Recording Closer To Home

Recalling the sights and sounds of a quiet Easter weekend, enabled by a newly refurbished bicycle.


Field Frequencies

4/20/20235 min read

Over the Easter weekend, I took to discovering the sights and sounds of my neighbourhood. The lack of traffic and other ambient noise attributed to urbanized areas caught my attention. Since graduating and beginning to work as a freelance sound recordist, I've found myself becoming much more attentive to the sounds around me.

"Today needs to be the day I record."

But what was I going to record? I had never really given it much thought. Up to this point, aside from being a location sound recordist and audio post person, I hadn't really immersed myself in field recording. I had done some recording on a previous trip to Japan and released a few libraries but when you're in a different country, it's easy to find beauty in someone else's everyday life. Being back home in what I considered a sonic prison, a locale of uninspiring and dreadry soundscapes, snuffed my drive to create; my desire to listen. And this sentiment isn't all too uncommon, to yearn for a change of pace, sight and sound. But the stars aligned for me on this day and I decided to take one of my many first steps in improving myself and my skill set.

Just the day before, I had decided to pick up my dad's old bike from my grandmothers house and fix it up. If gas prices weren't going to go down so that I could justify traveling to places, I would find other means. Maybe I won't get as far as I would like with a bike, but even if I could, would the traffic disappear? Would the sounds I want to escape ever be far enough away? Probably not. It was time to face the music and make the best out of my location.

The Blue Norco Bush Pilot in my backyard after being cleaned
The Blue Norco Bush Pilot in my backyard after being cleaned

By 11am, my Norco Bush Pilot had been restored! The little bit of rust on the handlebars and split in the back tire that thankfully wasn't leaking air wasn't going to stop me from making the best of this unusually silent day. By 11:01am I was on the bike and pedaling towards the nearest neighbourhood trail that I would drive past almost everyday. I had always told myself:

"There's no way a tiny trail like this, backing on to houses would ever provide any value! What's even the point?"

And as I turned down the compressed gravel path, I began to understand. Maybe these small trails aren't primarily for us, but for birds and other wildlife to coexist with us.

(A cliché revelation, I know. But before this, I had always been a homebody!)

As I approached the center of the path, and the small stream down the slope to my right widened and grew in volume, so did the calls of the birds that considered this part of the neighbourhood home. Maybe It was a combination of a lack of sleep, caffeine, the early morning sun and comparative silence to regular days, but the birdsongs on that morning were like no other I've recorded or heard. Unparalleled suburban serenity.

Armed with my favorite portable rig, consisting of a stereo pair of Clippy EM272s from and a Sony PCM A10 (I've got a lot of things to say about that recorder in a future blog post), I captured the songs of many different species of birds. It is by no means a perfect recording, nor will any of the other recordings in the blog post be, but I believe that part of the joy and journey of field recording is reminiscing on the past as it was, and not how we would have liked it to have been. Though, my philosophy changes slightly when stakes are higher and the recordings are being made to be used in film and other types of media.

This day was something of a trial run; a day to express myself and explore the world around me like I had never done before.

My next stop was at a stormwater management pond, sandwiched in between a school and an already tranquil side street. When traveling around with my Clippy's, I look for protrusions and places where I might be able to clip my microphones to. Tree branches and other natural materials that sway with the wind seem to provide a good footing for these microphones, as well as add a nice textured sound that helps further mask or mitigate wind noise when strong gusts appear.

Across the pond was a creek, fed by a drain pipe that connected them both. I almost cycled right by until the sound of trickling water reverberating from the pipe caught my attention. I'm almost positive that I wouldn't have heard it if this were any other day. Afterall, sound travels further in more quiet environments. In this case, the sound that caught my attention must have traveled at least 15 feet! That's quite impressive for some water droplets in a tunnel, I think.

The best way to record these sounds would have been to use a more directional mic and point them into the tunnel, but I wasn't properly equipped to do that. So I listened first. There were birds chirping to my right and water dripping to my left. Because I was using omnis, I decided to flatten the stereo image of the birds and water by hanging my mics perpendicular to both sound sources, just outside of the drain. That way, both mics pick up "equal" strength signals of both sounds and eliminate that Left-Right Stereo effect I don't want in this recording. The result of this simple consideration and placement is quite interesting!

These recordings only represent half of that day! My newly refurbished bicycle had enabled me to record so much more in such a short amount of time. I had been so spoiled by cars that I had ignored the interesting sounds right next door! On this day I learned a little more about how to listen and about what to listen out for. Now that summer time is around the corner, I definitely urge all field recordists or anyone interested in recording to dust off that old bike and get to pedalling!

Looking forward to sharing more about field recording, sound equipment and strategies with you all in future blog posts!

-Field Frequencies