North Idaho Train Recording

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Back in March of 2011 I started a two year project to record as many trains as possible from North Idaho. I’ve lived here for many years and never really took the time to go out and record the beasts as they roared through the Panhandle of Idaho. I recorded some back in 1995 before I moved here and those are good but they are only CD quality. Now that I am recording everything in HD I thought it was time to record some brand new material for an upcoming library release. This blog post tells the tall tail of actually recording them in all their glory. Wait, way to much drama, I’ll cut to the chase… During the month of November (which is a great time to record here when it’s not freezing outside) I found some locations that will soon not be that great for recording. This is where I will start and who knows where it will lead… Only the Alien on the train knows.

November 06, 2011

Every year in the fall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lower the water level in Lake Pend Oreille so that the winter and spring snow run-off does not flood the surrounding area. With a new super highway opening soon and access to the tracks from under the train bridge easy, now was the time to venture down and record the trains passing overhead before the freeway noise starts and the water level is back to normal.

The train bridge that runs the width of the lake is currently being retrofitted with new supports and tracks so it’s record now or wait a few more years for the construction to be complete. The bridge was high above me and my boom could only reach so far but I recorded a few trains rumbling by. They travel at different speeds over this bridge and the first one was moving fairly fast and caught me completely by surprise. My recording level on this take was to hot and the SD-702 was overwhelmed to say the least. I adjusted the level down during the take but I regret not having it set lower in the first place because I knew it was going to be loud… if I knew when it was coming. Duh!

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The next two trains were not going as fast but they still made a great sound. There were lots of geese taking a coffee break on the lake and I was worried they would get in the recording but upon playback they were not noticeable. I wandered around the beach that is next to the tracks and recorded a few other trains on the land portion of the bridge and under the new freeway being built. I between the trains I was able to record some beautiful sounding water laps from the beach very close up… it was peaceful to say the least. All in all it was a worth while session and I do want to go back before it gets to cold and the new freeway bypass opens later this year.

November 12, 2011

This session was the first time I recorded at a location south of town on the Eastern side of the lake. The road is elevated above the tracks and there is a steep hillside that stops at a cliff with the tracks down below. This location has an access road to the tracks below and that’s where I set up first. It was a windy day and the remaining fall leaves were making some noise from across the tracks. I hoped the wind would die down a bit and it did for a while. It was also very cold so I left the matched stereo pair of Sennheiser 8040 microphones down by the tracks with the video camera and let them roll while I sat in the warmth of my car overlooking the tracks.

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November 13, 2011

On the drive to the cliff recording area I have to cross over the two sets of tracks that lead into Sandpoint from the south. It’s a wide open area with just a few houses and farms. I set up in various locations near the crossing and waited. The good thing is that trains come from both directions (sometimes at the same time) every 15 minutes or so. There was very little car traffic that day so I felt I would be able to get some clean recordings. After a few trains went by I learned how far away from the crossing they start to honk their extremely loud horns. I set up accordingly and recorded some approaching horns and some closer honks as they passed by. I highly recommend hearing protection when doing this perpective, they can be very loud.

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I plan on going back to get the signal bell and crossing arms activating. They are activated when the train is still far enough away so I’m hoping to get a good recording of them with a close up shotgun microphone.

I was in this location for a couple of hours and recorded 7 trains and I wanted more. I drove a few miles into Sandpoint, grabbed a coffee (Single tall latte with whole milk at 140 degrees, in case you are wondering) and set up in front of the old Amtrak station. There is a new freeway opening soon right behind the station and this was most likely be the last time some clean recordings can be obtained there. (I have since been back, the new freeway is still closed)

Here is the original blog post with audio and video: Crazy Train Doppler Pass Bys

November 27, 2011

On this day I wanted to get some distant perpectives of the freight trains roaring through the countryside so I searched for a location that was quiet and high above the tracks. I found a second great location south of town on the Eastern side of the lake. When I arrived I first tried to take in the view to the West from the cliff overlooking the tracks but there was a train on the bridge heading south so I quickly got into position with the gear. I really should say “carefully” got myself into postion because I was at least 150 feet above the tracks on a rocky hillside that was carved out many years ago to place the tracks by the lake. It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of heights. The tracks double up in this area and there is a switch. From across the lake I’ve seen them stopped here and I was hoping to get a train stopping and pulling away. I used a 12 foot boom pole this time instead of a stand because I really did not want to get to close to the edge of the cliff to place the stand. I was able to sit back from the edge and hang the microphones over the cliff.

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The trains were moving slower that usual for some reason and the engines sounded loud, heavy and strained. So many trains come through this area on a daily basis that they have to slow down and sometimes stop when they meet up in Sandpoint. I think there are as many as seven tracks intersecting here. As they headed South from town they seemed to be really pulling their cargo hard. One train was screeching the whole time, not sure why but it was piercing. Speaking of cargo, I saw John Deer tractors, Caterpillar bulldozers, semi trucks and even some gigantic wind generator propellors strapped to these trains. With all this different cargo I do notice that each section of the train has a slightly different sound as it passes by. Empty or full, the box car and the tanker sections each have a distinct rattle and rumble to them.

After a few trains went by I moved a half mile south to the area I previously recorded on the 12th and set up the microphones on a stand and recorded some medium distant pass bys. Since I have many recordings of the close up variety, I wanted to get some wider shots. The trains were still pulling hard and the engines growled as they passed by with the heavy cargo.

The temperature had risen to 40 degrees and there was still some daylight left so I went back to the Amtrak station in town to see what I could get (Yes, latte in hand). When I was recording south of town I noticed from afar they were moving slower than usual over the lake bridge and maybe they were stopping in front of the station. I recorded from slightly farther back this time and I was lucky enough to get one train blaring it’s horn as it approached.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is with all the techniques, best practices, and knowledge it still comes down to listening… and listening again to the environment you are in to get the good stuff. The first time I place a microphone I’m hoping it gets what I’m intending but in the end it’s the trial and error that gets the best results sometimes. This happened here after the first train came through. I noticed about a hundred feet up the tracks was a track switch and when the train passed over the switch it made a very cool metal sound. I then recorded a train pass by at the track switch and it made some nice metal clunking and rattling. While waiting for the next train the propane gas heater on the switch fired up so I recorded that for a while and then the rain set in so it was time to pack it in for the day.

So, there you have it, a month of train recording from beautiful and sometimes cold North Idaho. After watching the movie “Super-8″ I do wonder what else could be on these trains… An alien who just wants to go home?

-Frank

Crazy Train Doppler Pass Bys

Here are some very close train passes recorded with a matched stereo pair of MKH-8040 microphones set in XY at 110 degrees. The microphones were placed less than 2 meters from the fast moving freight train. Five 24-Bit 96K train takes were shortened and edited together… each train takes 3 minutes to completely pass by. The location was in front of the Sandpoint Idaho train station. There is a new freeway opening soon right behind the station and this will most likely be the last time some clean recordings can be obtained there. Listening with headphones is a mind bending experience.

Extreme Close Up Train Recording – Nov 13 2011

PHOTOS

Train Recording 11-13-2011

Train Recording 11-13-2011

Train Recording 11-13-2011

Train Recording 11-13-2011

Train Recording 11-13-2011

Canada Geese Migrating Nov 5 2011

Canada Geese Recording 2011

I was having my first cup of morning coffee on a cold, quiet Saturday morning and the light of day was beginning and I noticed a strange V shaped pattern in the distant sky over the lake. At first, I flashed back to the day when I recorded a B-2 Stealth bomber in Seattle because thats what it looked like. I knew what was approaching and I stepped outside and had a listen. They were geese flying in formation over the lake and heading directly toward the house. I stepped back inside to grab my recording gear and it was all in pieces after a recording session from the previous day. I knew I did not have enough time to get it up and running so I grabbed my iPhone and shot some video. They were not very high in altitude, I would guess a few hundred feet above the ground and squawking like crazy. I had missed a cahnce to record this sound and headed back inside before my fingers froze off.

Just in case there were more I did set up the MKH-8040ST and the SD-702 and set it next to the front door. Soon after, I heard another flock squawking in the distance over the river that connects to the lake. I set the gear up in the yard hoping some would head my direction and sure enough the took a left turn to head south. As they flew over I stood still next to the microphones and noticed along with the squawking was the very cool wing flap whooshes. I thought I was going to get a great clean take when the local squirrel decided to join in the music of nature. Below is the sound clip and the movie from the first fly over.

Enjoy! -Frank

Canada Geese Migration by therecordist

M60 Machine Gun Microphone Comparisons

M60 Machine Gun Microphone Comparisons

M60 Machine Gun Microphone Comparison 1

This video cycles through the microphones used during the first recording session for this gun. This first session was for capturing the medium close and distant perspectives and the second session was primarily for the close up sound. Recorded at 24-Bit 96kHz/192kHz to 2 Sound Devices SD-702 recorders, Fostex FR-2, Sony PCM-D1 with XLR-1 Microphone Preamp and a Sony PCM-D50. The microphones used were 3 Sennheiser MKH-8040, MKH-416, AT-835ST, Sanken CSS-5 and D-50 internal.

M60 Machine Gun Microphone Comparison 2

This video cycles through the microphones used during the second recording session for this gun. The first session with this weapon was for getting the medium close and distant perspectives and this session was primarily for the close up sound along with some closer distant perspectives. Recorded at 24-Bit 96kHz/192kHz to 2 Sound Devices SD-702 recorders, Fostex FR-2, Sony PCM-D1 with XLR-1 Microphone Preamp and a Sony PCM-D50. The microphones used were 4 Sennheiser MKH-8040, MKH-416, AT-835ST and D-50 internal.

Soundman-Black-Square-400px

The Wall Comes Crashing Down

As a sound recordist, one of the best things about living in a small town in the middle of nowhere besides fresh air, clean water and quiet is sometimes you get to record things that would be very difficult or impossible to record anywhere else. Some of those things are recording a M-60 machine gun in someones back yard or getting the powerful sounds of a building being ripped apart by an excavator. Well, that has been my life experience for the last two days and now I have a slight headache.

While I was driving through town on the way to record the M-60 for a second time yesterday I noticed that a wrecking crew had started tearing down the old Chevy dealership to make way for a new development. They had a few very large excavators with the claw and were having at it with the building. I stopped and strolled around outside the fence they had erected to keep people away and safe. I happened to meet one of the operators and asked him when they were going to be tearing down the other half of the building. He told me that it takes some time because they had to separate out the materials for disposal and they were using the last half of the two story wall as a dust shield facing the main street. He could not give me a time that the final blows were going to occur so I said goodbye and headed for my gun session.

A few weeks ago I noticed all the fencing around the old dealership site and knew at some point it was going to be ripped apart and there were plenty of places I could hang out with my gear and record something, anything. So at the spur of the moment I decided to take a chance this morning and head over there with the MKH-8040ST rig on a long boompole and see if I could record at the site. When I got there I walked around the outside fence and tried to record the general background sounds of the guys working. Since the main highway runs on one side of the site I really did not expect to get anything isolated and useful, maybe just some construction site ambience.

Well, as luck would have it, the guy I talked to yesterday saw me with the gear and stopped his excavator. The next thing I know he yells out to me “Want some glass breaking?” I quickly gave him a thumbs up and he proceeded to ram the claw through a huge window. OK, now I was on to something so I gave him the thumbs up again and walked around to the other side where there was another excavator smashing wood debris and moving metal girders around. There are all these signs on the fence that say “Hard Hat Area”, “Danger, Keep Out” and “Stay Away”. I stood outside the fence for a short time and decided it was time to walk through the opening of fence into the site. I figured the worst thing that could happen is they would tell me to leave.

Once inside the site I could get clean backgrounds with no traffic noises and position myself right in the middle for a good stereo image. Well, luck stuck again and the excavator drove right by me with a massive steel beam and dropped it over in the corner. The operator stopped the machine and came over and sked me if I was collecting air quality samples. I told him I was recording sound effects and he said “OK”. I briefly explained to him what I do and he told me it was OK to hang out here. I asked him if he was going to tear down some of the tall walls and said maybe later because he had to separate things on the ground first. He gets in his machine and drives by me again on his way back to where he was working. I recorded some incredible tread squeaking ans squealing.

The next thing I know he is moving the claw high in the air over the wall and I ran into position and recorded him ripping the wall apart. Now it was happening, the goldmine! The excavator was on the other sie of the wall so the engine noise is minimal and when the wall gets torn apart some of it falls to the ground. I got some great recordings today, maybe once in a lifetime, I don’t know, all I know is I sure had a great time and I have a slight headache from all the loud sounds I’ve been recording lately.

Enjoy!

Frank

Note: The video is from my iPhone 4 and i’m concentrating on holding the mic steady so the video is jerky, Oh well….

PHOTOS

Wall Destroy Photo

Wall Destroy Photo

Wall Destroy Photo

Wall Destroy Photo

Wall Destroy Photo