field recording

Sponsor Leafcutter John for BHF London to Brighton charity bike ride – And get a free exclusive track!

Thursday, June 10th, 2010 | field recording | No Comments

Hello everyone,

My friends and I have been talking for years about taking part in the British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton charity Bike Ride, and this year thanks to Rich, we are finally going to do it. The ride is about 60 miles, and I’ll be undertaking it with the iconic and stylish ‘Team Cash’ (Tom Haines, Chris Branch, Richard Wigley, Josie Long, Jim Slade and Johnny Moonface).

Will we all make it without incident?!?!

Who knows, but know this – all the money raised will go directly to the BHF.

Plus anyone who donates will get a free exclusive piece of music I’ll make from field recordings made on the day of the ride!

PLEASE REMEMBER to include your email on the donation page or I won’t be able to say thank you and send you your exclusive track!

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – I raise more, whilst saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

So please dig deep and donate now. Click on the donate button above or click here to go to the donate page!

whoooooo!

Did I mention that I do a lot of good work for charity?

A million thanks,

Leafcutter John xxx.

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Challenge set by the BBC

Saturday, October 31st, 2009 | field recording, Radio | 1 Comment

 

Cheeky Checkhov

Cheeky Checkhov

I got a call from an arts unit editor at radio 4 last week who set a very interesting challenge. He is making a programme about the use of sound FX in theater. Particularly a sound cue from Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard:

“the sound of a breaking string which dies away sadly”.

The challenge is of course to try and make this sound. The nice part is that I’ll have time to make and document various approaches which will hopefully make an interesting segment for the show.

All being well it’ll air at the end of January next year, I’ll remind you closer to the time…..

Twaangggggg :-(

Leafcutter John.

Canal Music Cometh!

Friday, August 28th, 2009 | Building Things, field recording, Live Shows | 1 Comment

I’m looking forward to this tour with the fantastic Lisa Knapp, we have been working hard on putting together something really special for these gigs and I hope you’ll be able to join us on our voyage. We’ll be performing from a beautiful 1930’s boat (apart from the London and Birmingham shows). I just saw that the Guardian has done a thorough preview of our tour which saves me having to write a proper explination. Click HERE or on the photo to read Will Hodgkinson’s  preview. I’m particularly pleased that he chose to mention the Hydrophone I made HERE.

Lisa and I on the Thames with Bob the boats daddy. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Take care, 

Leafcutter John x.

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Leafcutter’s DIY Steel Can Hydrophone & Preamp. Step-by-step guide *schematic link fixed!*

*schematic link fixed!*

Completed steel can hydrophone

Completed steel can hydrophone

Hydrophones enable us to record underwater, this is reason enough to worship and adore them. Better still you can make your own very easily and cheaply. I’m going to be doing a musical tour with Lisa Knapp on a canal boat soon so I wanted to make myself a new hydrophone which includes the pre-amp I made here. I have made hydrophones using piezo elements before but I never tried using a pre-amp which tends to make piezo’s sound a lot better.

If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about right now have a look at these instructions on how to make the simplest possible contact mic It’s exactly the same principle when making a hydrophone except you get to go underwater.

I decided to house the pre-amp in the same enclosure as piezo elements (to avoid noise entering the circuit). The challenge here is to find a decent enclosure. As the piezo’s and the pre-amp will be underwater they need to be inside something water-tight. I was thinking about building a little Perspex box to put everything inside but it quickly became apparent that my handsaw skills were not up to the job. After having some delicious spicy cheak-pea and tomato soup I thought it would probably be possible to solder up some kind of tin-can casing which would be fairly strong and water-tight.

Two steel cans cut down to size

Two steel cans cut down to size

After a few experiments, I found you can quite easily solder steel food cans together using a regular soldering iron and electrical solder. It works for water pipes so It should be water-tight in this case.  NOTE: aluminum cans will not work at all well!!! Get out your magnet and find some steel ones!

I used a small rotary cutting wheel on a dremel tool to cut nice neat slices of can. I then lightly sanded the ends totally flat. As you can see from the photo above I used two different can’s one with a clear coating and one with a white coating, these coatings need to be removed in the places you want to solder, it’s probably easier to do this now than later when you have installed the guts.

Piezo elements super-glued to lid and wired up

Piezo elements super-glued to lid and wired up

I used a wire brush to rough up the surface of the can before super-gluing two piezo elements to the inside of the lid. This design has a ground wire (yellow) soldered to the can lid. The super-glue insulates the brass parts of the piezo’s from the lid. You can’t see very well from the photo but the two piezo’s have had a straight edge cut off them so they fit onto the lid. They also have a small gap between them – they are NOT touching!

Piezo's coated in copious amounts of hot-glue

Piezo covered in copious amounts of hot-glue

I went out and bought a hot-glue-gun for this bit, and it was worth it. The glue eliminates any possibility of the pre-amp circuit shorting out on the piezo elements. It also protects the piezo’s if water should get into the capsule.

Tiny steel chimney

Tiny steel chimney

I drilled a hole in the larger of the two cans just big enough for my microphone cable to go through. Then made this little chimney out of a scrap piece of can. I used a wire brush to clean the coating off the can before soldering.

Chimney soldered onto can.

Chimney soldered onto can.

To hold the chimney into position while soldering I temporarily bolted it to the can. A few moments later and it looks like some kind of improvised smoking device.

 

Mic lead glued in position

Mic lead glued in position

I coated the mic cable with hot glue and pulled it through the chimney, then splurged lot’s more glue where the wires emerge into the can. This is the most likely place water will try to enter the capsule so make sure you seal it completely using ridiculous amounts of hot glue!

 

Pre-amp connected to Piezo leads

Pre-amp connected to Piezo leads

This shows the pre-amp connected to (and sitting atop) the piezo / hot-glue sandwich. For full details of the circuit see Alex Rice’s excellent phantom powered Piezo Preamplifier page.

Alex has been really generous helping me out with ideas to improve my pre-amp build and the dual-piezo idea came from him – Thank you Alex!

You do not have to use a pre-amp with this design, if you don’t want to build one just connect the yellow ground wire from the piezo’s to pin one (ground) on your XLR ended mic cable. Then connect the other red cable to pin 2 and the black cable to pin 3 (it does not really matter which way around these two go). That said if you don’t use a pre-amp you might be better off going for a simpler enclosure like this one.

Preamp connected to mic lead

Preamp connected to mic lead

All leads soldered-up! It was really fiddly to do and I made a wrong connection initially which was easily fixed. It’s a very good idea to connect your hydrophone to a mixer and check it actually works before you close the case.

I always write a  special message inside the casing of my hydrophones, and I suggest you do the same because It definitely makes them work better. This time my girlfriend added a message too so I’m sure this one is going to sound amazing!

Before closing the unit I covered the pre-amp circuit with a lot of hot-glue to seal it off from any stray water. I forgot to take a photo but by the end the can was almost filled it with hot-glue and coins (ballast)  to make sure it will sink and not float when it is put in the water.

Completed steel can hydrophone

Completed steel can hydrophone

My girlfriend bravely held the two halves of the case closed as I carefully soldered around the seam. Again I used a steel brush to clean the surfaces before soldering. It was actually quite easy to do and I like the quasi-welded appearance. All that is left to do now is pop it in the sink and test it out.

…..
Fizzy bath-bomb

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Underwater Comb

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Submerged rubber duck

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Running Taps

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It took half a day to make the case and the same to make the pre-amp. The whole thing cost less than £10 in parts and compares very well against hydrophones costing 10 x the price.

I’m going to paint and varnish the casing, this is important if you don’t want your hydrophone to rust away.

Let me know if you build one of these or if i have left out any important info.

Go forth and hydrophone!

Leafcutter x.

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Happy 6th birthday or why I love my Soundman OKM II binaural microphones

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 | field recording | 18 Comments

I was looking through an old diary from 2002 the other day and noticed that on Thursday 3rd October I ordered my pair of Soundman OKM classic II binaural microphones. I got the set with the a3 preamp which costs extra than buying the mics alone. The whole lot came in at £150.18 which was quite an extravagance for me at that time. A quick look at DACS their UK distributor shows that they are still selling for the same price as 6 years ago. 

I distinctly remember being fairly underwhelmed when I received my purchase in the mail a few days later. The all plastic construction of the mics and the pre-amp was more in keeping with a microphone one tenth of the price of the OKM’s. The mics looked for all the world like a really nasty set of 80’s in-ear headphones and the Pre-amp looked especially delicate and I was concerned that I’d break something fairly soon. 

After this fairly lackluster opening my opinion began to change when I started to test them out. The OKM’s are designed to fit into the ear, their capsules pointing outward. Worn like this sound arrives at the microphones in more or less the same way it arrives at your ears which is a technique known as binaural recording. Because of the physical design of the human ear sounds coming from different directions all sound slightly different to us. Sound coming form behind us for example is filtered through the back of the ear and sounds more muffled than sounds emanating from directly in front (try it by clicking your fingers around your head if you don’t believe me). The OKM’s pick all this up really well with an especially good bass response. I have heard criticism of harsh treble and weak lower mids with the OKM’s but I have never had any problems in these areas with my set up. 

The tiny size and semi-concealed nature of these microphones makes them excellent for field recording where a larger mic may be cumbersome, distracting, or not practical. Recording while riding around on a bicycle springs to mind. Of course you don’t have to wear the mics in your ears, in the time I have had mine I have become quite adept at holding both in one hand and rotating the capsules by rolling their cables between thumb and forefinger to get the desired stereo spread. The mics can also be attached to a dummy head (or any head sized solid object) for recordings where you want a rock solid stereo field. I recently did this for a drum recording where I found that I could not keep my head still enough while playing the drums. 

I think my favorite thing of all about the OKM’s is that they are so easy to carry around and use. Within 15 seconds they can be out of my bag, plugged into my recorder, levels set and ready to record. I’ve captured so many fleeting moments this way that I’m sure I would have missed with a more complicated set-up.

I used to use the OKM’s with a sony mini-disc recorder which sadly died and was replaced by a sharp mini-disc recorder which also died eventually after one to many drops. Both machines gave excellent results although recordings of very quiet sources showed a fair bit of pre-amp hiss. I replaced my dead MD’s with a Zoom H4 recorder which was really horrible and I stopped making field recordings for quite a while as they sounded terrible! Recently I picked up a Sony PCM-D50 which has totally rekindled my love for field recording. It’s solid, dependable, economical, and has proper knobs and switches for all the important controls. The D50’s preamps are much better than in my old mini-disc recorders and they make the H4 sound like a bad joke. 

Despite my initial concerns about the OKM’s build quality they have lasted 6 years without any problems at all. Sounds I have captured using these mics have appeared on all of my albums and have serverd to inspire me to listen to everyday things in new ways.

Here are a few of my recordings – you might try using headphones to listen as it’s the only way to hear the proper binaural effect.

Chimes recorded at quite high gain and played quietly

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The police over Hackney – Perfect summer afternoon

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With the microphones jammed down the back of my fridge

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Drums recorded from the players perspective

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Take care,

Leafcutter John.

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