Tag Archive: field recordings

From my recent trip to Mexico I brought some sound snippets of twisted european heritage: the Torre Latinoamericana, the landmark tower in the city center Mexico DF, plays a cheap digital version of London’s Big Ben every hour. And notorious in the streets of DF and other Mexican cities are the out-of-tune barrel organs that once crowded London and other European centers. Hearing this distorded example of a barrel organ I captured in Oaxaca, one can understand Charles Dickens complaints about the “most excruciating sounds imaginable” that kept him from writing again and again. Thanks to the city of sound webpage I found this beautiful excerpt taken from Virginia Woolfs “Mrs Dalloway”, another telling example of literatures fascination with city sounds:

“For having lived in Westminster – how many years now? over twenty, – one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, that said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one lives it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.”

I made this recording at Sea of Galilee very close to the spot where Jesus was supposed to walk on water. I guess this must be what he heard at that excursion. By the way: scientific study has suggested that rare atmospheric and water conditions could have caused ice to form on the lake. The research shows a period of cooler weather swept what is now northern Israel from 1,500 to 2,600 years ago. Sub-zero temperatures could have caused the formation of ice thick enough to support the weight of a man.

Another entry to the acoustic flotsam series… I recorded those young monks in Sri Lanka around 1996. The boys were learning some buddhist text I guess, the teacher sat in front of them and the prayer was going on for quite some time.

Ice Sizzle

Glacial ice consists of snow that has been extremely compressed and compacted. In the case of the inland ice in Greenland, this process may stretch over thousands or even millions of years before the ice is pushed into the sea by a glacier. As the layers of snow pile up, tiny bubbles of air are trapped and put under enormous pressure by the weight of the surrounding ice. When the glacial ice finally melts in the sea, these tiny bubbles of air are released with a quiet, explosive popping noise, adding up to a many-voiced sizzling. The icebergs that drift in the Arctic give off a constant sizzling sound which is loud enough to determine their position from under water. The phenomenon was first noted by the crews of submarines. It is also known as “bergy seltzer” due to its resemblance to the sound of fizzy drinks.

I recorded the audio excerpt in Greenland 2006. I collected some ice chunks from icebergs in a plastic bag during a ship tour and stored them in a bar for some hours before returning to my hotel room. Surprisingly the ice was not melted, there was not even water in the plastic bag. I put the ice scraps in the bathtub and recorded the sizzling with an underwater microphone. Later at home I applied a lot of noise reduction and transient designing to the recordings to get the sound that you can hear in the above MP3.

Tikal at Dawn

In March I travelled Mexico and Guatemala. The most spectacular Maya-site is probably Tikal in the Guatemalan jungle. I had the opportunity to stay at gran plaza in the center of the ruins about 45 min. before gates open at dawn. My guided group rushed to the temple with the best sight over the forest canopy, while I was alone with a lot of wildlife in the heart of this abandoned city. The picture above shows what I saw while I placed my microphones on an opposite temple. There are a lot of parrots, the montezuma oropendola again, that I already got acquainted with on the Cano Negro in Costa Rica, a Guatemalan turkey and – indeed – the notorious howler monkeys.

I made this sound recording of a frozen lake in the winter of 2005/06 in the area around Berlin. Frozen lakes are known to give off most noise during major fluctuations in temperature: the ice expands or contracts, and the resulting tension in the ice causes cracks to appear. Due to the changes in temperature, the hours of morning and evening are usually the best times to hear these sounds. In my experience, thin ice is especially interesting for acoustic phenomena; it is more elastic and sounds are propagated better across the surface. Snowfall, on the other hand, has a muffling effect and the sound can only travel to a limited extent. The ice sheet acts as a huge membrane across which the cracking and popping sounds spread. Underwater microphones proved especially well-suited for these recordings: in a small hole drilled close beneath the surface of the water, the sounds emitted by the body of ice carry particularly well. The most striking thing about these recordings is the synthetic-sounding descending tones caused by the phenomenon of the dispersion of sound waves. The high frequencies of the popping and cracking noises are transmitted faster by the ice than the deeper frequencies, which reach the listener with a time lag as glissandi sinking to almost bottomless depths.

Update to this post here. (17th Jan. 2010)

And more about dispersion here (19th Jan. 2010)

Also check the fantastic Yosemite’s frozen lake recordings by Cheryl E Leonard (15th Feb. 2012)

Last year I did several recordings of fire for my radio composition fire pattern (well, indeed…), and as one can see, this recording let my windshield melt away… This happened at airport Schönefeld close to Berlin (it will be the international airport for Berlin in a few years), where they run a training ground for the airport fireworkers. The exercise is to extingish extensive fires happening after plane crashes. This ground is equipped with remotely controlled gas nozzles that can be set on fire from a near-by tower. The fireworkers have to practice several routines that are vital in case of emergency (luckily no one of the fireworker ever in their livetime experience something like this…). The scenery was spectacular, but my sound recording was not as breathtaking as it seems to be: there is actually nothing to burn down and make the distinctive crackling sound of fire, it sounded more like a huge gas oven on full heat…

Cano Negro Monkeys

One of my best experiences while doing field recording. I catched this take in Costa Rica on a canoe ride down the cano negro, a mangrove swamp with lots of water ways and channels. On this bit a howler monkey started growling on the left hand side of the water, while spider monkeys climbed through the forest canopy on the right. The beautiful call of the montezuma oropendola bird echoes over the water surface, then after some time a caiman jumps into the river. There is no editing here, this is how it sounded on the water.


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