field recording

Vietnam Day 3 Field recording with Richard Eigner and Workshop with Vietnamese Musicians

Richard Eigner getting into the many sounds at a busy intersection in Hanoi

I’m starting to get into the swing of things, body clock is still very confused but the vibe of the city is such that it carries you along on it’s noisy, smoky, hyper-alive wake.  I spent several hours walking around recording and taking photographs with Richard today. And when stepping off the street and into the calm of my hotel I keep noticing that my body is actually vibrating such is the excitement of the city.



Afterwards I headed to the Goethe Institut to give a workshop on my Light controlled music hard/software which was really good fun especially when the audience started getting involved with playing the interface. I learned a lot.

I’d like you to help me make a massive morse code chorus.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012 | field recording, Radio | 2 Comments

I’m  making a piece of music for BBC radio 3’s the Verb show and I’d like to assemble a large chorus of people speaking in morse code. I need your help – All you have to do is record yourself speaking the letter ‘Q’ followed by the words:


EDIT: Thanks for all the entries, I’ve started work on the music now so entries are not closed.

if you like you can then follow that with your favourite word beginning with the letter Q.

You can record directly onto your computer by clicking the “Send Voicemail” button which is on the right hand side of the screen >>>>>>>>>

Or you can email me the recording & tell me how you’d like to be credited.

Or record it via your mobile phone or computer directly to soundcloud and share it with leafcutterjohn. Cleck HERE to do it. And please remember to make it DOWNLOADABLE!

I think the show goes out on 24th October.

Many thanks!

J x.

All 3 parts of the epic Leafcutter John interview now online

In what turned into something of an epic interview I think we touched on nearly everything I have done in music and art in the last decade.

It’s split into 3 sections:

Pt I.

Pt II.



Take care,



Beautiful Dawn Chorus.

Sunday, March 25th, 2012 | field recording, Max/MSP | No Comments

Bit of a late one last night, hit the sack at 5:45 and heard the most beautiful dawn chorus. Had to get back out of bed to find my portable recorder. Opened the bedroom window and was greeted by what sounded like thousands of birds waking up in the cool crisp morning. The misty sky was glowing and ominous red, It was intensely wonderful. Here is the recording plus some layered and pitched treatments I made with it. London can be so beautiful.


J x.

A new track that looks like Chicago in the Fog…

I’ve been beavering away on new music this week. I also bought some software to help me clean up a live recording of my recent piece  with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. These two things came together when I put the track I was working on into the editor and realised it looked quite like a night time image of a city in the fog. I’ve never been to Chicago but from what I’ve seen in photos and film it’s not a million miles away. The visualisation above is a spectrogram which plots the energy in different frequency bands from low at the bottom to high at the top. Time is along the horizontal axis but that is not always be the case….

real-time yum

This image is from an amazing web-app thing I found. It will plot a circular spectrogram of any file on soundcloud. It’s programmed by a guy called Lee Martin.  You can make it work for any track by changing the address:

Click here to see and hear a real-time circular spectrogram of ‘Chicago in the fog’. It works only on newer browsers.

If that’s not working for you here is the track, it’s not quite finished but I’d quite like to know what you think of it.

Hope you enjoyed that,

J x.

Some more light controlled music….

An attempt to play something a bit more musical on the light controlled audio system I’m currently working on.

Real Sound Cookery – Make a contact mic with baking soda and cream of tartar.

home made Potassium sodium tartrate "Rochelle Salt" crystals chunk in top right is aprox 5mm long

I’ve been into contact mics for a very long time, and have used them to record sounds for my records since 1999. There is something magical about how an innocuous little brass disc covered in ceramic piezo crystals can act as a sonic microscope, revealing tiny sound-worlds easily and cheaply. For a bit more info on contact pickups have a look at some of my previous posts: Shit I’m a Geek / The joy of Piezoelectricity and Leafcutter’s DIY Steel Can Hydrophone & Preamp. Step-by-step guide *schematic link fixed!*

I recently stumbled on a great video tutorial by Collin’s Lab entitled  ‘Homebrew Piezo’ in it he shows how to make Potassium sodium tartrate  crystals also known as “Rochelle Salt”. These crystals are fairly amazing in that they are made from ingredients available cheaply from your local grocery store or supermarket. I suggest you watch it as it shows the process really clearly. Later in this post I’ll show my experience of following Collin’s method and do something Collin didn’t – Made some sound with it!

If you want to make your own crystals you’ll need:

  • 200 g / 7 oz Cream of Tartar (aka Potassium Bitartrate, aka potassium hydrogen tartrate) from the grocer/supermarket
  • about 120 g / 4 oz Sodium Carbonate  (aka soda ash) OR same amount of baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) if you cant find the Sodium Carbonate.
  • Pyrex jug or bowl
  • Pan big enough to fit the bowl inside
  • Filter paper or Kitchen towel
  • Thermometer useful but not essential
  • Clean Baking tray and Oven if you are using Baking Soda instead of Sodium Carbonate

The Method is pretty simple, follow Collin’s Video to the letter! If you cant see the video for some reason here are the basic steps:

Collin asks for Sodium Carbonate  (soda ash) in the video, I could not find this but luckily you can make it very easily. Get hold of some Sodium Bicarbonate from the chemist or supermarket and spread it thinly on a clean baking tray. Now bake this for an hour or so at about 150 deg C / 300 deg F stirring the powder every 15 mins or so. Doing this will give of water vapor and Carbon Dioxide (open a window maybe) and after an hour your Sodium Bicarbonate will have turned into Sodium Carbonate!

  1. Using your Pyrex jug Dissolve 200 gr / 7oz Cream of Tartar (Potassium Bitartrate) into 1 cup cold water. Stir.
  2. Pop the jug into a pan of water, turn on the heat until the water bath reaches about 82 C / 180 F. If you don’t have a thermometer the water will start simmering at this point so keep an eye out for little bubbles in the pan.
  3. When the water bath is at 82 C / 180 F put half a teaspoon of Sodium Carbonate into the Pyrex jug and stir, it’ll bubble up and then subside.
  4. When the bubbling subsides repeat step 3. until the milky mixture goes clear (slight yellow tint).
  5. Your mixture is now ready to filter, while still hot pour into another heat proof container (a clean jam jar is good) through filter paper or kitchen towel to get rid of any solids. Don’t mess about here as crystals will form as soon as the mixture cools and you don’t want that happening in the filter.
  6. Place the container in a coolish spot cover loosely and wait for the crystals to form!

This is my solution just after pouring:


tiny crystal forming at the botom of the jam jar


after 2-3 hours

after sitting overnight

loose crystals fished out of the jar dried and viewed X50

So I seem to have generated thousands of tiny crystals as opposed to a few big ones like Collin managed – not sure why this happened but maybe linked to a fairly short cooling time. I wanted to see if the crystals were in fact piezo electric so I arranged the following rig to hold the tiny crystal against two contacts which were connected to a little battery powered guitar amp.


Holding a music box against the clamp I was able to record this sound

Not quite as good as the stuff in my mic drawer but it’s amazing considering it’s made from cookery ingredients!

I’m going to let the crystals in the jars carry on growing and I’ll add another post when I’ve managed to grow a bigger crystal.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

J x.

UPDATE – Check out my larger crystals.

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Listen to new Leafcutter John remix of Origamibiro

Friday, May 13th, 2011 | field recording, Music!, remix | No Comments

Sometimes making music is so much fun you wonder why anyone would ever do anything else! I was asked to remix Origamibiro’s ‘Quad Time & The Genius of The Crowd’ and had a ball giving it a thorough Leafcutterising. I really enjoyed working on the Origamibiro material and was extra specially exited to use my field recording of an eccentric man commenting on the look of my microphone’s wind protector.

I used lot’s of outdoor field recordings to try and give this a summery feel, I think it worked?! If you have an opinion the track leave a comment on soundcloud or here, it’s all ways interesting to hear what you think.

LJ x.

p.s. Check out who will be releasing the a remix compilation album. Also this is a live version of the same track.

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Parallel Anthology, Whitechapel Late show Live Recordings.


I’ve been busy working on several live projects recently and thought I’d take a moment to tell you about one of them. Along with Patten and Karen Gwyer I was asked to devise and perform interpretations of two folk songs originally recorded back in the 50’s and now out of copyright. It’s part of a project inspired by musicologist, record collector, and artist Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Eileen Simpson and  Ben White who organised the show have collected parallel public domain versions of the anthology recordings not closed down by copyright – from non-attributed folk versions, to commercial recordings whose proprietary interests have expired.

For the first tune I stuck a contact mic onto a hi-hat and played it with my hands, a bow, and a vibrating Cappuccino foamer. The sound of the contact mic is fed to max where it goes through a plug-in i’ve been working on which can make chordal clouds of sound.


Our Goodman – Leafcutter John, live at Whitechapel Gallery.

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Our Goodman – Originally recording – Thomas Moran, 1954, Ireland

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For the second song I used a wooden box with a contact-mic inside it. The outside of the box has lots of sound making things attached to it. For the show I attached a very brilliant music box which is programmable using punched cards. I transcribed the melody of the original song, punched it out and again fed all the sound to my max patches which were used here to re-arrange the original melody.


No Sir (Oh no John!) – Leafcutter John, live at Whitechapel Gallery.

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No Sir (Oh no John!) – Originally recording – Emily Bishop 1952, England.

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It was a fun show, thanks Eileen and Ben!

For more information about the Parallel Anthology project look here.

J x.

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Charity bike ride Update.

Thursday, June 17th, 2010 | Building Things, field recording | No Comments

With only 2 days to go until the London to Brighton charity bike ride fundraising is going well. I have reached raised £268.00 so far which is 80% of my target. A massive thank you to all the generous fine folk out there who have given. There is still time to reach the target of £333.00, if you have not donated yet why not give it a go! DONATE HERE And please don’t forget to include your email so I can thank you!

If you donate you’ll receive a free and very exclusive track which I’m going to make using field recordings made on the 50 mile ride. (Another good reason to include your email!)

I have been wondering how to record the sounds of the journey, and I have come up with what i think is a cunning plan. Recording on a bike has several inherent problems:

  1. Wind noise caused by the microphone’s movement through the air
  2. Mounting the microphone so it does not pick up vibration from the bike
  3. Manipulating the recording device – you need your hands to steer & change gear
  4. Monitoring the recording – wearing headphones is dangerous and uncomfortable while cycling

I decided to put my Sony pcm-d50 & my Soundman Binaural microphones to use for this task because they are both very portable and fairly robust while giving good sound quality


Sony PCM D-50 & Soundman Binaural Microphones

The solution I came up with solves most of the problems of recording on the move at very little cost. I made a cardboard microphone holder which cups the two microphones into position using friction. The cardboard holder is made out of 4 sheets of thin corrugated cardboard glued together with the corrugations  at right-angles for added strength. The little mic cups are made of two layers of the same cardboard and secured using hot-glue. They don’t join the base board but leave a tiny gap big enough for the mic-cable to fit through. The capsules fit snugly and can only come out via the ends of the cups (they will be held in by the wind shield)


Soundman Capsules being "cupped"


whole assembly, note the Sony is note actually attached to the board

The square base of the cardboard fits exactly into the front pocket of my rucksack which when zipped up holds everything securely in-place. Because the bag is worn on the back, I can use my body as a shock-mount to reduce the vibration reaching the micrpohone. The recorder goes in a separate part of the bag where it can’t rattle around. I decided not to try and monitor the recording in real time, instead I’m going to set the recording level cautiously and rely on the Sony’s excellent onboard limiter which will tame any unexpected peaks.


zipped in

Finally the little hairy windshield (which came with my Sony when i bought it) is slipped over the microphones, it’s elasticated and holds on well. This coupled with the Sony’s low-cut filter should help cut out excessive wind noise.


topped of with aged Troll

In testing the set-up worked surprisingly well, there was very little vibration coming through the bag, the only real problems were caused by the wind shield.  Which tried its best but could not hold out the wind at high speeds. The wind shield also noticeably reduced the high frequencies in the recorded material but it was fairly easy to correct with hi-shelf equalisation in an audio editor.  All in all not bad for a half hour DIY hack.

Wish me luck on Sunday,

… did i mention you can still Donate?

Leafcutter John x.

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