Field recording is often thought only as audio itself. It can be more, though. Many field recordists add context to the sound they capture to bring more meaning to just the audio alone.
One elegant example is the World Sounds website. The home to field recordist Colin Hunter’s international soundscapes, World Sounds pairs pristine field recordings with not only a point in space and time, but also with Hunter’s insightful reflections of the audio captured in the places he visits.
I’ve been a fan of Colin Hunter’s work for quite some time. He was a guest here during the “A Month of Field Recordists” series. He has remained busy since then, continually travelling, and updating his kit along the way. I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in sharing his thoughts on the impact gear has on his travels.
In today’s post, Hunter kindly shares his thoughts about travel, sound, and the impact of equipment choices on his worldwide recordings.
Creative Field Recording: It’s been some time since readers have seen you here on the blog. What have you been up to since then?
Colin Hunter: Hi Paul, thanks for having me back! I've definitely become a more experienced recordist over the years, in particular learning to become an expert with the equipment I use. This has been essential when recording in more hostile environments where you have less comfort setting up and recording. I continue to share my sound adventures through my World Sounds website and am an active community member across various social media platforms. I've also collaborated on a number of projects with other artists and designers, including licensing for video, animation, radio and interior design. I'm still passionate about travelling and discovering new places and have now recorded in 26 countries across 4 continents. My main focus over the years has been a continued effort in refining my recording gear to be as compact and versatile as possible when travelling.
CFR: You started the World Sounds website quite some time ago. What inspired you to begin recording travel sounds?
CH: I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot in my life. When I was young, I would travel once or twice a year with my family and as an adult I have always loved discovering new places. I first began recording travel sounds in 2008 when I spent 2 weeks in Nepal trekking along the Annapurna trail. I'd bought a handheld recorder for a university project earlier that year and had just begun my fascination with field recording. A year later my wife and I decided to spend 6 months backpacking in Asia and I recorded extensively. From then on, travelling and recording became somewhat of an obsession.
CFR: At what point did you decide to share them online?
CH: I realised early on that I wanted to share my recordings with others. I began using Soundcloud to publish the files online and found this to be a good platform to hear other recordists' work. But I also wanted to share more of a story, offering some background on the recordings as well as what they meant to me, the recordist. The World Sounds project was born from this idea. I don't cover too much on the tech side but readers can learn about where the recording was made, context on the subject and my personal account of the whole experience. A year or so after launching the site I added a sound map so users can explore all of the soundscapes featured on the site geographically. As the modern world develops at an ever faster pace, the way the world sounds is also constantly evolving. So my main goal is to archive and share the natural and cultural audio soundscapes I discover. Sharing these moments is important to me and it's always motivating when people reach out to me having discovered my work online.
CFR: When readers first met you on the blog, you introduced us to your DPA 4060 stereo bar recording set up. Your post inspired me to get my own similar kit, which has fantastic value for stealth recording. You mentioned a while ago that you’ve changed your kit since then. How has your equipment evolved?
CH: Yeah I designed that setup really with travelling in mind and I have continued to follow this mantra of refining my gear towards being as travel-friendly as possible. My kit has evolved quite substantially since the last interview on the blog. I've re-designed some elements (including the stereo bar version 2.0), replaced some (sold the Sound Devices 722 and bought a MixPre-6, replaced my photography bag with a single compartment backpack) and added more gear. All of these changes were ultimately done to give me more versatile options depending on where I am and what I'm recording.
Here's a breakdown of my different kit options :
Spaced Omnis Kit 1
This kit is pretty compact and perfect for travel recording. The new stereo bar design uses various Joby Gorillapod components making it much lighter whilst retaining the flexibility of the original design. Each element can be unscrewed and packed into a small case. This entire kit, including recorder, mics, stereo bar and a powerbank can be packed into a medium sized packing cube (I use a Trakke Foulden M) and has travelled extensively with me.
Evening Crickets And Gentle Waves – Amarynthos, Evia Island, Greece : DPA 4060s + MixPre-6
Spaced Omnis Kit 2
This is my most compact kit and a relatively new member to my kit bag. The A10 is tiny and pairs really well with the MikroUsi mics (I don’t use the onboard mics). I’ve expanded the memory in the A10 by adding a 64gb micro sd card. When powered with a USB C powerbank this setup can record for extended periods (props to George Vlad for his extensive knowledge sharing on this type of setup). Another interesting use case is when recording stealth. I'll often have the recorder in my pocket and clip the mics onto the straps of my backpack. A great way to record inconspicuously when in busy places.
Stereo ORTF Kit
By far my favourite kit, the 8040s are fantastic mics and I love the wide spacious feel when recording in ORTF. When I first got the 8040s I used them in the dedicated Rycote ORTF blimp but found it to be way too big, especially as I was trying to minimise kit footprint for travel. So I sent it back to the supplier and went for two WS9 kits that I mount individually on a stereo bar. They are easier to pack into a backpack and also offer more flexibility in terms of the spacing and angle I set.
Roe Deer Barks – Foret de Senonches, Le Perche, France : MKH 8040s + SD 722
Telinga Stereo Mk II, Pro 8 Mk II Handle, Foldable V2 Dish
Over the years I have become particularly interested in nature recording and decided I would invest in a parabolic reflector. I'm happy to have this as part of my kit and have used it on a number of occasions when trying to isolate a particular subject, most recently when recording nesting White Storks in Normandy, France. Although the dish does roll up into a carry bag, the overall kit is the least compact of everything I own and I take it only for very specific purposes.
Sony PCM-D100, Rycote Suspension Kit, Movo / Rycote wind protection
The trusty D100 still comes with me on a lot of trips. Sometimes I’ll record with the onboard mics with a Movo windshield plus a Rycote fluffy. Sometimes I’ll use the D100 with the LOM MikroUsis, depending on the location and the subject. The D100 has proven to be a true workhorse over the years.
Train Bys – Palo Alto, USA : Sony PCM D100
CFR: How is this kit different than what you would choose when you’re at home? Or during a dedicated travel recording trip, as compared to recording while traveling for work, or with family?
CH: When recording at home I will often use a combination of the kit I previously mentioned, so not much change really. Where there is a significant difference is when I travel for work or with family versus a dedicated recording trip. Whatever the purpose of the trip, I will always take some type of recording equipment with me. For a dedicated recording trip I will take everything mentioned above. I can fit all of the gear plus cables, stands and other accessories into a single backpack (a Quechua NH500 30L), with just the parabolic dish in a separate carry bag. When travelling for work or with family however, space in my backpack and suitcase become limited. I will generally assess the recording possibilities at the destination and make a call on what gear to take. When I went to the US last year for work I only took my Sony PCM D100 handheld recorder, when I went to Greece on a family holiday I took the DPA 4060s, Mix Pre, Stereo Bar as well as some hydrophones for some coral reef recording. I will just choose what gear to take based on what I'm planning to record and how much space I have in my luggage. Whatever the choice be, the work I have done on minimising the footprint of my equipment really pays off in these situations.
CFR: Did you feel your kit affected how you recorded certain sounds, or your technique? Did you find yourself missing out on any sounds or experiences because of your choice?
CH: There have certainly been occasions when I have travelled light and therefore my recording possibilities have been minimised. Often it will be a case of regretting not having my preferred kit (ORTF setup). An example that comes to mind is a family trip to Rugen Island on the Baltic coast of Germany where I recorded a gorgeous forest that literally stopped where the sea began. I would have loved to have captured the soundscape of birdsong and waves using my MKH 8040s, but alas only had my D100. Another challenge with the lighter kits such as the 4060s, MikroUsis or the D100 built in mics is wind protection. I use Bubblebee mic fluffies on both sets of omnis and a Movo / Rycote combo for the D100, but these are all less effective than the Rycote WS9 kits for the 8040s. Recently I tried to record the famous Mistral high winds in the Rhone Valley, southern France using the A10 & MikroUsis but the wind protection just wasn't strong enough. It's all I had with me at the time and definitely goes down as a missed recording due to not having the right kit with me.
CFR: What have you learned about field recording while traveling? Is there anything that changed your thinking about gear or technique while recording on the road?
CH: Whilst you will almost always have regrets about missing out on certain sounds, or wishing you'd had a certain mic with you, the best recorder and mics really are the ones you have with you at the time. Over the years I've recorded soundscapes that no longer exist today, subjects that have now been archived in my library. Do I wish I'd had better equipment at the time of recording? Absolutely. But often these recordings were made with small compact setups and would never have been possible with larger complex kits. All of my recordings are snapshots of time that can never be captured again, so I try to remain satisfied with what I have been able to capture.
Planning is also a key element to successful recordings. I try whenever possible to do a recce of a recording location and more often than not I won't take any equipment on my first visit but simply listen with my ears. When this isn't possible I make use of online tools such as Google Maps to check the area for potential unwanted noise pollution. I have also become more proactive in contacting key people who have local knowledge which can be so important when planning a recording shoot. In the case of nature recording this will often be local experts who are usually more than happy to offer insight into species or habitats at the location. The better prepared you are the more likely you won't face any unwanted surprises.
CFR: What experience or recording are you most proud of?
CH: In 2015 I travelled to Uganda and had the opportunity to record wild Mountain Gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. At the time of my visit Mountain Gorillas were considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and facing a very high risk of extinction. They still remain on the Critically Endangered list but thankfully their numbers have been rising year on year since my visit. It was an honour to have spent time observing and recording these graceful yet immensely powerful creatures. During the trip I also participated in a number of conservation projects which made the trip even more rewarding. To date, this remains my most memorable sound recording experience, a humbling moment and one I will never forget.
My thanks to Colin Hunter for this interview!
- Visit Colin Hunter’s World Sounds website.
- Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.
- Listen to his sounds on SoundCloud.