6 Ways to Learn Field Recording Skills – Part 3: Nature Recording Workshops


Bois de Boulogne, Paris

During the last two weeks we’ve explored how to learn field recording skills in schools, from sound theory to hands-on learning, and from location recording to post-production skills.

For the final post in this series we’ll look at a completely different way of learning field recording skills. Instead of learning in studios and classrooms, we’ll see how to learn field recording while immersed in nature.

There are only a handful of these courses. Both Piers Warren, Principal of Wildeye, and Martyn Stewart lead recordist at the Nature Sound Recording Workshop, graciously spent time answering a few questions about their workshops.

Wildeye Logo

Piers Warren

Piers WarrentI had heard about Wildeye’s workshop some time ago, and was reminded of it via some helpful Tweets from the community (thanks!).

Wildeye was born in the 1990’s when Piers Warren realized a need to share information to wildlife and conservation film-makers. Wildeye hosts the Wildlife Sound Recording workshop, a three-day course performed in the wilderness. The course is taught by respected field recordist Chris Watson, is assisted by Jez Riley French.

Besides being the Principal of Wildeye, Piers Warren is a film-maker, and author. He shared details about the Wildlife Sound Recording Course with me.

Read Piers Warren’s bio.

Read extensive details about the workshop.

Paul Virostek: Why did you begin offering the Wildlife Sound Recording course?

Piers Warren: Recognising the importance of the sound track in a film, and how it is often overlooked at the production stage, we wanted to develop a course that would teach everyone involved how to gather appropriate sounds. Over the years we have found our students come from many disciplines however, including film, TV, radio, music, video games, installations and recording for the sheer pleasure of it.

PV: What are highlights of the course for field recordists?

PW: To understand Chris Watson’s approach and techniques – as one of the leading recordists in the world, he has amassed a wealth of knowledge that he is happy to share. Other highlights are access to a range of the latest recording equipment, practicing recording in the field under supervision, and mixing with other recordists.

Wildeye Students

PV: Can you share information about the specific location/wilderness in which the course takes place? What sounds/environments can recordists expect to hear and capture?

PW: The base is Whitwell Hall Country Centre in the middle of Norfolk. we have numerous locations for practical work including Foxley Wood (ancient woodland – owls, dawn chorus etc)), Whitwell Common (great for birds), Horsey Beach (grey seals), Sparham Pools (hydrophone work) and Whitwell and Reepham Station (steam engines!).

PV: What equipment can students expect to use?

PW: A variety of the latest digital recorders, various microphones, parabolic reflectors, hydrophones, contact microphones, bat detectors, surround sound systems.

PV: Can you share general advice for curious people new to field recording in the wild?

PW: Join the Wildlife Sound Recording Society and explore their website which is full of useful information: www.wildlife-sound.org

The Great Animal Orchestra

PV: What are your thoughts about the advantages of using and collecting fresh and realistic wildlife recordings in projects, from the perspective of a sound engineer, and conservationist?

PW: It’s very important to create an accurate sound track using appropriate recordings representing the correct habitat, time of day/year etc. Recording can also document species and help with their conservation. A highly recommended book which covers this in detail is The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause.


Martyn Stewart

Martyn Stewart

UPDATE: it appears that this course is no longer offered.

Another nature sound field recording course that is often mentioned in the field recording community is hosted by naturesound.org and the University of Washington. It is presented by Martyn Stewart, an audio/naturalist who specializes in location and field recordings for natural history documentaries.

Martyn answered some questions and shared thoughts about recording sound effects in the wild.

Read Martyn Stewart’s bio.

Learn about the Nature Recording Workshop.

Paul Virostek: What made you begin offering the Nature Recording Workshop?

Martyn Stewart: I mostly wanted people to be aware of the ever decreasing natural soundscape. Allowing people to put on headphones and listen to the noise pollution that our species creates may encourage us to protect this fragile environment.

PV: What have previous students found to be highlights of the workshop?

MS: I think basically they have realised how relatively cheap it is to get out there and record. A basic setup with a recorder and microphone can be bought for as little as $399. A new world has opened up for them.

PV: Can you share information about the specific location/wilderness where the course takes place? What sounds or environments can recordists expect to hear or capture?

MS: Our locations take us into two different environments. On the Saturday they hear just how bad the Anthrophony is (man-made sounds) On the Sunday, we record around ponds, forests and marshes allowing the listener to hear the intricate sounds of the critters.

PV: Students are expected to bring their own gear. For those that don’t have any, what equipment can they expect to use?

MS: Students can experiment with all the latest recording gear and are encouraged to try out and listen before they buy and possibly waste money. We only encourage students to really bring headphones.

PV: Can you share general advice for curious people new to field recording in the wild?

MS: The best possible advice I can give is to be patient and never expect to capture pristine sound. At all times you have to be ready, so sitting well away from your microphone still and quite is the only way you will capture something without unwanted sounds. The more patient you are the better the chances of obtaining clean sounds.

PV: In your experience, what value can wilderness sound effects, or recording in the wild, offer recordists? What can they expect to enjoy or learn beyond the technical skills needed to operate gear?

MS: You become to be aware of your senses, learning to like your own company and most of all appreciate the fragile environment you are in. You quickly realise that in quiet environments you hear every move, the rustle of a coat, or the sound of your shoes on gravel. The environment you are in often exposes how good your equipment is, a noisy microphone in a quiet environment for instance can be irritating. Wilderness has to be treated wild. You only ever leave a footprint.

Other Field Recording Nature Workshops

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Macaulay Library offer a sound recording workshop as well.

I was unable to hear from them before this article went live, but I wanted to share the workshop with you anyway.

Checkout the workshop, and click around to find some useful information about field recording, equipment, and audio techniques.

Also, I just recently found a field recording workshop based in Estonia. Derek Holzer runs this workshop, and told me a bit about it via email.

The workshop is something that I have “on offer” for schools, art spaces and private people. So it takes place whenever I get a booking or private student.

If you’re interested, check out his site and contact him. The class is scheduled “on demand.”

Thank you to Piers Warren and Martyn Stewart for sharing information about their workshops.

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