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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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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Strangers

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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