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Entries in Cabin (1)

Sunday
Nov202011

Recording Drains

I am not the best when it comes to wiring up a studio.  Twice I've been involved with major studio re-wiring projects and both times I proceeded at about half the speed of everyone else.  Luckily this slow pace produces fewer errors, as I tend to check everything over and over before I actually start soldering or bust out the EDAC tools. I think one of the reasons I am so hesitant with this type of work is that I've lived for years with the results of my grandfather's gung-ho approach to DIY.  I remember when I was a kid, my grandfather would jump at any fix-it job that presented itself.  With all respect, he was not a very good handyman.  Every light switch in his house was wired up upside down and every faucet had hot on the right and cold on the left.  

My grandfather kickin' back after a long day's work at the cabin.

When I was a child I would spend long stretches of the summer at the family cabin which my grandfather and his father built from scratch.  When he installed the indoor plumbing, the job did not exactly adhere to building codes - and so the cabin to this day has a few unique features.  The one that has always stuck in my mind is the sound the kitchen sink makes when you pull out the drain plug under a full sink of water.  As the water drains down, everything is normal... until the last moment when a huge suction noise starts building to a loud climax. 

The cabin has no bathtub, only a shower, so babies and toddlers have always been bathed in the kitchen sink. A classic prank to play on an unsuspecting young one is to leave them in the sink as the water drains... and then watch the child freak out when the water runs out and that tremendous sucking sound blasts from underneath them.  

One of my cousins chillin' in the sink about 40 years ago.

The cabin is now over 50 years old and lots of renovations and repairs are taking place every summer.  It occurred to me recently that the sink drain had to be recorded before someone went and had the plumbing fixed and that sound was lost to the world forever. 

I grabbed my contact mic (my Aquarian Audio Hydrophone with the contact mic adaptor) and gaffer-taped it to the underside of the sink, pointed a shotgun mic (in this case a Rode NTG3) at the drain from above and pulled the plug.  Here are the results (turn it up loud!!)

Imagine being 2 years old, sitting naked in the sink, and that sound comes roaring out underneath your bum.  It was terrifying, I can tell you from experience. 

Contact microphone taped to the bottom of cabin sink. The tape did not hold it tight enough so I had to manually push the mic up against the metal while recording. Not ideal but got the job done.

The shotgun mic captured the sound really well, while the contact mic on its own is not a very interesting sound: too much low end and not enough definition.  But when you combine the two it gives a great, full effect of the suction's power, with detailed high frequencies and tail-offs.  Here are a few different takes of the drain with the mics isolated and then combined. (shotgun/contact/combined)

Cabin Kitchen Sink by azimuthaudio

When I got home from the cabin I decided to try the same recording set-up on my own (newly installed) kitchen sink.  On my first try I got nothing; the water just washed down the drain making very little noise, but with a few experiments I figured out that by plugging one side of the double sink and pulling the plug on the other side I could get a good sound.  There is no dramatic suction noise at the end, but the actual draining of the water is much louder and better defined.

House Kitchen Sink by azimuthaudio

My last sound in this post is a recording I made by putting one of my DPA 4060 miniature microphones down past the drain of a dry sink while the water was running a little further down the water pipes.  This captures a great hollow metallic reverb. Last year I worked on an episode of an animated series that took place in a sewer pipe beneath the city, and this recording would have been extremely helpful on that project.  I know it'll get used in the future.