Urban field recording Asbjoern Andersen


Want to capture the sounds of the city? This new guide by Anne-Sophie Mongeau – packed with examples – helps you record sounds that truly stand out:


Written by Anne-Sophie Mongeau



 

In this article, I wish to share my approach on urban field recording. It consists of some tips and pointers I have come to learn and put into practice when doing field recording in urban environments. They are not based on practical or technical knowledge, but are rather meant to ignite creative thought processes. You could argue that the following tips are not limited to urban soundscapes and can very well be applied to any sort of field recording, but what I would like to convey here is how the sounds we find in a city can be incredibly revealing about a space we think we know extensively, and that listening and paying attention to those sounds may very well shine a new light on our surroundings.
 

As the recordist, it’s about listening to your surroundings and find a perspective which you feel can communicate this sonic personality

When going out recording in the city, one quickly realises how noisy it can get, and how homogeneous it can sometimes feel in terms of soundscape. Urban recording is rarely about capturing bird songs or other quiet events – the loudness and ubiquity of other elements such as traffic noise can make that quite difficult. So although it is possible to focus on those soft sounding occurrences, it can be a challenge. If you embrace that fact though, it is still possible to make the most of it – for instance I think most cities have their own sonic personality, which can be very interesting to capture. As the recordist, it’s about listening to your surroundings and find a perspective which you feel can communicate this sonic personality. And that brings me to my first tip, which takes the form of a question to ask yourself about your subject when hunting for sounds:
 

1. What makes it unique?

 
How does this city’s soundscape sound different than any other, what do you hear in this place that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else? What gives it its special vibe? I found that Amsterdam was an excellent example of this atypical urban sonic personality: its soundscape is persistently composed of an amalgam of bicycles, trams, cars, motorbikes, and boats! You won’t find a similar composition of sounds in just any city in the world.
 

 

If you compare this Amsterdam recording with the following, which was made in Montreal, you can quickly hear how different those two spaces sound:
 

 

There is so much more to the urban soundscape than what shows on the surface

But if sometimes traffic and general city ambiences are good things to record in various places and from various perspectives, if only for the sake of building diverse libraries, I believe there is so much more to the urban soundscape than what shows on the surface. And to be honest, a unique soundscape doesn’t necessarily make it interesting. Which brings me to my second tip:
 

2. What makes it interesting?

 
The quality of being interesting may not have anything to do with the fact that it is a city recording or with how it was recorded. Interesting has to do with how you feel when you listen to that sound, and what is the emotion it transmits. Does it arouse your curiosity or catch your attention? Does it make you discover anything new? Is it suggesting something you haven’t considered before? Is it making you think about the subject in a different way? Is it simply enjoyable to listen to? Or rather uncomfortable? Compelling? Intriguing? Disgusting? Engaging? Typical or atypical? Surprising? Challenging? Impressive? Etc, etc.

In an urban context, especially if it is your own city, you may be almost desensitised to the specific sonic personality and uniqueness around you – you’ve been exposed to it for so long that it might sound only moderately interesting to you. When I realise that this is the case for me and that the most predominant elements of the soundscape in my immediate surroundings don’t present much of an interest, this is what I ask myself:
 

3. Is there anything hidden?

 

Revealing those elements of our environments can be a way to reconsider what we sometimes take for granted

Is there anything else? Is there anything I can reveal about this environment that is not obvious to the ears or eyes? Are there any sounds here that I may not be able to listen to with naked ears? Is there anything I can uncover about this space that is here yet we forget about it or maybe even don’t know about it? Can I represent this space in a way that will make its inhabitants rediscover it? Can I present this space through a different angle that would make one think differently about it, or if not differently, then at least acknowledge it and possibly re-connect with it? I find that revealing those elements of our environments can be a way to reconsider what we sometimes take for granted.

More than the mere rediscovery, it’s about acknowledging that these sounds, these vibrations in the air (and in other elements), they do exist, even if they are not obvious to our human ears, or if we are a priori indifferent to them, whether it’s because they are masked by other noise or because they resonate in a way that we are not sensitive to. Even though they interact with our environment in a way that we may be blind (or deaf) to, they may still have an impact on it. It’s kind of like the tree in the forest – if it falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The sounds I am interested in capturing and revealing in our urban environments, they interact with our surroundings, or are manifestations of our surroundings (and ourselves) interacting with them, without us realising it. Maybe thinking about those events can make people think similarly about other elements of our environment that are taken for granted, but are equally important to acknowledge. So put simply, when hunting for sounds in an urban environment, in which so many of us are immersed everyday, I ask myself: how can I make people think about their surroundings?
 

Example 1 – Contact microphones on a fence under the rain

 

Example 2 – Electromagnetic microphone on a car dashboard

 

 

And this brings me to my next tip:
 

4. How best can you capture it?

 

If you wish to use conventional air microphones, you might want to consider unconventional techniques

In order to reveal the hidden, some thinking outside the box may be required. If you wish to use conventional air microphones, you might want to consider unconventional techniques, which will themselves highly depend on your subject. For instance, mics such as the small DPA 4060s are so tiny that they can fit in many places and offer a very different perspective on sounding objects than what we are used to. What if you hung a pair of these down a sewer pipe? What if you stuck them in a car engine? What if you squeezed them in some tiny crack of a wall in your house when it is raining? What if you hid them inside a sculpture and captured how the air moves through it? What if you used them as contact mics so that you capture both the vibrations in the air as well as the ones that resonate through the surfaces?

Similarly, if you would first think of recording a stereo ambience, consider using a directional mic instead, and get a focused perspective on something very specific within the environment. Maybe come back at different times of day (or even different seasons!) to reveal sounds that may exist only under certain conditions. Or rather place various microphones in different spots to get a custom multichannel recording, composing a unique soundscape of what you believe are the most relevant elements in it. Let your subjectivity shine through as the recordist. Involve space and time in the recording and give it a sense of place – situate it within a context.

Air microphones are one way to capture sounds, but what you might realise is that they may simply not be the solution to reveal the hidden, since they capture the same variations of pressure in the air as our eardrums do. Here are a few examples of unconventional microphones that can help you capture and represent your environment differently:
 

Contact microphones on a flagpole:

 

Electromagnetic microphone on an eclectic line:

 

Hydrophone in a park’s lake:

 

Train recorded with VLF receiver (recorded by Philip Eriksson):

 

Some fantastic work from Jez Riley French also involves geophones and ultrasonics (headphones or conventional speakers are required for the geophone aspects):

Kettles Yard Piano Room
Gallery Three
Voyage Ultrasons
 

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Fire Medieval Play Track 605 sounds included $59

    The Dark Ages are calling! With this curated package full of high-quality sound effects everything in your medieval world is brought to life. From objects like doors, chests and fire over foley sounds like steps, chains and gore to weapons such as the crossbow, sword, hammer and axe. This compilation provides a solid foundation of „ready to use“ sound effects to give your project an authentic medieval feeling.

     

    The Library includes:
    Horse, Textile, Impact, Whoosh, Armor, Chain, Gore, Step, Chest, Door, Drawbridge, Fire, Gate, Mechanical, Flag, Portcullis, Carriage, Axe, Blade, Bow, Catapult, Crossbow, Hammer, Knife, Quarterstaff, Sickle, Sword

    Add to cart
  • Vehicles Classic Vehicles Play Track 40+ sounds included $20 $15

    Classic vehicles is a jam packed high-quality classic vehicle sound library filled with fantastic engine starts, engine revs, engine idles, door opening/closing, kick starts and much much more! Recorded at 24 bit/192 kHz you'll be able to pitch/bend these sounds to your hearts desire to create some truly monstrous sounds! The vehicles in this library are: a custom 1930 Ford Model A with a V8 flathead engine & a 1967 Triumph Bonneville. Let this pack be a small but powerful addition to your sound FX library.

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1562018400
    Add to cart
  • Designed in Imperial Russia, spread around the world, this is the rifle of Zaitsev and millions of other Soviets and non-Soviets alike, sounding off through the bloodier moments of the 20th century, and sometimes this century too.

    Shooting was recorded at the outdoor range, with additional handling foley taken at the studio. The all-angle library includes the recording of distant shots on Sennheiser Ambeo, and on Neumann U87s in quadro formation. Our mic-ing and capturing process has been intricate enough to give you all the sound versatility you'll need for use in a fully dynamic project, and also for the ability for these sounds to pass for not just authentic Mosin fire, but also for a generic bolt-action internal magazine-fed 'old rifle' sound.

    Also included are several pre-designed mixed sounds for quick-use without additional mixing needed. Our comprehensive library of this WW1, WW2, and freedom fighting classic weapon stands ready to fire!

    Add to cart
  • Fabric Party Pack Play Track 210 - 2000 sounds included From: $15 From: $13.50

    An extensive collection of party-related sounds, “Party Pack” brings you 96kHz/24-bit stereo recordings of balloons, party horns, matches, sparklers, party poppers, confetti, various toys and more!

    The library is available as 4 individual packs of related sounds (Balloons, Fire, Horns and Toys). So if you are only after balloon sounds, then you can grab only the balloon sounds! Of course, all 4 packs can be picked up together as a heavily discounted bundle!

    Read more about each pack below:

    Note: The sounds in the audio sample have some panning added; the sounds in the library itself are centered.

    Party Pack – BUNDLE (2,000 sounds, 1.98 GB)
    This pack contains all 4 of the individual packs below at a heavily discounted price:

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)

    For a grand total of 2,000 party sounds!

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    This pack brings you 649 balloon-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Air Pump (Manual)
    • Bouncing (Single and Multi)
    • Deflating (Regular, Squeaking, Farting, and Loose)
    • Friction (Hair, Hands, and other Balloons)
    • Inflating (Mouth and Air Pump)
    • Popping
    • Punching Balloons
    • Stretching
    • Tying (Short, Moderate and Long)

    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    This pack brings you 210 fire-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Matches
    •• Extinguishing (Blowout, Burnout, Shaking, Water)
    •• Igniting (Close and Distant)
    • Party Poppers
    • Safety Gas Lighter
    • Sparklers (Still, Movement and Water Extinguishing)

    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    This pack brings you 662 classic party horn sounds from over 20 different horns, covering numerous durations:

    • Very Short (under 1s)
    • Short (1 – 2s)
    • Moderate (2 – 3s)
    • Long (3 – 5s)
    • Very Long (over 5s)

    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)
    This pack brings you 479 toy-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Chattering Teeth
    • Confetti – Plastic (Single and Multi drops, Movement, and Picking Up)
    • Duck Whistle
    • Groan Tubes
    • Hand Clapper
    • Lip Whizzer
    • Oidz Magnet
    • Pig Toy
    • Plastic Whistle
    • Shell Shaker
    • Wooden Train Whistle

    10 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561845600
  • Foley Switch Play Track 124 sounds included $20 $12

    124 recordings of various switches and buttons, flipped, pressed and clicked. This collection contains household light and lamp switches, radio buttons and a variety of other activate and click presses.

    Recorded in 2018 and 2019 with a stereo shotgun microphone.

    All sounds were recorded and edited at 24-bit / 96Khz resolution and mastered to broadcast quality, with only the best final sounds selected for this collection. Each audio file includes embedded meta-data.

    40 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561500000
    Add to cart

Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

 

The ways the tools are used determine how interesting the results are, not the tools themselves

My point here is that these microphones are tools that can help you interpret or reinterpret your environment, and present it through different angles. The ways the tools are used determine how interesting the results are, not the tools themselves. Once you realise the options you have, it can even become overwhelming to start thinking about all that exists in your surroundings which you had never thought of before! Here are a few more examples which hopefully help to illustrate my point :
 

Contact microphones on an antenna under the rain:

 

Contact microphones set up on a metal bridge structure:

 

More electromagnetic recordings from Jez Riley French:

 

And finally more from geophone and ultrasonics examples from Jez Riley French can be found here .
 

This brings me to my last tip:
 

5. What are you trying to represent?

 

There is a lot of subjectivity involved in field recording

What my previous tips and examples have tried to show, is that the job of the recordist is more than simply pressing record. There is a lot of subjectivity involved in field recording. How it manifests is for instance through the choice of subject, the recording methods and tools, the emphasis and focus, even the length of the recording, etc. All those decisions are made according to the recordist’s intuition, artistic preferences and inclinations.

So what are you trying to share? What are you trying to tell the listener? Knowing this will determine the answer to most of the questions above – once your intention is clear, the where, how, and when are only technicalities. In other words, the recordist’s subjectivity is ultimately what will make the recording interesting.
 

Happy field recording!
 

 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Foley Switch Play Track 124 sounds included $20 $12

    124 recordings of various switches and buttons, flipped, pressed and clicked. This collection contains household light and lamp switches, radio buttons and a variety of other activate and click presses.

    Recorded in 2018 and 2019 with a stereo shotgun microphone.

    All sounds were recorded and edited at 24-bit / 96Khz resolution and mastered to broadcast quality, with only the best final sounds selected for this collection. Each audio file includes embedded meta-data.

    40 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561500000
    Add to cart
  • Destruction & Impact Bullet Impacts Play Track 320 sounds included
    Rated 4.00 out of 5
    $35

    Prepare for impact! This EFX Bullet Impact collection features a huge number of impacts into cars, metal, walls, water, body impacts, as well as passbys, ricochets and underwater passbys.

    A must-have for for actual bullet and combat sounds – and for adding oomph to many other types of impact sounds too!

    Add to cart
  • Household Cooking Play Track 500+ sounds included $32

    A collection of hunger-inducing sounds of cooking: Includes sounds of frying, boiling, pouring, stirring, whisking and many more sounds from the kitchen.

    Just updated:
    New cooking sound effects have been added to the library, bringing the total number of sound files to 478, for more than 500 sounds!
    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Fire Medieval Play Track 605 sounds included $59

    The Dark Ages are calling! With this curated package full of high-quality sound effects everything in your medieval world is brought to life. From objects like doors, chests and fire over foley sounds like steps, chains and gore to weapons such as the crossbow, sword, hammer and axe. This compilation provides a solid foundation of „ready to use“ sound effects to give your project an authentic medieval feeling.

     

    The Library includes:
    Horse, Textile, Impact, Whoosh, Armor, Chain, Gore, Step, Chest, Door, Drawbridge, Fire, Gate, Mechanical, Flag, Portcullis, Carriage, Axe, Blade, Bow, Catapult, Crossbow, Hammer, Knife, Quarterstaff, Sickle, Sword

  • Vehicles Classic Vehicles Play Track 40+ sounds included $20 $15

    Classic vehicles is a jam packed high-quality classic vehicle sound library filled with fantastic engine starts, engine revs, engine idles, door opening/closing, kick starts and much much more! Recorded at 24 bit/192 kHz you'll be able to pitch/bend these sounds to your hearts desire to create some truly monstrous sounds! The vehicles in this library are: a custom 1930 Ford Model A with a V8 flathead engine & a 1967 Triumph Bonneville. Let this pack be a small but powerful addition to your sound FX library.

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1562018400
  • Designed in Imperial Russia, spread around the world, this is the rifle of Zaitsev and millions of other Soviets and non-Soviets alike, sounding off through the bloodier moments of the 20th century, and sometimes this century too.

    Shooting was recorded at the outdoor range, with additional handling foley taken at the studio. The all-angle library includes the recording of distant shots on Sennheiser Ambeo, and on Neumann U87s in quadro formation. Our mic-ing and capturing process has been intricate enough to give you all the sound versatility you'll need for use in a fully dynamic project, and also for the ability for these sounds to pass for not just authentic Mosin fire, but also for a generic bolt-action internal magazine-fed 'old rifle' sound.

    Also included are several pre-designed mixed sounds for quick-use without additional mixing needed. Our comprehensive library of this WW1, WW2, and freedom fighting classic weapon stands ready to fire!

  • Fabric Party Pack Play Track 210 - 2000 sounds included From: $15 From: $13.50

    An extensive collection of party-related sounds, “Party Pack” brings you 96kHz/24-bit stereo recordings of balloons, party horns, matches, sparklers, party poppers, confetti, various toys and more!

    The library is available as 4 individual packs of related sounds (Balloons, Fire, Horns and Toys). So if you are only after balloon sounds, then you can grab only the balloon sounds! Of course, all 4 packs can be picked up together as a heavily discounted bundle!

    Read more about each pack below:

    Note: The sounds in the audio sample have some panning added; the sounds in the library itself are centered.

    Party Pack – BUNDLE (2,000 sounds, 1.98 GB)
    This pack contains all 4 of the individual packs below at a heavily discounted price:

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)

    For a grand total of 2,000 party sounds!

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    This pack brings you 649 balloon-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Air Pump (Manual)
    • Bouncing (Single and Multi)
    • Deflating (Regular, Squeaking, Farting, and Loose)
    • Friction (Hair, Hands, and other Balloons)
    • Inflating (Mouth and Air Pump)
    • Popping
    • Punching Balloons
    • Stretching
    • Tying (Short, Moderate and Long)

    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    This pack brings you 210 fire-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Matches
    •• Extinguishing (Blowout, Burnout, Shaking, Water)
    •• Igniting (Close and Distant)
    • Party Poppers
    • Safety Gas Lighter
    • Sparklers (Still, Movement and Water Extinguishing)

    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    This pack brings you 662 classic party horn sounds from over 20 different horns, covering numerous durations:

    • Very Short (under 1s)
    • Short (1 – 2s)
    • Moderate (2 – 3s)
    • Long (3 – 5s)
    • Very Long (over 5s)

    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)
    This pack brings you 479 toy-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Chattering Teeth
    • Confetti – Plastic (Single and Multi drops, Movement, and Picking Up)
    • Duck Whistle
    • Groan Tubes
    • Hand Clapper
    • Lip Whizzer
    • Oidz Magnet
    • Pig Toy
    • Plastic Whistle
    • Shell Shaker
    • Wooden Train Whistle

    10 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561845600
  • Foley Switch Play Track 124 sounds included $20 $12

    124 recordings of various switches and buttons, flipped, pressed and clicked. This collection contains household light and lamp switches, radio buttons and a variety of other activate and click presses.

    Recorded in 2018 and 2019 with a stereo shotgun microphone.

    All sounds were recorded and edited at 24-bit / 96Khz resolution and mastered to broadcast quality, with only the best final sounds selected for this collection. Each audio file includes embedded meta-data.

    40 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561500000
 
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.