The Sounds of Mendocino, CA

Recording waves crashing at Greenwood State Beach in Elk, CA.

Recording some crashing waves at Greenwood State Beach with my “go-to” setup. A modified SASS that’s housing a pair of Sennheiser MKH 20s (seen on the tripod), a Sound Devices 744t (in the Portabrace bag on my shoulder), and HD25-1 headphones.

I recently went on vacation to a town on the northern coast of CA called Mendocino where I was able to record some really amazing sounds. In field recording the location itself is almost always the most important thing. Microphones, placement of said mics, etc. doesn’t make any difference if you’re trying to record something that isn’t interesting to listen to, or is polluted with man-made noise — if you’re trying to avoid getting that in your recordings. Mendocino, CA is a town that has some amazing sights and sounds though, so capturing good recordings was fairly easy — except for the occasional (or sometimes frequent) plane(s) of course. The epitome of a field recordists’ true nemesis is the relentless fleet of planes that seemingly follow us around everywhere we go to record!

I was lucky enough to find myself on several beaches and shorelines with huge rocky cliffs that were not only far removed from the road, but were also far enough away from any major city that there were hardly any cars driving around anyway. I was also fortunate enough to be out recording during a lot of times when the planes actually stopped flying overhead long enough for me to get some great takes at several locations in and around Mendocino.

I brought my “go-to” setup, which includes a modified SASS that houses my stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH 20s, my Sound Devices 744t recorder, and my Sennheiser HD25-1 headphones, so I was fully prepared (gear-wise) to get some good recordings. With a little luck on my side I was able to get some great takes without a car or plane in sight (or close enough to be heard through the mics).

I’ll be adding some sound clips that I was able to record in the Mendocino area to this post soon, so please check back!



The Cleansed – Season 3

Several months ago I was asked to do the sound design for the 3rd and final season of The Cleansed and I very gladly accepted the role. I was already a fan of The Cleansed and Fred Greenhalgh’s work, so it’s really cool to be designing the sound for the series finale of this show. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, here’s the description of it from the official website: “Equal parts ‘Mad Max’ and ‘The Stand,’ the post apocalyptic saga The Cleansed is set in a world 15 years after the collapse of the world as we know it.”

A lot of the sounds that I’m using for The Cleansed are from my own field recordings. Since I’ve been an avid field recordist for several years now I have amassed a pretty large and diverse sound library from my own recordings. So far I’ve already used the sound of a steam and volcanic gas spewing fumarole that I wrote about in a previous post HERE, and several of the guns that I recorded and documented the process of HERE. In addition to my own field recordings, and the occasional sound from a 3rd party sound library, I’ve also been using various Reaktor instruments that allow you to load in your own sounds and do some serious damage — in a good way.

Check out all of the latest episodes of Season 3 here by clicking play on the link below. Also, you can download a copy of them from iTunes HERE if you’d like to load them onto a portable device to take around with you. Enjoy!


**Update on Feb 25th, 2016** The Cleansed was voted “Fiction Podcast of the Week” over at The Podcast Host! Click on the link to check out their review, which also covers some of the details of The Cleansed’s plot, etc.


Recording Volcanoes, and World Listening Day

Bumpass Hell - Recording

At Bumpass Hell, watching the fumarole as it’s spewing gas just before recording.

I recently had a friend ask me if I’d like to go and record at Lassen Volcanic National Park on World Listening Day — well, the day after actually, but close enough. I jumped at the chance to add some field recordings of an active volcano to my ever-growing collection. I grabbed my “modified” SASS (with my Sennheiser MKH20s housed inside of it), my Sound Devices 744t, and my Sony D100 and drove out to do some recording. I actually decided to bring my Sony D100 at the last minute because I realized that I could record two different perspectives simultaneously while we were there if I brought it along too.

After camping at Lassen the night before we left for Bumpass Hell at around 6AM and got there at around 6:15AM. That’s a little later than we’d normally go out to record a nature setting, but since we weren’t trying to capture the Dawn Chorus we didn’t need to be on location at 4AM like we normally would. Really, the important thing was to get there before anyone else did so that our recordings didn’t have other people (who were touring Bumpass Hell, etc.) talking in the background. Since some visitors started arriving at around 8AM I was really glad that I brought the D100. It allowed me to get twice the amount of recordings in the same amount of time. At any given time I had the SASS and 744t rig pointed in one direction, and the D100 recording a completely different perspective, so I ended up with a pretty wide variety of great sounds.

Lassen is a really amazing place and my friend Greg Weddig is hoping to make the park there a location that annually hosts World Listening Day. I’m planning on going there a day earlier next year to help him setup the “listening booth” for World Listening Day. He and his wife were there hosting the event this year, letting visitors listen to the sounds around them through several of his recording setups, so that they could hear all the cool things happening around them that would normally go unnoticed (or unheard).

Here’s a short clip from one of several recordings that I captured at the “Pool ‘Fool’ of Gold” at Lassen. What you hear is a boiling pool of acid sulfate water and pyrite, also known as “fools gold.” Enjoy…


This is a recording of “Big Boiler”, the hottest fumarole (steam and volcanic-gas vent) — within a non-erupting volcano — in the world. You can hear it spewing gas in the foreground, mostly out of the left side/channel, and you’ll also hear some of the boiling pools of sulfate rich water in the middle ground and background on both the left and right sides (since you’re surrounded by it when you’re there).


Greg Weddig (back left), me (back right), a park ranger filming (foreground).

Getting everything set up to record. Greg Weddig (left), me (back right), and a park ranger (foreground), who was filming the areas we were recording.


** Update on 9/27/15 ** Check out the video below to see what Ranger Purifoy filmed the day Greg and I were there recording. All of the recordings heard in this video were captured by the talented Greg Weddig, who does work for Lassen Volcanic National Park.



New Gear, and the NSS Recording Workshop

New Gear -- Domke J1 (bottom left) to carry the SASS housing with the Sennheiser MKH 20 mics (seen on tripod). Porta Brace AR-788CLX (bottom right) to carry the Sound Devices 744t, XLR cables, and my HD25-1 headphones. Manfrotto tripod to hold the SASS housing and mics while recording.

New Gear — Domke J1 bag (bottom left) for the SASS housing and MKH 20 mics (seen on tripod). Porta Brace AR-788CLX bag (bottom right) for the Sound Devices 744T, cables, and HD25-1 headphones.

New Gear

After slowly upgrading my gear over the last few years I finally have (what I consider to be) a proper field recording rig. I’ve been updating my gear one piece at a time for a while now and I finally have a setup that I’m really happy with.

I have a pair of Sennheiser MHK 20 mics mounted inside of a “modified” SASS housing, a pair of Sennheiser HD 25-1 headphones, and a Sound Devices 744T recorder. I still need a good mid-side rig, but I’m content with this setup for now. Since the 744T has 4 channels, but only 2 built-in preamps, I also have the option of using a MixPre-D that has 2 preamps. Using the MixPre-D, along with a Rode NT4 as the “back” or “surround” mics in a quad setup, will let me take full advantage of the 744T’s four inputs. The NT4 won’t give me as transparent of a sound as the MKH 20s will (to my ears anyway), but it’ll work for now until I’m able to upgrade.

Nature Sounds Society Field Recording Workshop

I was able to get both the 744T recorder and the modified SASS housing for my MKH 20s just in time for the Nature Sounds Society annual workshop, so I captured some really nice and clean recordings while I was there. I’d also say the fact that we were arriving on location and ready to record by 4am, when there were no cars in sight (or — more importantly — sound), probably helped make the recordings turn out a whole lot cleaner too.

Heading out before “nautical twilight” to record the Dawn Chorus isn’t easy for the non-morning person like myself, but it’s always worth it once you hear the playback of your recordings. I wasn’t aware of what nautical twilight was before this trip, but I was told told that it would be happening around 4:19 or 4:20am, which meant that we had to be on location well before then.

I’ve been out recording Dawn Choruses that early before and it’s still dark outside at that time. For some of us who had already stumbled around in the dark while preparing to record at one point or another, we knew the deal and came prepared with our headlamps. There’s nothing quite as confusing and frustrating (since you’re only about halfway awake at this point) as trying to set up your rig for recording in the pitch black. For added fun my headlamp has a “night vision red” light, which I’m pretty sure makes me look like a sniper wandering around in the dark to anyone who might see me from a distance.

Here’s a recording that I made the first morning we went out to record in the Sierra Valley…


On our way to the location we were recording at I heard someone mentioning cows, but I was way too tired to process any type of information that early in the morning. When I heard the first cow join in on the “dawn chorus” I nearly couldn’t stop myself from laughing. I wasn’t the only one recording, so luckily I held it together and didn’t ruin anyone’s recordings.

**Update on 12/06/15**  Here’s another recording that I captured on this trip while we were at Yuba Pass…


This ended up being a really fun trip and I was able to get some great recordings. I’m already looking forward to next year’s workshop. As I make some time I’ll post some more of the recordings that I collected on this trip using my new gear.

In the meantime, please feel free to listen to a few excerpts from some of my other recent field recordings and sound design clips that I’ve posted up on SoundCloud.




HISS and a ROAR’s Swish Two — Innovative Crowd-Sourced Ideas

Tim Prebble of HISS and a ROAR recently released the 2nd edition of his Swish series, called “Swish Two.” I already own a few of Tim’s sound effects libraries and before the official release of Swish Two I heard that he was offering a free copy of the library to anyone who contributed an idea that was worth him exploring, and recording, for the release of this library.

To get a free copy of Swish Two the ideas you sent him couldn’t be a repeat of anything that he’d already recorded for his 1st Swish library, and they also had to be interesting and original ideas. I knew that I definitely wanted to get a copy of this library — especially a free one — so I emailed him an idea of mine that I’ve wanted to record for a while now, but just haven’t had the time to record myself.

My idea was to take a book (preferably a lightweight one), drill a hole through it, and then thread a rope or cable through the hole and tie it the book. Then, as you swing the book around all of the pages will flap together in random and unpredictable ways. I also suggested that this could sound really cool if the resulting recording was later slowed down and/or pitched down.

He liked my idea enough to explore it, so I earned myself a free copy of Swish Two! It looks like my idea could’ve possibly contributed to either the “MAGAZINE paper passes” and/or the “PAPER Roll art paper moves rumbles” sounds that are included in Swish Two. Either way it was super cool to hear those sounds in action and to help contribute, along with many others, to a kick-ass new sound library that so many people will get to hear and have fun using in their future projects.

Good times…



My New Theme on The Sound Collectors’ Club (and a mention on Pro Tools Expert)

I recently submitted one of my recordings of crowd sounds (or “walla”) to The Sound Collectors’ Club, which I joined earlier this year. Michael, who runs the site, wrote me back to let me know that my recording didn’t quite fit into any of their pre-existing categories. It turns out that this would actually end up working out for the better though.

I emailed Michael back and made a suggestion in passing that it’d be cool to add a new “walla” category for the sound I submitted, not thinking much else about it. I was pleasantly surprised when Michael wrote me back and said that he thought that was a good idea. He asked if I could narrow down my idea to something a little more specific than just ordinary crowd chatter though.

After thinking for a few days about what types of crowd sounds would be good to add to my (and everyone else on The Sound Collectors’ Club site) collection of sound effects, I remembered a project that I worked on several months ago. It had a few scenes that needed a medium to semi-large sized crowd that were talking — but were talking quietly and/or whispering at some points. I didn’t have any personal recordings that fit this description and I also had a lot of trouble finding any recordings online that worked for these scenes.

I emailed Michael back with my idea and he decided to use it as the new “theme” for Spring 2015! Click HERE to read more about it, including a minor complication that we ran into. It turns out that a library called Quiet Spaces has a similar type theme and it just came out a few months ago on the echo | collective: fields website. I listened to echo | collective’s Quiet Spaces library and it sounds great, and is very reasonably priced. I definitely recommend checking it out, along with their other libraries. Signal Return seems like it would be especially fun to use.

It’s always cool to get the chance to contribute something to the community of professional audio folks. Sharing ideas with other sound designers, field recordists, etc. is always fun. I’d already planned on writing something about the new theme on The Sound Collectors’ Club and when I saw last week’s “Sunday Sound Effects Roundup” on the Pro Tools Expert site with my name listed in the article HERE (update on 4/27/15 — this edition of Sunday SFX Roundup is no longer active on the Pro Tools Expert site) I figured that I’d go ahead and write about it today.



Gordon Hempton and the Art of Recording Nature

Hoh Rain Forest

Photograph of me recording at the Hoh Rain Forest, taken by Gordon Hempton.

I was recently fortunate enough to be able to spend several days working with and learning from Gordon Hempton–The Soundtracker. He is known for his Quiet Planet libraries, among many other things, which offer some of the quietest recordings on the market. By quiet I mean that no man-made noise has made its way into his recordings. He has been the subject of several documentaries, and for good reason. He’s been recording the sounds of nature for a long time now and he has it down to a science, literally.

While I was working with Gordon he showed me a lot of new techniques and, possibly more importantly, he taught me how to listen to (and for) particular things while recording. I’m looking forward to having a short break from the various sound design projects that I’m currently working on so that I can write a little bit more about the time that I spent learning from him. I also plan on posting a few recordings that I made while mentoring under Gordon for everyone to check out.

Picture of me recording a waterfall in Olympic National Park, taken by Gordon Hempton.

Until I have time to edit some more of the audio and write the entire blog, here are a few recordings that were captured in and around Olympic National Park during my time there…








Gun Recording (Day Two)

Lately I’ve been busy with a lot of Field Recording and I haven’t really had much time to update my site with anything that I’ve been up to. So, here’s a highlight from one of the recording sessions that I recently finished.

This is me shooting a 9mm.

Me shooting a 9mm. You can see the lav’s cable hanging off of the gun if you look closely. Click on the picture to make it a little easier to see.

Gun Recording Session two:

On 10/27/13 we set out to record guns for the 2nd time. Our 1st effort wasn’t a failure but there were a number of things that I thought we could improve on (I will write a full article covering all of the gun recording sessions when I have a little more time). During our 1st recording we had a total of four mics set up to capture everything. An X-Y configuration was set up behind the person shooting and there was also a mic and on both the left and right-hand sides of the gun. That setup gave us a pretty good sound but I’m always determined to get the best sound possible, so we increased the number of mics being used and changed the placement of them a little bit.

During our 2nd session we were also down to only two people. Our 1st session on 10/13/13 included Alex Lockett, Adam McGinty and myself but Alex wasn’t able to make it out on this 2nd outing. We decided on using an X-Y stereo mic behind the shooter again and the Rode NT4 was a good choice for that. A Rode NTG-2 was placed on the left-hand side of the gun and then an Audio Technica AT835b on the right-hand side. So far this is fairly similar to what we used for our 1st recording. We did aim the mics on either side of the gun a little differently, but otherwise these mics were placed nearly the same as the 1st time.

For the 2nd recording I wanted to try a few different approaches though. The first thing that I wanted to do differently was to include a dynamic mic to our configuration and set it up really close to the gun, since it would be able to handle a much higher SPL than the condensers could without distorting. This was a somewhat last minute idea and I only had a Shure SM58 at my immediate disposal, so I brought that with us. We set this mic up about 1 to 2 feet below the barrel of the gun (this varied from gun to gun of course) and aimed the mic upwards at about a 45 degree angle between directly up and where the barrel of the gun was pointing. I’ve never read about anyone doing this before, although I’m sure that someone has. Before I talk about the last mic that we used you can click on the image below to get an idea of the overall setup that I’ve described so far.

Here is the mic arrangement that we used. Going clockwise from the back you can see the NT4, the NTG-2, the SM58 (slightly off-center to the right) and then the AT835b. The lav you can see in some of the photos that are below.

Here is the mic arrangement that we used. Clockwise from the back you can see the NT4, the NTG-2 (far right), the SM58 (slightly off-center to the right) and then the AT835b (on the left). You can see the lav in some of the photos that are below. Please click this image for a larger and better view.

Another idea I had that was different from our last recording was to use a lav mic and either attach it to the gun directly or clip it to the shirt of the person shooting, depending on whichever worked the best for each gun/scenario. With all the various guns that we used we ended up being able to affix the lav mic directly to each gun, which was pretty exciting since that puts it directly on the gun instead of being a foot or so away. I wanted the lav to be as close as possible to the internal explosion taking place inside the gun being used. I didn’t know what this would sound like but it seemed like a good idea to try out and it actually ended up giving a very mid-rangy and punchy sound that I really liked. It also did a good job collecting all the mechanical sounds, such as when we were clearing the chamber of the shotgun. The mechanical sounds are hard to get a clear recording of outdoors (because of all the other sounds that are taking place around you) but with a mic actually attached to the gun the mechanical noises sounded very clear and articulate, despite the fact that they were recorded outdoors. While I’d still like to record all the mechanical sounds back at a studio, the lav did actually get some pretty usable sounds.

Overall I’m pretty happy with all of the sounds that we recorded during our 2nd gun recording session and I’ll be posting up all of the audio fairly soon. Time has been very tight lately with all the various projects that I’m currently working on but I’ll try and post up some clips as soon as I can. Until then check out some of the pictures below to see some of the guns that we recorded, etc. Enjoy…

Here is a double-barreled 12 gauge shotgun that we were also able to record.

This is a double-barreled 12 gauge shotgun that we were able to record. It left bruises on both Adam’s and my shoulders the next day but it was definitely worth it.

Here is Adam shooting a 38. If you look closely you can see the tape holding the lav onto the gun.

Here is Adam shooting a 38. If you look closely you can see the tape holding the lav onto the gun.

Here you can see the lav mic clipped (and taped) onto the 12 gauge that Adam is shooting.

Here is a good picture of the lav mic that we clipped (and taped) to the 12 gauge that Adam is shooting.


The Recording of Smashing Pumpkins

I recently recorded myself smashing a few pumpkins. I’ve been thinking about doing this since last Halloween when we were throwing out our old — and at that point rotting — pumpkin. I kept thinking about how it would sound to record a pumpkin being struck with a blunt object of some kind. I imagined that it would have a nice impact sound like a punch, or something similar. This past Halloween I bought a couple of extra pumpkins so I could finally find out what it would sound like after thinking about it for an entire year.

The aftermath of the pumpkin smashing.

The aftermath of the pumpkin smashing.

My initial thoughts on how to approach recording this were pretty straightforward. I planned on putting up a few mics and then hitting the pumpkin really hard with a baseball bat, and that’s exactly what I did. First, I hit it with some smaller blunt objects so that the pumpkin would survive more than one single blow. After the first pumpkin collapsed in we took some of the pumpkin guts and rubbed them around to get some nice slimy, gooey horror-ish sounds. Then, we took some of the leftover pieces of the pumpkin’s shell and ripped them apart. First, we tore a few of them apart very slowly and then we broke some of the remaining pieces apart very quickly, and with more force, to produce a nice bone breaking/crunching sound.

Since I’d never recorded a pumpkin before I wasn’t entirely sure what microphones to use. I put up a Neumann TLM 103, an AKG C-414 and a Shure Beta 52A to capture the sound. My thought was that the condensers would pick up a lot of the detail and the Beta 52A would capture the “punchy” sounds down in the lower frequencies. I recorded everything into Pro Tools at 24bit / 192kHz to get the best representation of the recorded sounds possible.

I’d like to thank Angel Alvarez for all his help with these recordings. He stepped in and smashed the pumpkins a few times with several different objects, and then he also ran Pro Tools for a bit while I was busy giving the pumpkins a good smack. Angel and I did multiple takes of stabbing, mushing together and hitting the pumpkin with various objects. We even recorded some VIDEO footage of the smashing of one of the pumpkins. I’m in the process of editing the recordings mentioned above so that I can post everything for you to hear. Enjoy the VIDEO for now…


Angel Alvarez hard at work ripping the guts out of the pumpkin.

Angel Alvarez hard at work ripping the guts out of the pumpkin.


New Field Recording Sessions (Races, Guns, etc.)

My Tascam DR-100mkII and Sound Devices MixPre-D in a jumbled mess. When you have to act quickly your gear and cables aren't always going to be neatly placed.

Pictured is my Sound Devices MixPre-D running into a Tascam DR-100mkII used during the Beaver Invitational Race. Not pictured is the Rode NT4, which is a stereo X/Y mic.

In the past few weeks I’ve had a few field recording sessions that really stood out from my previous sessions–not only because I had a lot of fun doing them but also because of how challenging they were. I do like a good challenge though, and both the Beaver Invitational and the gun recording sessions presented me with some new challenges.

The Beaver Invitational:

I recorded the Beaver Invitational (the local college Caltech’s team is called the Beavers) cross-country race on Sat., Oct 5th. This was the first race, cross-country running or otherwise, that I’ve ever attempted to record. Everything was very fast paced and if I didn’t get my gear set up quickly enough it meant that I was going to miss that recording opportunity. Recording this race reminded me a lot of running live sound for bands at a venue because you have to think and act very quickly.

I put a lot of thought into how to pack up my bag with the recording gear so that I could access everything very quickly and easily when I needed it. I’d like to write a full article on this at some point and try to give some tips for recording events, etc. that require you to move around a lot and/or be able to set up and tear down your rig very quickly.


Me Shooting a 12 Gauge

This is me shooting a 12 gauge shotgun during the recording session. We periodically traded off duties so everyone could get a chance to have some fun and shoot a few guns.

Gun Recording:

Yesterday, Sun., Oct 13th Alex Lockett, Adam McGinty and I went out to record some guns. Most of the field recordists posts that I’ve read about recording guns talk about how difficult it is to get good sounding recordings. I’ve heard that all of the various guns you try to record can end up sounding very similar to one another–or you may end up getting what one recordist calls the “popcorn gun” sound, which is where your recordings have no weight (or low frequencies to indicate how powerful the guns really are).

Since guns are so loud it makes it easy to either overload the mics with the high SPL levels or your preamps to the point of digital distortion, which can ruin your recordings. This isn’t discouraging to me, it just means that it’s going to take a little more effort and will probably require some trial and error. The guns we recorded on this first round (there will be more outings in the near future) included two 12 gauge shotguns, two 9mm’s, a 223 bolt action rifle and a 22 caliber rifle.

After we take a few more trips out to record guns I’ll try to write up a full article about our recording sessions. I’ll include details about the gear we used, give some suggestions for getting the best sound when recording guns, discuss some of the complications that we ran into (which include almost getting hit by a ricocheted bullet from another nearby shooter), and go over a few safety tips for obvious reasons.