Field Recordings are my Pokemon Go

I’ve always had a dislike of foley recordings, especially in a studio setting.

In fact, being completely honest, I don’t like recording full stop. So time consuming, so many takes, and all the comp’ing. ugh. Having worked as an engineer for musicians, recording was always the longest and most tedious stage of the process. Give me a synthesiser over an acoustic instrument any day, we’ve all heard a guitar and I don’t think people need you to do retakes on your Martin over the Taylor you brought in yesterday.

But foley recordings were the worst to me, and it made me convinced that there was no enjoyment to be had in recording. There would always be an issue, a sound not right or unwanted noise. A windy day ruins a sound as much as the studio space being too dry or too big, or too small, or the wrong shape. Always something.

I figured out over the last few months that the thing that really makes foley a struggle for me is the need to recreate a sound in a controlled environment. What I mean is the part when you need to use what you have at your disposal to fake a sound that exists in the real world. Sure you have to think creatively to remake sounds that we usually can’t acquire, but this process (to me) just seems like the creation of a talking point over a more effective solution than the sound itself. After all, there are many many many libraries out there that can give you exactly what you need. If you feel that it’d sound better if you make your own version in your vocal booth with a set of stationary, I’m going to have a hard time believing you there… It’s a lot of effort to make a sound that someone has likely recorded in real life, that’s all I’m saying.
Of course the process is creative on paper, you are creating sounds, but you are required to work within confines stricter than any other form of production and sound design. You are required to provide creativity, without necessarily working with freedom to make whatever sound you want.

(Respect to those who are foley artists, by the way. This is not a criticism of you, it’s me being a la-di-da creative type)

Last month, for the purpose of a project we are currently prototyping at Mott and White, I purchased an ambisonics microphone to capture some 360 ambiences for use as a foundation to soundscapes. As we are looking to create a product to sell, our sounds must be original recordings and so, for the first time in a long time, I headed out into the world to get some new sounds.
But see, this time was different. I wasn’t heading out to capture something specific anymore, I was heading out to capture everything around me (well, the mic). I wasn’t getting the issues flooding in of unwanted background sounds and a hatred of unplanned events nearby, because it was now all part of the spherical space that I wanted to obtain. The trips out have all been to capture simple woodland ambiences with plenty of tree rustling sounds, and with the Yorkshire Dales currently on my doorstep I’ve been spoilt. In the morning I would just throw up the map, find a spot as far from roads as possible and get out there. Pre-planning done. No additional windscreens, stands or thoughts of will iZotope RX be able to de-noise that much noise? The freedom and opportunistic nature of field recording was brilliant, and it allowed you to discard (although not completely!) a worried, plan for everything engineering approach and work in the moment.

With the second lockdown on the horizon, I hope that field recording will continue to serve as the ultimate daily exercise incentive. After all, it’s the first time since Pokemon Go that I have traversed multiple walls because a mile away there could be something rare to capture.

Last week’s locations: Otley (Y.Dales), Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve, Rodley Nature Reserve, Golden Acre Park, Fewston Reservoir, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Holkham Estate, Holkham Nature Reserve.

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