I was not sure of the title for this article. Maybe it should be called Nothing But Time on My Hands or What Am I Going To Do Today. Well, whatever the title should be is not relevant; the most important thing is— What is your passion?
Dateline: When I was a city dweller
Back in my so called youth I spent many a day and night just wandering around with my recording gear capturing the audio world around me. I was just starting out with the sound effects stuff and I was always looking for new material to record and to practice the craft of location recording. The key word here is “looking.” What I was “looking” for always found me, and most of the time it was a complete surprise. Almost all of my early recordings were accidents or freak events that I just “happened” to be near. I am going to describe some of those events and sounds and then flash forward to now and discuss some of the new recordings I just “accidentally” recorded.
I’ve spent some time living in the city and thoroughly enjoyed it from a sound aspect. There is always something going on and lots of sound, sometimes too much. I found myself wandering around on foot (I lived in downtown Seattle for a while), sometimes for miles, recording whatever I came upon whether it was a bus, monorail, the inside of an office building, transit tunnel, or construction site. One of my best recordings “happened” when I stumbled upon a waterfront building being demolished. All kinds of cranes, concrete smashers, and wrecking balls were hammering away at an old building. While I was standing outide the fence, one of those concrete smashers, the kind that jack hammer away at the concrete, drove up right across from me and began to pulverize these large pieces of metal support beams that had been wrapped in concrete. The machine operator would drag the beams onto the pavement and then pick them up and drop them. Some guys I knew from a local recording studio walked by and said, “Somehow I knew you would be down here recording.” I love the sound of crunching metal, and I got some great stuff as you will hear in the audio clip.
At other times I would be walking down the street and I would “happen” across some union workers on strike shouting, “What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!” I just slipped into the crowd and walked with them. I was using the DSM head-worn microphones at the time so no one knew I was recording. I loved stealth recording. I also came across the aftermath of a rumored shooting downtown (not fun) and there were hundreds of people gathered around talking. They were very nervous, and I got some great excited crowd sounds. I would wander around the industrial district and poke my head into large, open garage doors and record all sorts of machines humming, robotic metal stampers, and forklifts driving around. Seattle has many ferry boats, and I would sit on the dock and wait for them to blow their horns. Sometimes I would hop on and take a ride across the bay and back, recording like a mad man! Below are some ferry sounds I “happened” to record.
In a previous article I talked about recording airplanes. During one of those recording sessions, as I was across the tarmac hunkered down in a field very near to prop planes taking off, I heard a strange, distant, screeching sound. I was trying to get positioned so the screeching would not get into the plane recordings. After a while I said, “Screw it.” I drove across the street and discovered the screech was coming from a saw mill. It was a very large, old saw mill with its chain driven saw blades ripping away at massive logs. I stood outside for a while and got the exterior sounds. After a while, a man approached me and was curious as to what I was doing. I asked him if he would take me inside and he graciously agreed. I was able to get this old mill doing its thing up close and personal.
One of my favorite freaky events “happened” when a 100MPH windstorm hit Seattle. It was an insane amount of wind like nothing I had ever experienced before. The whole city had this rumble to it. I was right in it outside on the street and down alleys. I ended up on a catwalk between two office buildings with the mics on my head and hanging on for dear life as the wind rushed around me. The sound of the wind rushing through the metal railings was intense as it swelled up and down. I headed back to my apartment and noticed the wind was coming up through the elevator shaft—a strange, haunting, drone sound. At this point I grabbed my AT-825 and stood outside the elevator door with the mic down near the gap between the shaft and the elevator car. I’ve never heard anything like that since—possibly a once in a lifetime event.
During my time in the city I recorded thousands of sounds, way too many to discuss in detail here—more highlights: train yards, parades, helicopters overhead, presidential crowd visits, ship locks, waterfront waves, and building interiors.
Flash Forward: 2010
This year I’ve recorded lots of planned sound effects sessions, but some of my favorite sounds came from recordings that just “happened” at the spur of the moment. As you might already know, I keep a recorder near the front door and one in my car. I am so fortunate to have these extra recording units at my disposal. Even though I seem to live in the middle of nowhere, I find that there is lots of sound going on at times—from loggers falling trees and skidding them down the hill on my property line, guys shredding tree limbs on my road, chickens and a rooster at my brother’s farm, to neighbors shooting off huge fireworks on the 4th of July.
Below are some audio clips of these and some other events that I “happened” upon this year. One cool spontaneous session was in my brother’s barn. There was an old aluminum boat inside, and I banged the front (I don’t know boat-speak very well) of the boat with a mic inside and under, as well as recording scratching finger nails along the top. Another spontaneous session “happened” after I was recording my SUV on a remote mountain top development road. I found an old beat up bulldozer sitting in the woods and proceeded to record the foot pedals and gear shifter. I also came across a large and very dry pile of wood and recorded snapping and the movement of the old branches. The result was some very cool squeaks and creaks. On another occasion, I needed to have my tractor serviced and when the man came to pick it up and then later deliver it back, I was able to quickly record the servo motor.
SFX Recording 2010 Set1 DS by therecordist
I guess the title of this article makes sense. Passion, it’s what keeps me going, striving to be better at my work, but most of all, passion has given me one a hell of a ride that keeps going and going and going. I don’t want to stop recording and probably never will. In the future when I’m an old man farting around my ranch, I will probably have a digital recorder surgically implanted in my head with an endless power source so I can always be ready to record. Retire? No way!
I hope you have enjoyed this “accidental” article. I came up with it this morning after days and days of endless fire sound effect editing and has me quite fried at the moment. Some of the best sounds can come from just going out and seeing what happens. I know we all live a very busy life in this profession, it can be tough to just go with the flow, but if you do have some time and want to just see what can “happen”—try it, you might like it!
Final Thought: A special thanks goes out to my brother, Thomas, for his outstanding courage grabbing a chicken. He bravely held it in the air with total disregard of what could happen: could’ve pooped on him. Also, for scraping the boat, a self-inflicted manicure… the hard way.