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The world of a soundie is like no other: Week three in Northumberland

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 13:22 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Guest blogger: Production Coordinator Ellie Williams is with the team in Northumbria capturing the sounds of autumn with ace sound recordist Chris Watson.

Whilst munching my way through some moussaka yesterday evening, it slowly dawned on me that I was sat between no ordinary dinner guests. Chris Watson and Gary Moore - sound recordist gurus - were speaking a language all of their own.

The conversation flowed between the merits of a Parabolic Reflector in comparison to an 806 and how if the cameraman zooms to focus on something away on the horizon, how the heck the soundie mirrors that with a microphone... that kind of thing.

I didn't expect you to understand that either, but as a student of this dark art I'll attempt to translate. The world of a soundie is like no other. Look at a tree swaying in the breeze and you admire the beautiful colours. Listen to the tree though a mic and some headphones (or 'cans' as they're called in the trade) and suddenly the wind that's rustling through the branches gushes through your ears and you can hear the clear bright song of a blackbird as if it's resting on your shoulder. And you can't stop smiling.

The journey down the River Coquet this week has been one in surround sound, with Chris and Gary pulling out all kinds of audio gadgetry to tell its story. At the source yesterday it felt as if we were listening through a stethoscope to the pumping heart of the river. Chris dangled his hydrophone (underwater microphone) into a babbling brook. The trickle we could hear from the surface was transformed into an oceanic rumble of stones with ripples tumbling like waves.

Recording slices of sound is not always that easy though. I had a taster yesterday when a dipper (spotted by the crew the day before) decided not only to avoid my carefully hidden microphone but to rudely not even make an appearance (still, I enjoyed the early morning warming cup of tea on the riverbank).

After a wet and blustery coastal morning at the mouth of the Coquet, I'm enjoying drying off next to a woodburner in the cottage we've made our Northumberland base (although I'm having to resist the urge to record the lovely warm crackles of the firewood!). It's been such a magical week. When I think back to Northumberland, I'll now not only see the rolling hills, but also hear the Coquet as it swells from moorland brook to pounding sea river (and, of course, remember those two sound wizards wandering the hills with their wand-like booms).

Watch this week's Autumnwatch (Thursday 8.30pm, BBC Two) to see Chris Watson's reports into the sounds of his favourite river. You can also ask him a question about wildife sound and he'll answer the best of them on Unsprung. Read Ellie's diary from week one in the Shetlands here.


  • Comment number 1.

    Ooh, imagine those sound gadgets making everything sound ultra close at a horror movie! Yikes!
    It is Halloween soon, so the question to you is, what in the world of nature has been the scariest sound you’ve ever had to listen to/record, and why was it very scary?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hullo Chris! I too love your work and what you do - great job and great achievements! I have quite a few Q's (although some may duplicate or somewhat overlap with one or two of those above) -

    Particularly regarding nature (and maybe with an autumnal bias?!) - Which sound is your favourite and why and which of your recordings do you feel most proud of and why? Which recording has been the most challenging to achieve (and why!) and which sound would you most like to record (or even hear!) that you haven't yet managed (and again, why!)?
    Also - Where do you LIVE and why? (or maybe, even, would like to live and why?) And where would you recommend that I live to maximise my chances of hearing OWLS calling at night (which I'd love to exchange for the current calls of urban nightowls and other party animals ... I wonder where the lucky person asking Q1 lives ..?). Or where might I alternatively live to regularly enjoy the magical sounds of marshes and bogs etc? (and any chance you could Please play such sounds on AW/Unsprung?!). We were staying on the edge of a SALTMARSH close to SF airport in California last Christmas and my partner signalled to me to crouch very low to listen to the astonishing "squeaking" of the marsh - one of the most evocative sounds I have ever experienced! (along with the mournful calling of curlew etc ... ) Plus, can anyone please advise on which types of creatures and/or processes/mechanisms are responsible for these wonderful noises?? Decomposing plant matter? Emanations (!) from microscopic organisms? Or the mechanical movements of larger creatures? (Or maybe all of these ... and more?!) Nature's music ... Brilliant!!
    Thank you - especially if you or someone can address any of these Q's ... either way, I'm really looking forward to your guest appearance tonight, and to the rest of the show and series generally. Regards, TB/EB.

  • Comment number 3.

    Some further, hopeful, Q's for Chris (a very Sound Man indeed!!) -

    What advice (technical, personal or other) would you give to someone wishing to acquire recording skills such as yours, particularly regarding fundamentals and for someone who wished to record for personal rather than professional use? Do you run any courses yourself, either via the BBC or independently, on learning to effectively explore and record sounds, the best type of equipment etc. One of our - erstwhile producer - friends at the BBC (who has also done some private recording work for us) thinks that such courses are generally available from practicing or semi-retired "sound" folk but I haven't managed to properly pursue this yet. Or could you recommend any other courses, or books and equipment, or advise from where one might acquire such guidance? And would you recommend "diving in at the deep end" or a gradual, stage-by-stage type of approach re training and equipment purchase (eg buy the best one can afford at the outset or simply make do with the basics until a certain level of proficiency is achieved)?
    One of the very few lovely sounds in this area comes from the magnificent "Bongs" (chiming the daytime hours from the adjacent dock clock tower) and we would love to have a recording of them to play if we ever manage to move from here (they, plus the birds and the tooting of nearby trains and boats on the Thames provide a wonderful (and essential!) counter to all the myriad other, far less ap-pealing(!) edge of the City sounds ... ). On which note! - how does one isolate the sublime from the rest of the soundscape ...?? (in recording terms, anyway!!)
    I suspect that AW isn't really appropriate for these sort of specific queries but Q's were asked for and I thought that someone might at least be able to provide a few pointers. Thanks anyway and good luck tonight, TB/EB.

    PS - The sonorous sevens have just sounded in the cold night air, resonating over the dark water, right on time ... splendid!

  • Comment number 4.

    1--wild boer

  • Comment number 5.

    Could Chris advise on basic sound recording equipment? I'm always wishing I could record sounds but don't know what's the best thing to start with.


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