Sound


If you answered wooooooooooooo… to the title question, then you were entirely correct! Yes that’s right – today’s post features woo and sound, two of my most favourite subjects.

Well, as we all know, it seems that for treatment of their medical ailments, more and more people are turning to ordinary water, coloured water, crystallized water, flower water, needles, colours, smells, lack of food, enemas and just about every other nutty thing under the sun except actual medicine.

It was only a matter of time before someone realised that there was a niche for an ‘alternative’ medical treatment based on sound. Today on The Cow, I will examine one such treatment1 – something named Human Bioacoustics, the amazing cure-all featured on a site called NutraSounds.2 Human Bioacoustics was created by a personage named Sharry Edwards™,3 who claims that her process ‘has unlimited health and wellness potential.’ Unlimited! Human Bioacoustics can make you weller than well!

BioAcoustics Voice Spectral Analysis can detect hidden or underlying stresses in the body that are expressed as disease. The vocal print can identify toxins, pathogens and nutritional supplements that are too low or too high. In addition, vocal print can be used to match the most compatible treatment remedy to each client. The introduction of the proper4 low frequency sound to the body, indicated through voice analysis, has been shown5 to control6: pain, body temperature, heart rhythm and blood pressure. It has also been shown to regenerate body tissue7 and alleviate8 the symptoms of many diseases (in some cases, even those considered to be incurable).9

Oh yes, there it is! Gobbledigook piled on balderdash layered on crapola. I’ve given you a helping hand with the shifty language and vague promises. I wonder why the disclaimer that is hidden away at the bottom of the NutraSound pages in very small print isn’t placed in slightly closer proximity to the above paragraph?

Disclaimer: Human BioAcoustics, as originated by Sharry Edwards, M.Ed., does not diagnose or prescribe for medical or psychological conditions nor does it claim to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure such conditions. HBA researchers do not provide diagnosis, care, treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles.

Hmm. On the one hand Human Bioacoustics cures everything and then, somehow, when it comes down to a real-world, write-your-name-here-in-blood guarantee, it doesn’t. Is Ms Edwards a little nervous about getting her ass sued off, one wonders? She certainly isn’t shy of making unsubstantiated claims though. In big bold print on her bio page:

Edwards was named scientist of the year in 2001 for her work in BioAcoustic Biology.

Really? Scientist of the Year! Very impressive! That’s not something you could just make up! Let’s see what teh internets have to say about that! Oh, right, here it is. The award was presented to her by a body called the International Association of New Science. Funny… all those links are either dead or seem to point back to organizations with which Sharry Edwards™ has affiliations. She was given the award by her pals!10 Elsewhere she claims that all her work is peer reviewed. I think she is (obviously purposely) conflating the concept of scientific peer review (which is a strenuous intellectual process designed to weed out errors and bad science) with the idea that you get a few of your ‘peers’ to peruse what you’re doing and give you the thumbs up.11

(By this logic, you, my Faithful Cowpokes, could all agree that I was Scientist of the Year and I could boast that on Tetherd Cow! In fact, what a good idea – I need a few endorsements so that I too can plaster it across my banner! Feel free to wax lyrical!)

The phenomenal power of Human Bioacoustics is completely free to all and sundry in the form of the nanoVoice12 program, software which is, sadly, only available for PC.13 Of course, you can only freely download the ‘micro’ version – you have to pay (surprise) for the real deal.14 nanoVoice ‘uses frequency-based biomarkers within the frequencies of your voice to allow you an enlightening peek into your Secret Self.’

I bet you didn’t even know you had ‘frequencey-based biomarkers’ hidden inside your voice. I certainly didn’t and I’ve been working as a professional sound person for thirty years.

This is how it works, as near as I can make out from reading about it: you load a recording of your voice into the program and it analyzes the ‘frequencies’15 and spits out a bar graph in a rainbow of colours. Here’s what the colours supposedly mean (click to get the full chart):

Gee, now what do all those vague waffly non-specific phrases remind me of… oh, that’s it – the local paper’s astrology section! There are some classic howlers:

Yellow (E): ‘uses words first to convey messages and meaning’

Oh yeah, like that’s not going to apply to everyone except mute people.

Green/Blue (G): ‘likes to mix and manage the physical aspects of life’

What? That could mean just about ANYTHING.

Blue (G#): ‘wants to make a difference’

Oh please.

The colours are also arbitrarily tied to various kinds of organs and body parts. When I say ‘arbitrarily’ I mean that there is absolutely no scientific substantiation to say that, for example, the colour green has anything to do with your kidneys, or that the colour blue ‘retrieves nutrients from your bowel’. This is just utter, unmitigated hogwash. And Sharry Edwards™ knows it, or else she wouldn’t have put the comprehensive disclaimer on her site.16

For an example of nanoVoice’s extraordinary powers of deduction, you can amuse yourself by visiting an analysis of Mr Mel Gibson’s phone ‘conversation’ with his estranged wife Oksana Grigoreiva, in which he uses bad language, racist terms and is generally an obnoxious prat. I want to say two thing here: first of all, the pages of unbelievable rubbish that you will find here could be attributed to just about anyone, viz:

You have an unusual sense of time. Not having all the information needed to make a decision stresses you. Your reputation is very important to you. You will go to great lengths to protect it. It is important to you that spirituality be a part of everyday life. You think that feeding the mind is just as important as feeding the body. You are aware of how painful thoughtless words can be. You push yourself and others to finish the job. You love new ideas that mean you can have a project to work on. A sense of belonging is important to you.

… and secondly, these ‘frequency’ analyses were made from a telephone recording. To someone like me who knows anything about sound, this constitutes the epitome of ridiculousness. Telephones severely restrict the frequencies of voices, in order to squeeze intelligibility down the lines. Ms Edwards is asking us to believe that her software uses inherent voice ‘frequencies’ to make its divinations, but is simultaneously independent of frequency restrictions. It is the utmost peak of buffoonery. Not only that, it demonstrates without any equivocation, that Sharry Edwards is completely ignorant about how sound works.17

Like many similar pseudoscientific concepts, Human Bioacoustics uses as its basic modus operandi the general ignorance of most people in a specific field of expertise. Few people understand how sound works, but to someone like me who does, Human Bioacoustics, nanoVoice, ‘vocal profiling’ and the ‘Institute of Bioacoustic Biology’ look about as convincing as a pig in a tuxedo.



  1. Oh yes, there are many more than just one. Perhaps I will cover Tama-Do at some later stage… []
  2. Oh dear. Already with the dumb. []
  3. Yes, that’s right, she’s trademarked her name. []
  4. If you don’t do it ‘properly’, it won’t work… []
  5. By whom? []
  6. ‘Control’? What does that mean? []
  7. Body tissue regenerates anyway. This means nothing. []
  8. Alleviate? In what way? []
  9. Note the equation of the symptoms with the disease itself – a common ploy of pseudoscentific medicine []
  10. Searching on International Association of New Science turns up some frightening crosslinks. The IANS appears to have been concocted by Dr Brian O’Leary a UFO ‘expert’ and Cleve Backster, who is quite famous for writing books about communicating with plants. The frightening part is that the IANS name also appears in conjunction with legitimate research into climate change. These people are being given government money for their idiotic beliefs… If you follow the links even further, it’s worse – there are ties to the whole anti-vaccination hoodoo and a whole other world of medical stupidity. []
  11. This is what really gets my goat with these kinds of people – they shamelessly trade on the credentials that genuine science affords, while simultaneously bashing all its accomplishments as worthless. If you adopt science, you adopt science. Play properly by its rules, not by some airy fairy ones that you make up yourself! Otherwise, stay off its turf and name yourselves as the magic peddlers that you really are. []
  12. Yep, Ms Edwards has her whole racket trademarked up the wazoo. []
  13. Well, technically it could be installed under Virtual PC on my Mac, apparently, but I ain’t running VPC just for this piece of crap. []
  14. Curious, when the organization that produces it boasts that it is ‘non profit’… []
  15. There are those goddamned frequencies again. Teh woo just loves the vibrations and the frequencies! []
  16. I’m sure she justifies the disclaimer by saying that she ‘was forced to do it’ by the ‘system’ which ‘persecutes her for her beliefs’. A song that we’ve heard many times before. []
  17. Oh, I’m sure she’d come up with some piece of silliness to ‘explain’ how she can get readings from a telephone conversation – I’d be disappointed if she couldn’t! []



Y’know, as much as I’m critical of the woo-mongers mixing it up with what they perceive to be ‘science’, I’m afraid that sometimes it’s the scientists themselves that need a good fresh mackerel to the side of the head.

Take this article Chaos Makes a Scream Sound Real, from ScienceNews.

To be fair, it’s not just the scientists. There’s a combination of factors that contribute to the diffuse, nutty quality of this piece, and it’s one that you find frequently in science journalism: a scientific concept that doesn’t immediately appear to be anything remotely worth reporting to a general audience, and a journalist’s desire (or job requirement) to try and spice it up into something that does.

I’ll try and paraphrase the whole idea for you, since I can’t be entirely sure what this is exactly about from reading either the Science News article or the abstract of the paper at Biology Letters, where it was published under the title Do film soundtracks contain nonlinear analogues to influence emotion?1

Some scientists studying vertebrate communication observed that:

A variety of vertebrates produce nonlinear vocalizations when they are under duress. By their very nature, vocalizations containing nonlinearities may sound harsh and are somewhat unpredictable; observations that are consistent with them being particularly evocative to those hearing them.

What they’re basically saying is that jarring, loud or sudden sounds have a noticeable impression on an animal hearing them.

Yup.

They go on to hypothesize that maybe this is the case for humans too, and that filmmakers use that trick in films.

Yup.

To this end, they analyzed a bunch of films and found that there are more jarring and sudden sounds in horror films, although some appear in action films and a few appear in drama.2

Yup.

Then they sum up their hypothesis with:

Together, our results suggest that film-makers manipulate sounds to create nonlinear analogues in order to manipulate our emotional responses.

(Translate that to: ‘Film-makers use different kinds of changing sounds for emotional effect’)

Er… Yup.

Now, I don’t suppose that this was likely to be an experiment that cost oodles of money, but whatever they spent on it was WAY too much, because they could simply have emailed me and I would have told them all that for free.

The Science News reporter makes a futile attempt to spin this up into something more than what I just told you, by stirring in some references to Chaos Theory (wtf?) and getting a quote about ‘crying babies’ from a cognitive biologist who was not even involved in the study (‘Screams are basically chaos!‘). She then tags the piece with an entirely irrelevant factoid about how Hitchcock’s The Birds contains sounds that were electronically generated3 and signs off with the following knowledgeable-sounding quip:

…capturing a realistic, blood-curdling cry is so difficult that filmmakers have used the very same one, now found on many websites, in more than 200 movies. Known as the Wilhelm scream it is named for the character who first unleashed it in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River.

Well, someone has been pwned here and I’m not sure who. Either the reporter hasn’t done her homework, or she thinks that no-one will notice this risible flub. The Wilhelm scream is used in a lot of movies, not because of its terrifying blood-curdling quality, but because it’s so utterly lame that it has become a game among sound editors to see if they can sneak it in skillfully enough to let the director keep it in the final sound mix.

What’s more, it’s even extremely well known for that reason as even a very cursory search will reveal. Here’s a (VERY old) YouTube compilation of appearances of the Wilhelm scream.

You’ll have noticed that many of the above clips are from the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg stable, and that’s because sound design guru Ben Burtt is responsible for ‘resurrecting’ the Wilhelm scream in Star Wars and the fun challenge of trying to get it into mixes arose among sound editors who worked with Burtt (and with some of whom I’ve worked myself, so I know of what I speak).

I’m all for the concept of popularizing science, but this kind of writing doesn’t really help anyone. It’s painting a hazy and inaccurate picture for a lay audience, can easily be demonstrated to be factually sloppy and, worst of all in my book, because of the two preceding transgressions, casts a sickly glow over the effectiveness of all other science reporting. Science can’t, and shouldn’t be, reported in the same way as entertainment. Science is interesting for what it is, and if you’re a science reporter and can’t find an appropriately absorbing way of working with the actual facts at hand for a story, you should leave it alone and go on to something else.4






  1. And I’m not about to fork out for the full article – people still aren’t getting this stuff. Listen to me Biology Letters editors: religious fundamentalists of all persuasions make their stuff available to all and sundry for nothing. THEY ARE YOUR COMPETITION! Get with the 21st Century already! []
  2. Without even doing an experiment I can tell you that there would be close to none in comedies and romances. []
  3. I’m not even sure I understand what the point of including it is – that electronic sounds are more jarring/chaotic/annoying than natural sounds? Again, wtf? It’s not true, and it’s immaterial in this context anyway! []
  4. Another disappointing consequence of this phenomenon is that the bad story gets picked up, often completely uncritically, by other popular science outlets. In this case I note that it appears in Wired Science who should totally know better. []



It has been a sad, sad week around Cow Central, good Acowlytes. This end part of February, being the anniversary of the death of my much loved Kate, is always melancholy for me, but this year it has been even more so. My great friend Simon – who you all know better as hewhohears – has been extremely ill in recent months, and late in the evening on Wednesday, the disease that he had fought for so many years overwhelmed him at last.

I have so very many memories of Simon – we had been friends for over twenty years. He has been to me a pal, a confidant, a mentor, a partner in plotting & scheming, a drinking buddy, a co-solver of mysteries, a fellow bunny-boomer, a staunch skeptical companion and much more besides. His cancer has been slowly taking him away from me these last few months, and, as he has slipped from my world, the void he has left is profound. He was a big part of my life and my happiness. Even though I moved away from him physically when I came to Melbourne, we still saw each other often, and we were also wired together through the net. A day rarely went by without us talking on the phone or on iChat.

I want to tell a story that I think sums up a lot about Simon’s character; his sense of wonder, his love of science, his sharp mind and his cheeky wit.

We were at the Treehouse in late 1998 – he was a regular visitor, and a fellow researcher in my experiments to uncover the mystery behind accelerated whisky evaporation rates.1 As the evening drew in, Simon, who had been glancing at his watch for the last thirty minutes, quite excitedly proclaimed:

“I looked online for the orbit times of the International Space Station and it should be coming over us just about now!”

It was so much a part of Simon’s character to proclaim such geeky things that no-one really questioned that he would not only know the timetable of the newly launched ISS, but have worked out roughly where it would appear in the Australian sky. We went out onto the verandah and turned our gaze upward into the clear and spectacularly starry heavens. Almost immediately we picked out a bright light moving purposefully across the Milky Way.

“That could be it!” said I, “But it might be a plane I guess – it’s very bright.”

“Well, we should know pretty soon,” he said.

“How so?”

“Well, if it is the ISS, then it should fade out when it goes into the shadow of the Earth. About… now!” he said, and snapped his fingers.

And just like that, the little bright light winked out of existence.

It was one of the best magic tricks I’d ever seen. I laughed out loud.

“Simon, you would have to be the biggest geek I’ve ever met,” I said, impressed beyond belief.

I imagined him figuring out the height of the orbit and the angle of the sun on the other side of the planet and doing some kind of calculation to work out the arc of the sky where the ISS would no longer catch the light of the sun.

“How the hell did you calculate exactly where the shadow of the Earth would be?”

He looked at me with his cheeky smile and said:

“It was just a lucky guess!”

The humour in the story may not translate if you didn’t know Simon, but you can probably tell that it comes from the fact that it was more likely that he’d worked out the problem than just made a wild guess (Simon was also the person who introduced me to The Bee Joke and I think you can see that two people who find such things humorous share a very special bond indeed)

Tragically, the bright light that was Simon has now been snuffed out far too soon by the Great Shadow that must in time eclipse us all. Farewell my very dear friend. My life was much the richer for your company and is much the poorer for your passing.

Rest in peace.

  1. Single malt whisky seems to evaporate faster than any other substance known to humankind. I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of this phenomenon []

Computers have become so powerful now that it is possible to do things that are quite mind boggling. I have no doubt that you’re all aware of what’s going on in the realm of digital image, but us sound dudes can do some pretty cool stuff too.

Let me tell you about convolution reverb.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter what your level of vocal talent, you will always sound better singing in the shower. The technical reason for this is that bathrooms have nice shiny reflective tile surfaces, and the reverberation off those surfaces allows you to hear your voice more clearly.1

It follows logically, then, that if you sound good in the shower, you’ll sound really good on stage at, say, the Sydney Opera House, with all its great reverberant reflections and acoustic properties. Of course, it’s not possible for you or me just to whip up an a capella version of Copacabana on the Sydney Opera House stage on a whim… or, at least it hasn’t been possible until now! Yes folks, not only can you now hear how your best Barry Manilow impersonation would sound onstage at the Sydney Opera House, but we can precisely simulate your performance in any acoustic space – caverns at Carlsbad… Wembley Stadium… Abbey Road studios… in a glass jar, a metal bucket or even a broom cupboard (where Barry Manilow would, arguably, sound most appropriate).

All this thanks to fast computer processing and ‘convolution’ mapping of acoustic spaces (stick with me folks, it’s pretty damn cool…)

As I’ve already mentioned, we gauge the details of the sound of a room by the reflections off surfaces in that room. Our ears are able to hear very small variations in frequency, and our brains, by comparing the information from one ear with the other, determine the exact aural characteristics of the environment we’re in. Quite obviously, every acoustic space is completely unique – it has an acoustic ‘fingerprint’ if you like – and we are able to very accurately judge aspects such as size, shape, harmonic frequencies and surface qualities of our surroundings. All this happens completely automatically of course – you don’t think ‘Ooh, I’m in a room thirty metres long with a fundamental harmonic frequency of 160Hz and plasterboard walls!’, but rather ‘This is a big hollow space!’ or ‘This is a cupboard!’

So, how does that become useful? When we record instruments of voices in a studio, we mostly strive to get the ‘cleanest’ most unaffected-by-the-environment recording we can, so that we may add acoustic effects such as reverberation and delay at some later date. This is done for two reasons – one is that any reverberant characteristics originally recorded with an instrument are ‘stuck’ to it – you cannot remove them. A flute recorded in a big church will always sound full and awash with reverb – nine times out of ten, that’s not desirable. The second reason that we prefer a ‘clean’ recording, is that we can apply reverb and other effects judiciously as we need, to make for a better and more pleasing balance in the audio mix.

When it comes to music recording and film sound, then, you can understand that being able to call up particular audio characteristics on demand has significant value. Up until now we’ve relied on artificially created approximations of real environments – good enough to fool your ear, but nothing like the real thing. Now, we can get so close to the real thing that even experts have trouble picking the difference. In other words, we can now use on our recordings the beautiful, real, rich ambiences that have been created in performance spaces and studios around the world. Or, if we need to, the sound spaces of interior cars, hallways, schoolrooms, water towers, aircraft hangars or jam jars – you can see how we film people might like that kind of thing.

So how is this impressive audio magic done? Well, if I don’t go into too much technical detail, it’s actually quite simple. We take a sound – optimally a tone sweep2 – and play it in the environment we want to model, re-recording it in high quality within the acoustics of that place. Then, using some fancy software, we compare that with a ‘pure’ version of the tone sweep. The software calculates the difference between the two sounds and uses that to build a map of the frequency responses and delays of the actual space. It takes my computer about a second to process the file – incredible. From this I get a ‘convolution map’ that I can then use in my audio software to apply to any other sound.

As I mentioned in my most recent post about Masthead Island, the Pisonia forest in the middle of the island had some very nice acoustic characteristics. I wasn’t able to take up equipment for making tone sweeps, but I recorded some ‘make-do’ resonses with sharp hand claps.

So, after such an exhausting technical lesson, I know you’ll want to hear some demonstrations of what I’ve been yammering about, and, lucky for you, I have prepared some earlier! So first of all, we need to start with our source sound, and I’m sure you’re way ahead of me with what that might be…

1. Here we have a duck’s quack as you might hear it in a field, with no acoustic reflections:

Download Raw Duck

2. Now, a duck as you might have heard it in the Pisonia forest on Masthead Island:

Download Forest Duck

3. Next, a duck on stage at the Sydney Opera House (as you might hear it from the stalls):

Download What’s Opera Duck?

4. And finally, a duck recorded in a washing machine just before you throw the spin cycle switch:

Download Washed Duck

There were, alas, no actual ducks on Masthead Island, but I can assure you, if there were, they would sound much like #2 above.

So, faifthful Acowlytes, that’s the TCA Crash Course in convolution spatial mapping. Your task for this week is to listen. That’s it: simply listen. As you walk about your daily lives, listen to the way your voice sounds in different rooms. Listen to the ambience on the street as sirens sweep by. Listen to yourself singing in the shower. Listen to how the sound of your voice changes as you walk from one room to another.

And marvel with me that we can now reproduce the acoustics of all those experiences exactly.

  1. It’s pretty hard to ‘hear’ your own voice in your head. When you sing, you are using reflections off the space in which you happen to be to judge your pitch – this is the reason that people often sing out of tune when they’re listening to music in headphones. []
  2. This is basically a sound that starts off really low in pitch and ‘sweeps’ to really high over a few seconds. A sharp transient sound like a pistol shot, or an electrical spark or a balloon pop can also be used – hence the term impulse response that you’ve heard me use. []

You know how good it sounded in the telling? It was better in the reality. If you can conjure up an image of a ‘Gothic Island Paradise’, Masthead Island is it. Probably just as well then that the film I’m working on is a ghost story…

My main regret is that I only had three days to spend on the island itself – the rest of the week was taken up with travel. It sure ain’t an easy place to get to. Or to escape from… (mwahahahaha!)

I can’t really talk too much about the film just yet – and anyway, no-one wants a creepy tale spoiled for them. Let me just say that the island itself is a significant character in the story and it fulfills its role better than I could have ever expected, with beautiful bone-white coral sand beaches, a lagoon the colour of nicely aged cyanide, and a dense interior of hollow Birdcatcher Pisonia glades edged with blurry casuarinas and Velvet Soldierbush, urgently whispering suggestions to visitors to leave before it’s too late…

I recorded the sound of waves on the distant reef, the shush of the casuarinas, the sombre lap of the incoming tide on broken coral. I made some wind chimes from shells and coral and recorded them in the quiet of the forest – a brittle, tinkling sound like dull glass merged with bamboo.

I also caught enough material to make the third CD in my Morphium series, Atoll.

I took some time to record some impulse responses inside the Pisonia forest – if that means nothing to you, stay tuned. Next post will be an explanation of a truly amazing invention of contemporary audio technology – a technique that allows us to make digital ‘maps’ of acoustic spaces.

An Island

It has to be said that I have a pretty cool job. Over the years people have paid me to do all kinds of things that I would have happily done for free. Or even paid for myself. I’ve been paid to meet Spike Milligan. I’ve been paid to go to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’ve been paid to have a 70 piece orchestra perform some of my music. I don’t tell you this by way of boasting – I say it only because I marvel at the wonderful experiences that life has brought my way.[tippy title=”*”]Lest you think it’s all been beer and skittles, I’ve also been paid to record to a knee operation, stand on a beach in New Zealand in sub zero temperatures for most of the night and visit the scene of a freshly-committed domestic murder – none of which I desire to do again.[/tippy]

Next week, some nice people are paying me to journey to Masthead Island, a completely pristine South Pacific island near the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. I am going there to record sound material for a new Australian feature film for which I’m composing music.

This is where Masthead is, in relationship to mainland Australia:

An Island

Masthead Island is a coral cay, and protected part of Capricornia Cays National Park. It takes two plane trips and two boat trips – the better part of a day’s travel – to get to there from where I live. There is no power on the island, no water and no shelter. The maximum number of people allowed on the island at any one time is 25. We will be about an hour’s fast boat ride from the nearest settled place.

Stuff to take

This is my ‘lightweight’ recording kit. I’m taking my Zoom H4N digital recorder, and my sturdy RØDE NT4 (‘the rodent’) stereo microphone with its ‘fluffy dog’ windshield. There have been astonishing technical changes in my field since I started my career; the little Zoom recorder will allow me to record more than 6 hours of very high quality audio[tippy title=”†”]24bit/48k for all you tech heads – I can record at even higher and stupider levels of quality, but it would truly be a case of gilding the lily.[/tippy] on a 4g SD flash card. I’m taking 4 x 4g cards on this trip (and a big box of batteries, needless to say). 24+ continuous hours of recorded sound is more than enough for the 3 days I’ll be on the island.

When I first started in this business, the recording machine du jour was the Nagra 4 – a mono, reel-to-reel quarter inch tape recorder that cost a small fortune (I could never afford to own one) and weighed 6.4 kilograms (14lbs) with batteries. And that doesn’t include tapes, which typically allowed just 15 minutes of recording at the best possible quality. So, add another 4 kilos worth of tapes and mics and you can see that location recording was once a very weighty proposition. Lugging a Nagra around on a film shoot was almost guaranteed to give you back problems for weeks afterward.

My entire modern kit, including headphones, cables, microphone, windshield, recording media and enough batteries for a week, weighs less than half the weight of the Nagra recorder alone.

So. Off I go. It’s slightly daunting to be working somewhere so far from any modern facilities. There’s little tolerance for equipment malfunction so I’m relying on my tiny kit to hang in there. I’m nervous that I can’t back up any of my recordings immediately to disk as I do under normal circumstances. And I’m hoping that the production company, which is supplying our food, water and lodgings, hasn’t forgotten anything.

But I’ve met the rest of the crew and they seem like a decent bunch. And really, what could possibly go wrong?

Companions

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*Lest you think it’s all been beer and skittles, I’ve also been paid to record to a knee operation, stand on a beach in New Zealand in sub zero temperatures for most of the night and visit the scene of a freshly-committed domestic murder – none of which I desire to do again.

†24bit/48k for all you tech heads – I can record at even higher and stupider levels of quality, but it would truly be a case of gilding the lily.

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