Tazawako, Akita, Japan
Sennheiser MKH 60
boom pole array
This is the first full entry in the recording journal. The previous entries are summaries of past recording sessions and some of the notable aspects of those sessions. The previous recording sessions occurred some time ago and as a result most of the information is drawn from memory so I’m not going to swear to the accuracy, there may however be some useful information for some people.
This entry actually covers a few days over what is called Golden Week in Japan. This is a national holiday over the course of a week where most of the country goes somewhere for one of their few vacations. We decided to go to Lake Tazawa in Akita prefecture as we had been there briefly in the past and wanted to visit it again. We were really lucky and had 4 days of stunning weather. I had taken all my gear with me specifically to record anything of interest while we were there. We were staying in a camping ground in a log cabin about 50 meters from the lake and over the course of the week we did a bunch of stuff.
We took a tour in a smallish tourist boat across the lake. (held maybe 50 people) One of the really unusual things about the Japanese is they really don’t talk very much in public, even when they are on holiday. Even when they are in a boat on a tour looking at lots of interesting sites they all just stand quietly. This allowed me to hold the R09 in the boat as it travelled across the lake and get beautifully clean recordings of the boat at all the different speeds it was moving. I could hold the R09 over the back near the engines, or over the sides to record the water movement, or inside the cabin area to get the general sound of the boats interior. In Australia all I would be able to record in these circumstances would be screaming kids and chatting adults so it was a great opportunity.
The next day we decided to hire some bikes and ride around the lake. It was only about 10 km so it was not going to be a difficult ride. As we rode around I held the R09 behind me to screen it from wind noise and record some of the bike movement. I did not have a wind jammer for the R09 at this stage so it didn’t really work very well. Later in the afternoon when we returned to the camp site I grabbed the Zoom on the pole and rode around the car park recording. This worked a lot better as the Sennheiser mic is better protected from wind noise. I got some good material of pedalling rolling and breaking on the bike.
That evening I walked down to the lake after dark. There were no people around and almost no traffic on the roads at all. This allowed me to get some good samples of the frogs right next to the lake. I always love recording nature sounds when I can get them cleanly. I needed to approach the frogs very slowly through the marsh area, treading carefully not to make any loud footfalls or break anything. Once I was in position I stood completely still for nearly ten minutes while I recorded. I find this a lot easier than it sounds because I find myself mesmerized by the sounds I am capturing, so I just relax, stand and listen. The better the circumstances for recording (i.e. not background noise) the easier I find it to stand still.
Tazawako Japan Sunset
Apart from the boat, bike and frogs I grabbed some nice bird sounds and the very squeaky sound of a pedal boat Anna and I hired to potter round the lake in. These were all pretty standard recordings with nothing very unusual in the recording process. This trip marked the first instance where I had really started work on gathering material specifically for the library. I had previously started to catalogue my archives of material, but I had not formally started adding to it. From here on things are going to get interesting.
Japan has a lot of people, for how big the country is it really has a lot of people. But I am starting to think it has even more vending machines. They are everywhere! Even in really remote country areas you will see them glowing in the night, hiding in amongst the trees. If I were in to conspiracy theories I would be reaching for my tin hat and trying to hide from them. They are however really convenient and to be honest we use them all the time. You can get coffee, soft drinks, cigarettes, booze, magazines, batteries, food, you name it and it is often available from a machine.
So considering how frequent they were I thought it would be inexcusable to leave japan without having recorded one, so I popped down the one closest to our house, which was about 50 meters down the road at the sports park and bought myself a drink and recorded it going click, clunk and hummm.
Certainly no the most amazingly interesting sound int he world, but I have one now so it's all good.
Anna's Father, step Mother and brother are over visiting us, so we went to see some snow. There are plenty of mountains in our area, but Hakone is one I had not been to either so she thought it would be a good choice. the weather was really nice and the view was great.
I managed to record the most obvious thing, walking through the snow, and in fact got some good material because there was very deep snow as well and the sound is quite different to walking through shallow snow. I also discovered another trick by accident that I am going to share. I had often wondered about recording skiing as it would be great to have some sounds, but it would be difficult because even if you could attach mics to a set of skis the wind noise would be terrible. Quite by accident today I discovered that moving your gloved hand over the surface of the snow sounds alot like skiing. Its makes sense as its just a surface moving against the snow, and its all essential a type of white noise, but when recorded it sounded very realistic. In fact if you move your hand quickly and change direction back and forth you can really simulate the sound of someone skiing and turning. Its a much easier method and probably safer than strapping microphones to someone as they fly downhill.
This is another entry from memory as it dates from before I started keeping a regular log.
I have only owned the Zoom H4 for a short while now. I bought it from my favorite audio shop when I was down in Tokyo for a few days. Now I am back up in Sannohe I have the time to do some tests with it and see what it can do. I am still slightly limited on gear currently, one of the main things I need to pickup is a wind jammer I can use for recording outdoors, but today is quite still so I'll see what I can record.
I really love wandering around Sannohe, it is such a beautiful little town. The buildings and houses are all drab and gray and functional, so they are not very nice to look at, but the town is surrounded by mountains and full of rice fields and orchards so it always looks alive. I thought one of the best ways of comparing the two recorders (The Zoom H4 and Edirol R09) would be to record a passing train and some ambient bird sounds around town. For the ambience both units performs pretty well and very similarly, it was the train that really illustrated the difference.
I stood right next to the level crossing on one of the back lanes in the farming area and activated both recorders as a train approached. I also wanted to take a picture so I placed both recorders on a fence, this would also remove any handling noise. The train passing was quite loud, especially as I was only about 4 feet away from it. Listening back to the two different recordings it showed one main difference. The R09 actually did a better job of recording the fast moving train because its microphones could cope better with the wind generated by the trains movements. I think this might be because the R09's diaphragms do not point straight out and so did take the full force of the wind, whereas the Zoom H4 mics are far more exposed and its recording was very badly effected by the wind.
Normally I would never record without a wind cover, but it is still interesting to see what each unit can handle and which one is better to use should a fluffy cover not be available. I think that in general the Zoom H4 has better and more sensitive microphones, but the R09 is more capable of coping with some wind, so it’s probably a better unit to carry around in case of emergencies.
A few days back in Tokyo to wrap some things up and I had to take this photo. For me, it really typifies Tokyo and the Japanese lifestyle. Trains are essential to the Japanese and nowhere more so than in Tokyo. This shot was taken int he middle of the day so the train is not very crowded, but it is amazing that even in a completely full train I could record the sound of the train with very little unwanted noise as almost everyone travels in complete silence,
I'm actually going to miss the Tokyo trains; even though they are often crowded I always find them enjoyable because they are clean, on time and everyone is polite. One day I am going to come back to Tokyo and record everything I can get my hands on. that should only take a centruy or two.
Relocated to Aomori Japan
To a town called Sannohe which is between Ninohe and Hachinohe
I'm back in Sannohe after a year living in Tokyo. It's great to be back with Anna and I'm really happy to be back in the nice quiet countryside. Tokyo was great, but it just felt too hectic and noisy a lot of the time.
I will now be undertaking far more regular recording as I make the most of my time left in Japan.
One of my favourtie sounds from Japan and the one I probably will miss the most is the ever present sound of the frogs in the ricefields. For several months of the year all the ricefileds are flooded as the rice is planted and grows to maturity, during this time almost every rice field becomes a home to dozens of frogs. Across any rural area this results in contant background hum of the frogs. Far from being annoying I always found this to be the sound that really made me realize I was living in the country and was a surpizingly relaxing sound.
Anna is visiting me in Tokyo for a few days which I am really happy about. She is still living 700km north of Tokyo in Sannohe while I am down here so I miss her heaps and its great to have her here for a while. We decided to go an visit Mount Takao which is about an hour west of Tokyo on the Takao line (go figure!)
Its still quite warm weather and all the Japanese insects are out in force while the weather is good. Japan must have some of the loudest common insects int he world, and I have noticed already that I can tell where in Japan I am by the sound the insects make, there must be different species everywhere. I really like the sounds of the Japanese insects even though they are very loud, they just make me feel like I am Japan more than anything else. this is probably because they are in every single Japanese anime ever made I think.
I think the insects are Cicadas as they are up in the trees and generally crickets are underground. The bugs themselves are huge, about the size of a child's fist and each individual insect can produce a really loud sound all on its own. I managed to get some good general ambiance as well as a couple of specific close up recordings from on bug on a tree trunk (that's how I know how big they are). I would love to record the insects in Tokyo city as well as they have a different sound again, but Tokyo is so noisy its hard not to capture lots of traffic as well.
A trip down to Tokyo means a ride on the Shinkansen or Japanese bullet train. Shinkansen translates to mean Main trunk line, and they are one of the best and most efficient transport systems in the world. I have never had a three hour journey be so comfortable and go so quickly. The trains travel at around 250kph (around 150 mph) and if they are scheduled to arrive at 3.33pm then they usually arrive right on 3.33pm.
Train travel in Japan is really amazing, they have so many train lines and so many different types of trains, yet they all seem to run really well. I wish I had started recording material here earlier because I missed out on capturing so much material from trains alone (not to mention all the other things I missed). One of the issues is I have only just recently purchased my first hand held unit the Edirol R09 which is really amazing and makes recording more frequently much more convenient as I can carry something with me more regularly. My old portable DAT recorder is getting very old and is too bulky to carry regularly.
Happily three hours is long enough on a train that I did think to record some material inside the train. I have captured a couple of samples of interior ambiance as well as a couple of exterior passing sounds. They were trickier to get as a train moving at over 150kph(they slow down near stations) generates a fair bit of wind, so it was a balance between capturing a clean sound and protecting the recorder against the wind. I will need to get a wind jammer for the R09.
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Today was one of the most beautiful days I have had since coming to Tokyo. The cherry blossoms are out everywhere and it is a clear and sunny day. I decided to go for a walk in Yoyogi Park which is famous for its blossoms. I also decided to take my hydrophone with me, and I’m not sure why. As it tuned out it was a good idea.
The park has a large pond in the middle with fountains that cycle between spraying and not spraying. When I dropped the hydrophone into the water I could clearly hear the pump operating and even hear when it was cycling up to spay the next jet of water. I recorded it with the mic in several different positions and got different sounds depending on my location in relation to the pump. This was interesting and boy did I get some strange looks from the locals.
Next I walked over to a small wooden pier that protruded intot he pond. There was a Japanese guy practising tap dancing on the wood. I think he was getting ready for some talent competition show as the BS2 Japanese TV studio was right next to the park. The amazing thing was all his tap dancing was vibrating straight through the wood and down into the water so I was able to record all of it from underwater which was a very unusual effect. I am now going to claim to be the first person in the world to record tap dancing underwater, so until someone comes along and proves they did it before me; I have that claim to fame.
The rest of the afternoon was just enjoying Tokyo’s fantastic parks and lovely weather at this time of the year.
Stephan Schütze has been recording sounds for over twenty years. This journal logs his thoughts and experiences