REA_009 Antique Engines

A new Rabbit Ears Audio Library, REA_009 Antique Engines, is heading towards release and should be completed it about 2 weeks. Here’s a little tease:

This new collection features stationary antique engines (both steam and gas) that were used for DC power generation. At the turn of the century before electricity was widely available, these engines were used to provide power to water plants, factories, farms, and just about anything that needed power. The engines could also be found driving pumps or heavy machinery to keep a mill or a oil rig running.

I have a soft spot for the stationary steam engines. These older engines chuff, hiss, and groan in spectacular ways. If you close your eyes you might even mistake some of the engines for steam trains.

I spent a significant amount of time recording these crazy contraptions and have grown to adore not only the sounds of the machines, but also the folks who operate and maintain them. In many ways, it is a meeting of the minds when the operators of these engines realize that I am just as obsessive about field recording as they were about their engines.

My interests in these recordings stretch beyond their usefulness to sound editors, but also to their historical value. On of my previous libraries Metal Machines opened up a world of machinery used to repair old trains; it also provided a window into the work of impassioned engineers who are doing everything they can to keep their craft alive. During these shoots I spent most of my time recording the machines, but I also made an effort to document some interviews with the operators, who were, for the most part, not young men. I’m not sure how long some of these engines will continue to be restored and be functional, but I hope that it will be some time before they disappear.

Bowling Departure

I am currently in the midst of a move from the midwest back to the east coast.  I suspect that you might be hearing more sounds from that area on the blog in the near future.  Moves mean lots of farewells and goodbyes to friends, who, in my case, always seem willing to indulge my desire to record strange things.  Recently, a group of friends rented out an entire bowling alley in the basement of a an old school as a bit of a going-away shindig and I got the chance to record before everyone arrived.  

photos courtesy of Angela Kim

The owner of the alley was very gracious and allowed my friend and me  to walk on the lanes and place mics in key positions.  First we set up my DPA 4060s with their boundary layer attachments on either side of the pin so they could pick up the pins falling and the machinery behind the lane.  I also tracked the ball with my MS rig, which consists of a Schoeps MK4 and MK8.  All 4 mics were tracked to a Sound Devices 744T at 24/96.

One of the added bonuses of this session was all of the great machine sound from the pinsetter mechanism.  If you look closely at the image to the right you can seen that the machinery used to reset the pins is far from modern.  Instead of the pins resetting very quickly like most modern lanes, these pins have to slide into a circular mechanism and then drop into place.   You can hear the pins being pushed around and ultimately falling into the metal basket before they are reset on the lane.  My only regret is that I didn’t get the chance to focus on the machine a bit more, but with only 30 minutes to set up, record, and clean up before the part guests arrived, I am pretty happy with the results.

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After some searching around youtube it appears the mechanism I recorded was the Brunswick A-2 pinsetter, first introduced in the 1960s.

The video above makes the whole operation seem like a sequence out of Top Gun, but trust me it is far from it. The pins are the only thing close to a “danger zone.”  Just imagine if Brunswick could have hired Tony Scott to direct the training video.

Machine Shop Action

This recording dates back to 2003 and was one of my first paying gigs.  I was making radio for a little while and after I bought my first pair of Schoeps I got the occasional odd call.  This gig got me hooked on recording unusual sounds and exploring the sonic universe.  Another radio pal hired me and we set off to record a bunch of big metal machines built in the 1940s and 1950s that were used to repair turn of the century steam engines.

The following recording is of a metal grinder with a several different surfaces.  It is not an amazing recording, but it holds fond memories for me.

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The guys who worked in the shop were damn funny and they had a blast making noise for us all day.  I tacked on a little interaction with the guys at the end of the file.  They were actually quite musical.  I got “lucky” when a chuck flew off a vertical lathe and hit me on the foot.  Ouch!  We still had more than half the day to record and I was afraid to take off my shoe with the fear I wouldn’t be able to put it back on. Thankfully, none of the little piggies were broken and we had a blast the rest of the day.