Sony PCM D100 and Raths

I've been keen to test out my recently purchased Sony PCMD100 in a nature recording scenario, to see how the built-in microphones can handle a lower level, ambient environment. The PCMD50 was the choice handheld recorder for many, and the PCMD100 is supposed to have addressed some of the (minor) design issues of the D50. Any reviews I read were positive, and I had seen that a number of well known sound recordists were already using the D100 for professional work. 

Overall, it has totally delivered on the promise of high quality, portable recording.

On the positives, it has a very solid build quality, has a big readable screen with switchable back light, quick start up, easily navigable menus; it comes with it's own remote and windjammer, and quality built in mics.

The main negative I've encountered so far is handling noise. Like most hand held recorders, it's sensitive to any movement you might make while holding it while recording. I had hoped Sony might have found a way to reduce handling noise, but I suppose any efforts to decouple the microphones from the recorder body would result in a larger form factor.

A tripod or hand held mount, like those from Rycote, is advisable for any run and gun recording. But, if you're able to stay totally stationary, it is possible to record handheld without making noise.

It's noise specs are rated at 19dBA, which is a little higher than is usually recommended for quiet recording. The Rode NT4 for example is rated at about 16dBA, but requires more kit to get into the field with. 

A 5AM start allowed me to catch the Dawn Chorus in full swing so I set the D100 up on the tripod and started rolling. For the Dawn Chorus and the Blackbird pair recordings I made with the mics in their wide 120 degree pattern. For the other individual recordings, I had them set 90 degree XY. Even that early on a Saturday morning there was background noise from trucks on the main road. It was a grey Saturday morning, and it wasn't long until it began to rain, leaving the birds uninspired after 7am. It was easy to fit the D100 set up under nearby foliage if I had wanted to continue recording the rain ambience.

The supplied windjammer does a good job, as there were stronger winds on the Sunday, when I made the Chiffchaff recording. Any strong breeze will be heard, but depending how much fidelity you need, it would take a strong gust to start distorting the mics through the windjammer. 

Another welcome inheritance from the previous model is the excellent battery life and extensive internal memory. One of the design changes made is the D100 will accept the standard SD card rather than the Sony Memory Stick format of the D50. 

Rossmore Park map, showing the two raths

Rossmore Park map, showing the two raths

Doing some research, I found an OS map for Rossmore Park, a favourite spot of mine for some recording. On it, I noticed two markings for old ring fort remains that I'd never before heard about. With the weather forecast giving this Spring's first proper day of sunshine and warm temperatures, I had no excuse not to go exploring.

The biggest surprise on the walk through the woods, was finding a very ably constructed camp site, made mostly of wood and branches with some tarp for a roof. Someone had gone to the effort to camouflage the site as well. Rossmore is a relatively small park and can be busy on a warm day so the extra sense of freedom from going off track was very refreshing. Making it to the top of Barn Hill, through tree groves and under barb wire, and getting to enjoy the commanding view alone was a treat.

Rath at top of Barn Hill

I've been reading Yuval Noah Harari's bestselling book - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - and though from cursory searches it appears some of his opinions are more contentious than he let's on in the book, it is a great book for helping give a sense of the minute timescale that our species of human have roamed the planet. With those ideas swimming around my head, there was an additional feeling of wonder to stand on the visible geographic imprint of our ancestors. 

May 2016 i

The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.
Most architects receive little training in sound, and so are reliant on advice from an acoustic consultant. For this reason, a good relationship between architect and acoustician is vital. A big change in design methods is happening now, where acoustic engineers play architects examples of how their building will sound.
  • Be One
This four-track album imagines the sound of British summertime as heard by one of the most important members of the animal kingdom – the bee.
It emanates from a sense of lack of belonging, and a belief that all other people have a consistent level of confidence in their own competence, which, judging by the huge numbers of people who will admit to being sufferers, is not the case.
  • BBC News article on Impostor Syndrome which also mentions the Dunning-Kruger effect which appeared in This American Life's episode 'In Defence of Ignorance' (Thanks Philip Watson)
  • The theme of Impostor Syndrome is experiencing some morphic resonance at the moment as Tonebenders also feature it in their podcast

April 2016 i

(Sperm whale) vocalizations, along with blue whales’, are the loudest animal sounds on the planet; the pressure waves can blow out human eardrums and conceivably rupture lungs. Diving with them was considered suicide. 
  • Martyn Ware of The Human League and Heaven 17 has composed a long form soundscape about the British coastline:


I caught the final screening of the IFI's 2001: A Space Odyssey 70mm screenings last week, and have been reading up about the production and cultural aftermath of the film. What became hugely apparent while viewing in a cinema (as opposed to watching at home) was how vacuum-like the theatre becomes during those silent space scenes, with only a low rumble of LFE for any atmosphere. The audiences automatic reaction to quieten themselves even further creates the tensest atmosphere you can imagine. 

The subjectivity of our perception of loudness is greatly reliant on contrast. After we are exposed to sounds of high intensity, the stapedius reflex, or auditory reflex, contracts the muscles in our middle ear, reducing our perception of loudness. “Filmmakers often ignore the fact that continuous loud sound is no longer perceived as loud by the audience because the aural reflex ‘turns down the volume,’ making the scene less effective than expected.” So silence is crucial for the perception of loudness. - Sonic Centaurs: An Exploration of the Common Grounds Between Music and Sound Design

Kubrick uses this effect beautifully when weaving the score and sound design of the film. Ligeti's Requiem (used without the composers permission!) taps into something primordially terrifying as we approach the monolith on the Moon, and peaks with the deafening tone emitted by the the monolith, before cutting to the dead silence of space as we join the 'Discovery' craft on it's voyage.

It can be taken for granted, but the quality of the voices and delivery in 2001 is exceptional. There is famously little dialogue in the film, but from Heywood Floyd's throaty G-Man pipes, Dave Bowman's passively detached tone, to the centrally important and unforgettable HAL9000, voices are a huge part of the film's sound design.

Though Richard Branson might try to persuade us otherwise, Kubrick knew that space travel would be profoundly boring. We feel the painstaking tedium of life on board a space station, the arduousness of maintaining the human body in a hostile, sterile environment.  A significant part of the soundtrack aboard the Jupiter mission is simply – and effectively – that of human breathing. - BBC Classical Music

This applies to the speech of the astronauts. They've been travelling for months, alone. All is routine by now and they have little to say to each other, or little conviction in what they do have to say.

It's not the most sound-centric film out there, and it seems that Kubrick was much more concerned that the visuals should tell the greatest part of the story, yet still the sparse sound of 2001 is carried out intelligently and with great effect.

Excellent BBC discussion on 2001 featuring Keir Dullea and Garylockwood

The crucial standoff scene between Dave and HAL, but with a Bob's Burgers twist. Unfortunately audio channels are messed up and only from left channel.