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June 8, 2010


Street Recording – The Importance of The ‘Sound Map’

by soundlandscapes

In yesterday’s post I gave some tips about making street recordings in which I emphasised the importance of building a ‘sound map’ in your head of the location you intend to record in before you start to record. This is especially important when you are making discreet recordings in binaural stereo using in-ear microphones and when you can’t monitor the recording levels visually or monitor the recording through headphones. Today, I want to give an example of how this is done in practice.

A couple of weeks ago I was making street recordings in Montmartre, a particularly fruitful part of Paris for the sound hunter. I had made several recordings when I spied a man playing a harp at the side of Sacre Coeur. I was determined to get a recording of this.

As I approached the man I began to build my sound map of the location. I could see three problems. First, the harp was not amplified so my target sound source would be relatively quiet. Second, the harpist was surrounded by tourists none of whom seemed to be listening to him in silence so there would be the tourist chatter to contend with. Third, if I was to record the harp what might happen? Scanning the location I caught sight of a tourist train off to the right. I knew that these tourist trains have a bell which rings every couple of minutes or so to attract customers. If the bell rang while I was recording the harp, how loud would it be?

I factored the three problems into my sound map. As well as making a judgement about what record levels to set on my recorder I had one other tool at my disposal – my feet! By selecting to stand in the right position, preferably as close to the harp as it was possible to get, I could better balance the quiet sound of the harp with the tourist chatter and the might be of the bell sounding. This all sounds quite complicated but in fact I built my sound map, decided on the recording levels to set and picked the spot where I intended to stand all in the time it took me to walk up to the harpist.

In the final recording the bell did appear – twice, the tourist chatter wasn’t too intrusive and I think I got a decent recording of the harp.

What do you think?

A Harp in Montmartre:


This recording was made using Soundman OKMII binaural in-ear microphones and a Nagra ARES-M recorder. It was recorded in Linear PCM 44.1kHz/16 bit and compressed to mp3 for this post. Apart the addition of a “fade-in” and a “fade-out” there is no editing or processing post-recording.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. dpoa
    Nov 7 2010

    I am interested in doing a lengthy urban field recording, and this is something that I have within the last half hour decided to do. So basically what I am trying to say is that I generally know nothing about capturing audio. I’m not looking for something with perfect sound quality etc but I would like to caputre something decent. Furthermore that situations that I would be recording generally have one clear and pretty prominent sound source. With all this being said, what would you suggest for me in terms of equipment (something relatively cheap i hope)?

    Thanks for the help

  2. good article … as I read it, I wonder about my process when I record streetscapes. I tend to record intuitively. The approach that you take makes me wonder if I could make even more effective recordings if I mapped out the scenario as you have done. It’s a tough call .. when I’m too intellectual, sometimes it doesn’t work .. but sometimes it does .. hmm hmm

    • Oct 4 2011

      Thanks for the comment Victoria. This concept of building a sound map is much less complicated than it sounds. I seem to do it instinctively. I think of it as ‘observing’ or ‘visualising’ the sounds that are there along with those that might appear and then finding the best vantage point from which to record much as a photographer would do in framing a photograph.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Better metering in the field for wildlife and field recording mono compatibility | Richard Mudhar
  2. Better metering in the field for wildlife and field recording mono compatibility – Enquiring Ear
  3. Guide to Urban Field Recording and Street Recording - The History of Sound Recording
  4. Better metering in the field for wildlife and field recording mono compatibility – Richard Mudhar

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