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Recording music and sound
Recording music and sound

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6.1 Minimising noise

Figure 21 An early outside broadcast by the BBC from London Zoo as technicians attempted to record the sound of screeching from the aviary, from ‘Wonderful London’, published 1926-27 (photogravure), English Photographer, (20th century)

It is always best to try to reduce any background noise as much as possible. Best practice, as with virtually all audio practice, is to start at the source and not to rely on fixing problems later on. When you are recording at home you can easily address most noise issues. Simple things like closing doors and windows and turning off televisions and radios will help. Less obvious sources of noise are central heating systems and fridges. You may not be aware of central heating noise until you turn it off, at which point you should appreciate the reduction in low-frequency rumble and general background noise.

One of the first things I do when recording on location is to listen for a ticking clock. This is the kind of background sound that can easily avoid your direct perception because it is such a familiar sound; however, a ticking clock can ruin a recording, especially any quiet passages which require the listener to focus on the smallest detail in the music.

In order to move clocks or remove clock batteries, turn off central heating systems, and generally combat other such noise sources in public buildings, it is essential to develop a good working relationship with the custodian or caretaker of the building that you are using for recording. These social interactions are a fundamental part of making successful recordings, and the more sensitive you are when making such preparations for a recording session, the more help you will get during a session, and with future sessions.

It may not be possible to eliminate all types of noise, and in the winter, it may not be possible to turn off the central heating. In these cases you can sometimes compromise by asking to have turned off any particularly noisy radiators, but it might be that you need to reposition the performers and/or your microphones or recording device to move them away from any noise sources.