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A friend of mine volunteered to accompany a group which is touring through the Amazon, Africa and Australia.

She'll be in extremely remote areas with aborigines, tribes, and native villages.

The instant I heard she was doing this my mouth watered with the recording potential of the trip.

If you had a friend going on a trip like this one, where she'll be with a group of about 10 people for around 6 months across the 3 continents, what equipment would you send her with and what marching orders would you give her?

My first thought was a Zoom H2 or H4 and a harddrive. But, since she'll be literally in the middle of the amazon, eating dinner with people who have never heard of Katy Perry, and basically going on a field recordist's dream trip, I am thinking of putting a bit more money into this.

What would you send her with? What sorts of things should she concentrate on getting? Wallas from towns and tribes? Ambiences? Spot effects? Wildlife? She won't be full-time concentrating on sound, but for me she said she could break away for about 2 hours a day doing recordings.

Any suggestions on technique or what I should send her off with is much appreciated!

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5 Answers 5

There'll be a lot of suggestions here, none of them wrong, and here's my take.

Keep the entire system as simple as possible. If she's got no audio background, the recorder should be largely operated via PHD: "Press here, dummy!" Of course, she'll need a crash course in technique, but I think that for a novice a device with an external mic is probably overly complex. The H4n and PCM-D50 would be perfect, and I'd almost recommend the D50 over the H4n simply due to its insane battery life. Almost every international airport will sell AA batteries. [If she is really into it, then add a cheap cardioid mic (Oktava MK-012? Rode NT5?) and an external preamp if the D50, or just go with the H4n. Most flexibility for the least cost for the least weight should be the goal.]

In-the-field backups are probably a good idea, but don't go with a traditional HD or computer unless she's already bringing one. A device like the Hyperdrive is great for backing up flash media...not sure how that'd work with internal storage on the D50 or with Memory Stick media, as opposed to SD or CF cards. Maybe just a bunch of card media would be simpler.

For in-field support, something simple like a Gorillapod will serve as a tabletop stand, a handle for hand-holding, or placing in a tree or on a signpost. Suggest, also, a backup pair of ear buds for emergency monitoring.

Based on where she's going, have her put everything in an OtterBox, Pelican case, or a dry bag. The latter will be most flexible, since it can be packed in luggage, etc., and weighs a lot less. Make sure she thinks of it not as just an anti-water bag, but an anti-dust bag as well.

One of the hardest things she'll need to contend with is getting the time to record without being near the group she's embedded with. She'll no doubt have other responsibilities to balance with gathering sounds. Be sensitive to this. But also encourage her to just give it a go and listen to her recordings as she travels. If it captures her interest, her technique will improve.

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+1 on the ridiculously long battery life of the D50, plus the built-in and card-based storage. –  James Bryant Oct 25 '10 at 20:24
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Fantastic. What a great opportunity! I would definitely go with gear that is not too expensive as you never know what will happen there. Climate, lack of electrical outlets, etc. The Sony idea is good or something similar. Bring lots of batteries, a durable set of headphones like the Sony Studio monitors and a repair kit.

I would encorage her to get as much as she can- ambiances, walla's- sonce the languages she will encounter are probably under threat, bird life, villages. I am putting together my own library here is South Africa and there is a vacuum of good stuff here. I will be very interested in hearing what she getting. Also, make sure she does CD backup's if something goes wrong with her computer.

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Give her a crash course in recording also. For instance if you equip her with a Zoom H2, make sure she understands which microphone settings (stereo 90, 120, and quad) to use for which type of situations. Of course give plenty of batteries + SD cards. Also make her aware of handling noise especially with the Zoom. Give her a handy tripod like the gorillapod. And do a bit of research on the regions she's going and the time of year, what kind of sounds (wildlife etc) she might be able to encounter.

I did all these things when my girl went to cameroon recently and got some cool recordings in return. Although next time she's going there, I will be joining myself :)

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I agree with getting CD or DVD backups as they are much more water proof than harddrives. I would try to go beyond a H4 if possible. There might be cases where she just can't reach. A compact boom pole is my recommendation.

For example using a pole and placing an omni or stereo pair high above the ground. Its like the forest from the birds' point of view. That I would really love to hear. Another is placing the mic over a stream or small river and stretching the boom over. Getting closer to animals too.

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Personally, what i'd love to get from something like that is external ambiences. I'd recommend giving your friend the quietest stereo recorder you can afford, and getting them to venture a little ways from the group, perhaps when everyone is asleep (being smart about it of course, this isn't a horror film). I mean, aussie outback, ext dawn? African plains ext dusk? I'd freaking love to have some stuff like that in my library!

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