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January 2012 Snowstorms

Recording Snow Sounds January 2012

Wind Recording 2012 The third week of January 2012 proved to be a goldmine for snow sound effects here on the ranch. The typical North Idaho winter finally arrived bringing with it lots of snow, wind and freezing temperatures.

The week started with a bunch of snow falling along with some very cold temperatures. As the winter storm progressed and the weather systems above were battling it out for supremacy, the wind came. Not a soft blowing winter wind but some strong sustained blizzard like winds with gusts up to 65 MPH.

I shot some video from my front door of the cold dry snow blowing off the trees and around the yard and then decided it was time to veture outside to the garden area and set the MKH-8040ST up near the fence. I can usually get some good whistling through the fence and the power lines above and this time was no exception. Some really strong gusts swept by and really knocked the mic around a bit. I was in such a rush to get set up that I left the Sound Devices 702 low cut filter set to off. I was concerned that the gusts would stop soon so I just set my levels and rolled.

During a break in the heavy gusts I did manage to get the low cut filter on and recorded a little more. By this time the storm had settled down and I was freezing. It was 15 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill at approximately -5 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I did not want to stay outside much longer as I was concerned about the MKH-8040ST freezing up.

Snow Falling Impacts

Later in the week after the snow had piled up on the roof I patiently waited to get the sound of the snow sliding off the roof and falling onto my deck. When it’s very cold the snow stays and accumulates on my metal roof. As soon as it warms up a little and the sun comes out it can slide at any second. The trick is to guess when. The roof edges start to drip and after a few hours I can hear it creaking and clunking from inside the house. At that point I have a few minutes before it all comes down. I was ready this time. It all came down.

Snow Recording 2012 Roof

I also was able to record the sound of snow pack hitting the ground as I shoveled the snow off my deck. I got some very nice thumps and debris spray close up while at the same time getting some much need exercise.

I also pulled branches on the trees to make the snow fall off. This was tricky because you don’t know from which place on the tree the snow will fall from. All hell can break loose and you can get covered in snow and large trees do not move that easy. I have pulled to hard and landed on my ass way too many times for my comfort.

Snow Falling Off Trees

By now we have seen four storms come in during the week and the last one was after some freezing rain. Overnight the rain had turned to snow and piled up on the trees. There was very little wind and the next morning I headed out to the north east corner of my ranch to a grove of fir trees and heard some very nice falling snow. The snow was falling on it’s own and with a little help from a light breeze. As the morning warmed up the snow was falling continuously.

I recorded from many locations looking for the best angle and I had some luck. The falling snow was unpredictable and I was just winging it most of the time. I tried not to get too close under the trees as I never knew where the snow was going to fall off. I recorded some close falling sounds but the best part was hearing the distant ones from high up the tall trees making their way to the ground.

I was lucky that the morning was quiet and there was a soft wind. A stronger wind would have masked the sound of the crystals tumbling over each other.

Snow Recording 2012 Trees

Snow Recording 2012 Trees

Snow Recording 2012 Trees

A Few Snow Recording Tips

1. Observe and learn the best times to record the different kinds of snow. Wet snow occurs during a warm up or after the sun has come out and spread its heat on everything. You should best get this at the start of the warm up as the dripping that can occur can ruin your recordings depending on where you are located. Dry snow is best recorded when it’s really cold in the morning or at night when there is less activity going on in the world, you get cleaner recordings.

2. Wear non-synthetic clothing. I do not wear any “plastic” winter clothing as it can make noise when you move around or if any snow hits your body. Don’t laugh but I have a pair of pull on leather UGG boots I wear for recording snow. They have no buckles, zippers or laces to make noise that can destroy any chance of a good clean take.

3. If you are recording soft, low level snow sounds it’s best to stand away from the microphones. Sometimes this is not possible so make sure you have a comfortable spot to stand and don’t move. Breathe lightly and make sure your feet are planted securely as the longer you stand the more chance of slipping or adjusting yourself which can get in the recording.

4. I really don’t like to record everything with a Windjammer over the microphone but with snow it is almost a requirement. I’ve had lots and lots of snow fall on the microphone and this lessens any chance of the “hitting the microphone” plastic click sound.

5. When recording snow blizzard wind turn that low cut filter on. I tend to use 80Hz but sometimes 160Hz works depending on the rumble from the wind.

6. This probably goes without saying but if you plan on being outside in the bitter cold for any longer than 10 minutes, dress appropriately and keep yourself warm… especially your hands. Be safe and pack your flask.

FYI

Here is what can happen when they don’t plow the road and you don’t have four wheel drive:

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

One of the things I’ve always wanted to record was the sound of the snow falling off the towering Fir trees here in North Idaho. For the last 15 years I’ve tried many times but the conditions were always terrible. There was usually too much wind or the trees were wet and dripping or it was just plain impossible to get clean recordings. Over this past Thanksgiving weekend the conditions were perfect. Over a 3 day period 18 inches of snow had fallen, it was really cold and there was no wind to speak off. Now all I had to do was figure a way to get the snow to fall off the trees.

I recorded 3 sessions. The first time I went out I used a hand held AT-835ST on a boom along with a garden hoe to pull on a branch to see if I could shake the tree a little. There I was garden hoe in one hand and the microphone boom in the other while standing in knee deep snow. I got some good recordings but I had to jump out of the way sometimes to avoid getting covered with snow and it got into the take. So after slogging back to the house soaking wet and freezing I listened to the recordings and wanted to get better ones.

Next I tried the CSS-5 without the boom and pulled low hanging branches on the trees. This worked well but I still had to get clear of the snow falling so I needed to try one more thing. I also found out after listening that the Rycote zepplin without a Windjammer was picking up the sound of the snow hitting it. Keep in mind that a tree can hold a lot of snow and when it comes down, there is substantial snow that falls. I love that feeling of snow falling on my head and going down the back of my neck.

I wanted even cleaner recordings so I went out a third time with the CSS-5 on a mic stand with a Windjammer. This worked really well. I was able to set the mic in the snow and from the other side of the tree grab a branch and give it a good pull. During the previous sessions I used the SD-702’s Low Cut filter at 80Hz because I was holding the microphones in my hand and wanted to reduce handling noise rumble. This last session I was able to turn the filter off and get nice full frequency recordings.

Needless to say I got soaking wet during all three sessions and my winter clothes are still drying out in front of the woodstove. Enjoy the sound demo because I had a great time recording some sounds I’ve been looking to get for over 15 years.

-Frank

Recording set-up: Sound Devices 702, Sanken CSS-5 and Audio Technica AT-835ST recording at 24Bit/96kHz.

Snow Recording

This what you look like when you get too close to the trees when they dump their snow off

Snow Falling Off Trees 2010 by therecordist

Snow Recording

Some of the trees I recorded

Snow Recording

The CSS-5 in the snow, got some good takes here

Snow Recording

Yeah, this is an odd looking tree

Snow Recording

The CSS-5 near some really tall Fir trees

Snow Recording

I stepped back for a photo and caught some snow falling, strange luck!

Recording a Blizzard 11-22-2010

For the past few days it has been incredibly cold for this time of year in North Idaho. Along with this cold came some very strong winds and blowing snow from Canada. With temperatures at 1 degree above zero and a wind chill of -25 degrees below zero, recording was going to be a challenge. I had a chance to record some of this wind and snow over a two day period.

The first part of the audio demonstration was recorded early evening on the 23rd right outside my front door which faces North. The wind had the strongest gusts at this time and the snow was so thick visibility was around 20 feet. I set my CSS-5 on a small stand without the furry windcsreen and stereo width set to wide. You can hear the wind softly hitting the microphone and the snow debris flying around. There were some dry leaves and sticks in the woods that flew by also.

The next part was recorded later that night around 2 AM. I was soundly sleeping when a huge wind gust slammed the house and woke me up. It sounded like a frieght train was ripping through the house. I found my patio furniture and other items I left on my deck all over the yard. I quickly grabbed the CSS-5 and stuck it out the door on my deck which faces West. You can hear the wind slowly approaching through the trees and gently passing by with snow crystals swirling about. You will also notice how quiet it is here, thats the way I like it!

Because it was so cold I only recorded for 6 to 10 minutes. I was worried the CSS-5 would freeze and be destroyed. I did notice that the cable was stiff as a board after bringing the gear in.

PS: I did sit inside during the recording with the cable run under the door corner to the oustide. I might be crazy but I’m not stupid, I would never stand outside and record with a -25 degree wind chill. I like my big nose, I would not want it to freeze off.

Enjoy the audio clip. This one is different for me because I’m usually recording smashing, impacts, scraping, dumping, squishing, dragging, dropping and the like.

-Frank

Blizzard Wind In Idaho 11-22-2010 by therecordist

The story behind Ultimate Snow SFX Library

Snow is another of the sound sources I’ve used quite a bit in the video games I’ve worked on such as Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights and Demigod.

North Idaho gets its share of snow. Living here in the winter is fairly tough when we get lots and lots of snow but it also creates an wonderful opportunity to record some great snow sounds. We get all kinds of snow: slushy, icy, brittle, hard, soft, heavy, light, you name it. Over the last 5 years or so I’ve collected quite a bit of snow recordings at 24bit 96K.

So, where do I start on the story of making this library? Well, most if not all these sounds were recorded at a time when I was not documenting my experience or taking pictures of the actual recording session. I was also very busy working on 2 or 3 video games at a time so the recordings were very spontaneous. I’m working from memory here and I hope I can remember all the great things that happened when I was recording this snow library.

The first thing that comes to mind is I would never really plan recording because of the nature of winter up here in North Idaho. Snow can arrive, melt or freeze at any hour during the day or night so I tried to be ready to record anything at any time. Also, the conditions outside had to be as optimal for recording as they could be.

The conditions outside I remember waiting for before recording:

  • The wind to be calm
  • The temperature to get above 25 degrees;
  • The neighbors’ dogs to stop barking
  • The cars to stop driving by
  • The train rumble and horns to go away
  • The nearby snowblowers to stop
  • The snow on the roof to fall off
  • The snow to pile up in the yard to 12 feet or more
  • The energy to move large amounts of snow around
  • The caffine to kick in

As you can see, winter recording can be a challenge so being ready with the right gear and mics is the way to go.

Sometimes setting up was just grabbing the Sony PCM-D1 off the shelf and opening the door to record a large snow-pack sliding off the metal roof…. in less than 20 seconds. The snow would start moving down the roof making a soft creaking sound and that was my cue to jump and go. Other times I would bang on the edge of the roof with my fist and see if I could tease it to come down after a long night of snow.

Ultimate Snow

This is the best place to get snow falling of the roof

Some of the best snow slides I recorded were of the massive snowbanks that I would pile up on the edge of the driveway with the tractor. I tried to get them as high as I could so I could throw chunks of snow down the sides.

Ultimate Snow

2009 was the year I recorded some great snow slides

As the end of winter came near, the snow would start to melt a little and the snowbanks would harden up a bit. I would try and grab the largest chunks of snow I could with the John Deere bucket and drop them.

Ultimate Snow

Is this snow chunk big enough?

My garage has a huge metal roof and the snow really piles up over the winter months especially if it stays cold for a extended period of time. I had a few recording sessions with this roof and got some great slides and impacts.

Ultimate Snow

The chimney eventually was torn off the roof by the snow later that year

Ultimate Snow

The mic is down below somewhere

I do remember one day I was recording some snowball impacts and rubs and I noticed the volume level of my feet and body movements while I was recording. It was really cold outside but the sun was shining so it didn’t seem that cold. The snow must have been just the right temperature because I had never heard my movements so loud. I tried to muffle the sound of my feet, jacket and snow pants but I could still hear some of it in my takes. So I decided to seize the moment and record a bunch of mountain climbing foley sounds. I walked, ran, stomped, struggled, slid, slipped and fell all over the high snow banks and ended up with some really great foley sounds.

Ultimate Snow

This is what the yard looks like around mid February

I did have some goof ups along the way. One time it was so cold (around 5 Degrees) that I rushed outside with my SD 702 and CSS-5 and wanted to record the soft and dry type of snow. In my haste I forgot to check the 702 record status light. I thought I hit the record button but no, major shmuckiness! The other time was when I was using my FR-2 with AA batteries and I forgot that the cold doesn’t make them last very long. I kept performing with the snow and did not realize the recorder had shut off. Maybe the batteries were duds, who knows. I do most of my recording alone without wearing headphones so I wish I had a clone to man the recorder sometimes.

So there you have it, my somewhat scattered memory of recording snow over the last few years. I learned a few about recording in the cold. Number one –  try not to, you can get extremely cold… Seriously:

  • Dress warm
  • Remember to press the record button
  • Check the batteries
  • Make sure the microphone stands are on firm ground
  • Be ready at a moments notice
  • Don’t physically over do it, the air is cold and dry
  • Drink lot’s of water if you are active
  • Wipe the snow off the gear when your done
  • Check the microphones for any freeze damage

-Frank

Previous Sneak Peek Post with audio clip

Ultimate Snow SFX Library Sneak Peek

North Idaho gets its share of snow. Living here in the winter is fairly tough when we get lots and lots of snow but it also creates an wonderful opportunity to record some great snow sounds. We get all kinds of snow: slushy, icy, brittle, hard, soft, heavy, light, you name it. Over the last 5 years or so I’ve collected quite a bit of snow recordings at 24bit 96K. I’ve been recording snow since the DAT days and am totally amazed by the quality HD audio provides when recording snow.

Sometime over the next few weeks I will be releasing the massive Ultimate Snow SFX Library.

Here is a preview of what’s coming.

Ultimate Snow

2008-2009 was the winter of massive amounts of snowfall in my driveway

Ultimate Snow Sneak Peek 1 by therecordist

Ultimate Snow

Yep, going to drop this one!

Ultimate Snow

The chimney eventually was torn off the roof by the snow

Ultimate Snow

I need a frakkin' break sometimes