So I’ve tried underwater recording before and to be fair, it didn’t really go great. I broke the mic, it didn’t sound right and was disappointing all round. So before Christmas, I had another crack at it to see if anything would work better. For this I needed a new location and since it was mid-floods, Cork and Galway seemed like as good a spot as any.
My mic-in-a-bottle method was out, mic-in-a-condom was in - remember kids, always practice safe sound design! If you’ve watched any survival shoes like Ray Mears or Bear Grylls (I don’t but I’m sure they’ve mentioned it, I’m not making this stuff up I swear!) you’ll probably know that condoms are the best solution for keeping things like boxes of matches (or microphones) dry in a humid jungle environment. Admittedly, underwater is a step further but it’s not much more than they are technically designed for…
So the setup this time was another expendable microphone (alas, it did not survive to see 2010…) and non-lubricated condoms (I fear linking to a manufacturer would be unwise considering Brown Bag’s target audience!). Lastly i used elastic bands to attach gravel to the wire to stop it from floating to the surface.
Then it was back to the bath tub and, a bit like last time, using spoons (slotted and solid), cutlery of various sizes and whatever else was nearby to see what it sounded like.
And it sounded a bit like this….
I recorded lots of mundane, but nonetheless useful, stuff like running water etc and I’m sure some it will come in handy, especially the gurgling for one episode of The Octonauts in particular…
So having plundered the ceramic wonders of Cork, I later found myself in Galway where my girlfriend’s sister (thanks Trish!) has a jacuzzi bath with jets - oh the possibilities! Unfortunately i did not have all my various bits to record underwater so i had to keep everything dry (except when i lost concentration and accidentally let the mic take a swim...oops).
I got some pretty cool stuff from this as the jets were constantly causing variations. By adjusting the water level you could vary the sound. eg. If you lowered the water level just in line with the jets, you got white water, if you submerged the jets, you got more dull, bubbly stuff.
Unfortunately, The Octonauts is still in production so there’s nothing to see at the moment but with a bit of work, some of this stuff fits in nicely.
I also got some kinda cool snow/frosty footsteps from Ireland’s own ‘Day after Tomorrow’ storm so maybe this weather thing had its advantages!
Condoms + microphone is a classic way to get underwater sounds. I did this in an old metal bath while at Uni and got some great stuff, especially low dull thuds.
http://www.dblondin.com/101507.html - an interesting read initially talking about the sound in The Hunt For Red October.
http://sepulchra.com/blog/ - this chap has lots of sounds recorded in odd places and he goes into detail as to how he got them. Some great tips.
Ian26 February 2010 by Ian Palmer
Yeh they are all in my audio bookmarks - I think i would actually be confident using a decent mic for this stuff now as opposed to small ones I’ve picked up from god knows where, I I could momentarily ignore budgets this kind of trip (and equipment..) would be more ideal for Octonauts!
That would be very cool (excuse the pun). Have you heard of Touch Radio? If not then Ep49 is Chris Watson in the Antarctic recording for a BBC show. His work is truly amazing.
Have to admit I do like working on shows that are in a different location, doing underwater stuff is great fun.26 February 2010 by Ian Palmer
This mic is the very job for underwater recording ;)10 March 2010 by Jonathan
Great post, I love hacks like these over expensive turnkey solutions, don’t think I mean hack in any negative sense as I’ve been bailed out by them enough times to know their value, unfortunately clients are rarely impressed so I’ve learned to control myself gushing to them about cheap and cheerful solutions and always give credit to the expensive option, even if it was acting up all day, I’d recommend not letting any clients see this but if they do make sure they understand it’s not “just” a condom but really an expensive and hard to find “MikeJonnie™”.
I have a couple of quick questions if you get a chance….
How badly did the condom affect sound quality when out of water?
I know you chose unlubricated for obvious reasons but would you consider using something like O-Ring silicone lubricant or grease around the neck to help it seal? If I ever use this technique it would most likely be salt water around 30m and I’d like to save the mike if possible.
What kind of processing did you use on the clips above?
PS: I don’t know if it’s just this machine but the “Swim strokes above water” links back to the “Sinkhole gurgle” on Chrome/Vista (obviously not my workstation). How big is your bath anyway? Whenever I try to swim in mine I end up badly bruised, are you a midget?
PPS: Hope this doesn’t come across snarky, it’s not supposed to.