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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The Rabbit Family And A Love Letter to Animal Bells

Last week I released The Rabbit Family over at Rabbit Ears Audio, which has prompted a bit of self-reflection. I started this little blog back in 2007 and it is still chugging along. Somewhere along the way it spawned a small business, Rabbit Ears Audio. Both of these sites are very much a labor of love and are creative outlets which I feel lucky to have. I started this blog in order to push myself out the door with my gear more frequently. I later started Rabbit Ears Audio in order to work on my craft with a deliberate purpose.

Rabbit Ears Audio’s primary focus is building collections that are not only useful, but off the beaten path. I run this business in gaps, among numerous other responsibilities, and when I launch a new collection in Rabbit Ears Audio’s growing library, I want it to count. Some of the collections have instant “sex appeal,” like Rockets, Jet Turbines[1], or Antique Engines. And then there are the collections with considerably less sex appeal like Typewriters and Animal Bells.

It is the less sexy ones I seem to love the most. I’ve written a fair amount about my love of typewriters. Animal Bells, however, is the true hidden gem in the Rabbit Family. I’ll never forget the sessions for Animal Bells:

For weeks my pal John Loranger kept sending me pictures of all of these crazy looking animal bells made of everything from brass to oddly shaped gourds. I kept asking him where these photos were coming from, but he just kept teasing me with more photos. When I saw a cow bell big enough to crush the neck of even the strongest Swiss cow, I harassed him until he gave it up.

It turned out that John and his family rented a vacation home, and the house showcases an insane private collection.[2] I tracked down the owner of the house, and made arrangements to record the entire collection over a weekend.

The location wasn’t too far from the home of another old friend, whom I dragged along to perform the bells. He performed the hell of out of those animal bells. Some of the actions include:

  • Short Rattles
  • Medium Rattles
  • Long Rattles
  • Repeated Rattles
  • Animal Meander

My favorite move is the animal meander. I’ll never forget coaching my old friend to “be the goat,” or to “trot like a sheep!”[3] We were on the floor in hysterics many times during those sessions.

I love those animal bells. There is not a ton of “sexy” there, but there is a whole lot of raw power.[4] They might not be flying off the shelves every day, but when you need a goat bell … you need a goat bell.

I’m often asked about the financials of REA, and whether or not running this little business is worth it. I’m never really sure how to answer those questions. I’m sure if I calculated the cost of my time and ran the numbers it wouldn’t make sense on paper, but it has never been about a balance sheet. All I know is that I have a collection of content that is as sexy and just as unsexy as it gets. It has been fun so far.

Lets hope the Rabbit Family keeps growing.

  1. Who doesn’t love a Jet Bike and a Jet Cart?  ↩
  2. I love collectors and gearheads. The guy who owned the place was both. He had a crazy collection of animal bells and crazy audiophile gear. It was meant to be.  ↩
  3. Do sheep trot?  ↩
  4. Iggy knows what I’m talking about. There were also times where I felt as if we were working on the set of “Altered States.”  ↩
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I recently helped my pal Kelly Pieklo with some custom recording work, and I’ve asked him to blog about some of the work. – Michael Raphael

Last week, Michael and I wrapped up a fantastic project for Eric Howell’s short film, “Strangers”, starring Marta Milans and James Denton.

In the past, Eric and I have collaborated as director + sound editor a few of his other projects, including his 2009 short film “Ana’s Playground”, and most recently a series of effective and touching American Cancer Society broadcast spots. Michael and I have worked together numerous times on various Rabbit Ears Audio’s recording projects, including REA’s Mi–24 Hind and Jet Turbines collections, and as a result I have come to have great respect for his recording rig, his attention to detail while recording and his understanding of perspective.

“Strangers” was shot at a beautiful home in Silver Bay, MN, up on the craggy, dramatic cliffs overlooking Lake Superior’s shore. It is a lovely, but lonely and eerie area in the winter months. Few sounds other than approaching and passing 18 wheelers on HWY61 and the violent wind gusts blowing off of the lake. After reading the script, looking at some storyboards and viewing some of the production photography, I found myself focusing on the home itself, the shelter and environment it provides.  The outdoor principle photography looked great – plenty of opportunity for winds, gusts, water sounds (Superior was still open water in Jan), tons of snow foley footsteps, some water splashing around, maybe some hydrophone recordings. After seeing some early edits, I found myself thinking of DP Bo Hakala’s sweeps through the softly and darkly lit, angular layout of the living spaces of the home and wanting to explore supporting the storytelling through the use of native, true sounds of those ambiences and environments.

The results of the 2 interior recording days up north were phenomenal. The amount of movement, change, and dynamics in the room tone recordings was stunning – never am I in a real world situation where I am listening to, and ultimately totally focused on, the morphing of the sound of a room over time: distant HVAC ons/offs, mysterious ductwork knocking sometimes syncopated sometimes randomized, building material expanding and contracting, the exterior environment interaction with the exterior of the building and the sound of that interaction from the interior perspective. During the editing of the tones, various emotional moments made themselves noticeable – fear, sadness, aggression, lust, confusion, clarity, relief, safety.

We managed to find those extremely special, emotional recorded moments and make them available for Eric and “Strangers”. We’re excited to hear the results, and wish Eric and his crew the best with this project!

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

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Brooklyn Dogs Next Door

When you live in New York City you have to come to terms with a few simple facts of life:

  • You will pay too much for a tiny apartment.
  • You will not have enough space for your worldly possessions.
  • At some point in time, little yappy dogs will move in next door and annoy the hell out of you.

All of the above are currently true for me … well, occasionally true. Several times a month 3 little dogs move into the apartment across the hall for days at a time. These dogs have insane separation anxiety, so whenever my Missus or I walk up the stairs they start yapping away. I’m not sure why the dogs only show up a few times a month, but they do. Maybe they are housesitting?

After several months of their yapping, I thought it was time to commit the buggers to tape.

And here is a distant take where the creak of my door set them off.

The dogs where recorded from just outside my apartment door, which is about 6 feet from their apartment.

Recording Geek Note: Rig consists of Schoeps CMC5′s setup for MS, with the MK4 as the mid. It was all tracked to a Sound Devices 744T at 24/96.

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Cold Weather Pals

Sometimes, we need all need a bit of help. Cold weather and gear often demands lots of it. To date, I have gone recording in Vermont, Upstate NY, Minnesota, and, most recently, in Canada.

In order to find quiet locations I have been poring over maps and air traffic data. After a fair amount of research I settled on Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario. There is limited air traffic over the park and I knew the park wouldn’t be packed with visitors in the dead of winter.

Happily, I have a pal in Toronto, and I was able to talk John Loranger into tagging along on the trip. John picked me up on a Friday from YYZ[1] and we headed out to the semi-frozen north.[2]

The following recording is from a location that was about 300ft from a half frozen lake, and between several large pines.

I love how the distant ice crack and the subtle creaks from the trees add to the sense of cold. After three full days in Algonquin we only heard four planes. I was hoping for a moose to drop by where we were recording, but it wasn’t meant to be.

I have been extremely fortunate to have travel companions while out in the freezing cold. Algonquin is incredibly wild in the winter and most of its roads are left uncleared. We would not have been able to get to most of the locations if it wasn’t for John’s four-wheel drive truck.

I was also recently in Minnesota doing some recording and I would not have been able to do 90% of it without the help of my good friend Rob Byers. We spent days traversing snow-covered roads that were more than a little challenging.

Rob also just received a shipment with a healthy chunk of my gear. He is currently traveling to remote northern Minnesota where he will have to ski to a cabin. Rob was generous enough to suggest that he could do some recording for me while up north. Last week, I packed up my pelican cases and off they went. (thank goodness for insurance). I’m really looking forward to hearing what sounds come back to me.

I’m truly lucky to have great friends and colleagues in cold places these days.[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.

  1. I wanted to run into Geddy Lee at the airport but my hopes were dashed.  ↩
  2. There was a thaw the week before and I was concerned that we would run into a lack of snow and ice. Most of the locations were great, but the ice was too unsafe to walk on.  ↩
  3. I’m also truly lucky to have great recording buddies in other locations as well that are always game to lend a hand when I visit their hometowns. I’m grateful for all of their support over the years.  ↩
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Winter Creaks

Lately, I’ve been recording way more than I have been editing. I have been traveling all over gathering quiet winter ambiences. I haven’t found much quiet time to actually get to cutting.

It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find quiet places to record, and when you live in New York you have no choice but to travel at least 3 hours to record anything useful.

It’s one thing to look at a map and find a place you believe will yield clean results. It is another to find that incredibly quiet place. It takes a fair amount of scouting and the willingness to go somewhere and fail. Stumbling upon a quiet environments is pretty damn incredible but can be somewhat unsettling. I wish it wasn’t a shock to my system, and it was more of a normal occurrence, but that is not the reality. In cases where I do find quiet, my mind often plays tricks on me. I often think that I can hear a distant truck or plane when in reality one isn’t there. That sort of noise is so engrained in my daily experience that is hard to believe the noise isn’t always lurking somewhere.

The following recording was made just a few weeks ago in a heavily wooded forest. The temperature was hovering between 0° – 12°F with the winds beginning to kick up.

I love the tone of the wind as the gusts begin the pick up. I also don’t know anyone who can resist the eerie sounds of trees creaking in the wind. The location was so stark and desolate that I was more than a bit creeped out by all of the creaking while hiking into the woods. It takes a lot of self control to keep the image of Dick Halloran driving that snowcat in The Shining out of the old noggin, but it has to be done. No one needs to be paralyzed with that kind of fear.

The recording is one half of a double ORTF setup which I am still putting through its paces. I’m using full-size Schoeps CMC5 bodies on stereo bars, which means there are a few compromises. Instead of using full sized windshields, I have to use Rycote’s smaller ball gag windshields. So far I have been pretty impressed with the results. They manage to hold up to pretty strong winds and get the job done. The only real issue I’ve run into is the rather awkward product name. It makes for interesting discussions while going through airport security.

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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