All I have is a portable recorder and live in a city with just cars going by everywhere and construction going on every now and again, This might be a stupid question but I live in Dubai UAE and I try to take my H4n everywhere I go but I never find anything interesting to record other than just cars, we also have a desert but how do you record sand in interesting ways. I'm new to recording sounds but all I can record for now is stuff I find around at home, what do you guys do or recommend I could do.

11 Answers 11


I've been to Dubai, so I know what you're talking about. There's plenty of stuff you can record though, especially with something like the H4N...though I know that construction has died down a lot over the last few years.

Obviously, you've got the beaches, you can easily collect wave sounds or just ambient crowd sounds from them.

You can definitely sneak that thing into some of the outdoor bars, and no one will think twice if they even see it. You could visit the horse races and record ambiences there.

There are always a number of events going on in Dubai, of course finding out what they are and where they're taking place can be a bit of a headache.

There's the still very new transit system. I've ridden on that, and you should be able to collect some interesting sounds of the trains themselves. Plus, you can take it out to the Atlantis hotel on the Palm and grab sounds in that area.

There's the massive arcade that Sega opened up in one of the malls there a year or so ago (right by the Burj Khalifa [spelling?]/formerly Burj Dubai). And there's a massive water fountain "show" that happens in that man made lake/canal outside.

Or...If you're willing to shell out the cash. You could take it in to the ski slope in the Mall of the Emirates and strap it to your ski boots. ;)

  • Read this made me laugh cause I completely forgot about some of this stuff, Thanks for the suggestions! Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 20:54
  • @Stephen - it's a weird place to say the least. i honestly don't think i'd be able to live there. it was cool to visit the two times i did (work trips). for as much as it has going on, it often feels like there's nothing there besides overpriced shopping and clubs/restaurants...not too mention all of the UNOCCUPIED SKYSCRAPERS. lol Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 21:36
  • Finally! I know I hate this country I want to leave so bad, everyone thinks this is an amazing place to live in..If you have the cash it could be but other than that there's nothing to do here. I'm at home almost all the time trying to entertain myself, only now that I got a portable recorder I leave the house to find something to record and even that I don't do so often. Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 8:47

I suggest you wear ear plugs for 24 hours, and then have a listen to your surroundings.

  • I will actually try that out. Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 11:32

Sometimes you need to take a step back from your everyday surroundings and find the interesting elements that you have become accustomed to hearing. Consider the following:

  • It is the year 2011. What types of technology is in use around you? Cell phones, office phones, PA systems, intercoms…do these things sound different in your city than they do in other places?

  • The conversations taking place around you are definitely unique. Drop into a lobby, restaurant, bank, police station, schoolyard, etc. and stealth record for 10-15 minutes. The close-up voices may not be useable (because they are intelligible) but the ambient stuff would be great.

  • Is there a nightclub scene in your area? Hang out in a back alley and record all the crowd wallas - once you strip out the pumping bass from the clubs you will have some really nice stuff.

  • Sirens, horns, even vehicle engines have unique sounds depending on where you live. Go ahead, stand on that street corner and grab it all! Remember that the time of the day (even the day of the week) will provide you with variations.

Think outside the box - what can I record that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world? What can you record that I cannot record here in the USA?


Jay's and Shaun's suggestions are totally wonderful! Here are a few more ideas...

  • Sand can bark, slide, chuff, and has a lot of voices. Travel out to the dunes with trays, cardboard sheets, different shoes, and have a blast...but watch out for sand in your recorder. Total warranty-voiding territory!
  • Where you live is full of climate control machinery. The drones and resonances of those machines, especially in interesting spaces like stairwells or machine rooms, can create amazing room tones and ambiences.
  • In such a built-up area, listen for places where the wind whips through cracks or cables.
  • Let the international nature of the place seep into your recordings. Don't fall into the belief that a recording that's not pristine doesn't have utility or character!
  • I'm dying for ANYONE to get recordings of the robotic camel jockeys starting to come into use over there.

Hit the streets and share the results!

  • yes, please SHARE! Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 21:12
  • @NoiseJockey - Thanks for the link. That's seriously like something out of Star Wars! Robot Jockeys? Awesome! Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 10:39
  • @Colin Hunter I didn't even know they use them here.. Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 11:33

I was just about to also launch into a long wishlist of potential recording possibilities when I was struck by everyone's (including mine) enthusiasm inspired by such a simple question (no offence). I think we are all perhaps drawn in by the exciting hypothetical idea of a whole new strange town and world of sounds to capture. So with that in mind, what would get you inspired / excited? Where would you like to be in the world and why? This may help you realise what sort of sounds you like recording, eg. Urban? Nature? People? Etc. and then look for the equivalent in your own environment.

A few thoughts to add to hopefully jolt your creativity:

  • Think really big and really small. Really big: nearly (if not all) cities have their own acoustic character, try and tune into this and capture it in your recordings. For example, nowadays emergency vehicle sirens are often the same in NY and London but I bet if you did a blind test of 2 recordings you could guess which was from NY and which was from London. I don't know Dubai but I understand it has fairly extravagant town planning! Hence even car passes can sound extraordinary if they're recorded on, say, a flyover sandwiched between a bunch of huge skyscrapers. Really small: take yourself out of your environment and perhaps look at objects rather than places. Check out nathan's noise jockey blog for instance; he frequently gets inspiration by taking household or thrift store objects out of their everyday context and looking at their sonic characteristics.
  • Look into the potential for using the desert as an outdoor recording space. Living in London, I'm always very jealous of guys in LA getting to go into the desert to record all sorts away from the roar of traffic etc. Don't take this space for granted or simply see it as a sand recording opportunity!

  • Apologies for the shameless plug but if you can't decide what to record, try having the decision made for you by getting involved in one of the online sound recording projects: Tim's Hiss and a roar has a few 'subjects' going at the moment and 'the sound collectors' club' which I've set up encourages people to gather and share sounds based around a monthly theme. These may help your mental block.

-One last caveat: there's some great suggestions listed in other replies but bear in mind that many of us work in post production sound and can consequently be quite obsessed about 'deconstructing' our environment into specific isolated sounds so that we can control them better in the studio. This may not suit you if you are phonographer rather than a sound editor.

Good luck! I'm sure many of us are now itching to hear what you end up recording!

  • Great answer. Although as a former LA sound guy, I can cure your jealousy by telling you that the desert is a long, long drive away from city if you want quiet, and even then there's the constant din of airplanes overhead. Southern California is a heavily populated place.
    – Justin P
    Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 1:50
  • @Michael Maroussas I sort of feel pressured to get some stuff to record for your guys haha but I definitely try, I thinking of setting up a day to go out with my brother get some photography and hopefully some good recordings in this place called Hatta which is like the outskirts of Dubai its all mountainous and stuff, plus its very quite there so I could probably get some good stuff using only my H4n.. Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 11:17
  • @Justin - yeah I may well have an idealised image in my head of your 'backyard'! @Stephen - I know, you've got homework now! Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 18:43

Young grasshopper, you are not listening close enough!

Try to get into a big empty new building which has no hear or air systems in it yet - must be cool ambiences in there.

Record the traffic through a tube or something interesting like that.

Record an authentic Dubai train station or airport squawk box or PA system - those are always valuable to put the audience immediately into foreign surroundings in a movie.

Forgive me if I sound like a cliche American, but I'm sure Camel vocals would be valuable recorded at 192K for use in monster movies.

Record foreign ambiences that people would pay a pretty penny for over here in the states.

I'm sure you can get close enough to some of the gigantic cranes and things there to get some great servo and mechanical sounds.

The value of desert ambiences and clean desert wind can never be underestimated in anyone's library.

Some of the musical instruments and things there could be awesome. Possibly getting a job recording a local musical group or theater house which puts on concerts?

There is a myriad of ways to put recording to use.


How about doing the skiing thing but do it down a sand dune with the recorder attached to your boots or ski's. Also, deserts have the most amazing wind sounds and coupled with the sand would be quite wonderful. Cannot wait to hear what you have done.


I wish i had me a desert escape.

I'd go out n' shout and record

.. every .. single .. take!

How I'd bark my poor head off,

man, what a bizarre set of sounds I'd make!

Hey, perhaps convince a friend to record as well,

and their friends too!

Say, that'd be swell.

Split them in half

or keep them as one,

Just remember recording is also having fun!

alt text

This is not me

  • @YB, nicely played! Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 17:45

I agree with @tim prebble. Wear some earplugs for a bit to "re-sensitize" yourself. In essence what he's actually saying is a bit different though. He's also being a bit of a Jedi speaking in aphoristic tongues at the moment, lol. Which, I really really love actually. What he's really trying to tell you is that the world is full of sound, you only need to pay attention to the details and stop being distracted by the big picture.

To be forward and honest, I don't think I've ever been at a loss for finding sounds to record, regardless of the environment. Sometimes it takes a bunch of bad/useless recordings to figure out where you're going wrong. Either way, just start recording stuff and when your hard drive starts to fill up with crap you'll eventually get it. It takes time to develop and ear for useful field recordings, a solid process for making them and a very in depth understanding of which ones you can make use of based on your familiarity of the tools you've mastered that happen to have at your disposal. ie: EQ, Dynamics, Noise Reduction or whatever makes the recordings useful to you. It could be a pedal board of guitar FX for all anyone knows. Another mans garbage is another mans treasure, no?

It's even crazier in a position like Tim's because he's stuck deeming what might be useful for all people because he actually creates commercial libraries (Yes, listen to that man. He knows what he's talking about).

My best advice besides what I said above is to just pay attention to the little details of the world and use your "cocktail party" skills a little more aggressively. You'll eventually refine your own techniques over time. Never stop asking questions though. Even the Jedi masters are still students and always will be. That's the nature of what we do.


this is a matter of inspiration..

here's a list i couldn't have written two years ago:

  • general ambience at odd times (v.early in the morning for instance)
  • street markets
  • dockyards
  • any quietness (it does have characters)
  • conversations, crowds are never enough
  • doors (never enough of those either)
  • fancy cars, especially if you can get inside
  • offices (they will sound different)
  • record downtown
  • get out of town and record there. suddenly things multiply by two.
  • birds. these are area-specific.
  • transport - trains especially.
  • any other things you cannot find outside of UAE.

traffic all over everything is just one of your challenges.

go for it. http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=dubai&w=all


Keep your ears open for anything out of the ordinary. I just recorded a cool motor sound from a refrigerated truck that was parked up the street, and this morning I noticed the ice cream cooler in the cafeteria at work was broken and making a bizarre noise. Both were cool, unique sounds. You never know what you're gonna find.

  • Yesterday I was doing some marina recordings and decided to walk back to some construction I saw on the way to park. As I was walking I heard the sound of a 4 inch pipe sputtering and draining onto the street. This recording turned out better than anything during the session. So definitely keep your ears open and be ready to record whatever jumps out at you.
    – bpert
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 23:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.