How it all began.

 It all started back in 1973. I had joined the Severn Vale Ringing Group, with the intention of helping do do some worthwhile scientific work relating to ornithology, as well as improving my recognition skills.

 At home I had invested in a set of LP's (Long playing records, for those born after 1990!), these gave me a reference. I had decided to start recording the sounds I heard on my bird watching trips, the sound the bird plus a audio note by me as to what I saw. The kit I used was completely inadequate and while looking for help obtaining better kit, a bird ringing friend introduced me to Ray Goodwin a well known wildlife sound recordist of the time, and he told me about the WSRS.

 I joined in 1974 and I went to as many meetings as I could, finding myself one of the youngest there, I was an aged 27! I received plenty of advice and without my wife knowing quite how much I used of our meagre budget, I bought an ITT Studio 60 cassette recorder, an AKG D190 dynamic microphone, a 20 inch Atherstone reflector and a cheap set of headphones. The pleasure this first kit gave me was immeasurable, it was wonderful, I started hearing sounds I had never heard before and I was able, most of the time, to relate these sounds to the species of bird. Most satisfying.

 I eventually learnt how to hold a parabolic reflector without suffering handling noise, but I always obtained better results using my home made monopod manufactured from a broom handle with a lovely fluffy tennis racquet grip to keep my hand warm.

 From then on wildlife sound recording became my main interest, and me and my sound recording kit tramped around the hills and valleys, woods and estuary of Gloucestershire, listening and identifying animals wherever we went. Great times.

 As the years went by the cassette recorder gave way to the Uher reel to reel and then to my first Nagra. The dynamic mic gave way to a T powered Sennheiser MKH 405. I was still recording monaurally and with my Nagra E, MKH 405, my reflector and a better set of headphones in 1981 I cadged a lift with another member in his VW caravanette, and went on my first trip abroad, to the Arctic, travelling through Finland, Norway and Sweden. What a trip, 50 odd reels of tape recorded, Brambling, Temminck's Stint, Snow Bunting, Red throated pipit and a myriad Redwing recordings, plus lots more that I had never seen or heard before.

 By this time I had learnt of the limitations associated with reflector recordings especially with sounds of lower frequency made by certain species such as owls, etc., and was practising my open mic techniques and the better fieldcraft necessary to obtain acceptable results. It was more time consuming but much more rewarding. This led me on to the use of omni directional microphones which undoubtedly give the recordist a truer, more balanced, full frequency sound.

 It is worth noting here, that many common species have a low frequency element to their call and song. This low frequency element can be lost or distorted in parabolic recordings, unless, of course you use a very large diameter refector.

 Eventually I was persuaded to try stereo recording. For this move I have to blame/thank Chris Watson, at this time an up and coming wildlife sound recordist, who came to one of my Ennerdale meetings with a binaural set up. I simply loved, and still love the recordings made by a binaural set up. To get the best listening though you need to use headphones, it is then that you can hear and appreciate the true spatial dynamics of the recordings.

 My first stereo recordings were made using the reliable Sony Professional Walkman attached to my favourite old T powered MKH 105's. I spent many enjoyable years with this kit, taking it all over, including a trip to Madagascar in 1990. Luckily I took two recorders as one was run over by a bus!! (It is now enclosed in clear acrylic and is the WSRS Fieldcraft award)

 Lots of recordings were made, some still not identified but it was my first time in the tropics with their varied habitats. Lemurs, chameleons, sweat bees, and bone shaking crowded bus journeys serenaded by the latest Madagascan top 10 played through an over amplified cassette player. Absolutely wonderful.

 By the late 1980's the digital world was well upon us and over the next decade or so, recordings were made on all sorts of formats. RDat, DCC, Minidisc, computer hard drives,and eventually solid state. Apart from the highly compressed minidisc, recordings were made as WAV files at different bit and sampling rates. Nowadays I usually record at 24/96 kHz apart from those special places where I use 24/192kHz because this gets the best out of my 8020's, while the Nagra pre amps make my Scheops sound even more pure, and get the best out of any good microphone.

 Over the last 20 years, well ever since taking up binaural recording, I have enjoyed making habitat recordings that “paint” the sound picture of a place where individual species come into focus as and when. I have found this approach very rewarding, as I can set up the kit with a good long lead back to where I can sit quietly listening, without disturbing anything, and observing what goes on. It means that I can identify species, territories, song posts and their associated timings. This gives me the opportunity to move the open mics closer to record individual species and their activities. I then end up with a more complete audio picture of a place than I would have managed walking around with a parabola set up, and the extra disturbance that would have caused.

 Having rather pompously stated all that, I still use a parabola when I am first in a new area or in a tropical forest where the bird making the sound is way up in the canopy.

 Post production is carried out in the small bedroom, sorry the studio. The studio is based around a PC using one of the top Intel i5 processors, with as much RAM as I can afford, using Adobe Audition software and lots and lots of duplicated hard drive storage. I can handle pretty well anything, whether I do it with expertise is another matter.

 After 41 years what comes next? Well a few more trips to Australia and maybe one to PNG, if I can afford the travel insurance, but as far as my kit is concerned, I am sure I have all I need – I think!!


RCB 12/03/20





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