Getting ready to record – the Pole planning procedure

March 31, 2020

Getting ready to record – the Pole planning procedure

 

How do you locate a legendary aircraft like the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and how many meters of cable do you bring along to the field recording? Through the years the Pole crew has learned that a successful field recording is all about research, planning and – of course – packing.

First things first. Approximately, how many meters of cable do you bring to a field recording?

This is a serious issue that has caused many discussions over the years. Some of us want to calculate exactly how many meters are required for a specific session and tries to bring exactly that. Then there are those that play it safe and bring a whole lot more than is necessary and wind up with much more luggage than what is needed. I myself belong to the latter category and usually come back from a recording with a sore back from humping too much gear.

But to answer the question, a rough 220 meters of cable is required for the largest recordings such as airplanes and weapons recordings. But sometimes 30 meters of cable is enough. It’s all depending on what source we are to record.

 

But that’s pretty far from everything, right?

Well, first we have the recorders. The most important one these days is the Sonosax R4+ that we purchased last year. Without exaggerating it is definitely one of the most potent field recorders available, the mic preamps on that is the best sounding that we have heard this far. Our recorders always record in 24 bit 96kHz as the minimum bitrate and sample rate.

For other purposes we also bring an array of Sound Devices machines. We have one 788T, two 702T, one Mix Pre 10 (v2) and one Mix Pre 6 (v1). And then the invaluable workhorse of course, the ZOOM F8, which functions and delivers also in the harshest conditions. All in all we have capacity to simultaneously record 54 discrete channels of audio, so that we can cover just about any perspective on a complex field recording.

For many years the Zaxcom Fusion was our main workhorse. But the rough treatment, shaking around  in dirty vehicles in oil, dust, snow, wet and what not, has taken its toll. It has been repaired a couple of times, the touch screen replaced, but as we levelled up to record in 96 kHz and 192 kHz, we simply had to retire it.

So, let’s take a look inside our microphone bag. The first big investment that we did mic-wise was the 8 channel Holophone surround microphone. At that time, we used it as the main mic inside the vehicles, but now it is the centerpiece of our exterior setup, which everything revolves around. Coupled with that we use a handheld Neumann RSM 191 stereo shotgun mic, and two Sennheiser MKH8060s that take up a super wide stereo perspective.

Along the track we use, among other, Sanken CSS-5 handheld stereo shotgun, paired with a MKH8040 ORTF setup. There is also another ORTF setup with Schoeps CMC6s mk4. We have been using a Telinga parabolic dish for a long time too, and recently updated it to the last version with the Schoeps microphone, which is really nice.

Onboard we use an array of DPA lavalier mics. For really loud sources we use 4062s, altogether we have 12 of those, and for quieter stuff such as in the engine bay and interior sounds we use 4061s. We have about 10 of those. For exhaust we always use EV RE50s, Shure Beta 58s and DPA 4062s. For really big engines we add a DW Moon-mic to capture the really low frequencies.

In the engine bay we use, besides the 4061s, Crown PZM, Sennheiser MKH8020 and a Shure VP88 stereo mic. For air intakes we use 4062s.

Let’s jump inside the vehicle. In the center just next to the driver, is a Sennheiser Ambisonic VR mic, DPA 4021s in ORTF is usually in the back and also some DPA 4061s to cover more areas of the interior such as the trunk.

We also usually bring some wildcard mics for testing and to evolve our methods. This can be just about anything we get our hands on.

For non-vehicle SFX recordings we always gear up our recorders to 192 kHz and add our microphones for high frequency recordings. There we find Sanken 100k, Ehrlund M and M1s and Sennheiser MKH8020 often in AB.

On the packing checklist we also have more anonymous but highly important stuff.

Duct tape (special brand imported from the UK), cable ties, rags for cleaning surfaces, mic-stands,magic arms, suction mic mounts, gloves, tools, spare SD-cards, batteries, headphones, a bunch of small ”handheld” recorders,  and of course enough recordists to get as many perspectives and as much material as possible out of the session.

Recorder prep scaled

Prepping recorders and charging batteries at a hotel room prior a session.

 

 

That’s a lot of stuff. Who’s responsible for making sure you don’t forget anything?

Thankfully, we have Niklas nowadays. He is amazing at packing everything, each item in its own place and case. It makes it so easy when you arrive at the location, and you always know nothing is missing. Having everything in order also makes rigging and setting up faster, which is important during a stressful day. You could wish for the equipment to come back in the same order and shape too… It can be compared to being a fisherman, when you come back in from the sea, you need to take care of the catch, but also sort out the net and equipment to have it in order for the next day. Prepping the equipment before a session, and sorting it out after the session, is quite time consuming, which is important to remember when it comes to budgeting and making quotes for sessions.

 

Does it ever happen that you forget to bring something along?

It happens sometimes but to this day we have, knock on wood, not forgotten to bring anything of such importance that a session has been ruined. We always have e.g. backup cards and batteries etc. so that we are safe.

However, there was one time when we, on the other hand, didn’t forget to bring anything, and we mean literally anything. That was back in the really early days, and the first time that Mats and Max went abroad to record vehicles: to Dijon in France attending test days for GTR cars on a track located in the area. We had very little grasp of what was ahead of us, we actually didn’t have any agreement with any of the teams but were more or less going down there to see what we could get. So we figured we had to make sure that we could manage any situation that could occur, and for that matter we brought everything we could ever think of as possibly useful: drilling machine, metal plates of different sizes, tools… you name it, we had it! We had almost 90 kg overweight on that trip and the cost for bringing the bags aboard the plane was not a small sum of money. Did we get any recordings? We got home with half a lap of a Corvette going around the track. Did we use any of the tools or the drilling machine? No. Did we learn anything? Hell yes!

Another experience that ended well, but could have gone horribly wrong, was the time when we travelled to Japan to record cars for the upcoming Need For Speedgame. With us on the trip was the ever so excellent Mathias Grünewald, and to this day it’s one of the best recording experiences we’ve had. What happened was that one bag got lost in transfer in Helsinki, and we ended up losing parts of the equipment. This session took place near Fukushima, four hours north of Tokyo, and there was no way we could have found replacement gear in that area (Max found replacement underwear though, it was lost in the same bag). We were so incredibly lucky that nothing super essential was in that specific bag. Had for example the battery chargers or the recorders, or certain microphones been packed in them, we’d been in severe difficulties, but luckily, we were okay. Did we get the bag back? It arrived on the third day with a delivery service, just after noon, when we were packing up to travel back home.

What have we learned from all these experiences? A lot, but one important thing is that we always carry enough equipment in our carry-on bags when travelling abroad, so that we can always manage a recording even if bags get lost in transfer. And we never pack all recorders in one bag, and all microphones in another. We mix them up, so that we can still get the job done is we lose one bag.

 

And when you go out to record, I guess it takes a lot of planning regarding where to record and getting permits from authorities?

It sure takes a lot of planning, depending on the character of the session. But we can take one example of one of the more complex recordings we have done recently, that took place outside of Los Angeles. It all started, as many recordings often do, when we were contacted by one of our customers with a specific request. However, this time, the request was quite exotic in nature and required some extra attention and pre-planning.

We were asked to locate and record two warbirds from WWII. One of them was super rare, in fact the only airworthy one with an authentic engine, the infamous Mitsubishi A6M a.k.a Zero, known to many as the plane used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The other plane was a Vought F4U Corsair, one of the most used US WWII fighters usually stationed on carriers.

 

zero scaled

Rigging the Mitsubishi Zero at Apple Valley Airport, California.

 

After some research through our extensive network, we soon found out that Planes of Fame at Chino Airport in California had both of these warbirds in their collection. Both in airworthy condition and frequently used in their airshows. So the first step was to contact the museum to see if we could get access to the planes and permission to record them at an airfield. We had visited Chino in the past for recordings, but that time it was only stationary recordings and no flying involved.

And it was about then we realized it would be different this time, and not as easy a last time. First of all, we needed to secure an airfield. Since we need an airfield where the planes can blast by us at high speeds but at minimum altitude, this is not as easy as it may sound. Most airfields, especially commercial ones, have restrictions on how low you are permitted to fly. This is the case for Chino so we needed to find an airfield that was close enough to get the planes there, and where no restrictions would get in our way to do what we needed. Eventually we found our spot, Apple Valley Airport, a couple of hours north of LA. In this particular case, we could not be too picky about our location, but it’s always good advice to check out the location on a map, look for possible disturbances around the location such as industries, forests with possible birds, highways, trains, other airfields and so on. If not at least to be well prepared on what to expect once you arrive at the location.

Now we had to cut through the red tape. You need all kinds of documents and permissions from the government to perform a recording like this in the US. You need filming permissions, even for audio only, from various authorities. You also need both extensive and very expensive insurances, to cover aircrafts worth 10 million dollars. We soon learnt that setting up insurances does not really work the same way as in Europe. After contacting almost every insurance company working with film, being rejected by all, we eventually turned to US agencies, and eventually we found one that could help us out. Having insurances to cover the planes was not enough, since they would be flying, it also had to cover the airfield and all the employees at the location.

Arranging all this took us countless of hours on the phone and filling out and handing in documents. To make all of this easier, and for legal reasons, we involved a dear friend of us, already located in the US, to help us out. Without his patience and help we would not have been able to sort everything out, so big shout out to our man Charles Maynes!

Once the paperwork is in place, there’s plenty of other things you need to take care of. Plane recordings takes plenty of cables, microphone stands and possibly sandbags. It makes no sense for us to bring heavy equipment like that all the way from Sweden, so it has to be rented and delivered to the location. You need to make sure everyone involved has a deep understanding of your expectations and requirements. No personnel can move around while you are recording, not even kick a stone in the dirt. Microphones are everywhere and will hear everything, and you don’t want a low flyby being ruined by some background chatter or footsteps. The session is way too expensive for that.

 

Are there any other preparations you need to do prior to a field recording?

Even if you think you have covered everything there is always a surprise coming your way. If it’s not the weather, it’s locals, a dog running off with a microphone, a bunch of sheep showing up at a nearby field or other things outside your control. I guess what we’re trying to say is that you can’t plan for everything, but you can be prepared for the unknown. The more well prepared you are, the bigger chances you have to sort out any eventualities and come home with a good result.

 

Can you give a few examples of recording locations?

When we record vehicles locally, we have our favorite places and use those to limit the element of surprise. One of them is Lunda airfield located near Uppsala, not far from Stockholm. Another one is Malmby located close to Eskilstuna. We even have a recurring location down in Italy close to Pisa. It’s a small airport that we have used several times.

For more awkward stuff, like dropping objects from cranes etc., we use Niklas and Robins family property outside of Stockholm. An amazing place, tons of props and a warm-hearted family doing anything we ask for to help. When it comes to weapon and military stuff, it’s on a case by case basis. We need to travel to where the action is.

 

The vehicles you record, how do you locate them and how do you get them to the recording sites?

During the years, both as petrol heads, but also as recordists, we have built a huge network, which is key when it comes to finding vehicles. There is always someone who knows someone who have that specific vehicle we are looking for. And for every session we go on, our network grows. This is the main reason to why we in most cases manage to find what we are looking for.

In cases where we need to search outside of our network, for example doing a session abroad, we try to locate a group, club or museum related to the vehicles we are looking for. Once we establish contact we go from there.

When it comes to getting the vehicles to the recording sites, there are two scenarios. One is if the museum, club or group have their own location we can use, in that case the vehicles are most probably already there. The other one is if we need to transport vehicles to an offsite location, then we usually include that in our access fee and the owner takes it there.

Sourcing vehicles, and other objects to record, is extremely time consuming. We are very lucky to have Linus, who is a passionate car nut, onboard as a dedicated resource to manage this. He takes care of everything from sourcing the vehicles, setting up the on-site time plan, making sure the right car shows up at the right time, talking to owners, getting food, sorting the papers and all of the boring stuff, making sure that the recordists can focus on just rigging and recording. It takes away a lot of pressure from them, but most of all, makes the day much more efficient.

 

linus scaled

Linus taking care of business preparing the barbeque during a stressful session.

 

And what if a tank runs into a brick wall and crush it, who pays the bill?

It’s important to have the right coverage when doing recordings with expensive equipment and vehicles. And not to mention everyone working there. When we do recordings locally, all owners have their own insurance. As an example, the airfield has one covering the location, we have one covering our employees and the vehicle owners have their own. But as in the previous example, when we recorded the planes, we needed to arrange everything and carry the coverage for location, vehicles and personnel.

It’s also very important to clarify in advance the “what happens if?”. Who pays if there is a thunderstorm on your recording day, and you have travelled with a team of five people and have lined up seven cars on an expensive track? Who pays if the old tank doesn’t start on the day of your recording? We once had a Lamborghini engine give up during a session. It was not our fault, but our client took no responsibility. We had to pay the crew, the track and our travels. And we felt extremely bad for the owner. On another occasion, we were hired to record a bunch of very old vehicles. We set out to record the first one, a motorcycle from the 20s. Once there, the bike didn’t start, so the client didn’t get anything useful from us. After that, we added in the contract, that the vehicles were to be started the day before our arrival, and that a mechanic should be on-site. If we fulfilled that, and we still couldn’t run the vehicle, we should not be held responsible. So, to avoid any unpleasant surprises, it’s very important to answer “the what ifs” in advance.

 

What you don’t want to experience on a session… A 1920 motorcycle not starting.

 

Next month Pole will let you know what takes place on location during an actual field recording. Stay tuned!

 

 

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