The Harbour

This post comes via guest contributor, Rob Bridgett. Rob is a Sound Recordist and Game Audio Director based in Canada. Rob also is the proud creator or 2 sound libraries over at Rabbit Ears Audio, which can found here. –Michael

 

I’ve been living in St John’s, Newfoundland for almost two years now and am constantly finding new things and new places to record. Michael asked me recently how the harbour sounded, having seen some of my pictures on instagram, so I thought I’d indulge and dig through some material.

St John’s is a small city situated on the Eastern-most tip of North America on the remote and beautiful island of Newfoundland. The downtown core itself is NOISY (with the Harleys & classic cars revving on show during the summer, and non-stop snow clearing in the 4–6 month winter season) The harbour here is the focus for much of the downtown bustle, and it is very busy; with coastguard traffic, cruise ships, plenty of smaller fishing boats and a lot of import shipping. There are a couple of shipping terminals, but by far the biggest and most busy is the Oceanex terminal to the west of the harbour. Back to that shortly, but the first recording here is one from the 2014 Sound Symposium Harbour Symphony.

Every two years the harbour is blasted by the sounds of co-ordinated (scored) compressor ship horns between 12:30 to 12:45 each day of the symposium. (Interestingly, that is not the only time you can hear this, as during the Fall cruise ship season, whenever a cruise ship leaves, an improvised farewell harbour symphony is performed by all the vessels in the harbour as the cruise liner leaves – it must be pretty awesome to be on a cruise ship to hear this) The recording here is an excerpt from day 9, from a secret spot I have found which is far enough away from background traffic of downtown, sheltered from the high winds yet close enough for clear horns, wind effect and some gorgeous reverberation from the bowl-like harbour.

The second recording is taken from a similar location, sitting among the rocks at the shoreline on what is known as chain rock. From here, when the fog descends, which it often does, the fog warning horn at Fort Amherst Lightstation can be heard echoing around the harbour.

The next couple of recordings bring us back to the busy shipping areas of the city, with a couple of mid-distance recordings of the Oceanex terminal. It sounds like this 24hrs a day and never seems to stop. The site is characterized by reversing beeps of giant industrial fork-lifts and cranes, as well as heavy container movement sound.

Moving into some closer perspective recordings, along most of the waterfront, and fairly accessible to the public, are multiple boat moorings – many of these boats employ water pumps which have loud diesel-based engines – both tracks 5 and 7 are of these noisy pumps. There are a lot of overtones and low frequencies present the further away you are from these, but the sound of traffic in the city makes this difficult to record cleanly (at sociable hours).

Track 6, probably one of my favorite industrial sounds, is a recording of a giant stack of refrigerated shipping containers (known as ‘reefers’). These things are arranged into a huge 4×4 stack, like a Marshall backline, and sound like the back-end of enormous refrigerators (which is exactly what they are!). There is a sickening high-pitched whine, that I don’t think you’d be able to tolerate for very long if you worked or lived near to these stacks. Thankfully the sound doesn’t carry too far and is fairly localized.

The island also has an equally interesting natural side – once you get a few minutes walk on some of the trails out of the town and into the coastal villages like Quidi Vidi along the East Coast Trail or along to the coastal south side hills, you are away from everything man-made. Inland is very peaceful, with little air-traffic, whereas the coastal areas vary from peaceful to insanely rough. The weather is constantly changing hourly, many hurricanes and tropical storms track through as they leave North America… but I’ll save some of those more nature-based recordings for another time.


Most of this ambient material is recorded with the Rode NT4 via a Mix Pre-D and tracked to a PCM D50 at 24/96. Anything requiring closer more covert recording is done with the D50 alone.

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La Escalera de Incendios

I’ll admit I have a problem. Isn’t that the first step?

Over six months ago I started recording sound effects for a feature that required a significant amount of New York City ambiences. The film required quad ambiences from elevation; this meant that I would be spending lots of time on rooftops. My experiences doing this are partially documented here, here, and here.

I’ll admit I can be a bit obsessive. I’ve been recording on rooftops in quad since November of 2013 and I’ve only just stopped. In several months I have gathered a diverse collection of ambiences that spans the following content:

  • City Din
    • with people (light voices, drunk voices)
    • with sirens
    • construction
    • heavy traffic
  • Rooftop Mechanicals
    • with distant traffic
    • with sirens
    • intense HVAC and mechanicals

The list goes on and on: somehow I have accumulated 267 Gigabytes of raw material.[1] Soon this material will end up in a library at Rabbit Ears Audio.

A month ago I was raving about all of this to my pal Kris Fenske, and he said, “You know, I live between a Police Station and a Firehouse,” and I said, “No F’ing Way!” and he said, “Yes way.” Kris’ place was just what I was looking for: A fire escape just high enough to record specific commotion of the neighborhood. When Kris was going to bed or just relaxing with some Pinot Grigio, he would put the rig out on the fire escape and wait for the magic to happen.

 

I’m here to tell you that la escalera de incedios de Kris delivers the goods.

Police Sirens:

Fire Truck Sirens:

Drunk People:

Recycling Trucks:

Late Night Taxi:

Distant Thunder:

Those are just a few of the wacky things happening outside of Kris’ place in the middle of the night.

These last several months have been very special for me. I’ve managed to hear and see New York City from unique vantage points. I often froze my butt off[2] for long periods of time, but it was damn thrilling to see 1 World Trade from a 10 story building in Soho. It was even more thrilling to see the variety of The Empire State Building views from eight different locations. Each time I was up on a roof, it was just me, the rig, and NY. Just me and NY.[3]


Recording Geek Note: Rig consists of Schoeps CMC5′s with MK4 capsules setup for double ORTF. It was tracked with a Cooper CS 104 feeding a Sound Devices 744T. Only the front pair were used in this blog post.


  1. It is at 24/96 but it still manages to fill 3.5 Pro Tools timelines. Are we having fun yet.  ↩
  2. I tried to get the majority of the recording done during winter because even New York City has song birds.  ↩
  3. Now it has to be just me and pro tools and 267GB of material that is not going to finish editing itself.  ↩
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San Diego Underground

Back in January Charles Maynes released his wonderful collection of urban ambiences called LA Underground. Charles recently spent some time recording in San Diego, and wanted to reward existing customers with an additional bonus of 2.76GB of new ambiences. New customers can also get access to this material through Thursday July 10 when purchasing LA Underground. I’ve asked Charles to blog a bit about some of the new material.
– Michael

Hi all, I hope you are enjoying the Urban Ambiences of LA, and if you were an early supporter of the library, I hope the San Francisco material is handy as well. The recording rig was the same as both the Los Angeles and San Francisco recordings, which was a Sound Devices 744T recorder with a Oktava mid side stereo set of mics. I am still really enjoying the sound these capture and I hope they sound good to you as well. 

Having grown up in San Diego, the downtown is pretty different today compared to when I lived in the city back then. Downtown was not a polite place for the most part and one only ventured there when it was absolutely required.

Today, it is very different and has become a popular tourist destination. The downtown area dates back to the mid to late 1800’s and as the California city closest to Mexico, it does have a bit of influence from Mexico.

It also is noteworthy that San Diego has many military installations near downtown, including the headquarters for the US Navy Pacific Fleet, and North Island Naval Air Station. Also in close proximity is Coronado, which hosts the Headquarters for the west coast Navy SEAL teams.

In addition, the US Marine Corps Boot Camp is just north of Downtown. This was actually one of the reasons I chose to do some recording in town, as I am working on a submarine thriller named “SUBCONSCIOUS” and felt I could acquire nice military base ambiences while I was there.

If you want to pick up a copy of LA Underground it will be available through 7/10 with 2.76GB of additional material from San Diego.

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Rooftop Obsession

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve accidentally blown my ears out listening to the tails of rocket motors. I love those recordings, but boy am I glad I get to take a break from editing them. I had a terrible habit of forgetting to turn the headphones down when I was checking the tails of each rocket motor burn. Ouch!

Now that I am free of spontaneous combustion, I can return to working on my other obsession: nyc rooftops. Recently, I had two experiences that couldn’t have been more different. The first location was a rooftop on a building that was 8 stories high in Soho. When I first looked at the address on the map I thought it was going to be a great location for distant traffic and sirens in Soho, but it turned out to be an HVAC paradise:

The roof is surrounded by 4 foot high walls and several HVAC units kicking on and off. Occasionally, muted cars and brakes can be heard through the din of the HVAC. It’s those indirect sounds that sound like NYC. If you have ever spent time in NYC during the summer, you know the sound of Air Conditioning units running around the clock. New York during the summer contains the smells of stale garbage cooking in the sun and the drone of freon.

Another recent rooftop session took me to a 7-story building on the East Side to a deluxe apartment in the sky:

In this case there were no massive HVAC units, but instead a quiet street between 1st and 2nd Avenue in the 80s. The bustle of 1st Avenue can be heard off in the distance with minimal traffic rolling by directly below. Beans might not fry on the grill if you are on the East Side, but the distant traffic sure does sound good.


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

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Rockets 2: Static Burns

I love getting obsessed with projects. It is a good sign when one can take a deep dive into a project and manage to get lost for large swaths of time. Lately, because of a rather complicated schedule, I’ve been working on projects that get stretched over long periods of time. I just completed a new sound effects collection, REA_016 Rockets 2: Static Burns. I recorded all of the material at two different locations over the course of last summer and fall. I’ve found it useful to revisit material months to years after it has been recorded.[1]

I started thinking about this library shortly after I released REA_001 Rockets. A number of customers requested steady state rocket burns, and I was more than happy to oblige, but in due time. I had other libraries I needed to complete first, and frankly, cutting rockets over and over again is not good for the soul or the ear drums. Too much SPL is not what the doctor ordered.[2]

REA_001 was less controlled. I was at the mercy of rocket enthusiasts and the events they attended. I was lucky and built relationships with generous folks who were game to have me record their launches. It worked out wonderfully.[3] When I set out to record static burns, I knew it would be a more controlled situation. Both locations were on private property, there was no big launch event; instead it was me, a test stand, a rocket enthusiast, and a bunch of mics.

I recorded each location with 6–8 channels so I could capture a variety of colors for the library. On high SPL shoots like this dynamic mics can be your friend. One of my favorite mics on both shoots was the Sennheiser MD421. It’s a classic choice on drums and it turns out that it works very well on rocket motors less than 5 feet away.

It is crazy how much that mic can be pushed. I beat the hell out of that thing and it sounded great every take. It provides a real “in your face sound” but also doesn’t pick up much else in terms of the space. It is what I call: “421, Super Dry.” The mic has a really specific presence. It has a lovely amount of low end for a dynamic, and not a false bottom-end like some condensers.

Now compare that sound to one of the distant perspectives. Here is the same take from a distant Schoeps stereo pair.

Quite a different vibe. Here is the same take recorded from a medium perspective with an MKH 40.

There are lot of flavors to play with in this collection, and that was the goal with Rockets 2. These rocket motors have enormous character and texture. One draw back of rocket motors is that they burn fast. I wanted to capture the textures of the individual rocket motors, and a sense of space when needed. With the amount of perspectives delivered, one can work with sounds as wet or dry as you like. Mix and match! Unleash the dry propellant.

Here is another burn with a variety of perspectives to further illustrate all of the rocket motor varietals.

You can find out more about the REA_016 Rockets 2: Static Burns here.


  1. You better just remember to slate the hell out of your recordings or you are going to be in some serious trouble.  ↩
  2. We probably all need less SPL and more leafy greens.  ↩
  3. Rocket enthusiasts and Antique Engine collectors are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  ↩
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