one-minute vacation
diy (do it yourself)

Given how much it has given me, it should be no surprise that I am interested in helping others making recordings of their own. I am moved when people are inspired by this site, and with that in mind I am happy to share my experiences.

Below you will find a survey of resources I've come to rely on as a recordist and an artist. But I'd like to begin by sharing what I've pieced together myself.

Caveat lecter: as I warn in the site introduction, I am opinionated. My advice is suspect; I only have a few years' experience making recordings and my interests (and hence approach) have been narrow. I have never studied sound engineering. I am still figuring all this out.

Equipment choices are difficult to give advice on; the market is never still, and I have personally only used a very small percentage of the tools available — and only truly abused a smaller subset yet. As a result, anything read here should be taken with a pillar of salt.

So please: triangulate my advice with that in other forums.

That said, I do have thoughts on:

recording in the field
microphones and the traveling field recordist
recording devices and the traveling field recordist

Since I'm often asked about such things, I have a page detailing the gear I use. I fret that it's perpetually out of date, so don't assume it's the last word; for the record, I last updated it in the late spring of 2011.

Older readers will remember my passionate advocacy of the minidisc format, now but an archive in a dusty corner for posterity's sake.

Throughout these pages my advice emphasizes my own interests: recording while traveling and while on a budget. Despite that bias, I do hope that what I have to say applies to field recording — especially in its avocational, documentary, and artistic application — generally.

If any of this turns out to be of use to you, please consider sharing a favorite recording here. Or here. And here. And...


field recording advice
binaural recording recommendations and pointers

field recording advice


Field recordings: recordings made in the field, as opposed to in a studio. Different requirements, different techniques, often different gear. Even for people experienced in making recordings in studios, it's not always clear how to begin.

I've tried to collate here the resources I find myself recommending repeatedly.


The first places I direct people interested in the sort of field recording I do are the phonography mailing list and the website. Phonography in this sense (the word has been re-appropriated) I define as documentary sound recording with an ear towards the aesthetic possibilities of environmental sound — as opposed, say, to its scientific significance. (That's one definition; others in the phonography community may differ somewhat.)

The Seattle-based record label and/OAR through its own releases and its Diffusion shop offers a deep catalog of phonography and field-recording-based sound art, if you'd like to hear what self-described phonographers are up to.

The phonography community has a strong do-it-yourself spirit, and is an excellent source of advice and innovative ideas for making interesting (and excellent) recordings inexpensively. For example, Michael Oster (who I'm not sure considers himself a phonographer, actually) has some great ideas on building windscreens on a budget... he seems a true kindred spirit!

So does Jim Cummings' EarthEar.Com, which is required surfing for anyone interested in field recording. It embraces not just phonography and more traditional field recording, but also offers a library of seminal soundscape compositions and work mixing conventional music with recordings. Jim offers the most comprehensive collection of field recording releases I know of.

acoustic ecology

Jim also furthers the cause of acoustic ecology and acoustic ecological activism through Earth Ear's sister site, AcousticEcology.Org.

If you haven't heard of acoustic ecology, it's the interdisciplinary study of the environment (and its inhabitants) through analysis of natural soundscape. An example of applied acoustic ecology might be Bernie Krause's idea of analyzing ecological change through its expression in biophany, the ' biotic symphony in an ecosystem.'

The best resource for learning about or contributing to the discipline that I'm familiar with is its international institution, the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. The Forum's journal, Soundscape, is reason enough to join a chapter on its own; in addition to professional opportunities, it offers an always-fascinating mix of science, art, and polemic. As it's only published a few times a year you will probably want to subscribe to the monthly online Newsletter as well.

The formalization of acoustic ecology is generally attributed to living legend R. Murray Schafer, who launched the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada. His book The Soundscape is really required reading (whether or not you agree with all of it) for anyone who begins to consider sound in their environment seriously. Just one contribution of his that's changed my relationship to the audible world is his coinage 'soundmark.'

Well-known champions of acoustic ecology include composers Hildegard Westerkamp and Barry Truax. Westerkamp is famous not only for her work as a composer, but also as a writer; see for example her famous essay linking acoustic ecology's relevance to field recording (and soundscape compositional) practice — not an uncontroversial position; composer and theoretician Michael Rüsenberg of has amiably argued the other side.

A few years ago my friend, sound designer location sound recordist Jeremiah Moore, and I agreed to be the first co-chairs of a Bay Area chapter of the World Forum, named Bay Area Sound Ecology. Locals may wish to join the (low-traffic) mailing list to keep abreast of 'BASEbot' listening salons, which are also archived for 'podcast' on the BASE website.

nature recording

Over the years I've come to feel that the best general advice on making field recordings can be had from the nature recording community, which while focused on bird and other animal recordings (naturally!) has long been the home of recordists facing many of the same challenges travelers do: the need for low-budget, low-weight, battery-efficient high-quality recordings rigs.

An amazing place to lurk for wisdom on such topics is the Nature Recordists email list. In my experience most people in this community are happy to share their secrets — successes and failures.

Many of the participants on the list collect photos and sound samples from their field recording on personal websites; some, such as group moderator and astonshingly accomplished recordist Martyn Stewart also offer equipment reviews and advice.

Rob Danielson from the University of Wisconsin is a tireless source of field reports, innovative ideas for getting high quality recordings with inexpensive gear, and a champion of rigorous analysis of what does and doesn't work.

Dr. Raimond Specht (of Avisoft Bioacoustics) is an unmatched contributor of technical information; witness this rigorous comparison of various contemporary recorders and this analysis of the effects of lossy compression... but don't neglect his many fine recordings!

Curt Olson has contributed some great designs for near-binaural field recording, and has a nice marriage of experienced ears and a willingness to experiment beyond received wisdom.

John Hartog is a true innovator, rigoruously testing novel field techniques; his site offers some of the inspiring results he has gotten with often quite affordable equipment.

Walter Knapp (who has an infectious love of frogs); you can learn much about portable field gear from his pages here.

Rich Peet is another community mainstay, regularly reporting on his innovative recording strategies such as very widely spaced arrays, linear arrays of many cheap microphone elements summed together, and a surround-sound cube mic (I'd happily link to more photos of these but Rich's site doesn't seem to have an HTML page indexing them!).

And the list goes on and on.

Not all recordists offering inspiration and advice are as active in public forums.

Check out the gear reviews and recording advice of Rudy Trubitt, and consider buying one of Bernie Krause's books (I particularly recommend his Wild Soundscapes for budding recordists). Gordon Hempton is behind the inspirational One Square Inch of Silence project, dedicated to preserving natural quiet within our National Parks (here is a collection of recordings in support of the project). David Dunn has pioneered amazing field recording techniques (such as recording insects inside trees by fixing contact microphones to hollow nails!), and when you can find it has excellent DIY advice for doing the same. Steven Feld's interest extends beyond nature to the human soundscape and anthropology.

Lastly, no discussion of nature recording would be complete without a mention of of its better-known institutions. The venerable Cornell Lab or Ornithology offers excellent field technique advice and host a fantastic library of recordings (but was on the wrong side of the minidisc 'question' for years in my opinion).

The Oakland-based Nature Sounds Society is another source of general information. Its newsletter is well worth the cost of membership regardless of where you live; locally, it sponsors regular field recording workshops and trips.

The UK-based Wildlife Sound Recording Society is a similar organization, with membership from around the world; the society website offers good gear advice for nature recordists (especially beginners and those on a budget).

professional forums

A not-necessarily-obvious place to look for advice is in the independent radio producer community, particularly in professional forums like While the needs of independent radio producers are slightly different than field recordists, Transom's forums, reviews, interviews, and overviews are a gold mine. (They're also a great place to find beginner's advice on sound editing and how to conduct an interview or compose a narrative.)

For samples of that community's work be sure to stop by the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) and the Third Coast International Audio Festival site, which evolves year-around, not just around the annual festival in Chicago itself.

Another perspective can be had by snooping into what professional location sound and foley recordists are talking about; the high-traffic Usenet group rec.arts.movies.production.sound (a.k.a.RAMPS) and, and the Sound Design mailing list are fine starting points. RAMPS and the latter are well-populated by film (and TV) industry veterans.

Less location-sound focused but if anything more deeply esoteric are general professional recording forums like GearSlutz and perhaps the forums at ProSoundWeb.

For reviews less targeted at users with a narrow specialty, check out the ever-growing lovely collection at the O'Reilly Audio Community forums.


Finally, one would be hard pressed to find a more collegial community than the 'taper' community of concert recordists. (Or one with a greater passion for what they do, or one with a more thriving market in second hand recording gear!)

Start with the high-traffic TapersSection and DAT-Heads. The former is a hotbed of often contradictory but often strongly motivated opinions on the latest gear, and on not-necessarily-inexpensive ways to get the best possible recording outside of a studio.

Other taper resources used to include the Taper's Forum at Oade Brothers' website, but that appears to be down; there is also a not-heavily-trafficked forum at Sonic Sense.


binaural recording  

binaural theory

The binaural recording concept is elegant: place closely-matched microphones near the ears, and record what the ears actually hear. The details may be fascinating and esoteric, but the results speak for themselves; what your hear on this site was essentially recorded this way.

Consider how we are able to locate sound sources. Our two ears do not hear sounds identically: sounds arrive at each ear at different times; the head blocks high frequencies; the shape of the ear reflects different frequencies differently; and so on. These differences between what each ear hears provide the clues our brains need to locate sound sources in space.

Binaural recordings is designed to capture ('commit to tape') these differences. When you listen to a binaural recording with headphones, the differences between what each mic captured are sufficient to provide clues on where every sound source in the recording is located. The result is a subjective three-dimensional soundscape that cannot yet be equaled with conventional speaker playback.

If you want to hear more binaural recordings, try or perhaps here or here. Two artists well known for their (very different!) work with binaural recordings are Dallas Simpson and Janet Cardiff.

There are also numerous binaural or near-binaural style recordings included amid the one-minute vacations, made with many of the microphones discussed here.

sources for binaural microphones

Leonard Lombardo of Sonic Studios makes the microphones I use. It is no exaggeration to say that they changed my life. For reasons I elucidate here, I recommend his DSM microphones wholeheartedly; always use the WHB headband though!

Other well-established binaural microphone vendors offering microphones of varying quality and cost include Core Sound, Church Audio, the Sound Professionals, and Soundman, makers of the OKM series. The latter are quite popular in Europe. Less frequently mentioned (but not necessarily inferior of course) are offerings from Microphone Madness, Giant Squid Audio Lab, Reactive Sound in Canada, and a few others.

A popular choice among the more DIY-minded is to adapt omnidirectional lavaliere microphones, such as the DPA 4060 series (basis for Core Sound's top-shelf HEB set), Sony ECM-55 and ECM-77, or Shure WL183, for binaural use. This can be done in most cases by simply wiring two microphones to a stereo connector (for use with 1/8" or 3.5mm inputs on portable recorders), and then wearing the microphones on the head (though not with the DPAs, which use a custom connector and have unusual powering requirements; these require a little more planning).

The Shure WL183s are still a favorite among nature recordists for their low cost (about $80 each at Amazon via Full Compass) and high quality for their size (measured in terms of high signal-to-noise ratio); but they do require an extra cable to adapt them for use with portable recorders — you can make your own or commission Dan Dugan to make one as I did. Also be aware that reports have been mixed about how well they work with the powering and analog stages of different recorders (they work great with Sharp minidisc recorders, but can bottom out when recording loud sound when used with Sony recorders if no in-line attenuation is used).

You can also make your own binaural microphones with cheap electret capsules.

Sometime I'd like to provide sample recordings from the half-dozen plus binaural-style microphones I've collected over the years.

In a nutshell, though, I personally like the Sonic Studios as the all-around easiest to use, the Core Sound HEB's for true in-ear binaural recording (they're small enough to tuck into an ear canal!), and the Shure WL183s for the best bang for the buck (though they do require some DIY, and perhaps an attenuating cable or Sound Professionals plug-in power module).

using binaural microphones

Regardless of your microphone's origins, you need to consider how to mount such microphones. While you can mount mics on eyeglasses with rubber bands, hair ties, alligator clips, and the like, I recommend using a headband with integrated windscreening like this one by Sonic Studios. This accessory has been a key component to my success and enjoyment recording. I literally use it for every binaural-style recording I make.

If you can't afford a professional headband, you can certainly fabricate your own; I recommend starting with a pair of cheap headphones (as in this pseudo-binaural mounting made by Rob Danielson), some baby socks, and the cork-retaining cages from champagne bottles. You might need alligator clips or rubber bands to suspend your microphones in the middle of the dead space you will be constructing around them (see below).

Alternately, consider mounting your microphones in a hat (or for a similar but not truly binaural result, on the shoulders, as Dan Dugan does — see this Acrobat PDF if you can). Note that the most important thing is to orient the microphones outward, rather than forward; and to protect them from both body motion and, critically, the wind.

While wind protection typically uses faux-fur (or 'softies') to interrupt the wind, the best solutions augment this outer layer by creating a small space of 'dead air' around the microphone; that's why boom-mounted microphones are often housed in 'zeppelins.'

By the way, if you're making your own windshielding, the ideal material, of course, would be acoustically transparent and yet completely block the wind.

A neat trick to test the the acoustic transparency of a material is to listen to a white noise source (such as a untuned TV or kitchen or utility sink running water) through it. A complimentary test to see how well it blocks wind is to blow on a wet finger through it.

Still need more inspiration? Here's an excellent how-to guide for making your own windscreen for some small microphones (e.g. Shure WL183's) by the Naturerecordists' Dobroide; here's another great one from John Hartog...


recommendations and pointers  

Pointers to other field recording artists, sound arts organizations, helpful travel sites, and my opinionated recommendations for how else you might spend your time.


 'When midnight struck I couldn't stay quiet any longer and went down into the street.'