How do we improve our field recording skills? Sometimes it requires us to leave our comfort zone to record unfamiliar subjects, or travel to strange places. Another aspect that helps is the idea of accountability.
The idea behind accountability is that you’ll be inspired to produce more or better work when there’s a responsibility to share it. This can give us the push we need to create our very best work and deliver it to others.
Accountability while field recording can take many forms. It may be an article you post about your field recording experiences. You may share tracks on SoundCloud. Another option is to exchange clips with a group. Two excellent examples are The Sound Collector’s Club, and sound forum Audible Worlds’ Crowdsourced Projects.
Another opportunity appeared earlier this year. German field recording website fieldrecording.de planned an ambitious project: an album of nature field recordings gathered from across the globe on International Dawn Chorus Day (IDCD), 2015. They encouraged recordists to strike out in the early hours of May 5th to gather nature and bird sounds at dawn. It was an invaluable opportunity for a field recordist to invest themselves to gather sound effects within a specific environment, and have accountability to field recording fans, worldwide.
I asked website owner Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen about the project. He graciously explained the idea behind the website, and how the project came to be. This post also shares info about the album, and about International Dawn Chorus Day.
The next post will feature a special interview with a community field recordist who took part in the International Dawn Chorus Day album project.
What Is The “Dawn Chorus?”
“Dawn Chorus” is a term used to describe the sound of nature as the day breaks. It involves birdsong emerging out of silence, melodies joining each other, then intensifying and building together.
Here is a “classic” dawn chorus sound:
The dawn chorus is a rich, complex sound that is not easy to capture. It requires patience, since the chorus evolves slowly over time. The best dawn chorus recordings are isolated from city sounds, vehicles, and air traffic, making them quite tricky to capture cleanly. Let’s not forget that’s it’s not easy to drag oneself out of bed to begin field recording at 3 am.
However, when it is captured well, it is a pure expression of nature that conveys an evocative sense of place.
International Dawn Chorus Day
International Dawn Chorus Day (IDCD) is an event organized by The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country. The Trust was originally created to conserve the United Kingdom’s species and their habitats. With more than 11,000 members, the Trust manages over 2,300 nature reserves.
The IDCD is an extension of the Trust’s goals with a more global approach, including over 80 countries to date. IDCD takes place on the first Sunday in May. The website acts as a hub to organize and find dawn chorus events from nature walks to listening days, worldwide.
An Album of Dawn Chorus Recordings
I mentioned German field recording website fieldrecording.de last week. They have been publishing interviews, podcasts, and tutorials for some time now. They decided to spearhead a field recording project on IDCD with the intent of sharing the sounds with listeners on Bandcamp.
I was curious to learn how the website came about, and how the IDCD album began. I asked Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen to tell me more about the website itself.
The story to FieldRecording.de began sometime in 2010, when I was Hobby Chief-Editor at PlugIndex.de, a website about music software and plug-ins. Back then, I was also into ambient music recording and was looking for fresh sounds and thought it might be a good idea to combine electronic synthesizer sounds with self-made nature recordings. Though I was more into the technical aspect of recording (sounds and music) I started to investigate how to approach this kind of recording and discovered a whole new world that opened up for me. Field recording itself is a huge topic. I found more and more recordists that specialized in environmental and nature recordings, some of them in an more artistic way, some in a musical or documentary way.
I was totally flashed and found myself constantly digging deeper into it, looking for other recordists, reading a lot of websites and absorbing all information I could find. I stumbled onto people like Chris Watson, Jez Riley French, Gordon Hempton and others that were well known for their work.
Field recording was also a (surprisingly) current topic for the audio industry. A lot of pro audio manufacturers sold portable field recorders, that were affordable for a lot of people. They were aiming at musicians that wanted to record their demos and band sessions the easy way. But they were also attracting field recordists that finally had the chance to buy affordable solid state recorder and put their DAT and MiniDisc recorders away.
I decided to write an article (which sadly never has been finished and published) about field recording equipment, like portable recorders, headphones and other things. I had the chance to test a few of the currently available recording devices and accessories. I’ve spent a lot of time outside testing all these small devices in the field.
On Christmas I received a small portable recorder as a present and shortly after that I found myself recording in the nature. My first recordings were short nature ambiences in the woods, steps on ice and snow, a river and birds in the backyard. I was totally excited with the act of recording in the nature and of course the results I got. This was been the moment where I realized that this is what I was looking for all the years and wanted to do in the future.
During my following investigations in 2012, I realized that there was no German website or magazine that was devoted to the topic in general. There were only a few musicians and recordists that ran blogs or wrote articles on their own website. And most of them were from the USA and UK.
Speaking with other recordists and artists, I felt the need for a German website that’s dedicated to field recording, a website site that shares information, news, other recordist’s stories, and writing reviews on the latest equipment. And I thought to myself, this is where I can help. I gathered a lot of knowledge over these years about field recording, running a website, writing test articles and news, and thought this is the perfect moment and the perfect topic to start my own online magazine about field recording. The idea for FieldRecording.de was born. This was somewhere in late 2012.
Over the next eight months I invested a lot of free time into building the website from ground up. I had to do almost everything myself. Being an IT Specialist, luckily I already had experience with Web servers and had a helpful colleague and friend who studied graphics design back then who designed the logo for me. And finally in August 2013 FieldRecording.de went online.
A few highlights during the last two years were the first reviews of field recording albums I wrote, visiting the Pro Light & Sound 2014 in Hannover, the interview with Gordon Hempton and the first podcast episode we put on iTunes back in May.
Since field recording is a special interest topic and we’re the only German website about it, FieldRecording.de is well known and gets more and more visitors and a lot of positive response. This and the topic itself is what keeps me going on.
Building the IDCD Field Recording Album
I asked Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen to share where the idea for the IDCD album project originated. He explained:
During 2012 I opened my own field recording group on Facebook. It was originally planned as a group for German field recordists only. The group grew very fast over the time and as more and more people joined, it became international. Suddenly we had more than 2,000 members. And we’re constantly growing. Every person that wants to join is hand-picked. I make sure that only really interested people join the group to keep it clean from spam and inactive members. A lot of well-known artists and field recordists joined the group, sharing their work and knowledge, that makes me really proud of the group.
I’m in regular contact with a lot of field recordists around the world and what I realized is that only a few of them ever had the chance to put their recordings on an album, or they publish their own stuff and never get the response they deserve. During a conversation about the upcoming International Dawn Chorus Day 2015 with Andreas Usenbenz (The Soundcatcher, Klangmanufaktur Ulm), the wonderful idea came up to have an open contest. We wanted to give all members of the group, as well as the fans from FieldRecording.de – no matter if pro or beginner – the chance to have their recording of this year’s IDCD professionally mastered by Andreas and put on an compilation album.
They had to send in their dawn chorus recordings and a jury of three or four people would sort out between the submissions that will make it on the album. The album was planned to published on Bandcamp for free. I asked Heiko Jay (aka Jaymon) and Stephan Marche (aka Detunized), two recordists I already knew, if they wanted to be part of the project and the jury and they agreed.
With the help of the guys at IDCD.info, we spread the word about the compilation album and recordists from several countries joined the project.
German musician and designer Chris Corrado offered his help and designed the wonderful cover artwork for us.
IDCD Album Field Recording Results
The IDCD album project required recordists to capture geo-tagged 48 kHz/24-bit WAV recordings with a interesting bonus requirement: the clips were required to be at least five minutes to 25 minutes long. As we know, part of the beauty of the dawn chorus is how it brightens and grows as the sun rises. The 25-minute duration was a great idea to capture the evocative, evolving nature of the dawn chorus.
The project was a success. Fieldrecording.de released a “name your price” album of the dawn chorus field recordings on Bandcamp on May 22.
Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen wrote to me about the results:
A few days after the IDCD we received the submissions. Only a few of the participants in Europe had the chance to record on May 3rd, due to bad weather conditions on that day.
During our selections we also realized a huge issue several recordings suffered from: handling and noisy preamps from cheap recording gear, as well as noise pollution from airports, cities and highways. These were issues we wouldn’t be able to remove during the mastering process. So another bunch of recordings had to be sorted out. Noise pollution is a serious issue all field recordists have to face these days when doing nature recordings.
In the end we had 10 tracks that finally made it on the album, we released in late May.
We received a lot of positive feedback, especially from recordists who want to join in for another compilation album next year.
IDCD Field Recording Samples
I’ve downloaded the album. It has incredible recordings gathered from America, Germany, Greece, and the United Kingdom. It’s fascinating to hear the similarities and differences of the dawn chorus in various locations. They’re also quite enjoyable to listen to.
You can also check out the recordings on Bandcamp, and download them free of charge (donations are optional).
Many thanks to Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen for sharing his thoughts!
Would you like to be part of other dawn chorus projects? This IDCD page shares a calendar of events. You can note the next IDCD on your calendar, which is May 8, 2016.
Listen to other IDCD 2015 tracks on SoundCloud.
The next article will feature a special treat: it will describe one community field recordist’s detiled experience capturing dawn chorus sound effects for the IDCD album project.