Lunch

A potential client recently asked me to try and record in a retail store.  That kind of recording presents a unique set of challenges.  Retail stores don’t take kindly to recordists walking in with a huge zeppelin, lots of recording gear, cables, and there are corporate policies blah blah blah . . . . .  In order to pull off recording ambience in a place like that discretion and the ability to conceal one’s recording equipment is essential.  It has been a while since I have done any stealth recording and I wanted to put together a test run.

Normally I record with a Schoeps MS rig and a Sound Devices 744T, but you can’t hide those things under your coat and expect folks not to notice.  My “stealth” rig consists of a beautiful knit winter hat that my wife made, a pair of DPA 4060s, a jacket, and the Zoom H4 recorder.  Their recorder is a piece of junk compared to the Sound Devices unit, but when you need a small recorder that has xlr inputs and can fit in your pocket it’s not a bad option.

When lunch rolled around my buddy Rob helped me get setup.  We fed the tiny mic capsules through the fine knitting work of my wife, and ran the cables past my ears and down the back of my neck.  All the cables and recorder were concealed by my jacket.

The recording is a time compressed version of my lunch.  I went to a sandwich place that was rocking The Clash pretty hard while they made my roast beef sandwich.  Unfortunately, someone’s phone got a little close to my mics and you can make out a little bit of cell phone interference bleeding through within the first minute.  Once I left the shop I sat down in an indoor commissary area and recorded some ambience.

Can you find the mics?

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All in all I think it was a pretty solid test.  I had to be careful not to move my head too quickly as it might unnaturally shift the stereo image.  The DPA connectors are also a bit delicate so you have to give yourself enough slack so you can move around without straining either the cable or the connector.  The setup feels a bit awkward when walking around, but that is not an issue when you’re sitting down.  Just look natural!


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Please Just Hoot

As a recordist sometimes luck is not on your side.  This past Sunday morning was one of those days.  I was on a mission with a couple friends to get some recordings of Great Horned Owls.  I checked with my favorite nearby wildlife preserve, Crex Meadows, and there were recent sightings, so off we went.  10:30 PM rolled around and I hopped in the car with two buddies and drove the 90 minutes to Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, WI. 

Crex Meadows is a wetlands area that features a deciduous forest, a network of lakes, and prairie grasses. Earlier this year during the migratory season I recorded waterfowl there.  Driving into Crex at night is not something to be taken lightly if you don’t know your way around.  Think Blair Witch.

The first time I drove in there late at night I was with my good friend Rob Byers and we were both significantly scared out of our wits by how quiet and dark it was.  Sunday’s trip was our third trip out and aside from being pros by now, we had a full moon to light the way.  Thankfully Rob took his camera to document the trip and this photo was taken around 1:00 AM.

When we stepped out of the car one of the first things we noticed was how quiet it was.  In order to hear what was going on outside we had to first quiet ourselves.  It is that kind of quiet that makes returning so easy to do.  But that evening it was just a little too quiet, even for us.

The roads in Crex are cleared of snow, but there is not an easy way to get back in some of the wooded areas this time of year.  We found ourselves trudging through over a foot of heavy snow with our gear to get to the site we had chosen.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best choice.

As you can see in the photo on the left, headlamps are key to keeping your hands free in order to set up the gear.  After living in the midwest for two years now, I have also learned that a beard helps as well.  At the end of the morning we recorded only a few very distant calls and lots of leaves rustling in the trees.  If we had only set up 2 miles up the road we would have been in a more densely wooded area and had better luck. 

Was it worth a 90 minute drive at 10:30 PM and a return trip at 4:00 AM?  Absolutely!  The recordings we got on Sunday are still worthwhile and it is not often that you get to spend time in such silence. 

Below is the failed attempt at capturing the Great Horned Owls.  For the most part you’ll just hear dried leaves in the wind, but if you hang in there you’ll hear a couple of distant hoots.  The noise floor is not my friend as I had to crank the gain to get the distant hoots.  We were so close!!!!!!!

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This week we return to Crex on a mission:  Great Horned Owls you are not going to elude us this time.  We will find you and we will record you!!

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

More photos. . . .

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Noisy Corkscrew Swamp

Back in late December of 2008 I was down in Naples, Florida for a short trip and decided to check out Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It is a remarkably beautiful place that features an old growth cypress forest that barely lets light pass through it.  It also has a boardwalk that takes  you through a healthy chunk of the swamp to areas that are normally be  hard to get to.  I saw herons, hawks, thrushes, and even a raccoon.  I’m not talking about the kind of raccoon that eats your trash, but a real raccoon that is not fat on Whoppers from Burger King.  The raccoon was svelte and pounced on a fish like a cheetah.  I wish I had pictures, but the raccoon was super fast and I also forgot my camera.  

So you get the idea – Corkscrew Swamp is pretty damn cool.  All except for one thing:  noise!  All those birds and critters make great sounds, but you can’t hear them that well when planes are constantly flying over head and heavy traffic is always driving by.  Apparently, it didn’t used to be like this, but when Naples became a prime retirement location, air traffic increased and the surrounding roads were widened to accommodate more traffic.  I wish I had the opportunity to record there 15 years ago.

I am currently in the process of sifting through the recordings from that day to try and find some clean material and I’m not having a tremendous amount of luck.  It is one of those places where you have to record for weeks to get just a few hours of usable material.

This is a short clip of some cool birdies with some not so cool traffic overlapping the recording.  Of all of the material I have sifted through this has the least offensive intrusion of human sound.

Recording Geek Note:  Rig consists of Schoeps CMC5 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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Urban Ducks

Sometimes you don’t know where you might find ducks.  One of my work colleagues, Ochen Kaylan, has chickens and ducks behind his house.  He is part of a cooperative on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis.  He has runner ducks and wood ducks and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the morning of Superbowl Sunday than with some ducks.  Who needs Cardinals when you have ducks?!

Unfortunately there are more geese than ducks in this photo . . .  the ducks were around the corner.

In addition to ducks, the co-op also has chickens and geese.  Unfortunately, the location was close to a couple of bridges that funnel traffic in and out of downtown Minneapolis.  In order to get a clean recording I had to crawl into the duck coop. It wasn’t the most comfortable place in the world, but it provided a decent amount of isolation from traffic.  

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Recording Geek Note:  Rig consists of Schoeps CMC5 setup for MS, with the MK4 as the mid.  It was all tracked to a Sound Devices 744T at 24/96.  The ducks were only a little afraid of the Rycote.

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