New England Spring – Editing a Soundscape

I’ve got a collection of recordings from various nature reserves and conservation land in eastern Massachusetts. I’ve made the recordings over the past several years in the spring — woodfrogs, marsh birds, woodland birds, long segments of catbirds, lots of different song sparrows, a very animated red squirrel. My current project is to edit them into a long-playing soundscape.

If you’re curious what I do, here’s the procedure. I do all the processing in MOTU Digital Performer.

1. Everywhere around here is in earshot of noise, so the first step is to filter the recordings to get rid of distracting sound. If the recording is mainly birds tweeting and singing, I can hi-pass filter it with a cutoff of around 1500Hz.  That nicely removes distant cars and airplanes. If woodpeckers are drumming or geese are honking, there’s more low frequencies and I can’t filter as drastically.

 It’s interesting how when you’re actually outdoors, you hear the traffic less and the birds more, unless the traffic is deafening. The brain focuses on the birds. However, on the recording, the traffic is very distracting. The brain focuses on the whole recording.

2. Next I find the sections of the recordings that are usable and create separate files, naming them to identify the main sounds. Unusable includes my own footsteps, handling noise on the mic, and airplanes directly overhead. I may find a use for the footsteps somewhere though.

3. Finally, I load up all the edited pieces and arrange them in an evolving soundscape, layering and blending into a seamless track. I try to maintain fidelity to reality and combine files that came from the same place and time.

(Right now a catbird is singing, loudly, right outside my window.)

By the way, you can sample, and buy, two of my soundscapes, Costa Rica and the Everglades,  at spindrift.bandcamp.com .

Next time I’ll write about creating nature music from the recordings.

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