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Monday, August 31, 2009

Wind and people - a sound recorder's worst enemies

Having just returned from a sound recording trip to Holland, I'm left with about 4 GB of raw audio recordings on a memory stick, and some of the same frustrations I've come across for years and years as a sound engineer and sound recording enthusiast: Wind... and people!

My 5 days trip to Holland took me from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Amsterdam, where electric trams constantly zig-zag the city and no matter where you turn, there is a great "crowd buzz", 24 hours a day. To the countryside of Northern Holland, in and around Harlingen, this northern harbor town and it's surrounding farmland with a great variety of farm animals.

On the downside, though, Holland surely has to be the most windy place in Europe, and in particular so, the northern districts, in and around Friesland. It seemed that no matter what I tried to record, be it a goat bleat, a sheep bah or a cow mooing, I was struggling hard to keep wind from blowing directly onto my microphones.

Sure, I used a wind muffler, but it only helps to some degree. When the wind is blowing as strong and as persistently as this, wind will constantly get directly onto the microphone and regular wind mufflers just won't help you. You'll need a LOT of patience and try to come up with imaginative ways of capturing your sounds without having it ruined by "wind mic boom" noise. Trying to record the sound of an old musical box playing in the streets of Harlingen, I may have looked a bit odd with my microphone sticking out underneath my T-shirt, while holding my coat up to either side, seemingly trying to look like Batman, the caped crusader. But it did help me -- I was in fact able to capture a good sound of this "musical caravan".

Of course, another perpetual enemy of the sound recordist, is people talking. Or "yapping", which is the word you're most likely to think of when you're trying to record the sound of a great fireworks display, only to have people standing next to you discussing where to go for dinner afterward. It's not always easy or possible to simply move to another spot where there are no people close up -- especially during "public events" where people just seem to be crowding around in every corner you can possibly get to.

Wind through field

I'm sure other sound recorders and sound engineers will recognize themselves in these situations. There's no real way around them, other than to try, try, and try again. You'll need patience, a good wind muffler, and the ability to ignore other people staring at you, wondering what this weird individual is doing, sprawled out on the sidewalk like some tent, trying to stop wind, and people, from ruining your field recording.

Either way, despite the usual problems -- perhaps worse than usual because of the windy nature of the areas I was trying to record in -- I did manage to get some pretty good sounds of people crowds, amusement faires, casino ambiences, goats, cafe crowds and more. All of these are of course now available to purchase at www.1SoundFX.com

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