This summer, after too much time spent working rather than recording, a chance presented itself to schedule sound recordings along
Rio Grande in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Transferring sound equipment —i.e. checklist packing to allow for easy hauling, set-up, and tear down— challenged my physical energy level, not to mention the potential time spent processing WAV format digital materials.
My station as a novice sound collector marked, I traveled to the inner-city to record. Before stepping outdoors with a fancy digital recorder, it’s important to ask:
What sounds are most likely to be captured?
With perhaps late-to-the-game player anxiety, I read news articles and inter-web insights about 2016 sound hunters featuring specialized, other times random, sound events. The NYT article linked above highlights the work of The London Sound Survey, an early influence on my decision to sound record out-in the natural environment.
Quickly and quirkily, the disadvantages of sound hunting clearly addressed my lack of whatever – obviously technological capability.
Had my hard spent money outwitted me again? The latest wave of recording devices crafted and created by the microphone and music industry prove adept when called to supply more disposable and cheaper (though, don’t forget) higher quality devices.
It should be clear to all recordists of sound and noise that the right microphone will always be indispensable to post-production; however:
loud-enough sound “connected” i.e. INPUT
—at the right recording levels — wins the day!
Post-Production will always be there to help keep your long winter warm. For more time at the cafe, instead of the DAW, develop good universal sound setting practices on location, and be ready to easily adjust for surprise sounds.
Once my prescheduled destinations were located via the generous work of the Radio Aporee mapping application:
My first lesson was awkward set-up.
The routine I’d worked on for the last five years included over twenty orchestrated steps, such as:
- phantom-power to the digital recorder
- comfortable yet sound absorbent microphone placement
- narrator hospitality provided to forget quirky technical equipment
Lesson learned: Design to create closed sound settings at the library and archives.
Recording in the natural environment calls for preplanned, opened sound settings, traveling flexibility, and easily adjustable sound levels on the trail. In the field, disconnections between the archives and open-air sound events are swift. Sound equipment cannot be left unattended for the sake of removing the observer.
Always remember that you are not alone in space, especially on Monday through Friday in the United States (a terribly antiquated workweek calendar of the current age).
In the city, workers of urban space sizes compete for the same sound event areas with the highest goal set in stone: Safety. Not everyone has the afternoon off to record traffic!
Unlike Colorado rivers and streams, sound in Albuquerque flows slowly, gurgles quietly rather than rushes, and meanders buttressed between high automobile traffic bridges, easily seen and heard by the contrasting sounds of Alameda and Central Avenues.
Interstate 40 at Rio Grande was not my most challenging set-up to reach; however, the capacity of sound to overhaul an environment taxed my desert subterranean anxiety. It’s a good city insight to know what your city’s traffic noise truly sounds like. Yes, an Albuquerque freeway bridge recording!
A second lesson and humble reminder: practical challenges abound! I continue to learn sound recording lessons and so should you! Sound Design methodologies and how they are conducted, lost, created, shared &ct. will always be important to public historian collections.
My poor technical expertise, as always, makes me laugh, and even led me to remove “Sound Records New Mexico” from my social media profile. After all, sound hunters with much better microphones, digital recorders, and DAWS will be quick to note the high gain setting on these first two field recordings at the river.
Audio recording listeners use headphones for good reason.
I plan to continue to listen for the sounds that make light of industrial sound ecologies under terribly loud neighborhood overpasses. Too over-abundant city noise, a danger to public health, and terribly cacophonous sound spaces point to the industrial age’s need to re-construct these sound vortexes!
Mindful consideration, a solid research purpose, and clear motivation to isolate a sound event without becoming the recorded event itself present intricate challenges that sound recordists and public history interviewers must address.
Social justice events and recorded speech created for the narrator’s benefit, or not at all, will always mark the public record according to the sound presentation recorded. A good host’s extraordinary demeanor combined with a studied and knowledgable sound recording skill-set can help your project’s ability to be shared.
The same best practices apply for sound hunters in the field. Like the theory of the great outdoors, this begins before sound hunters arrive and for many hours after the working process.
To be sure and confident about your working techniques and capabilities: Listen and recognize born-digital audio recordings for what they are: the sounds of your work. A good idea of field recording sound helps even the most advanced public historian.
Likewise, always listen to professional sound collectors and interviewers!
All that said: Take good care and stay aware of your surroundings out-doors when sound recording urban and natural sound. Set and Setting research practices apply to the outside of open space libraries, too.