Ocean – Cumberland Island

Play 1. Ocean


I made this recording by resting my trusty MiniDisc recorder (with T-mic attached) on my cap near the ocean’s edge. Each wave crashed softly on the long, flat Cumberland beach and died away in millions of sizzling bubbles as the next wave approached. This is just a few minutes excerpted from a longer recording of this mesmerizing sound.

Recording Notes: MiniDisc recorder, T-microphone

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 the first 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:

Play 1. Foghorns

The second recording is an odd, warbly version of the same file with a noise removal filter applied — my attempt to remove the ambient machine noise:

Play 2. Foghorns - Noise Filter Oddness

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.


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.

Play 1. Stake and Cage


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

Gentle Rain + Train

Oak Tree Reflected in Rainy Deck Boards

One afternoon in October a couple of years ago, as a slow, steady rain fell outside, I opened a window and set my recorder there to capture the sounds of raindrops and a train.

Play 1. Gentle Rain with Train


Recording Notes: MicroTrack II CF recorder, stereo T-microphone

Delta State Fighting Okra: My New Favorite Sports Team

Fighting Okra vs. Statesman Mascots

Statesmen or Fighting Okra:
Which Would You Pick?

In Cleveland, Mississippi, just west of Highway 61, is Delta State University, home of the Fighting Okra. I know there are a number of eccentric sports mascots these days, but really, could anything be cooler than the Fighting Okra? In my personal pantheon of athletic whimsy, they’ve now replaced my former co-favorite college sports mascots, the Oglethorpe Stormy Petrels and the Richmond Spiders.

The Fighting Okra mascot

Fear the Okra!

Their official nickname is The Statesmen, which is woefully short on panache. So in 1985, a group of DSU students came up with the idea for the Fighting Okra as the school’s (unofficial) mascot. There’s even a Fighting Okra Records student-run record label at Delta State now, with three releases under its belt. This school has obviously got a great attitude.

Well, this is an audio blog, not an okra blog, so let’s have a taste of the Marching Okra Band from 2009:

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.

Play 1. Singing Well (Discovery)

Play 2. Singing Well (More)

Not Quite All Blues

To see just how much one of my favorite iPhone apps can change audio input in real time, I played “All Blues” by Miles Davis* on the piano, recording it with Loopordist, an RjDj scene by Christian Haudej.

It was quite odd, trying to play the tune correctly while listening in my earbuds to this wacky alternate version as it was generated on the fly by Loopordist. Probably not a practice method too many piano teachers would endorse!

Play 1. All Blues (Loopordist)


* Note: If you don’t own a recording of Miles Davis playing this song, treat yourself to a copy of Kind of Blue, the timeless 1959 album by this great jazz master and his sextet.

Recording Notes: iPhone, RJDJ with Loopordist scene

Church Bells Transmogrified

Steeple abstract

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

One Sunday I was wandering around the square in Decatur, GA, 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.

Play 1. Church Bells (Loopordist)

 

* Note: RjDj was an iPhone application that altered the listener’s sonic environment by processing sounds in real time using “scenes” that were essentially plugins for the application. (It’s been replaced by “The app formerly known as H _ _ r.”) Loopordist, which chopped sound up into chunks, rearranged and repeated them, and heavily modulated and distorted the sounds, was one of the more eccentric RjDj scenes.

Recording Notes: iPhone, RJDJ with Loopordist scene

Inside Fizzy Water: An Audio Experiment


What does it sound like inside a glass of water after an effervescent tablet is dropped in? Using a homemade waterproof contact microphone, Okrasonic.com finds out!


A few years ago, I decided to make a contact microphone based on instructions found online. (For example, a couple of good tutorials are here and here. For a deeper dive, check out this Instructables page.) Immersing it in a synthetic rubber coating made it waterproof.

Just last week I got around to making my first aquatic recordings with this little gizmo, plunging it into a glass of water and dropping in a “zesty orange” effervescent tablet.

Here’s a video depicting the maiden voyage of my submersible contact microphone:

Inside Fizzy Water: Audio Experiment from Tom Campbell on Vimeo.

If you have trouble viewing the video above, try this link. It’s also on YouTube.

Recording Notes: MicroTrack II CF recorder, contact microphone

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.

Play 1. Cumberland Dawn Chorus Warm-Up


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.

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