The Frustrations of Field Recording

I was busy this evening selecting photos from my family archive for transfer onto CDs, just to spread the chances of survival so to speak, when the low frequency beat of a military helicopter became louder and louder as it passed low overhead, just skimming the chimney pots and shaking everything inside.

It’s one of those sounds that a field recordist either hates because it intrudes into their ‘quiet’ ambient recordings, or one which is loved to be captured  for its raw power and tremendously thumping low frequencies.

The experience soon passed however, until about 15 minutes later when back it came again, low and loud, so I thought that I couldn’t miss the chance of recording this if it came back again, as they often did as they practiced on the nearby military training area. I realised that I wouldn’t have time enough to set up my preferred choice of recorder, either the SD702 or Edirol R-4 with the blimp system microphones, so I grabbed the portable Sony PCM D100, but unfortunately I had been using it for some indoor narration, so the recording settings had to be adjusted, and part way through doing this the deep thump, thump, thump could be heard getting louder and louder….. too late, by the time I had managed to open the nearest window the helicopter had disappeared into the darkness, low over the fields.

Not to be beaten, I quickly went outside and waited; if it came round again I would be ready to record. It was a lovely starlit night with owls and the occasional bark of a farmhouse dog being heard in the distance, which I would have loved to record, but daren’t adjust the gain settings to capture those quiet distant sounds as there would be very little warning to reset them if the helicopter returned, apart from the fact that although it was a starlit night, it was too dark to see the side switches and settings of the gain control without switching on the dazzling backlight on the recorder. No sooner had I thought about it, then the telltale thump, thump, thump could be heard approaching as I pressed  the record button ……. but no record light …….. pressed again ……. still no record light. By this time the helicopter was already passing fast and low overhead leaving me puzzled as to what had happened. I knew that the batteries were fully charged and the recorder was working when I tested it before coming outside, so I went inside into the light, only to discover that I had inadvertently pushed the ‘hold’ switch instead of the power ‘on’ switch, which are adjacent to each other. Not to be defeated, I quickly went outside again and waited, as it would be sure to come back again…….so I waited…….and waited……and waited…… It didn’t return.

Oh well, you can’t win them all, the owls had gone quiet and the farmer’s dog must have gone to sleep …….but at least I’m blessed to be able to look up at that beautiful starlit sky and wonder who else is out there in the Universe trying to capture a sound recording, but has been beaten!

Dusk Ambience

A combined mid-side stereo recording of the dusk ambience at Saham Hills, Norfolk, UK., captured 8:00pm 31 March 2016, and springtime film shot at the same location.

This all-embracing recording includes many different birds participating in the ‘dusk chorus’, including a tawny owl, pheasant, rook, robin, and blackbird (feel free to let me know of any others you can hear).

As this recording has been carried out in a village environment, adjacent to a working farm, you will also hear vehicular traffic, together with other sounds of human activity, including the nearby over flight of military aircraft; however this does not appear to affect the behaviour of the local animal kingdom.

Houston, we’ve had an audio problem

The Field Recordist

Looking back at some of my archived ‘Sonic Fields’ blog posts, I came across this one (link at bottom), originally posted in May 2011.

Despite the rapid advances in technology over the last 5 years, we appear to be in the same predicament as we were back then. Nothing much has changed with respect to the adoption of a universal format for long-term digital file storage systems, neither has there been any significant increase in the survivability of media suitable for long-term archival purposes.

Hope you find some of the historical aspects useful, together with various comments made at the time.

Once again, apologies for the inactive links in the following pdf file, which is a conversion from the original mhtml file.

 Link to ‘Houston, we’ve had an audio problem’ pdf file

Blustery Winds & Rattling Fences

 The Ambience of Saham Hills, Norfolk, UK.

Mid-side stereo recording carried out during the afternoon of 19th March 2016 at Saham Hills, Norfolk, UK. Weather dull and overcast, with blustery northerly wind.

Equipment used:
Rode NT1A & NT2A (fig 8 pattern mode) microphones contained within a tripod-mounted large basket windshield blimp.
2x mono audio channels independently routed via 30m XLR cables direct to an RME Quadmic preamp and Edirol R-4 HDD recorder. All powered from Yuasa 7Ahr. 12V SLA battery, mounted in front of pack.

Original recording format:
2-channel mono 48KHz, 24-bit


Norwich City Sound Hunter

Field recording is often associated with capturing the sounds of nature, such as the gentle rustling of leaves, the distant ‘hoot’ of an owl, or the ‘twittering’ of the skylark from high above the field; sounds more often to be found within the ambience of ‘quiet’, or ‘remote’ locations.

However, ‘Homo sapiens’ also belong to the natural world, but too often they and their activities are overlooked and even avoided whilst out field recording; so I thought I would redress the balance and make a concerted effort to capture some of the unique sounds made by that particular species, found within the ambience of a city centre location; in particular Norwich City, Norfolk, UK.

Recorded on 09 December 2014.

Technical details:
Video: GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition Camera, 1920x1080p (16:9) 47.952fps CineForm
Audio: Olympus LS-11 on GoPro mounting frame. Recorded with inbuilt X-Y stereo pattern microphones, with faux-fur windshield. Format 48KHz/24bit.

Weather very cold with blustery wind conditions, not ideal for sound recording!


Many thanks to David Perry, the Norwich Puppet Man for participating and being his usual friendly self.

Church Bells and Battle Sounds

25 Pdr Field Artillery In Action, Stanford Military Training Area 1966

Suffolk & Norfolk Yeomanry (Swaffham TA) 25 Pdr Field Artillery In Action, Stanford Military Training Area. 1966

25 Pdr Field Artillery Battery, Stamford Military Training Area. 1966

Suffolk & Norfolk Yeomanry (Swaffham TA) 25 Pdr Field Artillery Battery, Stanford Military Training Area. 1966

This rare juxtaposition of sound was heard emanating from two sources, Saham Toney Church bell ringing practice situated approximately 1mile away and a military training exercise taking place on Stanford Military Training Area with heavy field artillery, machine guns and helicopters, situated beyond the church approximately 8 miles away.

Field recording captured on the evening of 06 October 2015.

Ploughing, Cultivating & Drilling

This ‘Breckland’ farmer was busy working his land over the weekend; making good use of his ‘Landini’ tractors and attached implements.

The remains of the previous crop were first ploughed in using a reversible plough




followed by one with a front mounted cultivator and rear mounted ‘Juko’ seed drill.

“Talk about a clattery ole thing if ever oiy heard wun”




The headland was then ploughed and seed drilled to finish the job.



“After they orl went, the rooks cum along and took the seed out”