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.  ↩
Read More

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.

Read More

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.  ↩
Read More

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.

Read More

Waiting for Sandy

I’ve been known to record a few ambiences from my Brooklyn apartment over the years. Hurricane Sandy is on her way, and there is not much going on outside … yet.

Here’s a bit of ambience I recorded last week during a short rainstorm:

Light rain was falling, a small bird chirped away, and the occasional car rolled by on the street. This recording was made around rush hour, and I’m struck by the relative quiet. We’ll see what Sandy brings tomorrow.


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 with a Cooper CS–104 as a front end.

Read More
about to call navigation