Archive for March, 2010

So I was just about thinking of going to bed tonight, when I suddenly heard thunder outside. I got excited. I love thunderstorms! A few minutes later it started raining. The place I’m staying in right now has a tin roof over the back porch, so I thought I could make some awesome recordings. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the 744T or Sanken CSS-5 with me, so I had to work with what I had. I had my laptop, Mbox 2, and a few random cheap mics, plus some expensive LDCs that I would never put out in the rain.

So I grabbed my laptop and mbox, a homemade contact mic, an Audio Technica 815b shotgun mic, and my Røde NT4, and headed to the porch. I taped the contact mic to the underside of the tin roof. I thought I i might be able to get some sweet sounds that way. I put the shotgun on the porch, aimed out at the yard. Couldn’t use the NT4 right now since I only had 2 inputs with me :-(

Here’s the contact mic:

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Here’s the AT815b:

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I recorded that for about 10 minutes, then switched over to the NT4, because I didn’t want the storm to pass without a stereo recording of it. I was able to get about 15 minutes on the NT4. Unfortunately, only about 8 – 10 minutes of it is clean. The storm was bad enough at the beginning that the nearby executive airport didn’t allow any incoming air traffic. After it calmed down a bit, you can hear some traffic starting in. Oh well, at least I got some clean stuff…

Here’s the Røde:

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So, fortunately for me, I live in Florida, and we’re just about to start into the wet season. I’m planning on getting a bunch of storm recordings this year (maybe even do a little storm chasing for some clean thunder :-) ).

Oh yeah. Last year I was able to get a pretty cool binaural recording of a pretty serious rain storm. Below is the recording from that. Because it’s binaural, let me set it up for you so you have a visual to go with it: I started out from my second story apt, walked down the stairs and stopped at the bottom. There was a waterfall from the roof right in front of me hitting the cement sidewalk. I put my hand in it a few times, playing with it. There was a metal drainage system to my right (you can hear the metallic ringing on the metal). I then walked through the “waterfall” and down the sidewalk about 20 feet to the tin roof carports. During this walk you can hear water sloshing because the sidewalk was flooded. You can also hear the rain hitting my head! haha. I stayed under the carport for a while, then walked back.

This recording was done with a Lectrosonics Venue system. I used Countryman B6 transmitters (flat cap installed) into Lectro LM400 transmitters, which shot back up to the Lectro Venue system in my apt, then into the 744T.

My apologies for a few of the flukes – the left transmitter took a few hits during the recording (as they tend to do in fowl weather…), and I didn’t want to do it again because I was already soaked head to toe. It is most likely repairable with RX or simple copy/paste/c-fade, but I wanted to keep it as original as possible. Below the recording is a picture of the setup (B6 pushed through a foam plug) and a picture of the sidewalk and carport from my old apartment (where the recording was done).

Binaural Recording: (Must have headphones to listen correctly!!!)

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My Setup:
B6 Earplug

The Carport:
Harbor Carport

Hopefully I’ll get some more cool rain recordings soon. It’s all about being where the rain is, having the time to record it, and having the gear with you. When those stars align again, I’ll post my results.

Thanks for listening! :-D


Here’s a picture of the positioning of the mic capsule in my ear. Apologies for the poor quality. It’s difficult taking a picture of your own ear! Next time I’ll have someone else take it…

Binaural Ear Plug

A new edition to Mr. Holman’s amazingly informative “Sound for Film and Television” has dropped into bookstores this week. I can’t wait to get my hands on one! It can be yours for $44 plus shipping on

Back before Skywalker Sound was called Skywalker Sound, it was called Sprocket Systems. Here’s a video of a bunch of behind the scenes stuff from then. Check out the girl wearing that whole nagra package and trying to climb under the fence! Lots of cool footage of Ben Burtt as well.

Thanks to Tim Prebble for the link!! (via Music of Sound)

Last week, I wrote about the “Sound Snooper” homemade “shotgunish” microphone from an Electronics journal published in 1965. I thought it looked awesome and I wanted to know how it sounded, so I decided to make one. I did not, however, want to pony up the $200 for the aluminum piping used in the journal. At least not for the first time around. Instead, I decided to spend a mere $4.68 on PVC piping, and about $20 on epoxy. Far cry from $200. I used 1/2″ PVC instead of the 3/8″ Aluminum (couldn’t find 3/8″). I figured the difference was somewhat negligible.

So I started construction:

I played around with a few different types of glues. Found out that the 5 minute epoxy in the plunger works best. You just have to work quickly or it will set in the plunger itself! After working for a few hours on it (it was a slow process, as I could only put a few together at a time and had to let them set before I moved on), I started realizing that it was turning out a little on the large side (larger than I expected). So I started measuring some things. It was at this time that I realized that PVC pipe was measured by the inside diameter, while aluminum is measured by the outside diameter. This means that my PVC contraption would be twice the size as the aluminum one made in the journal. This would pose to be a bit of a problem because I can’t find a diaphragm that big, unless it’s dynamic, which kind of defeats the purpose of a long distance mic…

Anyways, I was to continue anyways, because I must finish what I start.

Here’s some pics of the mic coming along:

I finally finished the body, and moved on to the electronics. As I said before, there isn’t a condenser capsule big enough for this application, so that’s out of the question. The journal used a crystal mic, but the biggest one of those I could find was 2 inches, which is big enough for the one they made, but my mic was almost 6 inches in diameter. So, I went down to my local electronics surplus store and bought myself a 4.25″ dynamic driver. It was made to be a speaker, most likely the woofer driver in a small pair of speakers, but I decided to use it as my mic capsule. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it before I put everything together.

Anyways, I soldered a lead with a 1/4″ TRS connector on it to the mic capsule. I found a funnel that was about 5.24 inches in diameter, which was the biggest one I could find, and mounted my dynamic capsule in it by drilling holes in the funnel and running solid copper wire through the holes. I then cut up the diameter of the funnel every few inches so I could fit it around my mic body. I fitted everything together and manhandled some gaff tape onto it to make it stick (this wasn’t an easy process…). Everything was together, and I decided to try it out. Here’s a pic of the finished product:

So, as you can imagine, it didn’t sound terrific, being dynamic and all. My plan is to make a better one some time (hopefully soon) and order a crystal mic or something to use with it. But for now, I’m just working with what I’ve got.

Below are a few recordings I did with the mic. It sounds fairly cool, because it’s really saturated. It’s fairly directional as well, but I’m guessing if it were much more sensitive, I’d be hearing the directionality a lot more. I found that going directly into a preamp rendered a fairly high level signal, but it was very bass heavy, and didn’t have a lot of high end response. It sounded very “tubey”. I then tried it through an impedance matcher / balancing circuit. I lost a very significant amount of level, but it fixed the frequency response almost completely. It sounded almost normal.

Here’s a recording of a fire cracker with just the “Tube” mic:

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Here’s the same recording with the CSS-5 and a contact mic mixed in:

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Speaking of my contact mic (the one I made and blogged about a few weeks ago, it met its untimely doom during this recording. I decided to gaff tape it directly to the firecracker to get a cool impact sound. Granted, I knew it would break, I just didn’t know how long it would last. I reinforced the sides of the firecrackers with tape so the explosion would be directed to the ends, minimizing the impact on the mic. It lasted 4 takes. I’m proud of it. $1.00 of parts down the drain, but I made a new one, so all is good.

Here’s a pic of the dead mic:

Here’s a recording of the final moments of its life. It was a good mic. It always listened, never talked back. It has a short life, but maximized its effectiveness despite its shortcomings:

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I’ll get some more recordings up as soon as I have time to do a few. I can try to entertain requests if you’re interested, since it’s a one-off. Anywho, hopefully I’ll get around to making a new and improved version sometime soon. Wish me luck!

Anyone ever seen one of these or played with one before? Its been floating around for quite some time now. I found it a few years ago and just stumbled upon it a few days ago. I’d imagine if you took one of these in a public area you’d probably get some funny looks and perhaps a bit of trouble…

Snooper 1

Snooper 2

The PDF gives cross sections and rough instructions on how to build one. I’d love to hear one sometime, but it looks like quite the project to build one.

Download the pdf here

Here’s the first recording I did with my hydrophone. I only had about 30 minutes to play with it, so this is all I’ve done so far. I hope to get a lot more stuff done tonight and tomorrow.

My setup: Old broken piano, Hydrophone, C-stand, bucket of water, Fostex PD-6
Hydrophone on Piano

I recorded hits and strums on the piano for about 15 minutes. Here’s the best one. Note: the only processing is iZotope RX for Noise reduction (PD-6 Pre’s were a bit noisy) and gain, and then a little EQ to bring out some of the higher frequency artifacts.

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(The tail is almost 30 seconds long. Best to listen with good speakers or headphones)

More to come soon!

I’ve always wanted a hydrophone, but I could never justify the price since I never actually needed one, so I never got one. I’ve attempted a few times to make one myself, but it never worked out. Hydrophones/contact mics have seemed to be a common topic in the last few days on a few different blogs (Nathan over at Noise Jockey and Chuck Russom), so my interest piqued again. I decided to make one out of the trusty ol’ $2 piezo buzzer from Radio Shack, some Plasti Dip, and spare wire, connectors and heatshrink tubing I had laying around. I retreated to my workbench and emerged 20 minutes later victorious. I had a working contact mic (not quite a hydrophone since I hadn’t treated it with Plasti Dip yet).

So there’s my pretty little contact mic in all it’s newborn glory. I did some tests with it, and it sounded fine. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever heard, but I spent under $2 making it, so I wasn’t worried.

Now onto the Plasti Dip. I’ve never used Plasti Dip before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I bought the spray can kind so I could control what was getting covered a bit better. I put a few coats on the mic and wiring before I decided to wrap it with craft tape (again, since I’d never used the Plasti Dip before, I didn’t really have much of a clear cut plan…). After I wrapped everything with tape to cover up some of the wiring, I continued adding a few more coats. The coats weren’t as thick as I expected, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get any dripping on the mic element, so it took me a few hours to complete.

I did, however, complete it somewhat successfully (although not very gracefully or pretty-like). I left it out to dry for about 4 hours.

Now I had a completed hydrophone. I went back into the studio and hooked it up to a preamp. It still worked, so that was a good sign. Also, I was surprised at how little the Plasti Dip affected the sound quality. It was almost as if I didn’t do anything to it. That made me happy. Now comes the part that made me nervous: testing out how “sea-worthy” my hydrophone really was. I grabbed a glass of water and then hit record in Pro Tools (just in case my water proofing didn’t work and it made a really cool sound when it died…). I submerged my creation, and behold, no need for last rights. It worked. Awesome. I now have a hydrophone/contact mic. I tested it with the 744T as well; works great.

This means I have a new toy to play with this week. I’ll add recordings up as soon as I complete a few cool ones, along with a few words about my trials and errors in getting things to sound alright.

As promised, here is the second half of the interview with Emmy Nominated Scott Clements, Production Sound Mixer from “Burn Notice” on USA:

CH: How helpful are the director and crew when you are struggling with a problem on set such as a generator noise or something (such as a light) preventing your boom op from getting acceptable audio?

SC: In episodic television, the director is more of a guest on set. They are there to put their style into the episode and tell the story the way they want it told. However, we may have a director on one episode that will bend over backwards to help the sound department, and on the next episode it seems the director is creating as many sound problems as they can.

The cast and crew are an amazing help. They know I don’t ask them for something if I don’t need it, so everyone makes every effort to help us when we need it. I couldn’t ask for a better cast and crew.

CH: What is your relationship with the cast?

SC: Like I said a couple of times, our cast is amazing. They are a pleasure to work with and are just part of our dysfunctional film making family. I try to stay off the set as much as possible and let my boom operators deal with set issues. Consequently, they have formed a much tighter relationship with the actors. But I think the entire crew can call the actors their friends and really mean it.

CH: With a decent amount of practical special effects on set (explosions, gun shots, car chases, etc..) do you find yourself recording a decent amount of sound effects on set? If so, how does that effect your relationship with post production?

SC: A lot of the sound effects that happen on set are shot with the second unit. Unfortunately, most of that stuff ends up being MOS. When we shoot those elements with the main unit, we will record what we can and hope post production can use it. Most of the time, the sound FX get destroyed by directors yelling things to the actors, or the FX guys calling the cues. Our post production sound FX guys are amazing and do a great job of building things from the bottom up. If our schedule would allow it, we would make an effort to sneak off and grab more sound FX, but there just isn’t time for much wild track recording.

CH: Do you ever find yourself in a “we only have one take” situation due to practical sfx?

SC: We find ourselves in “one take only” situations all the time. We do so many setups that are one take only simply because the director or actors do not want to do another. But a more direct answer to your question… yes, we do have a few times an episode where we are doing dialogue in the foreground and a house, car, or some other unfortunate object get blown sky high. In those cases, one take is all you get.

CH: How does the final audio that is broadcast with “Burn Notice” compare to the way your mix sounded like on set?

SC: I have talked many times with our dialogue editor and re-recording mixer about how often they go in and pull ISO tracks and things like that. In general, they use my mix, and just smooth it all out. Sometimes, they go in and grab just one syllable from another take to replace the beginning of word… things like that. They do some EQ and compression, and some other magic tricks they have in their bag. I don’t know how they do it, but when I watch the show, I am amazed at some of the scenes and the way they make them sound. There are scenes that we fought for on set, but I was worried we didn’t get. On air, they sound amazing. I love our post production team and can’t tell you how much I appreciate their efforts to make me look good.

CH: How much of burn notice is production mix vs. ADR? Do you do most of the ADR on set?

SC: We have a unique situation on our show. Our lead actor is in nearly every scene, which makes it impossible for him to go to a studio for ADR. So we built a studio at our sound stage with all the charm of an abandoned bomb shelter. We do any Miami ADR that needs to be done, which will generally consist of our four main actors and any Miami based “episode” players. My second boom/ utility, Jacob, handles all the technical stuff/ engineering of the Miami ADR, and does a great job of it. That is also where we do the Michael Westen voice overs that are such a huge part of our show.

For three seasons, the amount of ADR has been pretty consistent. There are usually about sixty lines of ADR for an episode. About twenty of them are for sound quality, and the other forty are added lines and changed lines that help the story telling. If I had to guess, that would be about one percent of the show is ADR due to sound quality. I am pretty sure there would be more if post production could get all they wanted, but they are very kind and understand that we have limited time available for ADR, and they are ok with a little extra noise if it means preserving the original performance. Plus, as I mentioned before, they are wizards of sound… able to perform astonishing illusions of sound.

CH: Do you watch “Burn Notice”? Are you able to relax while watching it?

SC: I love Burn Notice! It really has a quirky fun feel to it. The stories are compelling, and the actors bring some great performances. I generally am able to distance myself from the technical aspects of the show and relax and enjoy. But I still can’t help but think of the problems we went through for a scene, or the crazy thing that happened on set that day. There’s no feeling like sitting down to watch a show you worked on, and by the end of it, you’re able to say, “I’m proud to be a part of that”.

CH: I know you live in Orlando, so how do you balance working in Miami for six months at a time with having a family?

SC: There is no balance. It is impossible to have balance. What you and your family have to do is find a way to survive within the madness of our industry.

CH: One last question; You spend very long days on set, and you endure a great amount of stress day in and day out. What do you do to stay healthy and sane during shooting?

SC: Who said I was healthy or sane? No one in the film industry is sane. If we were, we would find some other job. But the main thing to keep in mind is that we aren’t saving someone’s life, or saving the world. Things are not going to be perfect, and there are going to be problems. As long as you can go home at the end of the day and know you did the best job possible with the given circumstances and situations, you will greatly reduce stress.

Thanks so much again, Scott, for sharing!

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