Introduction to Recording Locations

Different recording locations have their own distinct characteristics and often require you to adapt your recording technique or setup to get the best results.

The sounds of a woodland are hugely varied. Most bird song sounds quite different depending on whether it's close or distant. Small animals in the undergrowth make their own signature sounds, and even the apparently unceasing rustle of leaves varies with time and conditions, and indeed with the species of tree.

Open landscapes and hedgerows have their own unique characteristics. Generally one is recording much closer to the source. Sounds almost inaudible to the unaided ear become significant and interesting, but wind is more of a problem than almost anywhere else except the sea shore.

Running water is a challenge. Different streams and rivers need different techniques to bring out their unique characteristics. It's easy to finish up with a recording of "bath water", but if one gets it right the results can be amazing and sometimes quite unexpected.

Enclosed places include not just the obvious such as a caves and old barns, but quarries, deep gullies and small valleys. Even if one can see the sky, such locations could be enclosed spaces from the recording perspective. Observation and experience are necessary to identify the defining characteristics of the enclosed soundscape, and the recording technique has to be adapted to them. Noise from remote sources tends to be reduced, but echoes can be difficult to manage.

The sea is a wild soundscape recordist's perennial favourite. It seems a simple subject - usually loud enough to mask most of the background noise and apparently easy to set up for. But the subtleties of sea sound recording are infinite. Whether to record a far or near field, whether to focus on fine detail such as the runback of surf, whether to record from above or use hydrophones beneath the water. These are just some of the questions, and the answers will depend on many factors including an understanding of the topography, geology and state of the tide. Not without reason are sea sounds considered one of the artistically most challenging wild soundscape subjects.

Very occasionally, the wild soundscape recordist may resort to extreme close-up or "near field" techniques. These are more commonly used by scientific recordists seeking clear plain records for recognition of individual species. They may place microphones in suitable sites and wait for maybe days on end for a result from an automatic recorder. Alternatively they might use a hand held "parabolic" microphone attached to a dish reflector to home in on a specific source. But these reflector microphones distort some sounds quite unpleasantly and hand held always means added noise. So although informative, the results are usually not very attractive, nor indeed subtle. However, there are a few situations where extreme close-up can work for us - for example, the sound of crickets in grassland. But it's extremely tricky to get good stereo recordings at very close range. The highly directional microphones necessary are large, difficult to control and can be very expensive.