Today I am very happy to feature a special surprise final guest to the “A Month of Field Recordist” series.
Frank Bry has been field recording for game audio and sound fx publishers since the 1990s. He has been an inspiration for the field recording community. He has generously described techniques for capturing tricky sound effect subjects on his blog and on Designing Sound. He shares his work in pristine sound fx libraries hosted on his Web shop. He has been a pioneer of the indie sound effect library movement that has reshaped the way sound effects are shared worldwide.
Frank kindly shared his thoughts on field recording here on the blog back in 2013. Today he graciously agreed to describe his kit and the workflow he uses to capture his field recordings.
Creative Field Recording: Your history in sound effects has had an interesting evolution. You began using the Emu Emax to design sound, recorded fx for the Goodwill Games, and then started providing clips for game audio and sound fx publishers. At what point did you realize that field recording had become your new career? When did you begin focusing on it exclusively?
Frank Bry: Field recording has always been something I’ve done no matter what I was working on. I started out sampling into the Emax (mostly music production samples) and then moved onto recording sound effects into my Emulator III for certain projects that required fresh material that could be warped and mangled. When I began recording in the field with a portable DAT recorder and a stereo microphone in the early 90s I realized that, with a little luck and hard work, I could make a career out of capturing the sounds of life.
When I started working on video games in the mid 90s I continued to record sound effects but at a whole new level. I realized that video games required a certain type of field recordings, ones that could be played over and over again inside the game engine during gameplay. I recorded dozens of alternate takes and tried to find sources that had lots of character. During this time I amassed a huge amount of material and began recording at higher sample rates. I found inspiration at 24/96 so I decided to just focus on field recording and making the sounds available to everyone.
CFR: What is you enjoy about field recording? What is it that makes you load up your truck with Pelican cases and head out for another shoot? Is it the technical aspect, the hunt, experimenting with sound, etc?
FB: I think it’s all of that for me. The research, experimenting with microphone placement, and the actual location I’m recording in, play a huge role in my passion for field recording. Once I’m at the location and I hear the results of shooting a gun or witnessing a lightning strike, I get very excited. I’m motivated by how sounds make me feel. The technical aspect plays less of a role for me, I have my technical moments, but for the most part, I go with feel. I have sounds recorded with a very expensive setup like a Schoeps and sounds recorded with a much less costly microphone like a AT-835ST and still get jazzed when I hear the AT-835ST on some things. Technically these microphones are worlds apart, but in the right environment and on a unique sound source, they both give me goose bumps.
CFR: Your love of Idaho is very clear in your writing and in your sound fx. Do you ever consider Idaho’s “sonic signature” when recording? Do you have favourite Idahoan sounds?
FB: I do consider Idaho’s “sonic signature” when recording. It’s very special here. With the mountains, the valleys, and the lake, there are plenty of locations to work with that have a signature sound to them, very Idaho! They also can work together at times. When I’m out recording I can point my microphone towards the mountains and get one type of sound and then just move slightly towards the lake and it’s another type. They play off one another in a very unique way.
I have a favorite location for recording guns and other loud sound sources. It is a massive wide, open field that is next to a small mountain range. When I’m in the middle of the field, the sound is very dry but full. If I move a quarter mile closer to the mountain range, it’s alive with echo and reverb but still retains the power and fullness of the mid-field location.
CFR: Earlier this year you recorded many helicopters and luxury aircraft. You mentioned that the opportunity arose from airport staff friends who would invite you to record at a moment’s notice. You also worked with pilots who were on the clock and burning fuel. Is it difficult to create when working with people who aren’t experienced with the intricacies of field recording? How do you mesh this with your workflow?
CFR: Recording aircraft this year was a total blast! I basically just hung around the local airport until something landed or took off. I eventually used an iPhone App to track flight plans which helped out tremendously. During this time I met some really great people who knew people and spread the word. They were very interested in what I was doing even though they did not understand it at first. I explained to them that most if not all sound you hear in movies and video is new material recorded for the production or from a “Library” of sounds that a sound editor syncs to picture. Once they understood this they helped me find aircraft and performances that enhanced what I was doing. I did not find it very difficult at all to adapt my workflow. I would explain to a pilot who offered an engine to record, that all they needed to do was be very quiet before, during, and right after the recording so there would be no contamination of the intended target. They understood completely and helped out immensely. FYI: Because private pilots do a lot of waiting around, they told me that my being there helped them to enjoyably pass the time.
CFR: You mentioned to me earlier that lately you’ve been enjoying working with M/S. What drew you to record with that technique?
FB: I do have a few “self contained” M/S stereo shotgun microphones, and I use them quite a bit. The Sanken CSS-5, Shure VP88, and AT-835ST have come in very handy over the years, and I know their sound. The Shure VP88 was my very first professional microphone, and I still use it. I’ve been really enjoying working with the Schoeps MK 4–MK 8 M/S microphone set lately. Sometimes I swap in a MK 41 capsule in place of the MK 4. I used it extensively during my helicopter and airplane recording adventures. I love its open, natural sound. When used in combination with my MKH 8040ST X/Y microphone set it gives me another “flavor” to add to the mix. They are very different, and I can’t say which one I like better. I love the sound of both rigs.
CFR: You have an expansive collection of gear. Are there any milestones when your gear evolved with a particular piece of equipment? What prompts you to try new equipment?
FB: I have many but I’ll mention two big ones. The first milestone was when I purchased a Fostex FR-2 recorder. I was using a DAT recorder at the time and having the FR-2 with its 24-bit/192kHz recording capabilities was a eye opener. I was finally able to record very loud sound sources at a high sample rate with the outstanding FR-2 analog limiter. Sound design possibilities became endless.
The second milestone was using the combination of Sound Devices recorders along with Sennheiser MKH-8000 series condenser microphones. Now I was in heaven! Being able to record frequencies above 20kHz was a dream come true.
I love trying new equipment. Usually what prompts me to try new gear is the desire to keep expanding on what I currently have. I also have worked with other sound people I highly respect and sometimes they have gear that I don’t so I have the opportunity to use and audition the gear in action. Always a blessing!
CFR: Is there any equipment that you find yourself preferring?
FB: Not really. What I use depends on what I’m recording or the situations that arise. Sometimes I get once in a lifetime sound recordings because my Sony PCM-D100 is nearby and I can place it outside quickly. Other times I have the time to plan and use gear that is appropriate. The Sennheiser MKH-8040ST stereo microphone set is always on location with me. X/Y or ORTF, it’s bliss!
CFR: Why is this gear your favourite?
FB: I love the sound of them. PCM-D100 or MKH-8040ST, I keep them close.
CFR: Do you have a favourite field recording experience or clip you’d like to share? Please feel free to include a SoundCloud link if you like.
FB: Two years ago I recorded a fantastic train “slack take up action” by accident. I was on my way home from town and noticed a train waiting to cross the lake. The train was hauling empty crude oil cars and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to get the sound of the train pulling away. I parked near the end of the long train and set up a Sennheiser MKH-8040ST ORTF and 10 seconds later I started to hear this crazy metal rumble. The train “slack take up action” had begun and the sound was crazy cool!
My thanks to Frank Bry for sharing his experiences with us today.
Quick Links: Frank Bry’s Kit
- Audio Technica AT835ST condenser stereo shotgun.
- Sanken CSS-5 supercardiod condenser microphone.
- Shure VP88 stereo cardioid condenser microphone.
- Schoeps MK 4G cardioid capsule.
- Schoeps MK 41 supercardioid capsule.
- Schoeps MK 8 figure-of-eight microphone capsule.
- Sennheiser MKH 8040 stereo cardioid condenser microphone.
- Visit Frank Bry’s Web shop.
- Read articles on his blog.
- Follow him on Twitter.
- Listen to his field recordings on Soundcloud.
- Read an earlier article about Frank here on the blog.
- Browse his articles on Designing Sound.
- Read an interview with Frank Bry on A Sound Effect.
Read more about the A Month of Field Recordists series.