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.

Praises to the D50

The other day I heard a robin tweeting away on the studio's front patio and so I planted my Sony D50 recorder as gently as possible in an attempt to record it. Of course, i scared him (her?) straight off but I thought that if I left the recorder in place for a while he might come back. I shut the sliding door and carried on with the day...

Two days later, as we were gearing up to go on a family stroll to the local hills I remembered about poor old D50. There it was, still on the patio, unmoved, still waiting for the robin to come back. With my eyes closed I switched it on, fearing for the worst. When i re-opened them it turned out the memory was full and there was still one bar of battery (albeit blinking). Hurrah! She was still alive! I downloaded the files onto the computer but there was no time to check if the unit was working properly so I took some fresh batteries and left for our walk in the hills. 

I'm very (very!) happy to say that the Sony D50 worked perfectly. Here's a recording of a leaves rustling to a subtle breeze in the hills.

The D50 had survived two nights out there. Luckily it has been the one and only week in the year where we have had no rain, I'm not even exaggerating, but still Ireland's autumn nights are very damp. I've carried this recorder around the world for more than 5 years and it has always delivered. It has overcome tank pass by splashes in England's wet winters, a year of 100% humidity conditions in tropical Sri Lanka, sub-zero temperatures in the Swiss Alpes, scorching 45+ degrees in the Andalusian summer, sand storms in Xinjiang's Taklamakan desert and torrential downpours in smoggy Beijing. The batteries (4x AAs) always last more than you expect them to, and the quality of the recordings is far above decent. 

All my respects to this little recorder, probably the best of its class.

To finish off here's a recording of another group of patio visitors, taken that same day.

Do you have a piece of kit that has survived the odds? Let us know below. Have a great week!

Lets Get Festive

A Christmas Carol 1938

What does Christmas sound like in your house? With a new addition to the family and all, this year has been a particular opportunity for me to take time out of any intensive projects. After what feels like a massively jam-packed year, I've really enjoyed sitting back and watching the festivities go on around me. I'm not hugely into the holidays, but the older I get the more I feel comfortable with it. I think most of us reject the need for a materialistic few weeks, rammed full of gadgets and Boxing Day sales. But I wouldn't say no to a real tree, more time for old movie watching and an excuse to get stocked up with brandy.

Here's a mash-up of what Christmas sounds like in our house...

Hope everyone really enjoys the week with the people that matter. Here's what we're planning to watch...