Sennheiser MKH 60
Boom pole array
Well today was something I had been planning for and looking forward to for sometime. The reality on the day was a series of annoyances and frustration. Perhaps the best thing I learnt was that some days are just going to suck. With any large event such as an air show I make sure I do plenty of preparation, checking all my gear recharging batteries, packing spares, clearing memory cards. This is stuff I do regularly anyway, but when it’s an unusual event I make sure I go through it all carefully. I even packed two cameras to help with the new video journals I am trying to add. Its just part of trying to be professional, check your gear, make sure you don’t forget anything and avoid dumb mistakes. Its never perfect but it helps. Anyway I had everything sorted and ready, and I drove out to Avalon with my special parking pass and media access stuff, I even had time to go around and take still shots of all the major planes I was planning to record during the day. Then the flying demonstrations started and everything fell to pieces.
Last time I had been to Avalon there was a fair bit of canned music through PA speakers, it was fairly annoying and got in the way of some of the recordings. I managed to position myself to be away from most of it. This year the geniuses involved obviously thought that no human being can possibly cope with watching an event as boring as supersonic jet fighters pulling death defying stunts without really loud, crap rock music and annoying commentary every single second. I had even gone to the trouble of contacting the organisers before hand and pointing out that media sound crews could not do their jobs properly with music playing and that it would be really nice if they could go without it on the media days and save it for the public access days. They obviously interpreted this as “turn it up please” The music and verbal dribbling was present almost everywhere, and I was very close to saying screw you and leaving. I did not however as I was determined to grab something from the day.
From a learning point of view today was pretty useful I think, although at the time it was hard to think so. Earlier in the day before the flying show started I walked around to grab still shots of various planes. Because the airport was still being used for some commercial flights there were passenger planes landing every half hour or so. I found myself torn between rushing off and recording these and taking photos, and then a helicopter came in and my immediate thought was to rush off and record it. Seeing as the airport was laid out over about a kilometre strip with planes parked all along, this could very easily have lead to me spending the entire day running back and forth, missing everything and achieving nothing but exhausting myself. That would have been a total waste of a day. I knew that the fighter staging ground was up one end of the runway and that most planes would taxi out to the runway and start their take-off from there. This spot also happened to be fairly free of PA speakers, so I decided to stake out a spot and camp there for the day.
I did manage to get a good sample of a 747 Jumbo idling, and taxiing out to the runway and finally taking off, as well as a couple of other clean samples of planes. The problem with my position was that every time a plane was up, there would be another waiting to come onto the runway, and an idling plane tend to be fairly loud, especially fighter jets. So a lot of my material was contaminated by other sounds. It seemed no matter where I positioned myself for the day I was not going to get nice clean material.
As far as recording was concerned I needed to be very aware of the extremes of sounds I was exposed to. The planes when idling are fairly constant and quite audible without being too loud, but when a fighter takes off or does an extreme manoeuvre while flying the volume level is very extreme. Not only do you need to be very careful with your hearing, but it creates a big challenge for recording. At all times I had the R09 recording on its absolute lowest input level, and a lot of the material captured there is very good. The Sennheiser in some ways is far too directional and sensitive to be pointing at the business end of a jet engine during take-off, and while I got lots of material I also got a lot of distortion even with very low input levels. This was mitigated somewhat by having different levels set on the left and right channels. But sometimes the shear power of the sound waves coming from something like a jet engine is just too much. The problem with moving further away is that then you risk picking up other sounds in between. And frankly one of the fighters was still extremely loud even when it shot above the clouds, so it’s a tricky balance to work with.
Some useful things to remember at an event with lots of noisy vehicles.
-Remember planes travel so fast you don’t want to track the plane with a directional mic, you want to be aiming just behind it, because that’s where the sound is coming from.
-I would always recommend having at least two devices for a day like this. Set one on very low input levels and use it as a backup for extreme sound levels.
-Make a rough plan, but be prepared to be flexible, don’t however try and be everywhere at once, that will just get you tired and frustrated.
-Don’t plan to sample everything, concentrate on getting what you can, and try not to be disappointed on what you might have missed out on.
-WEAR SUNSCREEN! Yeah I got badly burnt because it was very cloudy in the morning, but it cleared, and airports have very little shade for obvious reasons. I had sunscreen in the car, but it was a fair hike back to the car park. My bad, and I’m suffering for it. I should probably buy a hat, but I look like a total noob in a hat.
-It is worth checking your gear and having a routine for each time you go out. Of all the issues I had at Avalon, non of them were gear related, everything did what it was supposed to, and did it pretty well.
Stephan Schütze has been recording sounds for over twenty years. This journal logs his thoughts and experiences