Transfer Register

Back in 2003 I was hired to record several late 19th century and early 20th century trolleys out in Connecticut for a Smithsonian exhibit on public transportation.   When I arrived, I thought  I was in the wrong place because the museum was at the end of a suburban street and it wasn’t until I saw the Trolley tracks in back that I knew I was in the right place.   The museum is essentially a station house with a few garages that house all of the trolleys.  I met two jovial museum directors in the morning and they were anxious to get out and drive.

After a long day of recording trolly pass-bys, bell dings, door closes, and on-board movement, I was invited to check out some the other trolleys that were parked in the garages along side the tracks.  There were several other trolleys being resotored inside and one of the guys asked me if I ever heard a transfer register before.  I said, “no” and boy was I glad I did.  It sounds pretty awesome.  Trolley operators used to ring them to acknowledge  a transfer fare; they sort of look like little cash registers.

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This was recorded with my Schoeps MS rig with an MK4 as the mid.  It was also recorded before the 744T was in my hands, and I was still running around with a Tascam DA-P1.  I used a Sound Devices MP-2 as a front end because the Tascam sounded like shit.  The batteries on that recorder were also damn awful, which meant I had to run around with these small lead acid batteries on my belt, but it got the job done!

St. Patty’s Day

Another St. Patrick’s day bit the dust and it left a bunch of drunks in it’s wake.  I am not much of a St. Patrick’s day fanatic.  I do enjoy the occasional trip to the local bar, but I tend not to take part in the drinking holidays like St. Patty’s Day.  I also don’t drink green beer or eat green bagels.   In fact, I avoid most food with unnatural food coloring.  After visiting with friends early in the evening and despite my lack of love for Patty’s Day, I decided it might be fun to go out and record at a couple of bars in my neighborhood to document the night.

I went out with my DPA 4060s in my hat rigged to a small Zoom H4 recorder.  I recently bought a new hat with mesh sides which can accommodate the little DPA’s right above my ears.  A hat is always a good way to go when you want to conceal the microphones.

This recording is a time compressed snapshot of my St. Patricks Day around midnight.  It has all the elements of a typical drinking holiday.  The trip into the bar, the trip out of the bar, and a fight over who is going to drive home.  What more do you need!?

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I am still experimenting with this recording setup and still haven’t found a setup that feels totally comfortable or sounds the way I want it too.  The Zoom h4 sounds okay enough for material like this, but it is big enough where wandering around with it in your pocket is somewhat annoying and uncomfortable.  Also, you might hear little shifts in the stereo image which can occur during any movement of my head.  There is tough a balance between staying still and not shifting the stereo image and not looking super weird because you are not moving your head and not talking to anyone.

Cold as Ice

Lately I have had some real trouble recording Owls.  They are not like songbirds where they just pop out of trees and announce their presence.  Raptors, on the other hand, are pretty sneaky, they hide out in trees and pounce on their prey like greased lightning.  After three weekends out between 1:00 – 5:00 AM trying to record Great Horned Owls I have let them go. . .  for now.

Once I let go of the search for Owls, I realized that I needed a vacation in a bad way.  I headed to Two Harbors, MN with my wife and a couple of good friends.  We rented a cabin right on the shore of Lake Superior (“some call it Gitche Gumee”) and it was truly beautiful.

Lake Superior was iced over from the shore to about 400 yards out.  The lake is too large to freeze completely but if the conditions are right it can freeze over 60%.  There have been rare occasions where the lake has frozen over 90%, which means someone is not going to get their shipment of taconite pellets.  One of the more beautiful occurrences along the edge of the water was the spiking up of ice formations that look like quartz crystals.  As the temperature dropped late in the evening the frozen parts of the lake contracted, making remarkable groaning, cracking, and pinging sounds that sounded just like an analog synth.

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With the help of my good friend Dave and my trusty headlamp, I set my recording gear out on the edge of the ice and waited for the temperature to drop and for the heavy duty sounds to commence.  It was so quiet and cold that night, I could hear the wind blowing snow across the surface of the ice.  I was very concerned about how the gear would stand up to the low temperatures.  At its warmest it was 3°F!!  To help deal with potential condensation on the Schoeps, I set the zeppelin outside for several hours before I started recording with the hope that the mics would get adjusted to the cold temps.  They performed extremely well during 4 hours of recording.  At times Schoeps can be prone to clicks or pops in humid conditions or when condensation occurs.  It was cold and damp and they held up just fine.  The Sound Devices 744T was also a trooper in the cold.

More photos . . . .

Continue reading “Cold as Ice”