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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Clack Clack Clack

Back in September I wrote about recording typewriters, and the generosity of Tom Furrier of Cambridge Typewriter. It only took me six months to finish the material, but there is now a completed SFX Library:

I recorded seven machines from 4 perspectives:

  1. Close
  2. Distant
  3. Under Keyboard, Close
  4. Under Type Bars, Close

With a ton of actions per machine:[1]

  • single keys
  • punctuation
  • jammed keys
  • spacebar
  • spacebar, repeated
  • tabulator
  • fast tabulator
  • shift
  • shift + key
  • backspace
  • backspace
  • carriage return
  • typing, slow
  • typing, medium
  • typing, fast

One of my favorite machines from the collection is the Remington Standard. If you are thinking that the name Remington means “heft” then you would be correct.

The strength of this collection is not just the diversity of the material, but the variety of mechanical sounds that can be generated with simple pitch shifting. Check out the recordings at 1/2 speed.

I am very happy to have this collection in the world, but I can’t say that I was loving life cutting typewriters all of the time. There was a long period where I thought one more key depression my crush my soul. There are over 400 files, with multiple takes in each file, so you can imagine how oppressive the clicking and clacking of typewriters can be. All of the complaining aside, I’m very proud of the diversity of sound in this collection and I owe a big thanks to Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter[2] for access to his collection and his unwavering, magical typing hands. I also owe a big thank you to Mitch Hanley and Kelly Pieklo for their ears and feedback.

I’m looking forward to finding something rather quiet to edit, but sadly it is isn’t on the horizon.[3]


  1. There are slight variations with each machine depending on the age of the machine and its hardware.  ↩
  2. I highly recommend you check out Tom’s blog as well. It is a joy to read.  ↩
  3. It is too bad that I have a ton of rockets to cut next.  ↩
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Metro North Trains

I’ve been working like a dog lately, which has limited my extra-curricular productivity. If you read this blog regularly, you know that one of my passions is getting out and recording. I love being forced to stop and really listen to what is around me. This happens during the act of recording and it happens again when I have the pleasure of playing the content back over and over again.

One solution to this problem is to stay close to home when recording. I live in New York City, so the recording possibilities in my backyard are limitless. When you live here it becomes very easy to take it for granted, but I’m trying to change that tendency.

A few weeks ago I was on the Upper East Side and happened upon the Metro North Park Avenue Tunnel. It is the where the trains heading to and from Grand Central pass through. If you commute on a train north of NYC odds are you pass through the tunnel every day.

There are four tracks where trains move past each other at different speeds and the sounds build when they reflect off the neighboring buildings. I used my stealth setup on these recordings, because I was nervous about standing in the middle of Park Avenue right over a major transit hub in NYC with visible microphones. I did not want to attract that kind of attention. I’m glad I was forced to take out the DPA 4060s because I was reminded of how good their low end response is. Those little mics pack a serious punch.


Recording Geek Note: Rig consists of was recorded with a pair of DPA 4060s tracked to a Sony PCM-M10 with a Sound Devices MP–2 as a front end.

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