Cold as Ice


Lately I have had some real trouble recording Owls.  They are not like songbirds where they just pop out of trees and announce their presence.  Raptors, on the other hand, are pretty sneaky, they hide out in trees and pounce on their prey like greased lightning.  After three weekends out between 1:00 – 5:00 AM trying to record Great Horned Owls I have let them go. . .  for now.

Once I let go of the search for Owls, I realized that I needed a vacation in a bad way.  I headed to Two Harbors, MN with my wife and a couple of good friends.  We rented a cabin right on the shore of Lake Superior (“some call it Gitche Gumee”) and it was truly beautiful.

Lake Superior was iced over from the shore to about 400 yards out.  The lake is too large to freeze completely but if the conditions are right it can freeze over 60%.  There have been rare occasions where the lake has frozen over 90%, which means someone is not going to get their shipment of taconite pellets.  One of the more beautiful occurrences along the edge of the water was the spiking up of ice formations that look like quartz crystals.  As the temperature dropped late in the evening the frozen parts of the lake contracted, making remarkable groaning, cracking, and pinging sounds that sounded just like an analog synth.

With the help of my good friend Dave and my trusty headlamp, I set my recording gear out on the edge of the ice and waited for the temperature to drop and for the heavy duty sounds to commence.  It was so quiet and cold that night, I could hear the wind blowing snow across the surface of the ice.  I was very concerned about how the gear would stand up to the low temperatures.  At its warmest it was 3°F!!  To help deal with potential condensation on the Schoeps, I set the zeppelin outside for several hours before I started recording with the hope that the mics would get adjusted to the cold temps.  They performed extremely well during 4 hours of recording.  At times Schoeps can be prone to clicks or pops in humid conditions or when condensation occurs.  It was cold and damp and they held up just fine.  The Sound Devices 744T was also a trooper in the cold.

More photos . . . .


Frozen Waterfalls along the shore.

Sunrise from our cabin.

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  1. Thanks for this, and many others I have listened to over the last few weeks. As a fellow Schoeps nature recordist, I appreciate your comments on the difficulty of recording with these fabulous mics in humidity. I have run into issues from time to time myself.

    See my website for many of the Schoeps recording I have done over the years.

    Thanks for the sounds and words!

  2. wow, the blog has gotten great! and these recordings are ALMOST as cool as the ones i did in wyoming on a frozen lake with a mono dictaphone and a freeway in the background… ha! great stuff.

  3. Hey,
    Beautiful sounds there !
    I don’t want to make advertisement, but have you heard Marc Namblard’s recording ? We have published a CD entirely devoted to this phenomena. There is also Andreas Bick who made nice work with ice…

  4. Saturday 04/03/2010 Upstate NY Summit Lake, Summit, NY. Lake was frozen 12″ thick in Feb., but now thawing with 70 degree wx. The first 10′ of the perimeter of the lake was thawed leaving ice in the middle. Lake is only 15′ deep at deepest point. As we sat on deck beside the lake, one large crack like a big triangle appeared, & we could hear the crack. It then stopped, but 20 feet ahead of this crack, two large ice crystal formations shot up through the thin ice about 20′ from the shore. Each formation was about 18″ in dia. and ranged from a few inches in height around the perimeter to over a foot in the middle. We were amazed as we had never seen anything like this before but it sounds like the same thing you witnessed but the day was balmy. We’re still not sure how this phenom occurs.

Michael Raphael March 2, 2009