Kia Ora

Welcome to our new field recording blog!

Along with our Twitter and Facebook accounts & the Music of Sound blog, we will update this blog with all of our current work in progress, technical research, location scouting, field recording adventures and general malarky… Note: there is an RSS feed for it HERE

Sonic Tourism – New Zealand

First Field Recordings

By 1998 I was in the slow motion process of dropping out of University – I’d started a degree in Electrical Engineering, and the further I got into it the less I liked it! One of the few interesting elements was the anechoic chamber which I spent time in when I could…

Around the same time a couple of friends were at Elam Fine Arts School. The drummer in my band was studying film, and via him I managed to start using their field recording equipment: a beautiful Nagra 4.2 and a Sennheiser MKH416 shotgun mic in a Rycote.

Prior to going to Film School in 1990, I spent a gap year living in an abandoned church in central Christchurch, playing in bands and starting to experiment making my own music and sound. And borrowing that Nagra and 416 whenever I could!

Sometimes the greatest motivator can be a lack of access, so whenever I had that Nagra I spent quality time with it – learning to record, and also learning to manipulate sound with it. Making tape loops, playing sounds backwards and splicing tape.

At one stage I had a part time job, working a nightshift at a gas station in the suburbs. I think their motive was that my meagre pay was cheaper than insurance, while mine was being paid to do very little. Except I didn’t – I did all sorts of things while I was at work, and remember a couple of people coming into the station about 2am, only to find the counter covered in bits of 1/4″ tape!

Another part time job I had was at a company who built sound systems – I mainly helped with assembly but I made friends with a hippy guy who worked in their machine shop. He built all the speaker enclosures so had a full workshop of saws, routers, drills etc… and I soon realised this was an opportunity not to be missed!

I managed to talk him into coming in to work during the weekend, and borrowed that trusty Nagra and 416 again and recorded a great little library of machine tools. One of my favourite sounds from that session was an air powered staple gun, I was recording at 15ips as much so i could slow sounds down as for the quality. And that staple gun sounded great at half speed.

I think those recordings would be the earliest recordings that are still in my library. At some point in the 90s I transferred them to DAT, at real speed and at half speed. And then a few years later digitised the DAT and added it to my growing CDROM sound library… and then as hard drives became affordable, copied the CDROMs to hard drive, and now to a NAS.

So here is a few of my earliest recordings, time travelling from 1988 to your ears now!

First recordings

I was thinking about my first ever recording experiences, and while it wasn’t in the field per se, the one machine that ignited the fire in my imagination for recording and manipulating sound was the TEAC A3340 four track recorder.

This particular machine had become infamous by local experimental music hero Chris Knox and his studio/front room band The Tall Dwarfs. Using tape loops, splicing, overdubbing, reversing and track bouncing Knox and band mate Alec Bathgate had produced a series of brilliant EPs for the Flying Nun label, perfectly illustrating the potential for multitrack recording, even if it was only four tracks…

Back in the mid 1980s I was living in Christchuch, playing bass guitar in a band, appropriately named The Unknown. We played lots of gigs, and slowly the desire grew to record some of our music. And after considerable effort we managed to get an Arts Council grant for $500 to record and release a cassette EP.
Rather than blow our budget in one session at a studio, our live engineer Bryce suggested we rent a desk and microphones from our friendly PA company and set up our house as a studio for a few days. The one missing element: a recorder.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend, we eventually managed to rent a Teac A3340 and I can still remember going to pick it up from a fairly squalid house in Sydenham and noticing the bent spoons on the oven in the kitchen… Didn’t want to think about where the $50 rent was going, but we took this beautiful machine back to our flat, and made the whole set up work for few long days of recording: guitar in the kitchen, drums & bass in the lounge, and vocals in the spare room.

Thankfully… copies of the recording now exist, but watching Bryce engineer the recordings and mix down our EP was the first time I actually got to witness music recording and the dream that had been hazy slowly began to clarify itself.

A beginning

The best place to start a new blog? The beginning!

I grew up on my parents farm, Dalbury, near the mouth of the Rangitata River in the South Island of New Zealand and I think living in such a place had a profound impact on my senses.

I have since read of how some of the early settlers who moved to the Canterbury Plains went crazy as they just couldn’t handle how “big” the sky was!

The plains reach from the Southern Alps out to the East Coast, and on a sunny day it can feel like sky consumes most of your visual field.

But I also think growing up in such a place helped develop my love of nature and quiet places.

Many of my early memories are sound based, for example I vividly remember the sound of blue gum nuts randomnly falling off the trees and rolling down the roof of the shed.

And the sound of the empty grain silos, jumping up and down inside them, creating thunder.

As a young boy my parents made me take piano lessons – in hindsight I am eternally grateful but at the time it felt like a chore.

I remember how Mrs Perkins, my piano teacher, had two sausage dogs and I knew my piano lesson was finished when they started barking, announcing that the next student had arrived for their turn.

It was the sound of freedom.

Another early memory I have, I really can’t explain other than to believe it was a instinctive glimpse of the future. We had a cottage on my parents farm which we used to rent out to visitors (think Air BnB, except its the 1970s and the internet hasn’t even been conceived of)

One family who came & stayed became good friends of my parents and they invited us to visit them in Wellington. So some time later we went & stayed in a relatives beach house at Paekakariki (coincidentally about ten minutes from where I live now) and I distinctly remember catching the train into central Wellington and visiting our friends place of work – it turned out he was the managing director of Radio New Zealand!

I must have been only about seven or eight years old but I remember two things from that visit. First was how his office was on the top floor of this high rise building, I had never seen such a thing before let along been inside one. And the second thing?

We were given a tour of the facilities and were shown a recording studio which was being used for classical recording. And I distinctly remember how the engineer showed us how different instruments were recorded on seperate tracks.

Years later I was reminiscing about this memory with my brother, who is four years older than me, and he said all he can remember of that visit was lunch!