Field Recording: Animals. Pigs

Pointing a Microphone at the Pigs

My trip back to Germany this year was packed with true recording excitement! Since I am a big fan of animal vocalization and could use a fresh set of sounds for an upcoming game project the timing seemed perfect to hit the field. Animal vocalization can be a great resource and foundation for creating emotional sound effects. They can be used for expressive textures/layers as they have good organic and tonal base. If being used wisely they can add a fair amount to the  overall quality for a specific design setting. Each animal sound represents a unique and different tonal quality, as well as the content of dynamic diversity that can be produced is wide! Processed or unprocessed. Simply to just make use of them as to establish a rhythm or inspiration for later removal (like a placeholder) can help speed up decision making in the design process.

The widely used foundation where animal sound sources melt into the sound design process are for instance creature effects. An overly used animal source are pigs, lions (wildcats) bears, dogs, everything with grunts, growls, snarls, barks sniffs, breaths etc. Some may disagree and find it boring as it has been overly used – which I partly agree with. But they are emotional and powerful and if they suit the context of whats needed within a current setting… so why not simply use them? One can always approach the process differently in terms of modern modulation dsp (pitch), audio resolution (196khz), kyma, microphone selection or positioning and so on. I think that there are many ways to still come up with interesting modification techniques that affect your sounds. However, I’ve seen/heard some very good human performances on creatures (including my self). It does greatly relay on motif and context of the sound subject and the direction of sound aesthetic required. It’s like composing a musical score, finding its core instrumentation to harmonically blend together a range of instruments. Ideally, each project should have a unique approach to the overall design decisions. Although, I agree that in some cases this can be time consuming and possibly require a financial backup.

In the movie “I am Legend”, sound supervisor Skip Leyvsy hired a Hollywood based voice artists, who apart from being a composer also performs creature vocalization. In this case, the movie’s enemies were once real human characters transforming into zombies. Hiring a specialist and keeping true human aesthetics alive  turned out to be a great way to go. However, there are many ways of accomplishing the right effect, such as to combine animal layers with that of a humans.

Here is a re-design I did after I’ve seen the trailer of the new novel Nocturnal by Scott Sigler on Vimeo. Lots of pigs and human recordings used in there to shape the idea of the various creatures in his world. Check it out!

Animal sessions ain’t easy! Would you agree? I think that every recordists would compliment on it (or fisherman). It can be really hard and even disappointing to get the very best results out of such a field trip. Not only does a good recording depend on the species itself, but also: climate, season, time of the day or environmental influences that may determine the outcome of your data.

Before hitting the field it’s advised to look up sound related references ahead  of time (i.e, to get a better idea of what to target and to expect! :) Low-fi audio is enough to get the picture! Also research on species can help to find out the animal’s most active day circles, eating habits or routines, combined with studying common body language and other unique behaviors. On the long run, a shotgun mic can get heavy, so be sure to save your muscle energy for the very right moment. You can chat up with institutions and ask for specifics on animals and their prime moments. Usually, they are comfortable to share! One time I was in need of wolf howls and a nice lady at Schorfheide Wild Park in Brandenburg shared some good insight with me when it’s best to visit.

I have tried to record at Zoos, parks and commercial wildlife territories, on boats (whale watching) and in the wild. Certainly, material can always be filtered or processed and make up for cool sounds, often times non-related to your initial expectation which get refereed as: Accidents! Although, you can’t relay on them all the time. Best is to stick with what you aimed for. Sounds that got stuck in your head.

However, I don’t recommend city zoos or anything that its located in a city polluted with a constant low-rumble, airplane pass-bys or loud screaming school classes. Although, the lows you can always cut depending on the animal source frequency range. You can also try to go early at the last hour of their opening times. A good timing is around mid-week in the winter, when local birds (the ones stealing the food of the exhibits) or insects become less audible overall. In general, bird houses or birds can be quite okay. However, I think by now, I could actually assemble a whole tourist-kids crowd library from collected content over the years ;)

My general experience with zoo visits around the world have been mixed. Wouldn’t it be funny to claim, that I found zoo crowds in Europe  to be much quieter compared to … the US?! Anyways… Lets blame it on the animals :)

This bison below, I recorded at a great Wildlife Park in Poing a small town close to Munich. They have extremely quiet terrains with an interesting and wide range of wild and native European animals. If park keeper tend to treat their animals respectfully (lots of open space with hygienic overall treatment) their animals will most likely perform great, simply by nature law. Especially the pairing seasons can be quite exciting. If you don’t find time to go out into the field to capture unique source material, sound libraries can do the job as well. I highly recommend the Creatures Library from the team over at BOOM with their vast collection of inspiring material based off all kinds of vocalization. The packages includes a fairly wide range of usable production asset.

Apart from public wildlife parks and animals caged zoos we’ll also find good animal material at more traditional places, such as on a farm. They are a great bunch and I respect and value every single one of them for their strong attitude towards nature and producing from life’s resources. With the idea to eventually feed us. I actually grew up in a rural area myself and one thing I still remember were the endless possibilities to get creative in our play. Hay barns hideouts and other exciting stuff. Much to see and more to do! Especially when your young. Back in time, building a tree house was kind of cool! Way too old school at today’s life! Am I that old?! New media has taken the lead on mass entertainment and we see kids play computer games with friends over the internet or on handheld devices more and more. I’d argue it will take another generation to pass for the appreciation of building ‘tree houses’ to return.

However, animals are commonly the big thing at a farm among machinery and vegetable fields. You’ll find pigs, cows, chicken, cats, dogs, doves, horses or even camels (which mainly depends on the farm’s product focus). I found that talking to farmers about sound recordings is very similar to making good friends. Farmers, much alike recordists (and any other passionate individuals who love their profession) tend to geek out about what they love to do. In my case  it is SOUND! And their case … FARMING. good communication and  social skills are needed in order to get the best for your recordings! Farmers don’t often get visitors and to let along someone visit their farm, life and facility it’s  usually new to most of them. It can be critical! So be tactical!  Below are some tips before going to meet a farmer to ask for permission on recordings:

1.) Be polite and respect the farmer’s work rhythm and core times. A barn is like a business with opening hours, launch times – for both the farmer and the animals. Farmers hate when somebody disturbs their animal kingdom during sleep or feeding. Its their product which results to income down the line. Makes scene right? Keep in mind that animals are like kids to them (without them being sold after their old).

2.) Be enthusiastic about wanting to get involved in the ultimate farmers life. Ask interesting questions about their coolest animal and daily routine.

3.) Make them feel a part of YOUR creative experience. Everybody loves attention and has a story to share, so do farmers, be creative and keep a positive attitude and spirit throughout. Excite them about your job and they will share inside and excitement about about theirs.

4.) Always smile and completely look insane during the recording (do the creative tough hang out) – it might works magic! This all will influence the quality of your recordings. Only the farmer holds the key of the animal kingdom, and it is no one else then them to trigger the unexpected. This is where it gets exciting! Be surprised!

After the recording try to pause editing and archiving for some weeks. Try to do something completely different from animal recordings. Then, at a later stage, listen to it and be surprised of how it all turns out and sounds. Usually we always tent to expect too much of our recordings and are all excited when bringing them home, right?! Let the recording describe the story of the particular scene, that your microphone and yourself has experienced, and wait how it affects and stimulates you. You’ll notice that the audio will bring you right into the core moments of the session. Personally, I feel that by doing this, recordings become more rememberable and personal. They can contain the very smell of a specific moment! As well archiving and naming will be much easier and refreshing. I once did a great monkey shooting in Miami, Florida, and got to edit these little buggers only after half a year. The process will just become way more entertaining. That’s just how it works for me!

Here is a group of pics that I recorded in the middle of the night. The pigs are absolutely not used to that sort of time-rhythm being woken up by a dude with a microphone pointed at them. Check out the recording below how angry they were, because they thought its breakfast time. They completely freaked out! On this note, I should mentioned that no animals got harmed during the recording process. However, with pig recordings, you’ll sure get a stinky revenge. Make sure to through cloth and shaggy dog in the washer afterwards.

Here are recordings of 5 different locations I recorded at. The last one was a recording of 4 types of pigs (yes species!) that sounds like pic choir screaming so loud that its huts! Interior as well as exterior. Interestingly, pigs vocalization from various different areas of the world sound completely diverse from each other. That… and there are dozen of pig species too.

Apart from this blogs topic: Pigs – I commonly get to experience the wild life wherever I can or lifted so far. Simply because I love being it touch with nature and getting to know new species or to meet old ones in person. Recording its sounds is a nice side affect and they come in handy for design work quite a bit. During he last 3 years I was able to collect a massive amount of animal recordings, including pigs, dogs, birds, wolfs, cows, monkeys  and camels. I try to write up some more about very specific and cool animal experiences if I have time. It be also great to hear your stories on funny animal takes?!


One thought on “Field Recording: Animals. Pigs”

  1. andy

    Great recordings, Carsten! Pigs are some of favorites to use with vocalizations because of their similar qualities to human voices when slowed down (the squeals, at least). Looking forward to hearing about more of your wildlife adventures!