Diary of a Field Recordist

Thursday 19/04/12
Picked up directional mic, wind shield and recorder from NUCA
Friday 20/04/12
Went to site mid afternoon, a couple of hours after high tide so plenty of water still about, mainly gulls and possibly Avocet in the near field.
Weather state – high wind and imminent heavy showers.
Ran into a few immediate problems
People – few kids around making a fair bit of noise
Aircraft – the dreaded distant jet engine noise prevalent on most recordings
Wind noise
In general having to crank the gain right up and record from a substantial distance making for pretty noisy recordings. Not able to record any single sound in isolation.
Saturday 21/04/12
Early morning, weather state fair but cold. Tide out but perhaps too far as waders not in near field. More problems –
Car noise – even at 6:30am a fair few cars crossing from the island to the mainland via the causeway with resulting noise
Aircraft noise as with previous day
‘Channel hum’ a reverberant humming sound possibly caused by wind acting on masts of boast moored in the channels of Mersea Quarters, I’ve heard this before in the area when all else is quiet and it can be quite intrusive
In general still very noisy recordings with little prospect to separate the various sources.

So far the source types I’m after and their relative proximities are –

Land birds eg song thrush to the landward of the jetty (mid)
Gulls (near)
Waders (mid)
Geese (distant)
Water (near)
Mud/trickling sound (near/mid)

Monday 23/04/12
Realised I have been making the school boy error of combining the Left and Right tracks at the point of recording. Although I only have 1 microphone and intend to create mono recordings, the unused XLR socket creates a certain amount of noise which is audible at the high gain setting I have been using. I had initially thought that this noise was caused either by my mobile phone or the proximity of mains cabling. Doh! This renders the recordings made to date unusable as the tracks cannot be separated once unified at the point of capture.

Tuesday 24/04/12
Went back to the jetty at Mersea Island at low tide, just before sun set, hoping to make some decent mono recordings onto a single channel, ie rectifying the mistake identified the previous day. Conditions were very still after a day of rain. The water being very low and only forming a small slow moving stream in the centre of a large mud channel, a natural amphitheatre was formed with gull cries in particular echoing noticeably.

I made a number of 4 minute recordings at either end of the jetty in an attempt to capture a polarity of ambience. Also brought along a mic stand and set this up rather than holding the mic by hand. The XLR lead was long enough to trail back a few meters which reduced the likelihood of any sounds by clothing etc being captured. Not holding the mic was definitely a good move as it allowed me to focus more on the audio being captured via headphones.

Again, the session was dogged by aircraft noise which was a real shame as conditions were sonically perfect with the still evening air really carrying sounds far, sadly including unwanted jet engine noise. I know believe that the River Blackwater, at the mouth of which Mersea Island stands, is almost certainly a navigational corridor for aircraft departing and approaching Stansted Airport from the East.

Recording quality was still quite noisy due to the high gain necessary to capture atmospheric, middle and distant sound sources. The noise was more of a broad hiss than the digital artifacts the recorder was previously picking up.

Despite the pervasive aircraft noise and the recorder gain noise, I got some reasonable atmospheric sounds, 2 tracks in particular being of merit, each captured at either end of the jetty.

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