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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Midtown Rooftop

It is almost April and the temps in NYC are still fluctuating between 20–30° F, often with brisk winds. I know we haven’t had it as bad as other parts of the country this winter, but the conditions have made some of my work more challenging.

You may have read that I’ve been on the hunt for rooftop recording locations all around New York City. The cold and brisk winds are colder and brisker as you get further up in the skyline. To do date, I’ve been on rooftops covered in ice, roofs with ornate fences and lounge chairs, and others that appear to be providing most of the HVAC for the city. You can also never predict when you get on someone’s private roof deck that their neighbor may have a wind chime fetish.

One of the odder sounds was a construction crew off in the distance when I was on a roof in midtown. I couldn’t see them but from the sounds of it, the were likely sanding down and cutting into bricks on the side of a nearby structure.

I love all of the reflections from the surrounding buildings. They sound almost other-worldly ripping around the stereo field. If you have ever lived in NYC, construction tends to be all around us.

And once again, if you have a rooftop or terrace in NYC that you wouldn’t mind me recording on, please contact me.


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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Do You Have a Rooftop?

Lately, I’ve been spending days and nights on rooftops all over NYC for a collection of surround recordings from up high.

One of my favorite locations this far is a rooftop on 20th and 2nd avenue. This location came with a lovely view of the Empire State Building, and, if it hadn’t been for the temperature, I could have stayed out there for hours. 15° Fahrenheit isn’t always the most conducive climate for sightseeing, but this night was special. The skies were clear, the Empire State Building was lit up in classic white, brakes were squealing, and the firetrucks were out. I was in heaven. Here’s a little sample.

I’ve been making these recordings in quad using Schoeps MK4’s in a double ORTF configuration. I’ve also been dragging around my Cooper CS104 as a front end for my Sound Devices 744T.[1]

I’ll come out and say it, none of this is convenient. My kit involves a bag with the Cooper and Sound Devices, a Pelican 1510, and all the other little fiddly bits go in a backpack. The looks I get when I drag this morass of stuff on a packed subway train are priceless.

This process also involves a fair amount of goodwill from my New York friends and colleagues. Thankfully, my New York friends and colleagues have been willing to indulge me.[2] I’d go as far as to say that I have been extremely lucky. Two rooftop visits included meals and another included cocktails. I don’t know if folks are taking pity on me or if I look that harried, but those rice cakes I had with that almond butter were more delicious than expected.

I am still on the hunt for more rooftops in NYC, so if you live in any of the 5 boroughs and have roof access (or know someone who does), and would like me to document the sound of your roof for posterity, drop me a line. Please know that snacks and cocktails are not required.


  1. I always say, “If you want your ambiences to sound right, don’t leave home without your Cooper CS104!”  ↩
  2. I’ve been lucky in work and in my friends. All too often my friends are willing to support my crazy recording endeavors in any way they can and, for that, I am in their debt.  ↩
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When the City Sleeps

New York City is supposed to be the city that never sleeps and for the most part it is. The Big City always seems as if it is hustling and bustling – on some rare occasions, you can catch it sleeping.

I spend a fair bit of time working on the east side of Midtown and it is a commuter’s wasteland. It is a part of the city that is often dead on the weekends and jam packed during the weekdays. I did some recording over the Thanksgiving holiday, and it was a rare opportunity to get some material when midtown was quiet. Below are two perspectives – one facing 47th Street, and the other is facing 3rd Avenue between 46th and 47th.

The gaps of relative silence occur when cars on on 3rd Avenue are stopped at a red light. Occasionally a car will turn left from 46th Street, but it is rare. This kind of relative silence in the middle of a weekday that is definitely abnormal.

Another kind of relative silence that is worth recording is either in the middle of or after a snowstorm. I spent a little time recording in the same locations right after our recent snowstorm. The roads were relatively quiet but the slush was a thing of beauty:

I love the plow that rolls up 3rd Avenue pushing the slush all over the sidewalk. One passerby got nailed. You’ve got to look out for the department of sanitation!!!


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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