Feeling the Underpass

Yesterday was a day to slowly meander around Berlin. I took my time and moved without a real sense of purpose. Later in the day I came across a train underpass that seem to have it all. It was surrounded by trees, distant construction, cyclists rolling by, and several different trains moving over head. There is even a distant street trolley somewhere in there:

At first glance the location seemed like it would be relatively quiet, but once 5pm hit, there was an influx of activity. I was drawn to the location because the different trains had a lovely mid-range quality to them. Even the brake squeals seems relatively mild-mannered.

Recording Geek Note: Rig consists of a pair of DPA 4060s tracked to a Sony PCM-M10 with a Sound Devices Mix Pre as a front end.

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Some folks take lots of pictures when they take vacation and others make recordings. I definitely fall in the latter camp. I limited the amount of gear I took on this vacation, but I couldn’t help myself from taking a few pieces. I’m glad I did. Berlin is the vacation destination and our hotel is down street from a beautiful old medieval cathedral, Marienkirche (St Mary’s Church). If you are into murals of the black death, then that is the place for you!

I put out a pair of DPA 4060s on our terrace just as the church bells started to ring out against the din of Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, which is a fairly busy street.

You can hear the old bells ringing out against buses, motorcycles and the general din of the city. I think it is a fitting juxtaposition since the 13th century church sits against a now defunct television tower.

Recording Geek Note: Rig consists of a pair of DPA 4060s tracked to a Sony PCM-M10 with a Mix Pre as a front end.

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Plane Concètre

This week I sat down to a 8.5 hour flight, and in my exhausted state I was looking forward to plowing my way through a series of bad movies on the inflight entertainment. Sadly when I sat down I was met with the following sound in my headphones:

Sure, give the soundguy that seat assignment!

The ghost of Iannis Xenakis invaded my armrest. So much for hours of really bad movies. I’m sure some would argue that the dulcet tones emanating from my arm rest would be an improvement on most soundtracks, but I present them here without bias.

Recording Geek Note: I plugged the line input of a Sony PCM-M10 right into the noisy armrest.

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Spring has Sprung

Almost ever year I toss some microphones in the window to remind myself what I love and hate about my surroundings. Some people put doggies in the window and other people put mics in the window. This winter was long, but it finally feels like spring may have sprung.

The above recording was made around 1:00 PM on Sunday April 19, 2015.

Whenever winter passes I get startled by the amount of bird-life that thrives outside my window. It is true that “a tree grows in Brooklyn,” but days like Sunday make it feel like an aviary grows here. You get a little bit of everything. There are tons of songbirds, a dog barking (probably at a squirrel), distant voices, an ice cream truck, and some car horns. It is striking how few cars pass by. Maybe Sunday is truly a day of rest?

I suspect I’ll continue to have a love/hate relationship with this city, but days like Sunday can take some of the edge off.

Recording Geek Note: Rig consists of Schoeps CMC5′s with MK4 capsules setup for ORTF. It was tracked with a Cooper CS 104 feeding a Sound Devices 744T.

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Steam Whistle Madness

I have a tremendous ability to get obsessed with projects and go down the rabbit hole. In this case it is a massive collection of steam whistles and culminates in the release of REA_017.

I first got the bug when I went to go record the amazing new year’s celebration over at The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.[1] That night was magical for a number of reasons. Who doesn’t want to hear steam whistles in Brooklyn? And who even thought that is still possible? Conrad Milster, Pratt’s Chief Engineer, puts on this massive celebration and he is a real gem of a human being. I managed to get out to Pratt in 2012 for the event, and I was truly enamored. Conrad was kind enough to blow some whistles early in the evening before any of the festivities started:

Notice the car rolling by at 20 seconds in. You can’t hear it at all. You learn quickly that when a​ steam whistle​ blows​ it is really damn loud and puts out an​ ​extreme amount of pressure. An 18-Wheeler ​can roll ​by and it ​won’t be heard. The whistles output the kind of pressure you feel in your chest​ -​ the kind of pressure that yells “bring hearing protection!”

From that moment on I was on the hunt. It is relatively easy to find whistles but​ it is considerably more difficult to find a steam boiler to feed them. Not every whistle collector has a steam boiler or steam train in their backyard.

In 2013 I started conversations with my friend Rudy Trubitt, head of audio at Lionel about a collaboration. Rudy is always looking for new material and he also has close ties to the railroad community. After some exhaustive searches Rudy made contact with The New Hope Valley railroad in North Carolina.

New Hope Valley set several days aside so I could come down and record. We ended up recording an insane amount of whistles on Saturday from 4pm until about 11pm, and then the next morning from 8am until about noon. The location couldn’t have been more perfect.

The New Hope Valley Railroad is in a rural part of North Carolina, the tracks are set back from major roads, and it is surrounded by tall trees. Those tall trees created some truly lovely reflections for the tails of the whistles. The only thing better would have been a massive canyon, but those are a bit harder to find on the east coast. The only interference​? ​ An ​oc​c​asional cow moo.

Steam Whistles are challenging to record not only because of the high amount of sound pressure level they output but because of the diversity of sounds that need to be captured. We made sure the whistles were performed in a variety of ways and captured 6–8 perspectives per take. The iconic sound of a steam whistle heard in most films is a distant perspective. I wanted to make sure we captured those extremely well, and also provide some creative room for sound designers to play.

Some of the closer perspectives are unusual: you can hear the sound of air being ripped. The diaphragm is also on the edge here as well.

My favorites are the takes from the figure of 8 microphones which are completely off-axis with no proximity effect.

And who doesn’t like a nice stereo image?

Toot toot!

You can pick up a copy of REA_017 Steam Whistles here and a bundled product with Antique Engines here

Many thanks go out to Rudy Trubitt, Justin Drust and Kelly Pieklo for their help and support with this collection.

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