one-minute vacation
surf recording

Comments on the struggle to get a good surf recording:

'In my experience getting a good surf recording is one of the grails of recording — and perhaps as unattainable.

I've heard numerous descriptions of people doing a bit of sleight of ear by recording from several locastions at varying distances from the break, then mixing them to taste in the studio.

I pursue this goal avidly when in different environments and can share one strategy I've embraced for doing these recordings with binaural-style mics: foreground, foreground, foreground.

I try to find spots right down in the shore break, preferably with some sort of terrain features against which the final encroachment of the waves can interact.

For me this has meant mangrove roots, gravel of various kinds, rocks or coral, etc.... the goal is to get very close to a universe of small slaps, washes, hisses, sizzles, etc., the 'microfeatures' if you will. Ideally, get *very* close to these (eg, crouched down only 12-18" above the water) and in a place that has a fairly dramatic stereo action — either crossing waves right to left or vice versa, or situated perpendicularly to the break, so it comes in one side and retreats back the way it came.

Assuming you're using omnis the larger wave action and break is generally quite audible in the background, and typically has less high-frequency content and more rumble, which makes it sit nicely as the appropriate 'background.'

This kind of recording definitely provides a 'New Yorker view of the world,' where the microfeatures are disproportionately loud relative to what someone at a normal distance from the break would hear, but it's a much more dynamic and interesting soundscape — not unlike a 'foley' sound approach — then my first naive results, which as you say, tend to approach washes of undistinguished noise.

Personally, I value that the results are still an 'authentic' (i.e. uncomposed) soundscape as well — which is no way to suggest that multi-site recording is not as valid a document of place, just that this method agrees with my philosophy of recording...'

All of the following were made with Sonic Studios DSM-6/EH quasi-binaural microphones, mounted in a windscreen headband, to consumer MD recorders. The Lake Michigan recording was made using a Sonic Studios miniature outboard preamp as well.



lake michigan slap 1.2 MB Lake Michigan shorebreak off Beach Drive in Fox Point, a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, just north of the city line. Recorded a few days after Christmas at dusk. The lake was relatively calm, so there are no breakers in the background.
big island gravel 1.6 MB A very steep lava-gravel beach on the Big Island of Hawai'i, recorded towards sunset. The shorebreak was pounding, perhaps 3' waves coming in hard.
mangrove hiss 1.3 MB Mangrove roots interrupting the flat sand of the Ganges estuary in the Sundarbans forest, Bangladesh, mid-afternoon. The sloppy 1-2' shorebreak was about 15-20' behind me, sliding up the beach among the roots.