It’s true that the better quality equipment you have the clearer the audio you’ll record, however the best instrument to train yourself to use is your ears. There is many a time I take my audio recorder out when walking and don’t take any samples because I’m deeply enjoying the experience of witnessing this aural phenomenon without the distraction of technology.
In doing this meditative or attentive listening my focused attention has become heightened to the smallest of sounds: from unpleasant and irrative to enjoyable, inspiring, and satisfying. Therefore I see the recorder as an extension of my ears and not just a device that captures vibrations.
It is this idea which pushes me to explore the tiniest details within sound: to take my ears where no-one has gone before (cliché I know but it had to be said). This aural curiosity is constantly being adding to my library of unusual/unnoticed and everyday (natural and manmade) sounds.
My first recorder was a Tascam DR-05: perfect for ungraduated university projects and not overly expensive. It took reasonably decent field recordings with a decent windshield and very portable. However I knew after starting MA Sound Design that I wanted to up my equipment game for several reasons:
A) It’s less hassle to go and record – with booking out equipment from university there’s risk assessments, going to collect it and returning, hence it was a no-brainer to invest in something a bit higher up the technology ladder.
B) Allows for more experimentation – with the newer recorder I can try out other microphones, layer audio files whilst recording, more inputs means more use in the studio etc.
C) Never in competition with other university courses – all I do now is book out microphone equipment when I need it and feel reassured that there’s less chance of a recorder being available.
So what is my new recorder? It’s a Zoom H5. It’s much bulkier than the Tascam but has a nice handheld weight to it. The H5 is extremely sensitive!! So sensitive that the built in mic (which can be switched with other Zoom mics) picks up every hand movement on the recorder, so I recommend using external mics or a tripod when recording for long periods.
Hence I started experimenting with different external microphones.
So far my favourites are DPAs and contact mics. For such a tiny microphone (see image) the dpas capture so much detail (indoors and outdoors) and are discrete!! I hope to invest in a pair of my own in the future.
The contact mic takes you to a completely different aural perspective. You become within the object and hear all its tones, creaks, growls, groans, whispers, buzzes and much more. The best audio comes from resonant objects like metal poles and manmade objects like your washing machine and microwave.
The joy of using these on the H5 is that I can control the gain at my discretion and pop the recorder in my bag whilst recording: less things to carry in hand means more focused attention on what you’re recording.
An camera bag (like the one above) does the job. It’s adaptable to have as many sections as I want, padded so protects the equipment and is waterproof. Big enough to carry small mics, headphones, external drive, spare batteries, emergency money and small tripod.
Finally the key is to not focus on getting the highest or clearest possible recording but to think and respond creatively to the audio I am wanting to capture. (Also depends on the project aha but you get the gist).
Other Websites of interest on field recording equipment:
Creative Field Recording - Field Recording Gear Buyer's Guide https://www.creativefieldrecording.com/2015/11/18/field-recording-gear-buyers-guide/
A Sound Effect - Recording Adventures: Preparing for a Successful Field Recording Trip https://www.asoundeffect.com/field-recording-guide/
Michael Gallagher - Starting Out With Fielf Recording http://www.michaelgallagher.co.uk/how-to/starting-out-with-field-recording