As lockdown continues to change the way we live our lives, we asked dBs alumni, Natalia Mamcarczyk for some advice on capturing the UK’s shifting soundscapes.
Since studying Music Production and Sound Engineering at dBs Bristol, Natalia Mamcarczyk AKA Walya has quickly built a name for herself as a sound recordist, DJ and producer. Her highly respected productions and radio shows are extensions of her explorations in soundscape recording and sound art, produced from the angle of dance music. With lockdown bringing about huge shifts in our aural lives, we caught up with her to get her top tips for field recording during this period.
1. Before you record, listen
Before starting, pay attention to what you’re looking to capture in your chosen location. Once you’ve set an intention, make an initial recording and listen back to it. This will give you some perspective on what you’re hearing. Sometimes our brains can trick us into filtering out certain sounds that might otherwise spoil a recording, so it’s good to catch them before getting too deep into the process.
2. Use wind protection
Whatever type of recorder you are using, it’s essential to always use a windshield when recording outside. The microphones used for this purpose are usually very sensitive condensers so they will react easily to air movement. That means even on a seemingly peaceful day, there will always be some kind of sound that can easily compromise your recording. For this purpose, consider using a furry dead kitten rather than foam a windscreen. They are more practical to use in multidirectional wind and if they are of a good make, they should hardly block any high frequencies.
3. Record for 20 minutes minimum
Field recording is all about observing your natural habitat. In order to immerse yourself in the soundscape and judge it effectively, it’s better to have more sound to play with than less. For that reason, it’s good practice to record for at least 20 minutes at a time, if not longer.
4. Capture the lockdown sound
A popular use of field recording is to observe the influence of human presence on the natural environment. The announcement of lockdown and its impact on business, air and road traffic means we can suddenly hear much more of nature and can observe species behaving differently or appearing in places we don’t expect. This situation presents a unique opportunity to capture changes in our acoustic ecology and record nature without air traffic getting in the way.
5. Observe changes in human behaviour
Lockdown has also brought about considerable changes in the way we behave and live our lives. Another creative field recording idea for this period is to try and capture these changes, whether that’s the way we do our shopping, interact with each other or even walk down the street.
6. Keep your sound levels natural
It can be very tempting to turn everything up when you make a field recording, especially if you’re capturing a relatively still soundscape where nothing dramatic is happening. However, it’s best to try to stay truthful. If you’re in a field where it’s quiet, that’s the way it is. Sounds in the distance will have lower levels because they are far away. If you want to project that picture accurately then you need to maintain the natural sound levels.
7. Listen back with a critical ear
When field recording, it’s easy to get caught up in your own perspective which can lead you to overlook mistakes you might otherwise be more critical of in a studio environment. Try to adopt an external perspective in relation to what’s happening in your recording. Is there noise from your microphone or cables? Is there too much noise in the background? These are common mistakes that you can easily avoid by adopting a critical ear.
8. Make notes
For every recording it’s important to make notes of where you are, what you are observing and how you are capturing it. Though it may be tricky to write anything down whilst you're in the field, you can say these details into the mic instead. Once you’re back in the studio you can then listen back, timestamp the recording and recall any other important technical information. Being able to track things in this way will help you if you need to redo a recording or compare it objectively.
9. Label and log everything
Label and log all your recordings so you know exactly what and where they are. As with any type of digital file, it’s easy to get lost in your folders, so keeping your computer organised will really help. This might seem a little boring, but I can guarantee you your future self will thank you for it!
10. Don’t follow the rules
It’s important to strive for quality, but I have to say some of my favourite recordings are the ones that have the most faults in them. Captured on a simple handheld recorder, they might contain lots of microphone and cable noise, but they are the most interesting because I was able to capture them on the fly while I was out hiking. Remember there’s more to field recording than simply improving your technique. It’s about enjoying the outdoors as well, so don’t worry too much about making it perfect, focus on making it interesting.
If you’re interested in exploring field recording further, why not consider our BA in Sound for Film and TV?