Listening In The Field: Thoughts on Field Recording

Separating the Signals From the Noise
Image from Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World

 

 

 

 

 

NHBS equipment team member Johnny Mitchell, developed a keen interest in sound design and field recording whilst studying contemporary music. He continues to be fascinated by the technical challenges of field recording and its use for ecologists. With the recent publication of Joeri Bruyninckx’s Listening In The Field, interest around this subject continues to grow, so Johnny has provided some thoughts about the art of wildlife sound recording along with some excellent book recommendations.

‘In its broadest sense, field recording is the act of capturing sound outside of a traditional recording studio environment.

We live, it seems, in a culture that values vision and image above all other senses. In our increasingly noisy society, and as the cacophony of human-induced noise increases around us, it can be easy to forget the value of simply listening as a way to engage with the natural world.

One of the most evocative and earliest examples of field recording can be can found in the BBC recordings of Cellist Beatrice Harrison who, whilst playing in the garden at her home in Oxted, Surrey, noticed that the nightingales in the woods around her responded to, and even echoed, the notes of her cello. Broadcast just two years after the Birth of BBC radio in the early 1920’s, it was the first time that wildlife had been broadcast over live radio in the UK, and it proved to be so popular that the recordings were repeated every spring for the following 12 years.

Listening In The Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong
Hardback | May 2018
£26.99

 

 

Advances in high-quality, portable audio equipment have led to a fascinating cross-pollination between artists, musicians and scientists. In his new book, Listening in the Field, Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.

Anyone looking for further reading on the subject would do well to look to the work of Bernie Krause; in particular The Great Animal Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes.

In The Great Animal Orchestra, Krause, a former musician/composer and now leading expert in soundscape ecology, details his experiences in over 40 years of collecting wild soundscapes and explores what these can tell us about the health of various biomes.

 

Wild Soundscapes offers the reader both a philosophical guide and practical handbook- it is a highly readable and invaluable guide into the many techniques and different types of audio equipment available to anyone making their first forays into the field.

 

Krause encourages us to take a widescreen view of the soundscape as a whole rather than focusing on single species. Whilst listening to his recorded sounds and visualising them using spectograms, Krause also developed his ‘niche hypothesis’ – discovering that many creatures have developed temporal and frequency niches in which to communicate. What we would perceive as a chaotic web of sound is, he argues, highly ordered, and organisms in a soundscape structure their vocalisations over both frequency and time.

Tragically, over half of the soundscapes in Krause’s archive have either been dramatically altered by human activity or silenced altogether. However, as interest and technology advance it is fair to say that we are coming to understand and value the natural soundscape around us and our effect upon it’.

Field Recording Equipment

At NHBS you will find a great range of microphones, recorders and accessories for field recording.

Hi-Sound Mono Parabolic Microphone
H2a Hydrophone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sennheiser MKH 416-P48 U3 Microphone
Basic Stereo Hydrophone

 

 

 
Tascam DR-05 Handheld Recorder
Tascam DR-40 Handheld Recorder
Further reading:

The Sound Approach to Birding: A Guide to Understanding Bird Sound
Hardback | Dec 2006
£29.95

 

In The Field: The Art of Field Recording
Hardback | May 2018
£11.99

 

 

Further listening:

Browse our range of wildlife audio CDs and listen to the sounds of the Amazon, the pure voice of the nightingale or the frog calls of Madagascar.  Find the full list here.

 

Enjoy being in the field, there really is plenty to listen to.

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.

 

Five reasons you need a RememBird II – the new birding audio guide and wildlife sound recorder in one

Remembird II1. Record bird and wildlife sounds in the field

The RememBird II allows you to record bird sound in the field. It fits snugly below your roof prism binoculars and is easily operated by a simple joystick button contol. The microphone works in a continuous loop recording mode so that your RememBird is ‘always listening’ – so you don’t have to scramble to catch the beginning of the calls you hear.

2. Keep your eyes on the action

The RememBird has a second micropohone which allows you to whisper notes about what you’re watching without stopping to look down at your notebook.

3. Listen to region-specific audio field guides through the built-in speaker or using headphones

Each RememBird comes pre-loaded with a regional audio field guide: European (in English or French), North American or Australian.

Remembird II software4. Manage your wildlife field recordings

The sophisticated software (available for PC and Mac users) allows you to manage your wildlife recordings,  log and identify species heard and build your own audio field guides for use in the field.

5. The RememBird II builds on the huge popularity of the RememBird I – including new features designed with users’ feedback in mind

Praise for Remembird I

For the size of the package, the RememBird provides a remarkably good recording (definitely adequate for identification later) and a convenient way of recording those valuable field notes. – American Bird Association

A marvelous innovation to take us into the next new frontier of birdwatching. – Martin Garner

Its versatility and ease of rapid use will make a real difference both for the professional and for the serious birder… You will quickly come to see how useful this is and will want to make sure it’s always to hand. – Ricard Gutiérrez, www.rarebirdspain.net

Is it worth it? Yes. It’s great for recording on-the-spot details of sightings while at the same time helping you to get to grips with bird sounds. – Dominic Couzens, BBC Wildlife Magazine

Designed 100% for birders, it would also be fantastic on safari, especially at night, for listening to the sounds of the bush. Elephants’ rumbles, bush baby shrieks and leopard coughs would all come through beautifully. Wildlife Extra

Find out more about the RememBird II