Adelaide road trip day 1
Built in mics and
DPA 4061 pair
4 days, 2000 km, 5 sets of batteries and about 10 gig of raw material. With Tuesday the 3rd of November being a public holiday I decided to take the Monday as well and have four days straight to go on a recording trip. Anna has a business trip up in Sydney anyway so it’s a good use of the time. I drove to Adelaide to visit my brother and sister in law and capture a range of different material over the four days.
I drove to Horsham on Friday night (about 300 km from Melbourne) The first opportunity for the day was at the hotel I was staying at. They had a large birdcage with a few unusual birds in it, the most distinctive was an Indian Ring Neck Parakeet, which was a very unusual blue green colour. It was quite noisy so I thought I would record some samples. Of course as soon as I went near its cage with the recording gear it stopped completely. A lot of animals and birds are very wary around people in general and even domestic pets can be worried about people they don’t know. The simple solution to this was to rest the H4N on a pot plant next to the cage and go for a walk. 10 minutes later I had collected a good collection of material. I could here the bird from where I was sitting out of view around the corner. I realised some time ago that often the best way to record something was to not be around. I plan on doing a similar thing on our balcony back home, set up the recorder, drop a bunch of birdseed, and then go inside and wait for the birds.
As usual I had hired a car for the trip. This time I got a Ford Focus which I have not driven before. It was also the first trip since I picked up the new DPA microphone set I had purchased, so it was a good opportunity to get some sounds from the Ford and test out the mics. After breakfast in Horsham I set up the mics on the car. One clipped close to the exhaust and the second one clipped under the bonnet to a coolant pipe. The leads on the DPA mics are very fine and quite fragile so I made sure they were tapped down securely. I also had an issue with some of my rechargeable batteries going flat very quickly; I think they might be nearing the end of their usable life. I’ll swap them over and use them for my XBox controllers instead. Once the mics were in place I did some basic tests at low speeds around the streets of Horsham to get my levels right and test for wind noise. The DPA set comes with some small foam windshields, but I also bought two Rycote fluffy wind covers as I plan on using these mics for a lot of vehicle recordings.
I got some good material driving along the highway, a long country trip is a good time to do car recordings as highways usually have consistently higher speed limits for a long distance, also the roads to Adelaide are often not very busy so I was able to capture a lot of material with no other vehicles on the road. I did stop regularly while I was recording to check the position of the mics and how they were coping. After spending over $1500 on new mics the last thing I wanted to was for them to fall off while I was driving at 110km p/h. I am going to record some more sounds of the Ford Focus over the weekend to try and get a full set of sounds for it including doors, horn controls etc. I am also thinking of starting a new review section where I review a car from the sound point of view and a score it based on how good it sounds when recorded. Completely useless for most things I know, but it might be fun once I start to get access to things like sports cars and classic cars.
Single handed setup
Today I got to meet Edgar. Edgar must weigh over 150 kilos, he’s so big he has trouble walking in the morning. Edgar is a very large, but very friendly pig!
Edgars Mission is a farm setup by a woman called Pam Ahern as a sanctuary for animals. Pam, with help from some volunteers and her mum run the farm and take care of all the animals there. Many have been rescued from bad circumstances are given a last minute reprieve from being sent to an abattoir or knackery. Pam’s love of her animals is so apparent in the hard work and care she puts into caring for the animals. It’s also apparent in how happy most of the animals appear. There was very little of the guarded cautious nature of the animals, most of them would rush to meet Pam every morning and instantly knew her voice. These animals would all live out their lives naturally with no threat of being eaten.
While I do now eat meat, I spent over ten years as a vegetarian so I can really understand Pam’s desire to care for the animals. The farm itself is designed to encourage people to understand the lives of the animals without being preachy or judgemental. Pam wants the experience of visiting the farm to be positive for everyone. From my point of view it was a great way to spend the day and I got lots of really good animal sounds. Edgar alone is very conversational, and pigs have quite a range of different sounds that they make.
I followed Pam around for the first couple of hours of the day while she fed the animals. (I got up at 6am to get out to the farm for feeding time, I HATE getting up early.) Feeding time is probably the best time to get animal noises because they will all generally be fairly vocal when they are hungry. Pam’s relationship with her animals resulted in them being even more vocal a lot of the time. Most herd animals will communicate with other members of their herd. Taken out of the herd and isolated many animals will be much less vocal. I think most of the animals on the farm treat Pam as one of the family so they “talk” to her as she goes about her days work.
The pigs were definitely the highlight of the day for me, I don’t have any pig sounds in the library so far so it was good to get some material, but what I got was a ton of grunts and snuffles and long groans and grunts. There is enough material from the pigs alone to create entire conversations. Not to mention that a lot of the pigs vocalisations will be great for creating monster and giant beastie sounds. Pigs are also quite noisy when they eat so I will have plenty of sounds of munching and crunching beasts. The pigs were also really friendly. A little one called Hamish was very happy to chat to me and wanted me to scratch his shoulders. Pigs are really smart animals and it was great to get up close and be able to observe some for a while.
Next was a couple of young sheep, and some baby goats who were of course all hideously cute. Lambs and kids can sound really bad when they are panicked or really hungry. Their call is almost desperate and sounds like a child screaming. Most of what I recorded was fairly friendly “come and play with me” calls. Although like many animals when you put a microphone close to them they decide to be very quiet. I think its because they are curious of the fluffy cover and animals seem to ponder quietly when they are curious.
I used the H4N strapped to the blimp cover of the MKH60 for the day. This single handed setup allows me to record with several mics simultaneously while still only using one hand. Since I lost the Shure Beta58 :-( I have been adding the D112 to the setup, but it is essentially useless unless I am recording loud output sounds. I include it simply as a backup, if something explodes then I have an active mic that will pick up a loud sound without distorting. Until I can organize to replace the beta58 it’s a best use of the free channel. I have just ordered 2 of the DPA 4061s so it will be a while before I can replace the Shure.
The great thing about being able to get right up and close with the animals was that I could get really clean recordings directly from their mouths rather than across a paddock or through a cage like most other animal sanctuaries. This was especially good for recording the eating sounds as they munched and snuffled through their food. Event he lambs and baby goats sucking on their milk from baby bottles. These sounds would not have been possible without getting this close to the animals. It was also really great to be able to get so close and to pat and talk to the animals. It was not all perfect though. The turkey stubbornly insisted on only making sounds when the mic was off or I was too far away to get a good recording, and the cows were also very quiet. Cows in general seem to not make a lot of noise in my experience, or maybe they just don’t make noise when I am around.
I have never expected to go out and capture every animal that exists at any one location I visit, generally if I get some good material from one kind of animal on the day I consider it a successful day. Today was just like that, I got lots of excellent material from the pigs and also got some good stuff from some of the other animals. Going by my averages today was a very successful day. Patience is a main part of what I do and so I will wait for some other day to captures some noisy cow sounds. It was just really nice to be out in the country on a beautiful sunny day recording animals. If I could do this everyday I’d be very happy.
One final recording for today was back in Melbourne, Williamstown to be exact. I have passed by the refineries down near the ports on several occasions when they have the burn off flames at the top of the very high exhaust towers, but I have never had my equipment with me when I have seen them burning. Today I got the chance to record some material as they were burning off as I passed. I could only get within about 200 meters for safety reason but the sample is still quite good. I think if I was able to get closer there would be more texture to the sound as the flame fluctuations would be more noticeable, but still the sound was quite powerful and sounded like a very large jet engine.
Cars, Bikes and Mics
DPA 4061 pair
The main test for the DPA mics was to see how they coped with high power levels like engine exhausts and machinery. The main reason I have been considering acquiring these mics is because their small size and high power level capacity make them excellent for recording cars, bikes, planes etc. The first test today was to attach them to a motorbike and see how they handled it. One of the guys I worked with has a Honda CBR 600 which was a perfect subject for what I needed. I attached the first mic to one of the rear indicators about two inches from the exhaust. (The CBR has a single central exhaust that comes out from under the seat.) I really wanted to push these mics and see what they could handle. Even though I wanted to capture some bike samples I was happy to risk not getting anything useful to see just how good these were.
The second mic I attached to one of the front indicators. The weather was pretty bad on the day so I didn’t have the luxury to really work out a good location for the front mic. Considering this was mainly a test I was more interested in how the mic coped rather than positioning it perfectly. The leads for both mics were taped down with basic electrical tape and attached to the H4N which I placed a backpack which the rider wore while riding. I then sat and read a book while my friend went for a ride. The results were better than I had hoped for. The rear mic captured pure exhaust output with no tyre sound and no unwanted sounds from anything else. The front mic was slightly less perfect. It captured excellent samples, but even with a foam cover and a Rycote fluffy wind jammer it still picked up some wind noise. I think this was largely due to its positioning. The fairing on the front of the bike was deflecting the wind past the bike, but I think it was directing it straight over the mic. It was a good lesson for the future, next time I will place the mic closer to the engine itself. Both mics however captured excellent samples and proved they could do what I needed them to.
The second test for the day was to rerecord my friends Nissan 350Z. He has had some new exhausts installed and was quite keen to get me to record it with the new sounds. Last time the biggest issue I had was mounting mics on the car itself. The beauty of the mics I was using is that they are so small I can pretty much tap them to anything. I mounted one near the exhaust and one under the bonnet. Another issue was that the 350Z is such a smooth design that there is nothing past the exhaust and no way to attach anything near its output, so the mic itself was about three inches back from the end of the exhaust. Again the results were pretty good. The mics did what I needed them to, any issues with the material captured was from placement. I think the DPAs have proven that they can do what I need of them, so I plan on ordering a couple.
The next step will be to get access to a car I can spend some time on. The make and model is not the issue, its having the time to try a range of mic positions and see what different results I can get. Whenever I have someone help me out by offering their car or bike or nuclear powered tractor to record I always feel awkward if I take too long. Setting up mics correctly and finding the best position can sometimes be very time consuming. The more time I spend on my own finding the best method and mic placements for recording a car generally, the less of someone else’s time I will take up when I get the opportunity to record something new. This won’t always work, cars come in lots of different shapes and sizes, but I should be able to at least come up with some basic guidelines for car recording session. It might be worth putting some of these into a tutorial once I have some good general concepts. I’m travelling to Adelaide in a couple of weeks, I might spend a day recording the hire car in different ways and see what I can come up with.
DPA 4061 pair
Today I finally got the chance to test out some new mics I have been thinking about buying. I have heard lots of good reports about DPA mics but I have never used any. They are pretty expensive so I thought it would be a good idea to hire some to test out before I bought any. I found a place nice a close to home that rents out audio equipment and hired a pair for a couple of days to test.
Today was literally just testing them out to see what they could do. I did a range of test recordings of speaking and measuring sound levels and comparative signals from foreground to background sounds. I also managed to record a few things I have had lying around waiting to be recorded. I’ll write up a proper review of them soon, but I have to say I fell in love with these mics pretty quickly. They are very sensitive, and have a beautiful crispness to the sound, but at the same time they can cope with extremely loud sound levels. The mics themselves are smaller than my little fingernail, and as such I need to be careful with them, but they also allow me to use microphones in locations that have previously been impossible. Tomorrow I plan on strapping them to a motorbike and a sports car to see just what they can handle. That will be the real test to see if they are worth purchasing.
Single hand setup
Commissioned 17th June 1942 The HMAS Castlemain was a Bathurst class minesweeper for the Royal Australian Navy during World War 2. She now resides as a permanent floating museum on Williamstown pier with a great view of Melbourne city from her rear decks. Today I am going to record everything that bumps and squeaks on an old warship. Sadly none of the weapons work anymore because everyone likes a good loud bang, but there are quite a few interesting sounds to be captured from this old warship.
I have adopted the same recording setup as I used at the children’s farm a few weeks back. It is fairly practical for having everything setup in one hand, although it can get a little heavy after a while. I have the H4N strapped to the side of the blimp cover for the MKH60 and the D112 also attached to the blimp cover pistol grip. I need something I can move easily with as I will be climbing up and down stairs between decks and warships don’t traditionally have a lot of room to move. Some of the stairs are going to be enough of a challenge as it is with only one hand free.
I started by moving around the ship recording the more straightforward elements. Doors, hatches, and switches all made fairly unique sounds compared to their modern day variants. The museum also an interesting variety of ships bells including one from a Japanese ship. I recorded several rings of all of these. The weather wasn’t great today, but I spent most of the time below deck so it wasn’t too much of an issue. Some of the hatches had multiple clamps to seal them and they made nice clunky sounds.
Things started to get interesting when they offered to start up the engines for me. Traditionally the Castlemaine was steam powered via giant boilers. These days they have a modern compressor in one of the deck houses that provides pressure to drive the main pistons, but they can only run at a low speed. The pistons themselves were actually not as loud as I was expecting. Being powered by steam pressure and being very well maintained they moved smoothly and quietly. The Castlemaine also has a range of different pumping engines to circulate the water around the ship, run the water purifier (steam engines need distilled water) and maintain things like ballast and other systems. I was very lucky to have all of these started up for me to record. They all made different sounds depending on their purpose. They also started up the diesel engine for me. One of the diesels was used to generate a current that was directed through a network of wires trailing behind the ship. The current in these wires would trigger certain types of mines in the water.
As a final treat they activated the ships siren for me. This was a steam driven horn used as a fog horn or to indicate actions in port. Overall I got some really good material as well as a good lesson on Australian Navel history form some of the guys working on the ship on the day.
Stephan Schütze has been recording sounds for over twenty years. This journal logs his thoughts and experiences