A Month of Field Recordists: Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen

2015/10/28

Naturtonmeister Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen

It was only a few months ago the Creative Field Recording readers met field recordist Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen. That article introduced his fieldrecording.de website and a unique project to capture nature field recordings for International Dawn Chorus Day.

One detail that caught my eye was Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen’s field recording kit. He uses a particularly rare microphone in pursuit of his favourite sound effects: nature field recordings. Today, he generously describes how he came to use such extraordinary equipment, and how it helps him capture unique experiences through field recordings.

Creative Field Recording: can you share a bit about your history field recording and owning your first kit?

I did my very first nature sound recordings in the mid 1990s with an old tape deck with microphone inputs and a cheap stereo microphone I used for recording almost every kind of recording back then. It was just more a coincidence, when on a late summer evening a thunderstorm made its way to our town. After hearing the very first thunder rumbling from far away, I took the microphone, a microphone stand and the tape deck down to the ground floor, put the microphone on the terrace, the cable through the half-opened door, just hit record and listened to the thunderstorm from inside the house.

Another recording I can remember was the atmosphere of a summer evening. You could hear a blackbird singing his evening song, cars, neighbors talking, a suburban idyll so to say.

But real field recording I started years later when I had the idea to combine my ambient experiments with nature recordings, to make them more distinct and relaxing.

Being an autodidact in sound recording for all these years, I knew I had to buy a portable recording device to achieve good nature field recordings. Around five or six years ago the first affordable solid state recorders hit the market. So I started, like almost everyone does, with a small handheld recorder with integrated microphones, a 2GB micro SD card, a fur windscreen and a pair of headphones. A few days later, I went out in the cold (it was winter at that time) with a friend of mine to record nature sounds, like wind, ice and snow in a forest, just a few kilometres from home.

And this was were my field recording career (or should I say obsession?) began. I suddenly found myself digging deeper and deeper into it, reading a lot of websites, blogs, books, and watched photos and videos. I spent a lot of free time during the last few years, reading everything I could find about field recording. I’ve learned a lot by reading and going outside, trying different gear. This process is still running, because you have to develop and to keep on learning!

Field recording for me opened a whole new world and suddenly meant a lot to me, it became an important part of me. This is how I became a nature sound recordist.

“My studio has 12,700 kilometres in diameter. As a field recordist in the great outdoors, the battery capacity of the recorder is the last restriction.”

CFR: What is your favourite field recording kit?

My main rig consists of a Neumann KU 81i dummy head microphone and a Sound Devices 722, since I record binaural stereo sound portraits most of the time.

Of course I also have several other microphones like the Røde NT4 inside a Røde Blimp, the Jez Riley French contact microphones, hydrophones and a coil pickup. I recently received the LOM Uši Microphones, made in Slovakia by Jonáš Gruska, that are small and very sensitive. I also have a Wildtronics All Purpose Parabolic Dish, but I still need to buy a microphone for it.

I recently purchased a Sony PCM–D100 portable field recorder I took with me on vacation. It performed quite well and helped me to document my trip to Mallorca and capture exclusive sounds of an traditional weaving.

Sony PCM-D100

Sony PCM-D100

CFR: Why is it your favourite? What makes you choose that equipment, as compared to other equipment, for example?

I always preferred recording (nature) ambiences in stereo, so I had to find a good solution that reproduces the sound as if you were there, especially when you put on a good pair of headphones. At first I tried a Røde NT4 stereo microphone, but I didn’t like the narrow stereo image of the X/Y stereo array.

I found the perfect solution after interviewing Emmy Award-winning sound recordist Gordon Hempton (The Sound Tracker): a Neumann KU 81i dummy head. Gordon was so kind to share his experience and knowledge about this special technique with me. He’s the best and became a mentor and a kind of role model for me, when it comes to wonderful nature sound portraits. I bought almost all of his albums, just to hear how he recorded different situations and natural environments.

The Neumann dummy, or artificial head, is a replica of the human head in shape, size and weight. Even its skin is acoustically designed to respond like the human skin. Inside the ears, where normally your eardrums are, there are two diffuse-field equalized microphones, at the end of both ear canals. Together with realistic auricles (outer ear), it produces a realistic stereo image of its surroundings with good positioning of every sound reaching its ears.

The Neumann KU 81i on location

The Neumann KU 81i on location

Since the current model, the Neumann KU 100, was too expensive for me, I looked out for a used KU 81i, the one that Gordon uses for most of his recordings. But this wasn’t easy, since it was more than 30 years old and Neumann built only a few more than 100 of them back in the 1980s. But I had huge luck by suddenly finding one on eBay USA. I bought it immediately, because I knew this chance wouldn’t come again. Neumann dummy heads are rare and used ones for sale are very hard to find.

Two weeks later “Fritz” was back again in Germany, re-imported after 27 years. Another week later it has been serviced by one of the engineers at Neumann Berlin, who build them back then. He proved that my KU 81i to sound like new. Even after all these years, the capsules were working almost perfectly, fulfilling all specified parameters. They just had to do some minor fixes, like stabilizing and rearranging the microphones inside the head.

I really like recording ambiences with the KU 81i, because it really reproduces the stereo image of the location and the depth in a way not every microphone setup can do. My recordings put you right in the middle of the location I recorded. For me personally, it’s even more natural sounding than surround recordings.

CFR: Can you share a few favourite experiences field recording with this equipment?

The first really impressive and wonderful experience was my first dawn chorus recording. It was also the first recording session with the dummy head.

Roland R44

Roland R44

I recorded this one in in 2014 with my KU8i1 and a Roland R–44 in the nature reserve Wohldorfer Wald, a primeval forest in the very northeast of Hamburg. I stayed there until 7 AM. I stopped the recording at 6 AM, when the first airplane started from the airport.

Listen to the binaural dawn chorus field recording on SoundCloud.

Naturtonmeister Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen

I guess we all had these summer parties or nights out, staying outside till dawn and then watching the sun rising with your crush, your best friends or your loved ones. But most of the time we surely weren’t really aware of the most beautiful time of the day, when nature awakes and birds begin to sing.

The dawn chorus is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena: First one or two birds start long before the morning light reaches the horizon, minutes later more and more join in until there’s the full concert of birds and the sun starts to rise. The wave file of a dawn chorus recording really reveals this crescendo of nature’s life. Minute by minute there is more twittering going on.

If you really want to understand what’s nature and life and what’s really listening to nature, get up early in spring or early summer and enjoy a dawn chorus yourself! Enjoy it alone or take your loved ones with you. It’s really worth getting up that early!

IDCD Dawn Chorus Album

IDCD Dawn Chorus Album

I did a few more dawn chorus recordings in early 2015. One of them was my contribution for the International Dawn Chorus Day 2015 and our IDCD 2015 album.

Listen to the IDCD dawn chorus recording on SoundCloud.

A funny situation happened when I made recordings of the dawn chorus in another nature reserve called Hahnheide. It’s also a beautiful primeval forest. I was recording birds and suddenly a roebuck barked at me from the right, only 15 or 20 meters away from me. Luckily I was already recording, when it happened, so I had it on tape. I don’t know who was more shocked, the roebuck or myself, when we met deep in the forest at an unpleasant time like this.

Listen to the field recording of the roebuck on SoundCloud.

Many thanks to Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen for sharing this rare look at field recording nature ambiences!

Photos: Naturtonmeister Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen

Quick Links: Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen’s Kit

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