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Entries in Wind (2)

Sunday
May272012

Field Recording Gear Tips: Wind Protection

One of the great things about blogs, forums, Twitter and the digital age in general is the ease with which information gets passed around.  There are so many makes and models of studio and field recording gear, and more innovations being marketed all the time,  that without all these new ways to access information, we'd have a much tougher time narrowing down what gear is right for every individual's needs.  I have come across a few great articles and discussion forums about what items other professional field recordists have in their kits and I have stolen more than a few ideas.  So I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and describe my recording kit and how it has evolved over the years.  This post is not meant to be a gear fetish article so I am going to skip over the actual microphones and recorders in my kit (for a great mic fetish article read this though!)  and talk about the accessories and handy items that fill out my equipment locker.

This will be a four-part series, with each post covering a different portion of my current kit.  In coming weeks I'll cover Stands/Booms/Mounts, Useful Odds & Sods/Tools, and Storage/Transport Solutions, but today I will write about what items I use to protect recordings from wind and other unwanted environmental noise. 

Wind Protection is possibly the most important microphone accessory category, as not everything that one wishes to record can be put in a sound-isolated recording booth.  Out in the field, wind can be a really tough enemy to overcome and I find I can never be too prepared to battle the unpredictable elements.  Wind can ruin a great recording, and Murphy's Law of Location Recording dictates that if it's nice and calm while you're setting up your mics, then the wind is going to pick up as soon as you start recording.  Ways to minimize how wind affects a microphone sometimes are as simple as creative placement of objects (or a willing body) at the side of the mic to act as a baffle, but eventually you are going to need more than makeshift solutions to save your recordings.  As wind speeds increase you have to up the ante and get a proper covering for the mic.  Over the years I have used a bunch of different techniques that vary from standard professional gear to more DIY/McGyver-inspired solutions.

 

In terms of the professional gear, I have both a Rode Blimp and a Rycote Windshield and they both have their pros and cons.  One big positive for the Rode is its price, as it's much cheaper than a Rycote.  But with that discount comes some trade-offs.  The Rode Blimp is bigger and a little bit heavier than the Rycote and if I am using a boom pole or using the hand grip for extended periods then this extra weight becomes a problem.  It also has an annoying little rubber piece that holds the mic cable in place where it exits the blimp and this little rubber bit is always falling and bouncing/rolling away when you change out the mic in the blimp.  I have spent lots of time on my knees scavenging through the grass looking for it, time that could have been better spent recording whatever I was trying to capture in the first place.  The Rode Blimp is also more susceptible to wear and tear. The structure of the cage is made up of hundreds of plastic hexagons and over time some of these thin hexagon sides have snapped.  This hasn't caused any problems for me yet but I imagine that if enough of these bits break, I'll start hearing wind-noise creeping into my recordings.

In this photo you can see cracks in the Blimp's body design.Here you can see the Rode Blimp's rubber insert described above.

As befits a somewhat higher-end product, the Rycote windshield seems to be much more adaptable for different length mics as it has extensions that can be added or removed as needed.  The Lyre system used in a Rycote also makes it much easier to change out microphones with different body circumferences  - as opposed to the Rode's rubber-band suspension.  The Lyre lets you simply pop out one mic and pop in another, while with the Blimp’s suspension, swapping out two different-sized mics takes time and fiddling. The Blimp comes with a variety of different mic clips that can be put in the suspension system to accommodate various mic diameters, so if you want to swap out the mic, you have to completely dis-assemble the rubberband suspension, attach a new clip and then rebuild the suspension again.  It is not difficult to do, but it is a 'stop-everything' kind of process. In terms of comfort of handling, if you tend to spend a lot of time holding the mic with the pistol grip, the contour on the Rycote’s grip is much less comfortable then the Rode’s, but I feel like this is off-set by the fact that the Rycote is lighter.

On the left is the Lyre Suspension found on a Rycote, while on the right you can see Rode's rubber band suspension.The more comfotable Rode pistol grip is on the right, while the lighter Rycote is shown here on the left.

Both of these mic surrounds are quite effective in protecting the microphone from the wind.  They both come with furries that are very similar; Rycote calls theirs a Windjammer and Rode refers to theirs as a Dead Wombat.  I used the Rode Blimp dressed in it's wombat fur during my trip along the coastal roads of Iceland where I encountered some pretty heavy winds. The Blimp allowed me to capture good sound without much difficulty in those wild conditions.  

Before I invested in the Rycote and Rode systems I was using a foam wind cover with a furry fabric sheath pulled over it made by Rode, it continues their dead animal themed naming convention and goes by the name "Dead Cat".  This is not good enough in extreme circumstances but it will get you through light wind in a pinch. One advantage of the Dead Cat is that it is much less imposing and doesn't draw attention as much a full windshield and furry does.  I am not saying it is stealth by any means but it is a bit less conspicuous.

Rode's Dead Cat is a furry cover that goes over top of traditional Microphone foam wind guard.In addition to the windscreens, I carry some extra supplies I purchased at a local fabric store.  I have a roll of foam about an inch thick, and a few yards of long-haired fun fur (I use black but you can get some far-out neon colours if that's your thing).  I have found these supplies to come in handy when I have to get creative in a situation that is not going according to plan.  For instance I've found myself in this predicament: I'm recording a sound that turns out to be too loud for my planned microphone and I have to try another mic, but am missing the right clips to mount in the Blimp. I've cut a few chunks of foam and fur, wrapped them around the mic and secured it all with a rubber band, and voilà -  a homemade solution that saved the recording session.  It's not ideal for getting the sound perfectly but it helped me get something when otherwise I would have got nothing.

Up front is a roll of foam and behind it is a few yards of the fun fur. On the right is a mic with the foam and fur wrapped around it.

I also have some wind protection for other-sized mics.  I have the Rycote Portable Recorder Kit to help cut down wind noise when I am out with my hand-held recorder.  It works quite well but is not terribly effective in really high wind conditions.  To help, I have cut up a piece of the foam mentioned above and shaped it so it can fit over the mics inside the Rycote furry.  This helps with the wind but does colour the sound a bit.

My portable recorder below the foam I cut out to fit over its mics, with the Rycote cover at the top.

For smaller mics, I have a few tiny foams in a couple of sizes to help with lavs and tiny mics.  Again, if needed, in a pinch I can cut off a small square of the fun fur and secure it with a rubber band if more wind protection is needed. 

If I think they will be needed I have 6 sound re-enforcement blankets that I can bring along to try to help isolate a sound from its surroundings.  These can substantially cut down room reverberation or help in deadening down noise leaks from outside.  They can also be used in extreme wind as barriers held on the windy side of the mic, as they are quite heavy and won’t audibly flap around, unless we are talking hurricane-speed winds.  Finally these can be used to place under things that move, so you can cut down on the ground friction sounds they may make.  They are also good for putting under your knees if your recording session requires a lot of kneeling and crawling.

 

Since the blankets are quite bulky I find a good technique to keep them manageable is to store them in vacuum sealed bags.  This process makes them quite a bit smaller during storage and they are easy to get out of the bags when needed and are back to full size in a few minutes.

The final thing I like to bring along for microphone protection is another human being.  A second set of eyes can watch for problems that might go unseen by a recordist concentrating on the task at hand... specifically protecting your gear from theft.  I have had a few occasions where a friend or colleague has noticed something/someone I had not, and I've been very glad for their presence as a result.  Plus, a second set of hands (attached to a quiet and patient body) is helpful in countless ways throughout the whole recording process in the field.  I try to always go out with at least one other person, my wife usually drawing the short straw for this job. 

So that's what I like to have handy in terms of microphone protection on a field recording adventure.  Please feel free to contribute what items you find invaluable in your kit via the comments section below or through Twitter.  You can find me on Twitter @azimuthaudio .

Friday
Jul222011

Windmill Farm

It's amazing when something totally random happens with perfect timing.  One such instance of this phenomenon happened to me recently. I was browsing the Social Sound Design website and saw a new question pop up from a sound editor in Buenos Aires, asking what a wind turbine sounded like.  He had never heard one and he needed to get the sound right for a project he was working on.  Social Sound Design is a great resource for this type of thing as it is frequented by many sound professionals around the world and through their knowledge and experience lots of information can be shared.  The reason this particular question caught my attention was that I had just returned from recording wind turbines at the Melancthon EcoPower Wind Farm a few hours north of Toronto, my hometown.  I had recorded this somewhat on a whim and was not sure if or when these sounds would come in handy.  I certainly had no inkling that my recordings would be helping out a sound editor on a different continent less then 24 hours after pressing record.

It all began when I found myself passing through the wind farm on my way to visit some friends.  I've driven through this neck of the woods a few times,  and I had even mixed a news story that briefly covered the region in an investigation into wind farms and their effects on the health of nearby residents.   The turbines are spread out over a large rural area, and passing through it I figured I could see around 30 to 40 turbines (tough to count while driving) but it turns out there are 133 towers churning out enough power to keep up to 52,000 homes supplied with electricity.  So on this latest trip through, I decided that I had to get out of the car and record some of the windmills.

I picked a random country road off the main highway and drove up it a few kilometres, far enough from the traffic to record in relative quiet.  I spotted a wide-open field with three of the giant 80-meter-tall towers whirring away and pulled the car over.  After popping the trunk and getting out my gear I hiked my way into the field towards the closest of the three towers and heard a low, pulsing whoosh getting louder as I approached.  

You can get an idea how tall it is with me standing in front of it. A modern-day Don Quixote?

This is when it became apparent to me why this location had been picked to put up a wind turbine; the wind was blowing with abandon!  I knew it was going to be a major challenge to get any usable recordings with gusts this strong hitting the mic.  I had my Sanken CSS-5 stereo shotgun in its Rycote zeppelin with a freshly combed out windjammer over top, and I was still getting quite a bit of wind noise on the mic.  So much so that recording anything further away than the very base of the turbine was pretty much useless as the noise from the wind was simply overpowering everything else.  My original plan of using a boom pole to get the microphone up as close as possible to the blades was a washout due to wind as well.  In the end I tried standing right at the foot of the tower, holding the mic in front of my body and positioning myself between the microphone and the prevailing wind.  This helped a lot but I will still have to add a high pass filter EQ in the mastering stage to make the sounds useable for future projects.

After spending a bit of time with the turbines I can say they are not ever silent.  They make a variety of tones and whooshes depending on the speed and angle of the wind.   They are quite loud when you are really close but their sound quickly gets swallowed up in the wind as you put any distance between yourself and the turbine.  I had imagined getting a distant ambience of the field with multiple turbines working away in the distance but had to abandon that concept as being unattainable.  This field had three giant towers spinning in the same field just a few hundred meters apart from each other but at no point could I ever hear more then one of them at a time.

Windmill with Low cut by azimuthaudio

I guess time will tell if I ever end up needing these sounds for my own future projects. They are fairly specific and noisy but they might end up being a great base for a drone or ambience on a sci-fi spaceship or machine room.  At least I know the time I spent recording these giants was not totally wasted because I was able to help out a Argentinean in need.  

 

Check out how hard the wind is hitting the furry on the mic.