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While recording ambiences, do you let you mics sit still and not move them at all for the amount of time you record or do you move them around to get a more dynamic/changing sound?

I tried some recordings in a forest recently where I tried to walk about and found that the sound I got was phasey in some parts and I didn't like it (but I did a good job of not making noise as I walked!). I found letting the mics sit extremely still got a better product.

What do you guys do? I apologize if this is a newb question.

Thanks!

  • Ryan
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8 Answers 8

Choosing where you place/point your mics before you set them is very, very important though. This is especially true if you are using particularly directional mics... The difference between a bland diffuse ambience and an interesting, detailed ambience with movement in it may well be the 15 minutes you spend listening & tweaking before you hit record!

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Nice answer! Thanks! I guess that's true, some of the best material has come from A) What I didn't plan or go out to record originally and B) in-between stuff, like an eagle passing over me in that forest or a cool woodpecker hitting a tree that I got pretty close to. –  Utopia Aug 15 '10 at 20:50
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Depends on what you're recording, I guess. If it's loud stuff, like city ambience, traffic, crowds, wallas, then you can get around with moving the mics and not picking up walking noise, etc. For quieter material, like wind, room tone, etc, then place your mics on a tripod and walk away for the duration.

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Thanks. Simple. Maybe I'm just making this sound design stuff way too complicated for myself. –  Utopia Aug 15 '10 at 20:40
    
Do what feels right and feel free to experiment! –  Jay Jennings Aug 15 '10 at 22:31
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Well, here's my newb answer. :)

I too find that my ambiences are much more usable if I let the mics sit for at least 5 minutes. I figure at that point I'll come away with at least 2 usable minutes of material. Having said that I do tend to move my mics a couple of times to capture the same ambience. Five minutes in one spot, another 5-10 some yards down, another facing the opposite direction, etc. It provides the variety of the space that I'm looking for, which I can later edit to movement. Recording your movements mean you're stuck with those movements. I'd rather have the choice later in editing. Of course when I move mics, I'll typically leave them recording, just because you never know what you might capture in the interim.

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Aha! So how often do you change up your ambience - say you've got a dialogue scene in the woods. Would you drop in a long stereo file and duplicate it 10 times for the reel or would you change it up a lot? –  Utopia Aug 15 '10 at 20:51
    
Keep in mind most of my sound design is for TV docs, so I very rarely have scenes of dialog that are terribly long. For me, the variety of the same ambiences comes in handy when cutting for perspective. Wide gets one, 2-shot or CU gets another for example. But if I do loop a general ambience multiple times as a blanket I try to edit it at different spots so there's no identifiable rhythm to it. Also I'll mix in different layers of spot effects for tonal variety (birds, cicadas, wind thru trees, etc.) –  Steve Urban Aug 16 '10 at 4:25
    
Ok cool. I want to see one of these docs you've done. What have you done? –  Utopia Aug 16 '10 at 18:05
    
The vast majority of my work is for NatGeo TV/Film. But a lot of it has been re-narrated and aired on NatGeo Channel. It's not completely up to date, but here's my imdb imdb.com/name/nm2030331 –  Steve Urban Aug 17 '10 at 13:13
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The only time I "walk" my mics is when I'm dealing with dense crowd walla. Here's an example of that in a snip from something I recorded last month:

[soundcloud]rcoronado/graduation-crowds-ext-amb-walk-through[/soundcloud]

The reason I walk in that specific circumstance is so that I can reduce the number of distinct conversations that are audible through the duration of the recording. Inevitably, some people talk louder than others, and I don't want those people dominating my ambience.

I don't walk the mics when I'm recording crowd reacts (like cheering, applause, or booing) or with sparsely populated crowds though. In those instances the constant change in perspective is too audible and becomes distracting IMO.

I also never move the mics when I'm recording nature ambiances. Find your spot, then lock it down for at least 3x the time that you intend to keep. I actually use my phone to time what I think is usable and I don't stop rolling until after I hit a certain mark.

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Your example makes a lot of sense @Rene. Thanks for that! –  Steve Urban Aug 16 '10 at 4:08
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When capturing ambience, I won't move my mics during the recording. It changes the perspective of the recording, and unless it matches the picture, it can throw the viewer for a loop. I will, however, make multiple recordings of the same ambience from different angles and such. When I'm finished with one perspective, I'll change to another so that I'm covered and have options. This is especially useful when using directional microphones.

The other thing you can do is use an M/S setup or an Ambisonics setup. This will let you change the size and shape of your recording in post. You can make it wider, narrower, bigger, smaller. You can fold it down to perfect mono if you need to, or expand flawlessly. Good stuff!

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The phase issues your perceiving are probably a result of reflections from your surroundings (all those trees spaced in uneven intervals and varying distances will cause phase havoc). I'll occasionally move about when recording ambiences, I've found them useful every once in a while. I typically only do this with a Sony PCM-D50 though, and it's important that the areas you're moving through be somewhat uniform or change slowly in terms of surrounding structures because of that whole reflections and funky phase issue.

Like others have mentioned, most of my ambiences are recorded form fixed positions, which I'll move around between takes to collect the different perspectives(especially when using my better microphones). I just collect these moving ones occasionally when I feel that I'll get an interesting perspective out of the area. I usually have time to do it, so why not.

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I never move while recording an ambiance, but I do take several angles of the same location. I'll spend enough time in pre-record mode, headphones on, rotating the stand in a full cycle. I'll sense the right direction in which to capture when it sounds balanced and detailed. Then depending on the situation I'll move around, pointing towards the direction I determined.

Because I'm set up in XY, I find that there's always a front and a back to the locations I record, meaning that once I found the right direction for my ambience, well that'll be the front where all is happening, and the rule of thumb is that there'll be very little chance that anything interesting is happening at the back, in the opposite direction.

Also from the audience POV, I don't quite imagine the ambience shifting too much. Ambiences give a sense of space and I believe movement would be supported by hard effects...

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What I'm going to say may not be an answer but maybe an observation.

I am now a days involved in a project that involves recording the soundscape of a specific district of Valencia (Spain). For that specific project I had to record mainly the sound of streets and squares. According to that I decided to record each place according to it's usage. For instance, in squares as I consider them places where to stay I did fixed recordings without moving the mics. On streets, as I understand, they are places to transit or pass by, I recorded while walking.

So, in my opinion you might wanna consider how is the place and how you usually move around it, and record according to that. Basically it's all about the relationship that you establish with the location, and according to this relationship you can record as you usually perceive the ambience of a place.

really I don't know if that makes any sense at all or my English is getting worst and worst,...

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