The Sound of Tree Falls

Whenever I do a major project around the house I try to record it. Whether I have a new sound effects collection in mind or not, I can’t resist setting up some microphones and rolling. I wanted to open up the back yard to get more sunlight and a better view of the sky and this involved cutting down a few very tall trees. These trees were about 80 to 100 feet tall so I had a friend come over with his tractor and chain saw to make the cuts and manage the clean up. Normally I would do this myself but since I wanted have multiple recorders and video cameras I thought it best to focus my attention on just the recording. This was the safest thing to do since the trees were very large and close to the house.

I used two Sennheiser MKH-8040 stereo microphone setups along with two separate Sound Devices 702 recorders. Normally I would have used a 4 channel Sound Devices 744T but since the stereo microphones were spread far apart, long cable runs in the dusty work area were not a great idea with the tractor moving around. I also needed to move the rigs around quickly and separate systems made that very easy without unhooking the gear or coiling cables between takes.

I wanted to capture both the trunk of the tree creaking and ripping apart as well as the top whooshing toward and hitting the ground. I also wanted a simple dual stereo setup so I could reposition quickly and easily between each tree we were cutting down. In my experience recording tree falls (I’ve recorded many of them) I found that if the microphone is too close to the trunk of the tree the cracks don’t sound as meaty and the person running the chain saw has to be very quiet. Recording tree falls is somewhat dangerous and the chainsaw operator has to be able to move back and out of the way as soon as the tree starts falling for safety reasons. Trees can kick back towards the stump once it hits the ground and that is not good.

I placed a Sennheiser MKH-8040 ORTF stereo microphone midway between the trunk and the top of the tree to get the breaking and the impact in wide stereo. This allows for the ability to use one channel or both depending on what kind of sound is required if used in a project and allows the most flexibility. The other Sennheiser MKH-8040 XY stereo microphone was placed where the top of the tree would impact the ground. This setup recorded the long falling whoosh and the heavy impact.

The video in this blog post contains footage from 3 cameras and the actual sound captured by the microphones. The sounds were edited with some fairly hard limiting and nothing else. The low end thump (if you are listening with a subwoofer or very large speakers) is from the original recording, not enhanced in any way. When the trees hit, the ground shockwave thump from the heavy weight was picked up by the Sennheiser extended frequency response microphones (10Hz-50,000kHz).

The day was a success. The yard was slightly opened up to the sky and no equipment was damaged or body parts lost. I call that a good day.

-Frank

All images and sounds copyright 2013 Frank Bry – Creative Sound Design. All Rights Reserved.

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