The Outer Hebrides and other Hydrophone News

 Recording a close perspective on one of Julie Brook's Firestacks. (© 2017  Julie Brook )

Recording a close perspective on one of Julie Brook's Firestacks. (© 2017 Julie Brook)

Its been a year since our first trip to the Outer Hebrides in the Winter of 2017, where we recorded the sounds of Julie Brook's fascinating Firestacks. Six months later in the Summer of 2017, we were lucky enough to revisit this stunning corner of the world, on a follow-up assignment; this is a brief account of the experience.

 Waiting for a boat ride to complete the last leg of travels to reach the work location.

Waiting for a boat ride to complete the last leg of travels to reach the work location.

The main focus of these field recording trips is to document the life-cycle of the Firestack; from building, to firing, to extinction, as well as its environment. An important perspective that Julie has always been keen on capturing is the underwater one - what does it sound like under the surface when the tidal waves engulf the Firestacks?

On the first trip we had the privilege to work with a pair of Ambient ASF-1 Hydrophones, which we absolutely loved. The second time round we used a H27S Stereo Hydophone from Monkey Sound - an artisan contact mics manufacturer based in Spain - as well as our old faithful JrF D-Series Hydrophones. The H27S caught our attention because it comes in one casing. Given the rough seas we faced the first time round, it seemed like a practical feature in terms of retrieving the mic planted in the Firestack after the tide has covered it (Firestacks are around 1.5 meters tall at their highest point). These clips give you an idea of the colour and stereo field of this neat, relatively new, hydro-mic on the market.

You can download longer versions of these recordings here (free to use under the Sound Ark License Agreement).

Here's a few more sights and sounds we recorded - hope you enjoy them on your device as much as we enjoyed them in the field.

These are cold long days in a remote bay on the Western-most part of Lewis, and that's what makes it so special. There is practically no shelter, the nature is bare and the exposure to the elements constant. There is virtually no noise pollution, very little chatting between the crew and so the day becomes mostly a long introspective moment. It's a positive experience - you are immersed in the surroundings, constantly active, albeit completely still a lot of the time. The hours fly and before you know it (plus a 40-minute hike) you are back at the bothy, lighting the fire and regaining your extrovert self with the help of a dram of Scotch whisky.

Without a doubt one of the most inspiring assignments we have had the pleasure to work on so far, looking forward to round 3!

What's the most inspirational recording or filming location you have worked in? We'd love to hear your stories, especially if the location was free from noise pollution or on the contrary extremely noisy - you can leave us a comment below.

Ambient ASF-1: first impressions

Next week I’ll be travelling to a remote location on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland to record the sounds of Julie Brook’s captivating ‘Firestacks’, above and underwater. A very exciting project in many ways, not least for the quality noise-pollution-free time I will be having but also because I get to use arguably the best underwater microphone in the market: Ambient Recording's ASF-1 a.k.a The Sound Fish.

Close up on the ASF-1 Stainless steel body (centre) and acoustic sensor with NBR membrane (right).

I received the microphone yesterday and went straight to the closest water feature to give it a test. I will say straight away that I was blown away by the quality. From feel to looks it is apparently clear this is a superior piece of kit. It ships with a default (thick) 10m long cable and I also got a 50m one as the location I'll be recording in is subject to high tides.

The Arney river from Arney bridge in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

ASF-1 (left) and JrF D-Series (right) going for a dip.

To a Field Recordist, the opportunity of hearing something you’ve never heard before or just hearing it like never before, is the ultimate reward. The ASF-1, with its low noise and wide frequency response, enables just that. My experience with underwater recording so far always left me with a feeling that something was missing. Frequencies mainly but also the sensation that water was an adverse and somehow inaccessible medium for sound. This hydrophone completely removes all those barriers. It gives, allow  me the pun, a fully immersive experience. Here's a few downloadable samples:

To sum up, in case it wasn’t clear enough: I’m completely sold. And if I had the money I’d get it straight away, times two. The total cost including underwater accessories would circle around £1500 per mic, so for the moment we’ll stick to renting it from these lovely people

PS - a short comparison A/B file with the JrF D-Series Hydrophones can be downloaded here - I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Sound Postcard 10 // Punta Tombo Penguins

This sound postcard is a submission to the fantastic Nature Soundmap run by Marc Anderson of Wild Ambience.

Magellanic penguins colony at Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve (January 2010)

Soundscape field recording from Punta Tombo, Chubut Province, Argentina (44.0454° S, 65.2235° W). Punta Tombo is a 3.5km long, 600m wide peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean, host to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world, with over 200.000 breeding pairs. 

In the 1960s the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Province of Chubut Bureau of Tourism began working together to protect the wildlife of the region. In 1979 Luis and Francisco La Regina donated 210 hectares of their sheep-ranching land to form what is now the Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve (source: The penguins arrive here in late September (early spring) and stay until April, protecting their eggs and raising their chicks for the next migration.

I got the chance to visit this wonderful place back in 2010. There weren't many visitors around so I got plenty of quiet time to soak it all in and get a few memorable sound recordings. This nature reserve is well run, with educational information boards about the penguins, their habitat and other animals living here such as gulls, cormorants, rheas and guanacos. The infrastructure is basic, consisting of a wooden walkway that keeps human footprint (literally) to a minimum. Penguins cross your path as they go from the nest to the beach and back. It's all very friendly and there is a real emphasis on respect and conservation, which leaves you feeling assured that these amiable creatures have a safe space to grow and multiply.

Sound Postcard 09 // Becoming a Champion

Four years ago, in the run up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, we got the chance to work on a short documentary written and directed by Chris Burgess about female amateur boxing in Sri Lanka. Our two main subjects, Anusha Kodituwakku and Nilmini Jayasinghe - ranked 9th and 17th in the world - remain to this day amongst the nicest and most determined people I have ever met. We followed them up to the Sri Lankan ABA National Championships, which they won comfortably in their respective categories. These are the sounds of that day.

And to keep you entertained, here are some fantastic pictures that Lee Bazalguete from Colombo Design Studios took on the day.

PS - Since the making of this documentary Anusha and Nilmini have both retired from amateur boxing and become successful boxing coaches. They are currently training the next generation of Sri Lankan boxers for the 2016 Rio Olympics.