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.
Category: Field Recordings
Recordings made “on location,” usually outdoors, with portable recording equipment.
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.
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.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, off the Georgia coast just north of Florida, is home to many flourishing species of insects, birds mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. On this track we hear a few of them, most distinctly a squirrel tree frog, a cicada, and — starting around the 1:55 mark — a white-eyed vireo.
I think of the white-eyed vireo as “the R2D2 bird,” because some of their calls sound like the the lovable Star Wars robot’s crazy beeps and whirring sounds.
This recording is an oldie but goodie, made in 2001. I carefully edited out the sounds of airplanes, boats, and motorized land vehicles so you get a sense of the place without those intrusions. Most of my nature recordings end with the sounds of internal combustion engines and me cursing. Maybe some day there will be one square inch of silence on Cumberland Island.
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
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 few years ago.