious thing is to place the microphone further away from the source, but I still want to understand exactly what is going on so I can deal with it effectively rather than just guessing. Keep an eye out for a later post on this issue as I try to find out what’s going on and redo the material I need.
Stephan Schütze has been recording sounds for over twenty years. This journal logs his thoughts and experiences