The Northwest Soundscapes Project is a year-long series of field recordings from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The series is divided into two libraries: Natural Location Open Air Impulse Responses and Natural Soundscapes of the Northwest.
The soundscapes will be long, usable, multi-channel recordings that capture the ambience and life of an area, across three times of day for every location: dawn, mid-day, dusk. As I’ll be camping out to record, many will also include pre-dawn and midnight! Every soundscape with be digitally edited and mastered at 24-bit/ 96khz and 15-30 minutes in length.
From each area I’ll also be recording impulse responses from the most interesting nearby natural and open-air locations. These include forests, open mountainsides, caves, and riverbeds. Delivered as true-multichannel and true-stereo IRs, you’ll be able to use them in any commercial convolution reverb, including Altiverb, Space Designer, Reverberate, and more.
The finished collection will deliver AT LEAST 36 unique natural location open air impulse responses and 72 soundscape recordings. Exhaustive metadata will be included, including GPS location, time of day, and microphone setup.
72+ quad recordings at 15+ minutes each… that’s 18+ hours of new, detailed, diverse multi-channel natural soundscapes delivered in multi-channel and down-mixed stereo formats.
But wait... there's more! These are highly diverse, living soundscapes we'll be exploring together. Half the beauty of a recording expedition is finding something new to record. All backers at or above The Big Gulp level will have access to curated highlights of what we discover along the way!
WHY WOULD I DO THIS?
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the last great untouched wilderness in North America. Not only is it a place of stunning visual beauty, but it’s also a place of startling sonic beauty. Sadly, every day humanity creeps in a little bit farther, and this beauty is more endangered than ever before. I want to document it for future generations to have and guard against its loss.
I started The Northwest Soundscapes Project to create a massive library of recordings that will be available to sound and media professionals for creative use, hobbyist listeners who enjoy natural soundscapes, naturalists studying the sonic health and viability ("sonic ecology") of native ecosystems, educators, musicians, and anyone else who needs or desires high quality multi-channel soundscapes and natural open-air impulse responses.
This Kickstarter funds the production of the library at a much higher quality than I could handle alone. Without funding, I'll continue working on The Northwest Soundscapes Project, but it'll be a lower quality collection created on a much more sporadic basis.
A LITTLE ABOUT ME
My name is Andy Martin. I’ve been a commercial, television, feature film, and video game sound designer for over fifteen years. My credits include video games such as Grim Fandango and the inFAMOUS franchise and animated TV and films such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
I’m also an active field recordist. In my work, I’ve always sought out the most unique recording sources I can. Since moving to Seattle in 2007, I’ve been slowly recording and documenting my way across the Northwest. Most of my recording trips have been for my own purposes and collection as I experimented with differing recording techniques, and were not planned for commercial use. Now I want to return to previous locations and explore new destinations to document them properly.
To create a diverse, detailed, and deep library of sound recordings from throughout the Pacific Northwest, I'll be traveling from the high desert of central Oregon to the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula to the thundering ocean shores to the ethereally quiet mountainsides to the semi-arid Columbia Plateau.
There are nine recognized ecoregions in Washington alone, and we plan on visiting every one.
Destinations include, but are not limited to:
- Pacific Northwest Coast: Olympic Peninsula for Quinalt Forest, La Push, The Hoh Rainforest
- Puget Trough: into the many islands of the PNW and the surrounding environs of Seattle
- North Cascades: Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, including some of the largest expanses of wilderness in the lower 48 states
- West Cascades: Mt St Helens, Trout Lake and other destinations around the Mt Adams lowlands
- East Cascades: Lake Chelan down to the Columbia River Gorge
- Okanogan: Sherman Lake and Colville National Forest
- Columbia Plateau: Columbia River Basin, Mt Hood, and Central Oregon’s prairies and high desert
- More, more, more
All locations will be difficult to access and far from humanity and anthropogenic sound sources. Lodging will be non-existent and I’ll be camping out in a tent or in my car depending on location.
A YEAR OF EXPEDITIONS
I’ll be conducting regular monthly expeditions for a full year, starting in April 2016 and concluding in April 2017.
Regular updates will be posted before, after, and even during (when possible) expeditions both here on Kickstarter and on my personal website, northwestsoundscapes.com (goes live AFTER this campaign!), and social media.
Highlights of every soundscape will be posted for streaming (stereo, 44.1 kHz/ 16bit 128k mp3 quality) along with stories for each location will be mapped on northwestsoundscapes.com as a living document. Even after this project is finished, we'll keep recording and adding to it.
THE RECORDING PROCESS
All Natural Location Open Air Impulse Responses will be recorded with the same microphone configuration, but the 744t will act as a backup recorder, passing through via an AES digital connection to an interface on my MacBookPro laptop.
I use Apple’s quite brilliant Impulse Utility to generate a 50s sweep and deconvolve the result. The sweep is played back via an Adam A8X speaker from multiple locations to achieve a true-multichannel impulse response, not simple single-point setups. This means a full sweep will be played for each channel of the response — one each for front left, front right, rear left, and rear right — with the speaker moved for each setup and all four channels recording every time. In convolution reverb-speak this is called “true-multichannel” (“true-stereo” for a stereo down-mix) and results in a 16 channel wav file for a quad response!
Testing for all impulse responses will be done in AudioEase Altiverb, Avid Space, Liquidsonics Reverberate, and Apple Space Designer (part of Logic Pro and MainStage). Delivered as broadcast wave files, you will be able to use them in most, if not all, commercial convolution reverbs.
All editing and mastering will be done in Pro Tools and RX5 Advanced software, with an integrated loudness of -30 LKFS for soundscapes and a peak of -1 db for impulse responses. Soundscape editing will be for content only, removing intrusive anthropogenic sounds, including any sniffling or movement sounds from myself. No additional sounds will be added.
DELIVERY: July 2017
Editing and mastering takes time. Recordings will be delivered to backers on an ongoing bi-monthly basis by download. The entire library will be complete and available for download to backers by July 2017.
At that point I’ll begin work to make it available for eventual commercial release in a curated form in late 2017 at an expected price point of $299 for the Natural Soundscapes of the Northwest and $199 for the Natural Location Open Air Impulse Responses, or a packaged price of $425 for both.
We'll investigate alternative forms of delivery along the way, potentially including small "destination packs" or "time of day" packs priced between $15-100 depending on size and popularity. Geared towards anybody who missed the chance to contribute to this Kickstarter or don't need or want a full, comprehensive library, they will not contain anything not already made available to backers. As regular deliveries are rolled out to backers, we'll begin making these smaller packs available shortly after.
I have much of what I need to accomplish this project, but not all. My current recording bag includes:
- Sony MDR 7520 headphones (possibly the best headphones I ever worn), Remote Audio HN-7506 noise-blocking headphones for critical listening in less than ideal environments
- Sennheiser MKH30+MKH8020 microphones for stereo omni-mid-side recording
- Rycote windshield and conn boxes for mounting the microphones
- Stands to hold the microphones and speaker
- Sound Devices 702 2-channel digital recorder
- Genelec 8020 (speaker for sweeps, not ideal)
- Apple MacBookPro and Impulse Response Utility
If this project were to be recorded and delivered in stereo only I could do it today. However, we’re aiming for multi-channel recordings here, so I need to make some additions:
- Sound Devices 744t multi-channel digital recorder to replace the 702 = $4319
- Sennhesier MKH8040 ST (matched pair) microphones = $2400
- Adam Audio A8X to replace the Genelec 8020 = $1000
- Stereo Windshield WS AE ORTF Kit to hold the MKH8040 pair = $899
- Equipment insurance and maintenance = $1000
- Kickstarter fees (5%) and payment processing fees (3%) = $800+
GRAND TOTAL = $10,500
Additional costs that I have already set aside budget for include travel expenses, food, national and state park fees, and camping fees totaling close to $4000.
So why am I only asking for $9,450? Excellent question!
I really want to keep the Kickstarter goal below $10,000. As I mentioned earlier, I'm doing this project whether Kickstarter funding comes through or not. By keeping the goal lower, I'm gambling that more backers like YOU will be willing to help out and actually push us over so we can do this right.
This Kickstarter funds the production of The Northwest Soundscapes Project at a much higher quality than I could manage alone, and puts it in the hands of backers and, later, other professional creatives, hobbyists, musicians, researchers, educators, and anyone else who needs or wants high quality multi-channel soundscapes and natural open-air impulse responses.
WHAT ABOUT AN EULA?
One is currently being drawn up. It won’t differ much if at all from what you're used to seeing on commercial libraries: unless otherwise noted, all licenses are for single-and-small-party use on any kind of media project you're working on. All tier levels from The Sponsor and higher will include a full site license. Don't copy, upload, or otherwise redistribute the tracks for sale standalone from any project. And please, don't claim ownership or origination of them.
REGARDING MICROPHONES AND SAMPLE RATES
I’ve been experimenting with various ambient recording techniques for a while now. Most of the examples on this page were recorded stereo in an Omni-Mid-Side configuration. The omnidirectional/ mid component is a Sennheiser MKH8020 and the bidirectional/ side component is a Sennheiser MKH30. The result is a wide and detailed stereo field.
I’m really fond of Sennheiser microphones for their extended high range, low noise, and overall clarity. Currently I own a pair of MKH8020 omnidirectional microphones, an MKH30 bi-directional, and one MKH8060 hypercardioid/ short-shotgun. With this Kickstarter campaign, I aim to upgrade to include a pair of MKH8040 cardioid to use for channels 3 and 4 for the quad recordings. I’ve made recordings like this in the past and am excited to do it on this project.
If you or someone you know works for either Sennheiser or Sound Devices and would like to discuss specific sponsorship opportunities for The Northwest Soundscapes Project, PLEASE CONTACT ME!
I’m often asked why I like to record at a sample rate of 192khz when it far exceeds human hearing and most microphones aren’t rated to record at frequencies high enough. My answer is this: so? From a purely technical point-of-view, just because a microphone hasn’t been “rated” to high frequencies doesn’t mean it can’t capture high frequencies. What it means is that the manufacturer has declined to report to the consumer the deviation from from an ideal that a given microphone captures at those frequencies. “+/- .1db 40hz to 20khz” looks a lot better on paper than “+/-4db 25hz to 55khz” does. Owning and experimenting with Sennheiser microphones has left me confident that they are capable of extremely high frequency resolution.
Recording at extreme sample rates has both a creative benefit and a research benefit.
CREATIVE: Most sound designers are prone to manipulation of their sound sources. Using microphones and a recorder capable of such high frequency resolution leaves me — and now YOU — with recordings that retain interesting and useful information when slowed down at an extreme from their source recording.
RESEARCH: I’m often surprised by the number of bat vocalizations that show up in my pre-dawn ambient recordings. I neither anticipated nor intended to record bats, and yet there they are, with fundamental (lowest) frequencies starting above 45khz. The highest frequency a sample rate of 96khz records is 48khz, so if I recorded at that rate or lower the bats be almost if not completely absent from my recordings! Bats are not the only example, but they’re a fun one to discover. Insects, many birds, and even very tiny mammals may have vocalizations far outside our human range of hearing. If I’m going to document soundscapes as they are, I need to document them at the fullest bandwidth I possible.
Risks and challenges
There are risks in every endeavor, are there not? Frankly, I can’t imagine too many that will stand in the way of this project. As I said above,this is something I WILL be doing even if the project doesn’t get funded, just with a considerably pared-down scope.
The easiest to expect challenges are:
Equipment failure: It happens to the best of us. Batteries fail. Recorders go on the fritz. Microphones act like chumps. Built into the funding goal is equipment insurance and budget for maintenance and redundancy, so that if something goes wrong 150 miles away other human beings I can keep recording.
Noise: Anthropogenic (human created) sound is creeping further and further into our natural wilderness soundscapes every day. It’s easy to believe you’re far away from everything, only to start recording and discover that there’s a frequent air travel route directly overhead. This will be dealt with, through intense research into flight patterns ahead of time, simply choosing another location, or — worst case scenario — editing the offending human noise out. I’d rather avoid that scenario as much as possible, but it is inevitable and will be used only when necessary.
Access: Many of our best wilderness locations are not easily accessible, either because they are not open to the public or because they require difficult travel to reach. It's more than likely that one destination may be inaccessible due to recent flooding or avalanche. The Pacific Northwest eco-region is large and diverse enough that most "destinations" are not limited to a single specific GPS location. Every trip will be planned with multiple choice sites in mind so that limited or averted access is not a problem.
Weather: Well, this can be a genuine problem. I've experienced my share of last-minute changes in location filed recording because of unexpected inclement weather. Pacific Northwest weather is volatile, and I'll be camping out in it! Most of the year we have pretty good warning in advance of the nasty storms, but sometimes they come up from seemingly nowhere with barely a day to prepare. I'll be planning alternatives for every trip so that last minute changes can be made in anticipation. This is the Northwest, though, so for simple rainy or cold weather, though, the trip goes on! Wind, rain, temperature... these are all aspects of the natural soundscape I'll be documenting.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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