Meeting Report: 30th June 2011 – Technology, Techniques and Approach to Natural Soundscape Recording

Renowned international soundscape recordist Doug Quin spoke to the Melbourne Section on June 30th 2011 on the topic “Technology, Techniques and Approach to Natural Soundscape Recording” at Lecture Theatre EN101 at Swinburne Uni, Hawthorn campus.

He explored the changes in his technology and techniques for location recordings over more than 2 decades.

He pointed out the changes in recording technology, and how superior the modern hard-drive and CompactFlash recorders are to the earlier analog tape and DAT in hostile environments – from tropical to Antarctic. The absence of moving parts means that the only components now vulnerable to environmental conditions are batteries. Batteries suffer in freezing conditions, but even that situation is improving with newer battery chemistries.

Regarding microphones to use to capture a soundscape, Doug indicated that he primarily uses small diaphragm condenser mics (from two major German manufacturers) and captures the sound in stereo, though he has experimented with binaural for specific projects where headphone reproduction would be used.

The polar pattern and microphone placement/configuration can vary from project to project depending on the needs, with M/S being commonly used for its on-axis clarity. He indicated that he only uses shotgun mics to capture a specific sound, as opposed to the full soundscape, and never uses parabolic mics because of the coloration of the sound they exhibit.

He emphasised the planning required for a project, which may see 2 years in planning for a 3 month recording expedition; and the importance of documentation during and after the expedition – to ensure that a record of what sounds have been captured is available for reference long after the event.

Finally he walked us through a fascinating project he has been doing in New Caledonia – locating populations of their emblematic but endangered flightless bird, the Kagu, by positioning remote recording kits around the island, capturing hundreds of hours recording, and with the aid of software plus human analysis identify new Kagu sites.

Playback of examples of the captured audio demonstrated the superb quality of the recordings obtained.

He finished the evening off with, by contrast, playback of underwater recordings he had made of Weddel seals in the Antarctic using hydrophones.

An audio recording of this talk is available here     (200MB mp3 file – 1hr27min duration)