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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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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Grand Central Stealth

We all encounter situations where walking around with a large Rycote and a big Portabrace bag might not be ideal. There are times where ambiences need to be recorded without our subjects reacting to the fact they are being recorded. This is where having a good discrete recording setup is always handy.

The Tapers Forum has a plethora of examples that are worth exploring. Most of the content on that site is geared towards concert tapers, and you’ll see a ton of crazy setups for recording really bad PA systems.[1] That said, it is worth a visit to generate some ideas.

Every few months I make little tweaks to my stealth rig. Currently my rig consists of a pair of DPA 4060s that are head-mounted, a Sound Devices MP–2 pre-amp, a Sony PCM-M10, and a custom bag with cable routing.

It all works quite well and I recently took the rig out to test my recent tweaks. After running some errands, I crossed town and did some recording in Grand Central.

One of the spots I really dug was a small corridor between the main concourse and Vanderbilt Hall.

To the east of the corridor is a ramp that heads down to Metro North trains.

There is significantly less foot traffic in the corridor and there is a beautiful diffuseness to the sound in that location.

I was able to stay in that position for a while, but when you stand in one spot not moving your head, you start to look a little weird. If you move your head, you mess with your stereo image![2]

Apparently, I was not attracting too much attention because this happened:

Who says New Yorkers aren’t nice people! You know you have a decent stealth rig when tourists stop so you can take their picture.

  1. I don’t know why a pair of Schoeps CCMs mounted in your hat is really necessary when you are essentially recording a junky PA and the guy next to you screaming “Free Bird” every 5 minutes, but to each his own.  ↩
  2. Don’t move your head!  ↩
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