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.
Sennheiser MKH 60
Boom pole array
After a successful day at the rifle club it was suggested I come down to the range again the next day as there are three other firearms clubs that all meet on Sundays. I spent most of the day with the North Arm, Sporting Shooters, Shotgun association and Pistol clubs, and I got to record things I would not have dared to dream of.
I started with the Sporting shooters club. They have a large range of rifles being used at ranges up to about 100 meters. (The previous day with the 303 was 750 meters!) There was a range of the usual rifles you would expect at a range. .22, 222, .308 as well as air guns and I got the opportunity to record all of these. I also got the opportunity to record 4 different black power flint locks which had fantastic sounds. They were all reproductions of American flintlock rifles from the 1800s but a great deal of detail had gone into making them true and accurate reproductions. The sound of these large calibre muzzle loaded black powder firearms is so different to modern weapons, and from my point of view far more interesting. A flintlock fires its round by having a small spring-loaded hammer released when the trigger is pulled. The tip of the hammer holds some flint that sparks when the hammer hits. The spark ignites the powder which then explodes and projects the round out of the barrel. In modern fire arms all of this happens inside the shell case and so there is just a single “bang” sound. With a flintlock you can actually hear the individual elements. The hammer impact, the ignition of the powder on the receiver plate and the final discharge of the main powder as the weapon fires can all be heard (although in very quick succession) This results in a great sound when the weapon is discharged.
I was also lucky enough to record an old 1930’s Russian bolt action rifle from World War Two. This thing had a monstrous sound as it was fired. I spoke to the owner who kindly gave me a lot of information. This model was the rifle made famous in the Hollywood movie Enemy at the gate as the Russians main sniper rifle. It is a very accurate weapon over quite long ranges. I also managed to record some lever action rifles which are like the old style cowboy rifles.
After the Sporting Shooters range, I moved on up to the Shotgun Association range. They were having a competition day and so I went along with one group as they moved through the different stations. At each point I would set up the R09 a little back from the shooters position, mainly to avoid it overloading the levels, but also to get a less direct sample. Again I initially used the MKH60 to try and capture both loading and firing sounds by quickly switching the input gains from minimum to maximum. In some instances I would leave the levels at max to capture all the extraneous sounds of the gun knowing I would need to discard the gun firing sound as they would be much too loud. It becomes a bit of a balancing act when recording sounds with such great extremes of levels.
The advantage I had was that by traveling along with a group over the better part of an hour so I had plenty of time to record the material I needed. It is important to keep this in mind when recording. Not every single sound you record needs to be perfect and usable. If you have already recorded a shotgun being fired 10 times and you know you have at least a few nice clean samples with good levels, then you have the freedom to set the levels to record other aspects of the gun such as loading, cocking or just subtle general movements. Setting the levels high enough to capture these aspects will more than likely result in the levels overloading whenever the gun is fired, but as you already have firing sounds this should not be an issue.
Time is the real issue when recording. If it is a random opportunity to record something you would otherwise not get a chance to record then you set the levels as best as time permits and hope for the best result. If however you know that the sound will be reliably replayed over a reasonable length of time, then you have the flexibility to be careful and even creative in how you go about recording things.
On the way back down to the clubhouse after the competition I realized I had accidentally captured far more than I originally thought. As the competition consisted of several groups’ rotation through several firing points, it meant that there were shooters firing from many different locations at all times. This meant that while I had been concentrating on the group I was accompanying I had also been simultaneously recording all the other groups. This meant that I captured the sounds of shotguns being fired at just about every range from a couple of inches through to over 100 meters away. This will allow me to add a far greater depth to the shotgun section of the library. As they were all 12 gauge guns I effectively have a very big range of recording of the same sound. This would normally be a very tricky and time consuming result to achieve. Again it’s often the unexpected that gets you the best results.
Finally I made my way to the pistol range. It was getting well into the afternoon at this stage and so there were not many people left. One gentleman was very helpful and fired a full clip down range in rapid fire mode allowing me to capture the sounds. I recorded semi automatic pistol at 38 Calibre as well as three revolvers. Finally one of the committee members was preparing his pistol for an up coming competition shoot. His gun was a Tanfoglio 38 super semi automatic and it sounded like a howitzer. The first time he fired the gun I actually felt the shockwave hit me physically. Even with both earplugs and my headphones on (signal switched off) this gun was very loud when fired.
I was also able to capture all the Foley of the pistol being loaded cocked and unloaded which was great.
All up this weekend has been a fantastic opportunity to finally record some firearms and get a better feel for what is involved with doing so. There are many obstacles when recording firearms especially when at a range. I would have loved to have carefully record all the Foley sounds for every weapon on the day, but this has issues in itself. Firstly with all the shooting going on it is very difficult to get a nice clean sample of anything else. A weapon discharge is such a short sharp sound that it is often possible to capture good samples even with other guns being fired, but loading, unloading and other Foley sounds are much quieter and can take more time to complete. This means you really need to capture these sounds offsite somewhere else. This could involve organizing the gun owners to meet you, having a suitable location and all of this mean more time especially for the gun owners. The advantage of what I was doing all weekend was that I was recording people doing what they would be doing normally at a range, shooting firearms. Occasionally I would ask them some questions about their firearms, but generally I did not interfere with their day. This makes people far happier to have you around, but if I had asked them to come in especially with their guns to stand around while I recorded all the Foley, this is far less convenient for them and is asking them to sacrifice their time for my benefit. I try as much as possible to record what I can without needing people to go miles out of their way to help me. Sometimes I’m lucky and people will offer the extra time themselves. Until I can afford to pay people for their time I think this is the best balance of capturing the sounds I want without taking up too much of people’s time.
Yandina Queensland and Gold Coast Queensland
(yes that's a 600km round trip)
Sennheiser MKH 60
Boom pole array
Sony TCD-D10 DAT
with Shure SM58 Beta and AKG D112 microphones
As I usually update the journal a few days after the event I can write here that the next few entries were some of the best fun I have had in ages. I spent a very busy weekend and did quite a lot of driving, but the material I got to record was well worth the effort.
Firstly I had organized today to go out to the North Arm Rifle Club in Yandina to record some rifles being fired. I have for a long time wanted to add some firearms sounds to the library. I think its an important section to include in a sound library these days as so many games and film and TV use gun sounds. Also I knew there were going to be new challenges to overcome in recording firearms. The folk at North Arm had very kindly organised to bring along an old 1930 .303 rifle. This was the main weapon used in World War two by Australian soldiers and as such is an important part of our history. I plan on using the sound of the 303 in another project I am working on of important Australian sounds.
Australian 303 MK1 1942 Rifle
I wanted to be as prepared as possible for today, and having never recorded firearms I wanted to cover my bases as much as possible. I pulled my old portable DAT recorder out of the cupboard as I wanted to get as many microphones running as possible. I set up the DAT with a different mic going into each channel. I had a Shure SM 58 Beta up on a standard microphone stand behind the firing area, and an AKG D112 on a desktop tripod sitting basically in front of the muzzle of the rifles. The D112 is designed pretty much for bass drums and so can deal well with high sound pressure levels and has a fast reaction time. The Shure was simply to have another mic on sight. I also positioned the R09 on the ground but I had it much further back from the D112. The R09 was set to the absolute lowest input level that it could still receive a signal on. (Even with this it maxed out quite a lot) Finally I held the Boom pole with the MKH 60 on it and moved around as needed. I constantly switched the input level switches between high and low to capture as much as possible. When the rifle was being loaded or unloaded I increased the gain to capture as much material as possible. Whenever the weapon was fired I would switch the levels to minimum to avoid maxing out the signal. It was a little tricky at times to get this all coordinated and have the mic in the best position. Also I had to have both ear plugs in and my headphones on (and set to zero) to protect my ears, so I couldn’t really monitor much of what was going in.
Generally the D112 handled everything well. The Shure picked up most firing sounds, but they are distant and lack much range. (This is totally understandable for this mic, but all the material will be kept and may be useful later for mixing) The R09 peaked out very badly initially as it was too close and the built in mics just couldn’t respond fast enough or cope with the SPL levels. It did however do a very good job of capturing the echo of the round going downrange. At the time of writing this I am still downloading the Zoom F4 material so I don’t actually know yet how the MKH60 coped.
Overall I got some good material on the range and I am sure when its all edited down there will be some good samples to add to the library.
Following the range recording I packed everything up and drove about 250KM to the Gold Coast to a brand new sports arena called Skilled Park for the World Cup Rugby game between New Zealand and Papua and New Guinea. I have never been to a rugby game, but it was a good opportunity to record large crowd sounds and to capture the ambiance of a big sporting event. I recorded close to an hour of footage of general crowd ambiance as well as cheers, boos and other audience sounds. The best sample was when PnG scored their first try in the second half. The crowd reacted as though they had just won the premiership, it was a really exciting moment in the game and the energy of that moment was well captured in the recording.
Stephan Schütze has been recording sounds for over twenty years. This journal logs his thoughts and experiences