Field Recording Workshop

The Field Recording Workshop with Justin Bennett has been one of the highlights of this year so far. The Koninklijk Conservatorium offers a variety of workshops from Sonology, Art of Sound, and Composition departments, and I was very excited to spend two weeks learning of techniques, various microphones, microphone pickup patterns, Internet sites for sharing field recordings and soundwalks, and other perspectives of field recording.

The first main concept I learned was that the purpose of your recording determines what kind of microphone to use. Is a wide-ranging atmospheric recording desired, or one that zooms in on a very specific sound, for instance? Every recording bears the mark of the recordist – the decision of what to record, when, how, and how it’s used, and whether the recordist is heard in any form, be it footsteps, breathing, raindrops on a jacket, or voice. Being naturally attracted to many sounds in my environment, from spaces to animals to people, this workshop challenged me to think more about why I record them, and what I can communicate with these recordings.

Here are some photos of different microphones and equipment we got to explore.

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Justin Bennett was an excellent and methodical teacher in that each day he introduced microphones for a specific purpose, demonstrated how they worked, played example recordings, and then had us go out and make recordings of our own to compare. Recording sites were mainly the underpass of the tram near the conservatoire, the Haagse Bos, and the immediate city environment.

IMG_0987The second week was more free for us to explore these microphones on our own. Fascinated by the hydrophones that pick up sound waves in the water, I made two trips to Schreveningen beach. First in the evening, with the sun setting and temperatures dropping, and a second time in the morning with plenty of sun. These simple trips taught me that field recording of this nature requires double the time expected, as well as extra improvised gear to capture the best audio possible. The first night I tried placing one hydrophone on the sand and letting the waves crash over them. The sound of the waves making contact with the hydrophone is quite strong, and depending on the water level, they could pick up sounds of bubbles and foam, and the water receding. To suspend the hydrophone in water (not having any poles to lengthen my arms) required me to brave the icy water. Did not know that my voice would reach the hydrophone through the water! Packing up was impeded by my frozen hands and feet – and I rushed home to escape the debilitating cold.

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The second trip a few days later I collected some crates, a stick, and a board as improvised gear to suspend two hydrophones to record a stereo image of waves. This time I set up on some rocks by a pier to not have to stand in the freezing water! Sound travels faster in water, so I placed them farther apart, perhaps 2 meters at least. It takes so long to set up and tear down, and standing still waiting for the recordings takes even more patience. I’m quite satisfied with some of the audio I collected. Here are some examples.

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Listen with headphones for the best effect! Two hydrophones in the sea at Schreveningen March 10, 2015.

The next type of microphones I am using to make an audio walk are binaural microphones such as the SoundMan ones that you wear in your ears to record. So fascinating, since the shape of your ear and head and how the sound waves bounce off of them shape what you record. It’s best to listen to these types of recordings with headphones. The feeling of total immersion is amazing.

Here’s a link to Justin Bennett’s site: Here

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