Here’s the in-depth story behind the preparation and recording of his epic jungle adventure library – complete with 50 free sound effects for you to download.
The launch trailer for the ‘Undiscovered: Savannah & Jungle of The Rupununi‘ SFX library
Hi Stephane, how did you come up with the idea for ‘Undiscovered’ library?
Hello Asbjoern, thanks for asking. The idea behind the ‘Undiscovered’ ambience library (Savannah and Jungle of The Rupununi) came shortly after my trip to the Southern American region of The Rupununi in December 2016, where I had a blast recording and got immersed in pure nature.
At the time of these recordings, I had no particular definite goal regarding a distinct library; I just enjoyed the spark of the moment that gave me leeway to experiment techniques, gears, and allowed me to improve my immersive field recording skills.
The whole trip was a kind of ‘visceral sound chase’ in one of the most unspoiled and most bio-diverse places in the world. I had almost no control over the environment; I just absorbed the peaceful magical moments as a witness of these pure symphonies offered by mother Nature. It is only a few years ago that I fell in love with the act of recording natural sounds.
The perfect sound is not found nor created in the studio; it is out there in the wild
I spent so many years in studios, tweaking machines in an attempt to create the perfect sounds or mix, but I must confess: the perfect sound is not found nor created in the studio; it is out there in the wild. When you think about it, these soundscapes were shaped naturally over time, based off millions of years of natural evolution well beyond human history.
After the trip, I assessed the material that I recorded, and then I decided what to do with it.
Capturing the sounds of wild, mysterious jungles and savannahs (includes 50 free bird SFX!)
At that stage, it was obvious that The Rupununi landscapes were completely reminiscent of an epic adventure story like in an Indiana Jones franchise, or in a video game like Uncharted, which I am a huge fan of. I don’t know of any other nature libraries that took this approach as a concept. Strangely, the expeditions and typical quests for lost treasures totally mirrored my experience chasing sonic gems in the wild. The whole concept around the library felt so obvious. The name ‘Undiscovered’ was simply inspired by the tourism authority of Guyana, which goes by the alias, “Undiscovered South America.”
To celebrate the launch of Undiscovered SFX library, Stephane Dufour is giving away 50 free Cacique bird recordings. Just enter your name and valid email address below to get the download link + the much-loved A Sound Effect newsletter:
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One fascinating thing I noticed about The Rupununi region is that it has literally been the theater of myth and legend. Indeed, the northern Rupununi has been the alleged location of the famous El Dorado city sought by major explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh, yet, it has never been discovered! This spawns an exciting depth around the creation of the library.
After the selection and editing, the collection included 32 natural ambiences recorded at various times of the day, various ecosystems, and even various room tones from benabs (traditional indigenous houses). I then decided to complete the collection with some uncommon but usefully designed ambiances that I wasn’t able to record on the spot, for instance, a snake’s nest, a dangerous sticky swamp, an underground river, a rope bridge, and insects’ colonies, which are all inspired by these epic stories of adventurers. Hence, 10 additional ambiences were designed around the theme, with the help of Vincent Fliniaux.
Finally, the core purpose of creating this library (other than representing the beautiful scenery of the Rupununi), is to provide ready-to-use ambiences that will help dress up the backdrop of a wide variety of scenes located in wild, hot, mysterious, or dangerous landscapes.
What are some of the highlights of the library?
• The library is available in surround formats (Quad 4.0 and 5.1), as well as in down-mixed Stereo. It was important to transcribe the immersive aspect of lush soundscapes through multi-channels.
• It comprises 42 ambiences totaling 3 hours, 38 minutes. 32 of the 42 ambiences are from the natural world, while the remaining 10 are designed.
• The natural ambiences encompass various subsets of the ecosystem, such as the forest jungle, the dry savanna, and wet savanna, all recorded at different times of the day. 4 roomtones from the traditional Amerindian benabs (hut) are also included in the library.
• All of the files come with well-grounded metadata. Identified bird species are also included whenever possible.
• Future extensions will be freely available to the current users.
What sort of planning went into creating the library?
I had previously made similar trips, and this was merely intended to be a follow-up trip with better skills and equipment, and my intentions at the preliminary stage were to just chase unique wild sounds in their complete wilderness immersion. Unfortunately, I had a really limited time to spend abroad; at that period, I was a full-time consultant for WB Games in Montreal, and I had only about a 10-day vacation in December, so I had to plan accordingly.
My intentions at the preliminary stage were to just chase unique wild sounds in their complete wilderness immersion
Ultimately, before such field recordings are made, the planning phase is tremendously important. My subsequent trip to Ecuador confirmed this (where I unfortunately planned less), as I explain in my blog post “Why & How I failed to Record Pristine Nature Soundscapes in Ecuador?”
A) Planning the gear:
My first step was to prepare a gear setup that suited my needs during the trip. I used a few months to complete my arsenal, and test stuff before taking off. I even soldered my own cables.
I prepared myself for two kinds of recordings: full-immersion and specifics. I then set up a surround system around a custom IRT-Cross, augmented with an Ambisonics microphone. Using the IRT-cross is for me a natural extension of the ORTF stereo configuration that I so much love when recording ambiences. On top of that, I got a Telinga Parabolic Dish (MK2 Kit) which I intended to put to the test for specifics.
B) Planning the location:
Following my previous adventures to Central America (from which I released the library, ‘Tropical ambiences‘), my success strategy for the locations revolved around 3 variables:
1) the presence of rich bio-diversity
2) the human influx
3) the weather/environmental conditions
I spent a lot of time studying maps and conducting researches. I am no biology expert, but I obtained some pretty interesting resources from here and there (for example, the map of the earth’s most special places drawn up by WWF).
The exact choice of location was decided as a result of an eliminating process: Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania were too far away from my current location. My short time frame would have made me waste too much time in transportation. South America seemed like a great choice, and particularly the area around the Amazon basin which houses at least 10% of the world’s bio-diversity.
One lesson I drew from my previous trip was that touristic zones can generate a lot of noise pollution; however non-touristic zones are far less accessible
I have always had a fascination for the Amazon. Consequently, I read a couple of books, and was really particular about my second variable (the human influx), precisely, the accessibility versus the modern development. One lesson I drew from my previous trip was that touristic zones can generate a lot of noise pollution; however non-touristic zones are far less accessible. Those are circumstances to weight in and out. Therefore, some countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana and Suriname seemed more appropriate.
My third variable (weather conditions) really helped me choose the exact locations. I was worried about the rainy season that could cause flooded zones, impracticable roads, and all sorts of related hazards. However, it was difficult to define safe weather zone in advance, as tropical rains happen all year long in these regions, and are difficult to predict. I thus searched for monthly average precipitation maps in order to evaluate the least risky zones. On the website of ‘WATCH’ I found an interesting map. Looking at it closely, one area appeared more reddish (less precipitation).
Out of curiosity, I found out about The Rupununi Region, located in Guyana. This is one of the most unspoiled and bio-diverse region of South America
Out of curiosity, I found out about The Rupununi Region, located in Guyana. This is one of the most unspoiled and bio-diverse region of South America. Its inhabitants are only sparse indigenous communities which luckily limit the human noise factor. However eco-tourism has begun to develop in this area for a few years, it is still at a really small scale and far from popular crowded zones. In fact during the whole trip, I was almost the only westerner around. In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons why tourist crowds don’t come here: crimes and price. Indeed, it is a dangerous country (particularly in the capital city), and the few tourist-friendly facilities are also way overpriced, the two combined dissuade most of the tourists to visit in spite of the effort put in place by local authorities.
C) On-site planning (Agile Planning):
Once I arrived in the country, it was important to stay responsive to external circumstances, and to adapt accordingly. Of course, I had some trouble with transportation – planes were late, and so, I had to improvise many times in a country known for its high degree of criminality. I passed through many customs controls (even inside the same country), with officers scrutinizing my equipment. I didn’t feel at ease traveling alone through these conditions, but looking back, it was certainly worth the fright, plus I am still alive ;-). Also, I was a little lucky with the weather for the most part. I learned that a few days later, after I left, it was pouring days and nights.
Once I arrived in the country, it was important to stay responsive to external circumstances, and to adapt accordingly
One other important success-factor of the project was the help of the local well-trained guides, who helped in identifying the different bird species. For the recording itself, I usually walk and listen and whenever I perceive a great spot, I set up my gear, and move a few meters away to avoid extra noise from myself.
D) Planning the editing:
It was a long process as I edited in small chunks. I rented a studio equipped with surround monitors in order to check the work conveniently. I did a lot of cleaning up, from bumps, clicks, crackles, and unwanted noises. Overall this was an organic process as it did it sporadically depending on my availability.
I am really proud, and impressed by the result; the sounds are unique, and cater for useful immersive soundscapes.
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What locations did you capture – and what was your recording setup?
For this library, I gathered the recordings I made in The Rupununi region – it’s mostly savannas (wet and dry) and forests.
I have to say, these are South-American savannas. Although, at times, they can look similar to the African ones, but they don’t house Elephants, lions, or giraffes. The mammals you come across here are monkeys and elusive wildcats. The birds are predominantly present everywhere, as well as myriads of insects. There are also grasslands which are extensions of the wet savannas where taller grass could grow. I also recorded room tones inside the traditional housings (Benabs), where you can still hear the surrounding lush nature from the inside. At one time, I went by a lake shore which I searched for hours through a labyrinth in the woods. It was kind of a quest. I recorded day and night!
My recording setup featured a set of Sound Devices 788T recorder with 2 Sennheiser MKH8090 microphones, and 2 Rote NT5 microphones, as well as a Core Sound Tetramic, and a Telinga Parabolic Dish MK2-Kit. I also had a Cold Gold hydrophone, as well as a zoom H5. The main recording rig was a surround IRT-Cross. I recorded a few Ambisonics ambiences, but I ended up recording with only the 4 surround microphones on IRT-Cross since I had a mihap with the Ambisonics microphone. Everything was connected to the Sound Devices.
I also recorded some specifics using the Telinga dish, along with MKH8090, some of these recordings were used to create the designed ambiences.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while making the library?
I would say the biggest challenge was humidity. I went through high humid areas, and I noticed some flaws in the recording rig. I misjudged the capacity of the Rode Mics to resist humidity. They are not meant to be used this way I guess. Indeed the Rode microphones were randomly generating noises, sometimes clicks, and other times, unidentified grainy noises; although some times they were recording just fine. It was a bit of a gamble. Therefore, the editing process was a little challenging. Fortunately, the Sennheiser MKH 8090 worked just fine.
The other difficulty came from the Ambisonics microphone. I also did not entirely evaluate the ability of the Ambisonics microphone to operate under such conditions. Hopefully, it was not my main recording means. As a matter of fact, the Tetramic was kind of new to me; I got it in order to test out the Ambisonics capture as I couldn’t afford the more expensive Sound Field solutions. Well, I did some very interesting Ambisonics recordings in the first part of the trip at the Iwokrama forest, I will use them later-on in another project.
Another challenge, I would say, is the consequence of using guides. In my opinion it is crucial that you understand who they are, and to know how to get the most of them. Sometimes, if they come along, they can ruin the take. For example, I had some unwanted noises popping up again and again while recording because one guide had no idea how sensitive the microphones were; besides, more humans in the wild means more possibilities to scare animals. On the other hand, guides know the surroundings and the species, and they can bring you to unexpected places. In general I found it more efficient to go on my own, as I would make less noises and scare less animals, then the guides can help listen and identify the species.
Any exciting stories or anecdotes from the making of the library?
First, I have to say, I overcame a lot of set-backs undertaking this project. Crossing alone in a country that is often listed as ‘dangerous’ or ‘to avoid’ is not reassuring at all. When I transited through Georgetown, I encountered the only other westerner all trip long, he had been robbed and beaten, and he showed me his scars. He had nothing left on him, and had been stuck in the city for the last two weeks.
Crossing alone in a country that is often listed as ‘dangerous’ or ‘to avoid’ is not reassuring at all
He managed to get into the same minivan that was crossing the only inner road of Guyana, from the North to the South through the forest. This whole experience made me uneasy in the country. There were although more hospitable, heart-warming Amerindian people in the indigenous inner lands, but in order to get there, one must endure a 15 hours drive on a bumpy, shaky, muddy road, coupled with the occasional car breakdowns.
One night in the Iwokrama forest, I was recording some frogs from the canoe, and then, all of a sudden, a water shower fell from the sky. Few seconds were enough to turn the Ambisonics microphone out-of-order. Hopefully I had already recorded a lot of beautiful Ambisonic material the days before (which will be used in a later project). As a consequence, from this moment I only used the surround quad for the rest of the trip.
On my way around the Surama village, I ran into a burnt forest area, meant to be used for plantation purpose. I felt saddened by the area, and I could hear harsh threatened insects buzzes, which I interpreted as the expression of an injured nature. This recording is also included in the library.
When I came back into the capital city, it was all flooded, and some streets were not viable, we had to walk in the water. Seasonal rain passed by on the coast; hopefully it didn’t get to the inner-lands while I was still there recording.
What are some of your favorite recordings in the library?
The ones done at night, they feel mysterious, and make me shiver every time I listen to them. I can recall the exact moment I was recording surrounded by these serenades of creatures which I couldn’t see. On one recording, we can clearly hear the wings of the bats flying around the mics. At other times, I witnessed night jars which have glowing eyes, and with the total darkness, their fluorescent eyes hovering around me felt terribly spooky!
I can recall the exact moment I was recording surrounded by these serenades of creatures which I couldn’t see
At day-time, there was these incredibly expressive birds which I recorded extensive vocalizations, the Yellow-Rumped Cacique is capable of generating wide varieties of small cute sounds, strangely reminding me of R2-D2!
Another recording is a 36 minutes long dawn chorus, I remember in the studio closing my eyes while listening; with the surround channels and the sound bouncing in all directions, I felt completely transported to this amazing location. Also Vincent Fliniaux managed to make isolated birds sound as mammals’ grunts, creating great exotic atmospheres on the designed ambiences. I really like what he did there.
I want to add a final note on ecology. I am genuinely aware and concerned about the ever increasing environmental issues which are all over the world. As a commitment, we are donating 5% of all our profits to ONGs environmental efforts. I feel, on one hand, it is our duty and mission as good recorders to collect and preserve these wonders with genuine care, and on the other hand, to unravel the natural world we come from to people, and hopefully bring us to the path of reconciliation with our true selves! With present climate changes, and the increasing modern human developments, these beautiful landscapes are at stake. This is not a joke or fake news; our world is changing, and wildlife is in real danger! Experts say the extinction rate is much higher now than it used to be, and it continues to ramp up.
It may be the last time in the universe that such luxuriant and lush places exist.
During my trip to The Rupununi, while talking to a young local Amerindian, she told me how nature has already changed in her lifetime.
This is not a joke or fake news; our world is changing, and wildlife is in real danger!
She noticed that only 5 years ago, she used to see much more animals along the road than she can see today. It is really sad and alarming, but knowing she is aware of it and speaks about it, I have hope that the future generations will help in the protection and conservation of these natural wonders.
I really like the initiative from the folks I met at Iwokrama. Let’s keep hoping and get more involved.
As Gordon Hempton pinpoints in this wonderful video ‘Being Hear’, we have to connect more with our environment, be aware and learn to listen again, that is the first step.
A big thanks to Stephane Dufour for giving us a look at the making of ‘Undiscovered: Savannah & Jungle of The Rupununi’. Be sure to give it a listen!