Recording the backyard

Backyard field recording - March/April 2010

Over the course of the last fortnight I’ve been making field recordings of my backyard.  The recordings have been made on a Rode mono-interleaved directional mic at various times of the day in a few select locations.


Composer, music technologist and good friend Sebastian Tomczak and I have been meaning to collaborate on something for awhile now and this seemed like an ideal foil for a collaboration since we’ve coincidentally both been making field recordings recently.  You can hear some of Seb’s field recordings, here.

Backyards present themselves as interesting places to make recordings – in one sense demarcated, intimate and familiar yet open to the influence of neighbours, traffic and the greater urban landscape.  I live in the suburb of Unley – a leafy, upper-middle class area located about 2km south of the main Adelaide CBD.  It’s a relatively quiet area, though our street is a regular thoroughfare for cars and semi trailers on their way to the supermarket/mall up the road.   The backyard itself is a modest size, there’s a traditional hills hoist in the centre, grapevines (at the moment) covering one side of the fence, a small vegetable garden (currently being reformatted) a couple of trees and a generously sized shed that sits at the end of the driveway. The mud map below gives an overview of the space:

Backyard field recording - March/April 2010

So what does it sound like here?  It’s actually a lot more noisy than I first imagined! A recording of such a space, removes the visual element and the perceived stillness of the backyard is transformed in a calamitous sonic space of droning traffic, rattles of fences and the many activities of our neighbours – mainly our Italian landlord ex-bricklayer Pasquale; who is always doing something with a shovel, lawnmower, angle grinder and his mouth.

Backyard field recording - March/April 2010
Sennheiser headphones, my new mono-interleaved Rode microphone and the trusty Sony MZ-NH700 Mini Disc recorder.

Since I’ve been making the recordings with a mono microphone, aspects of spatialisation (and the dissemination of sounds) are less apparent and are concentrated into a single (matched) channel. In one sense you compromise an overall impression of the space, but there is an an advantage with being able to focus on locational/specific sounds (providing the surroundings aren’t too noisy.) One such example would be a bunch of dead leaves in the olive tree near the vegetable patch that make a wonderful scraping sound when a light breeze passes through them. I’ve been mostly drawn to capturing these dynamic sounds – rain on a tarp, the slight rattle of a fence, the various sounds of the hills hoist, and so forth.

Seb and I are set to merge our backyard recordings for the colab over the coming weekend. It will be interesting to hear what we come up with. Aside from this, the whole process of recording the backyard has certainly sharpened my awareness of the space and its characteristic sounds. Try it for yourself!


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