World Sounds #047 – Southern Iceland

Last month I spent seven days on a road trip discovering the incredible southern coast of Iceland. It was an amazing trip that has left me with tons of memories as well as a strong desire to head back and visit the rest of the country.

As always, I arrived equipped with my recorders and managed to capture some really interesting and unique soundscapes. Recording here was really challenging due to the weather conditions – lots of wind and very, very cold – but the aural soundscapes I encountered were simply amazing.

Strokkur Geysir

After a couple of relaxing days in the capital Reykjavik, we hit the road in our rental car. On day one we decided to visit the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route that loops from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. One of the sites along this route is Stokkur Geysir.

Strokkur is a fountain geyser in the Haukadalur geothermal area beside the Hvítá River. It erupts about every 5–10 minutes and shoots steam up to 15 – 20 m high. Being located close to Reykjavik, it attracts a lot of tourists. This recording captures the moment the geysir erupted and the crowd’s reaction as it happened.

It would have been great to have captured the sound of the eruption alone, but I’d need to have visited very early (or in middle of night) to record with no crowds. At the same time, the crowd reaction really captures the atmosphere of the site. You never really know when Stokkur will erupt so there is a real sense of anticipation. And each time the geyser erupted, the crowd instinctively screamed and cheered.


As our road trip took us further along the South coast, we stopped to admire the beauty of Skogafoss waterfall. The weather was stunning – blue skies and sunshine, creating a stunning rainbow from the spray. I walked carefully along the rocks covered with frozen moss and recorded the sound of the waterfall crashing onto the rocky floor.


We hit the road again and about a hundred kilometres further East we arrived at our next destination, the small fishing village of Vik. One of the outstanding features of Vik is the stunning volcanic black sand beach. With the North Atlantic ocean waves crashing onto the sand, I took the opportunity to sit and record the soundscape.

Whilst recording the waves, I soon realised there were a lot of seabirds nesting in the cliffs. I got as close as I could without disturbing them and captured these two recordings.

The wind really was strong and it was extremely challenging trying to record here. With time not on my side, I had to settle for a little bit of wind noise in the recording.


Towards the end of our trip, we explored the Reykjanes area in South-western Iceland, known for it’s young lava field and geothermic activity. Seltun Geothermic Park, situated in the south of Reykjanes, sits in the middle of the fissure zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which traverses Iceland.

Upon arrival at the area, the first sight we discovered was a boiling river – water boiling at 100 degrees C as it flowed along the lava riverbed.

Mud pools also form where steam from boiling geothermal resevoir water emanates, condenses and mixes with surface water. I managed to get my mics about 15 cm from the source.


If I were to summarise Iceland in two words it would be : silence and purity. There were moments on the trip where we found ourselves surrounded by a landscape of black sand and rocks – no plant life whatsoever – with no animals and no human-made noise : total silence.

I can’t wait to go back and visit more of Iceland, though I will definitely try to visit in Summer next time!

Calibrating Headphones For Field Recording

I recently discussed some changes I’ve made to my recording setup to help make things a little more compact and to improve the usability of my kit bag. I’ve been looking at ways to make my kit more accessible, more portable and generally improving my experience as a recordist when out in the field.

In my experience, one of the most important elements to being a successful recordist is knowing your kit. Sometimes, situations arise where you need to quickly hit record without necessarily having had the time to set levels and test different mic positions. When a now or never moment arises, knowing your kit inside out can help you successfully capture these moments.

This happened to me last year when I was in Corsica. I had wanted to record the Tramway de la Balagne, a single-track train service that runs along the coastline. The train timetable isn’t very reliable and I had tried many times to record the train without success. On one of our last days, we had just parked the car and were heading to the beach when I heard the train horn in the distance. I grabbed my recorder and ran as quick as I could down to the side of the track. I arrived just as the train approached and hit record.

Having recorded with my handheld recorder for about a year prior to this trip, I was very familiar with the gain settings I need for different types of soundscapes. Knowing this allowed me to get a successful recording when I wasn’t at all prepared to record. This was a binaural recording using my in-ear Soundman mics, so I couldn’t monitor using headphones – a real case of recording blind.

Setting Input Gain Levels

Although I am able to quickly set levels on my handheld recorder, this isn’t the case when I record with my Sound Devices 722 – I’ve simply not used it enough to be able to blindly set levels. There are a couple of things I now do to ensure I am recording at a healthy level. The first is to calibrate my headphones.

It’s an easy mistake to make – a beginners mistake we could say – but setting your headphone level too high will result in a recording level that is too low. This happened to me recently when out recording at night. I thought what I was hearing was a healthy level, when in fact I had set the headphone level way too high and my mic level too low, making the recordings unusable.

Having made this mistake, I learned from it. I now have a file stored in my recorder that I use to calibrate my headphones. This could be done with a sine test tone (a feature on Sound Devices recorders), but I actually found it easier on the ears to use a different reference file.

I have chosen a twenty second introduction of a radio program – David Attenborough: My Life In Sound. I chose this because it features three different levels in a short clip. First we here the radio announcer introduce the program (a heavily EQd and compressed voiceover). Secondly, the program starts with a field recording of birdsong, mixed at a level we would typically aim to capture at. Third we here the beginning of an interview between Chris Watson and David Attenborough (much less compression than the initial intro).

Listening to this allows me to set a comfortable headphone level, which then allows me to appropriately set my mic levels for the subject I am going to record. As I use my Sound Devices more and more, I expect I will learn to understand my levels, without having to use this reference file. But in the meantime, I will continue using it to set levels.

Another tip I recently read is to physically mark the headphones volume knob with the level you would typically record at and also try to ensure that the knob doesn’t easily move. The headphones knob on the Sound Devices 722 is positioned on the left-side panel and is easily moved when the recorder is in a sound bag.

I added a white marker pointing to 12 o’clock at my optimal headphone level, meaning I can now quickly set my headphone volume before adjusting mic gain. I’ve also added a couple of layers of electricians tape around the knob which helps to ensure it doesn’t move as easily.

This small modification is something fairly simple to do, but easy to overlook, and can go towards ensuring your recordings sound exactly as you want them to.

Modifying and Optimising Field Recording Kit

I’m not really one for new year resolutions. I’ve always thought that changes can (and often should) be made at anytime, not just because we have reached the end of a calendar year. This year, however, I decided to make some changes that coincided with the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014.

The decision I’ve taken…?

To modify and optimise my field recording kit in a way that will hopefully encourage me to record more often using, an optimised selection of equipment.

I mostly record when I travel – my goal is to record the soundscapes of places I visit in order to have an archive of how that place sounded when I was there. It may appear obvious to some, but it’s worth mentioning that our soundscapes are forever evolving and places will most likely sound different the next time I visit.

I looked back on the recordings I made over the past couple of years and realised that often when I travel I’m limited in terms of baggage. This meant that I would often only take my handheld recorder (Sony PCM D50) rather than my preferred Sound Devices 722 + external mics rig. I’m very happy with the D50 and there are times when it is better suited to record (i.e. stealth recording). But I realised I wasn’t using my 722 as much as I should be. So I decided to modify my kit and to try to find a more compact way of transporting it.

What are the changes and why change?

On previous field recording trips with the 722 I took with me a Rode NT4 + Rycote + Tripod plus cables, headphones etc. carried in a North Face Base Camp Duffel backpack. I was happy with this, but the kit was so big, bulky and heavy that it was a bit off-putting when travelling.

Back at the beginning of December I went on a Wildeye Sound Recording course in the UK. Sound recordist and course tutor Chris Watson talked to us about his use of a pair of omni lavs, often held in a stereo XY position using a coat hanger. On my return to France I ordered a stereo pair of Naiant Omni lavs to give this technique a try and was very happy with the results. The Naiants are great mics for their price, with not too much self noise, though I’m looking at upgrading very soon to a stereo pair of DPA 4060s.

Of course, recording in stereo using my NT4 + blimp + tripod has it’s advantages – notably when recording nature and being able to set up the mic far from the recorder, thus causing less disturbance to the surrounding environment. But in a trade off with being more compact, the omni mics / coathanger setup is a great alternative.

Next challenge was to find a more efficient way of transporting my kit. After a bit of research both on the Internet and through discussions with photographer friends I decided to go with a Lowepro FastPack 250. Although intended for a DSLR setup, the customisable compartments meant it perfectly suited my needs.

As can be seen in the photos above, I can easily fit the 722, D50, headphones, batteries and mics all in the bottom compartment, leaving the top for additional travel objects. There is also a handy compartment for a 15” laptop. This is the perfect solution for transporting my kit in hand luggage without any problems.

And when I do decide to go with the NT4, I can still use the Lowepro as in the photo, with the NT4 and blimp travelling in my Sat-Com bag.

What else has changed?

Another problem I was facing towards the end of last year was batteries. I was using Sony Li-ion batteries for the 722 but these were at the end of their lives. I was particularly annoyed when during a night recording exercise on the Wildeye course, I had two fully charged batteries die on me in about 10 mins of use. Having chatted to Chris Watson about this, I decided to invest in a Hawk-Woods NP1 system.

This has now given me a fresh start with my kit allowing me to record nice long sessions without having to change batteries. And again, it remains compact enough to fit into my new bag!

I’m really looking forward to getting out with this new setup. I’ve got a couple of trips planned for the coming months, plus in May I’ll be attending another Wildeye Sound Recording course, by which time I’ll hopefully be equipped with a lovely pair of DPAs!

Horsey Fence Recordist Club

Last weekend I took part in the Wildeye Wildlife Field Recording course. This recording was taken at Horsey Dunes in Norfolk using a pair of Jez Riley French contact mics.

Kit Bag

Sound Devices 722
Jez Riley French C-Series contact mics (stereo pair)

World Sounds #046 – Chatres Cathedral, France

Today I had the pleasure of visiting UNESCO World Heritage listed Chartres Cathedral, a medieval Roman Rite Catholic cathedral located in Chartres, France.

A massively impressive building that towers over the whole town, I made this recording as I explored the inside of this fantastically preserved masterpiece of architecture.

World Sounds #045 – Nabeul, Tunisia

A couple of months ago I spent five days in the Tunisian market town of Nabeul. Situated in northeastern Tunisia on the south coast near to the Cap Bon peninsula, Nabeul was originally founded in the 5th century BC by the Greeks of Cyrene, serving as a trade port.

Following the Tunisian revolution, tourism has taken somewhat of a hit meaning the town was pretty quiet in terms of visitors. We had many great exchanges with locals and I made the most of staying in the vibrant Medina by recording a number of ambiances.

From the open roof terace of our hotel, I stood still and quiet one evening to record the “Isha” call to prayer.

“Isha” is the night prayer, and is announced after dark. Nabeul has two main mosques in the medina, plus other call to prayers can be heard in the distance.

I’d been in a “salon de the” in Nabeul for a mint tea and a shisha pipe, when I heard a lot of car horns. I quickly realised this was a wedding celebration. The procession drove around the block quite a few times, before heading off in the distance. A bit later, as I was walking back to our hotel, I came across the party again, this time in a small alley in the Medina. They were celebrating with a traditional Tunisian band, so I stopped and recorded this soundscape.

The Medina in Nabeul was always buzzing. Although the busiest market day is Friday, everyday is market day. It’s an area alive with colour, smells and sounds. I decided to record a soundwalk one afternoon, as I walked from the entrance of the Medina to the exit on the other side.

It was great to visit another part of the world and experience the sights, smells and of course, the sounds!

World Listening Day – Field Recording Trip

Yesterday, the 18th July, was World Listening Day. According to the The World Listening Project, the purposes of World Listening Day are:

- to celebrate the practice of listening as it relates to the world around us, environmental awareness, and acoustic ecology

- to raise awareness about issues related to the World Soundscape Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Project, and individual and group efforts to creatively explore phonography

- to design and implement educational initiatives which explore these concepts and practices.

Founded in 2008, the WLP organises public workshops, forums, and lectures, as well as participating in exhibitions, symposiums, and festivals.

In order to celebrate World Listening Day, I will be doing a field recording trip to the Parc Naturel de Chevreuse, a large forest (and former royal hunting ground) outside of Paris. I’ve done as much research as possible, but having not done a pre-recording visit, I’m hoping not to run into too many obstacles.

I’ll be heading out tomorrow and have just finishing preparing my things. Here’s what I’ll be taking out for this field recording trip. I’ll be carrying this in my recently purchased North Face Base Camp Duffel bag, which is the perfect length for my Rycote blimp and Manfrotto stand.

I’ll be heading out with my colleague, Michele, so we should be able to get some different perspectives from the same recordings. Hopefully all will go well. I’ll post the results once we get back.

World Sounds #044 – Stuttgart and the Swabian Alps, Germany

Swabia is a region in southwestern Germany that includes much of the state of Baden-Württemberg, including its capital Stuttgart, as well as the rural area known as the Swabian Alps and parts of far western Bavaria. It is a region with an incredibly rich history and was home to influencers Einstein, Miescher, Kepler, Bosch and Daimler.

I recently had the pleasure to spend five days exploring the region, listening to the soundscapes (surprisingly quiet for central Europe), learning about the region’s history and sampling lots of good German beer and food.


Our point of entry was Stuttgart, an easy four and a half hour train journey from Paris. The central station, known as Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, was built between 1914 and 1928 and is currently undergoing a massive re-development project (Stuttgart 21) that will essentially convert the main line terminus station into an underground through station.

Knowing that the original station will soon no longer exist in it’s original form, I took the opportunity to record the soundscape from an interior perspective.

As we headed out of the railway station, we immediately arrived at the northeastern end of the Königstraße, the main pedestrian zone of the city centre. Again, I took the opportunity to record the ambiance whilst standing roughly in the middle of this busy shopping street.

Bad Urach

We didn’t stay long in Stuttgart. The main purpose of visiting the region was for a family wedding which took place in Bad Urach, about 50 KM southwest of Stuttgart.

The ceremony was held in a typical country farmhouse and the surrounding gardens were very picturesque, and home to all sorts of birds and animals.

We stayed overnight at the farmhouse and the morning after the wedding (whilst slightly hungover) I recorded the birdsong.

A bit further away from the farmhouse, I came across some wood pigeons that were nested in a tree next to a small stream.


We left Bad Urach that morning and headed towards Wäschenbeuren, our home for the next few days. This small farming village, about 50 KM east of Stuttgart, sits on the edge of the virgin forest on the Hohenstaufen. We stayed at the Wäscherschloss Guesthouse which was the perfect location for a quiet, countryside retreat. It was such a pleasure to wake up each morning, open the windows to our bedroom and hear nothing but birdsong.

In the twelfth century, this area was home to a legendary medieval dynasty called the Hohenstaufen, or the Staufer – powerful German monarchs who reigned from 1138 to 1254. At that time in Europe the Staufer were highly respected – three members of the dynasty were crowned Holy Roman Emperors and in 1194, the Hohenstaufens were granted the Kingdom of Sicily.

Many historic remnants of the Staufer dynasty were within walking distance of our guesthouse. So on our second morning, after a delicious German breakfast, we headed out to explore.

We first climbed Hohenstaufen Hill which today holds the ruins of Hohenstaufen, once the family seat of the Staufer. It took about forty minutes to climb up to the top and we passed through thick forest that was teaming with birdlife.

It was so nice to be in an area that has such a rich natural soundscape. On our way back down, I stopped to record the local church bell as it struck twelve o’clock.

Next stop was Wäscherschloss Castle, an excellently preserved castle in the heart of Staufer territory and the actual birthplace of the Staufer Dynasty. Just outside the castle was a field home to five or six young horses. They were quite curious and approached us as we walked by.

We were really enjoying being in the countryside and decided to explore a bit further into the surrounding forests of Wäscherhoff. We walked towards an area called Lorch-Beutental and again, found ourselves in the centre of a thriving bird community.

After having walked for about thirty minutes we came across the Waldolf Cafe. The offer of homemade cidre and cake made the decision to stop a no-brainer. The owners had many farm animals in the gardens surrounding the cafe, including a flock of noisy geese, so I took the opportunity to record the ambiance.

After a few days of exploring various different parts of Swabia, I began to fall in love with the different shades of green the landscape offers. It did rain a lot whilst we were there, which probably helps keep things growing, and we are in the middle of Spring so things should, in theory, be at their greenest. But it was so impressive to be surrounded by lush, green landscape.

Schwäbisch Gmünd

From a sonic perspective, one of the things I like in Germany are the musical bells that can often be found in market squares, something I came across whilst walking through the market square of Schwäbisch Gmünd.

For anyone that doesn’t know this part of Germany, I’d highly recommend spending some time there. As I mentioned, the intensely green landscape is very impressive. Equally impressive are the soundscapes that I discovered. I know that I will certainly be returning at some point in the future and would love to head down towards the Black Forest as well as Lake Constance. I would also like to head over in winter, when things should be even quieter.

Photo Credits : Auriane Schwegler

Nepalese Singing Bowl – Hydrophone Pitch Shifting

Firstly, a quick apology for the radio silence that has occurred over the last few months on the blog. I started a new job in January and it has taken an enormous amount of my time and energy, hence things on the blog being put on the backburner. I haven’t had time to get out and record at all, which I’m a bit gutted about to be honest. But I will be making every effort to get back out asap!

I did recently have a spare moment at home so decided to do something I’d been meaning to try out for ages. Back in 2008 I visited Nepal and I bought a singing bowl at one of the Hindu temples we were visiting. So I wanted to find out what that singing bowl would sound like if I filled it with water and recorded it using my hydrophone. Well, it sounded not that different to how it sounds when recorded using a traditional mic (i.e. vibrating air molecules rather than through water).

Seeing as I had recorded at 192 KHz sampling rate, I decided to start pitching it down to see what it sounded like. So, I pitched it down 1 octave (half speed), then another octave (quarter speed), then eventually another octave (eighth speed).

Here’s the result:

Recording Kit:
Sound Devices 722
Aquarian Audio H2A hydrophone


We can never seek silence on it’s own without sound; in the natural world, sound and silence come together.

Adam Ford

Seeking Silence In A Noisy World: The Art of Mindful Solitude
Leaping Hare Press
ISBN 978-1-908005-11-3