Favorite Wave Organ – SF Wonder

At the end of a little spit on the north shore of San Francisco, near the Exploratorium science museum, awaits one of the most wondrous audio experiences I’ve ever encountered: the Wave Organ. I had a chance to record some of its delightful, odd sounds there a couple of years ago.

 

If you’re planning a visit, keep in mind the Wave Organ is best experienced at high tide.

Cumberland Island: Pre-Dawn Cacophony

Cumberland Island, Dawn

Cumberland Island after sunup
Photo by Tom Campbell

This track was recorded on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast in May 2009, in the pitch dark about an hour before dawn.

Sitting at a picnic table under the live oak trees at the intersection of “Interstate Zero” (the main road down the center of the island) and the path to the Dungeness Dock, I used the stereo T-mic to record into the MicroTrack II. This is a four-minute slice taken from a much longer recording.

Omnidirectional microphones pick up everything in the soundscape — birds, animals, and man-made sounds from 360 degrees all around. Here you hear a cacophony of sounds, mostly birds.

 

There are a few points of particular interest along the way:

  • at 22 seconds and again at about the three-minute mark, you can hear the warning snorts of deer (they probably were well aware of my presence and a bit alarmed), and
  • at 1:22 in, a large-ish bird takes wing.

Sounds I would have never heard with my “naked ears” were amplified by the microphone. Listening through headphones as I recorded these sounds, I was keenly aware of animals stepping on twigs, probably 15 or 20 yards away. When that bird — a great-horned owl, I’m guessing — took flight, it was a very startling moment.

Church Bells Transmogrified

Decatur Presbyterian Church steeple

Decatur Presbyterian Church steeple
Photo by Tom Campbell, altered in Photoshop

Recently I was wandering around the square in Decatur, GA, on a Sunday, waiting for the public library to open. I decided to filter the experience through the odd audio environment of Loopordist, an RjDj* scene created by Christian Haudej.

Near the beginning of this track, you’ll hear people talking and laughing, and recorded music from one of the restaurants on the square. I didn’t realize until I heard the stuttering church bells (at around the 50-second mark in this recording) that it was noon.

 

 

* Note: RjDj is an iPhone application that alters the listener’s sonic environment by processing sounds in real time using “scenes” that are essentially plugins for the application. Loopordist, which chops sound up into chunks, rearranges and repeats them, and heavily modulates and distorts the sounds, is one of the more eccentric RjDj scenes.


Recording Notes: iPhone, RJDJ with Loopordist scene

San Francisco Fog Horns

On the same trip that I made the Wave Organ recordings, I woke up in the middle of the night to hear fog horns off the coast. Even in a North Beach hotel room, the sound was clear.

Bay Bridge, San Francisco

Bay Bridge, San Francisco
Photo by Tom Campbell

In this recording, you’ll hear some vehicles on the street, and also the constant low-pitched rumble of the climate control system in the building next door.

The second recording, “Noise Filter Oddness,” features the warbly sounds of the same file with a noise removal filter applied — my attempt to remove the ambient machine noise from next door.

This serves as a cautionary example of what can happen when you get carried away trying to “fix” recordings with software. (In this case I was using Audacity’s noise removal capability — not the fault of Audacity, just a user with an itchy slider finger.) File this one under Happy Accidents.

Backyard Hummingbirds

Rufous Hummingbird at Feeder

Photo by James Hawkins, publicdomainpictures.net

A few years ago, I was at my parents’ house in Alabama and decided to try recording the hummingbirds that frequented their patio feeder. I clipped a pair of binaural electret microphones to the bottom of the plastic feeder, pressed the “Record” button on my minidisc recorder, and went in the house for about a half hour.

When I listened to the recordings later, I was astounded. The rapid beating of the hummingbirds’ wings sounded like quick bursts of airplane propeller noise.

Note that in the last sample, the recording ends with the sounds of two male hummingbirds fighting. They’re pretty but violent little buggers.

Recording Notes: Minidisc recorder, clip-on binaural electret mics

Garden Stake

Recently I recorded a sound I’ve wanted to capture for a long time: a metal garden stake reverberating when bounced on concrete. To get the microphones close enough to get a decent recording, I clipped some small cardiods to an inverted tomato cage, pointing inwards, and bounced the stake on a concrete floor between the mics.

As an added bonus, when I bumped the cage, the mics picked up the vibrations, causing some startling booms and scraping noises.

I’m going to explore these sounds later in another post or two, but for now here are the raw, unadorned sounds of the garden stake and tomato cage, as captured on a hot summer day.

 
Recording Notes: MicroTrack II CF recorder, clip-on stereo cardioid microphones

The Singing Well

A few years ago, in Highlands, NC, near a beautiful spot called Cliffside Lake, I had the pleasure of discovering a hand-pumped well that made a singing sound. There was a little iron pipe coming up out of the ground with a handle. I decided to record the sound of the well as I pumped.

After the first pump, the pipe spat out a little gush of water, and then to my astonishment, as the column of water receded back down the pipe into the ground, I heard an eerie, ascending tone — kind of like a whistle, a hum, and a ghostly moan all at the same time. I wanted more. With each pump there was another spurt of water followed by wonderful “singing” sounds from the well.