Getting song inspiration from the beach

Tips & Tutorials  |  July 15, 2016

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There’s no better time than summer to enjoy the outdoors, so throw caution to the wind, embrace the elements, and find new sounds with these tips and tools to get song inspiration from the beach. What can you find if you start listening?


Take your microphone underwater

Land recording is for the birds, literally. Try something new and take your recordings under the sea with an underwater microphone—the hydrophone.

Getting song inspiration from beach-hydrophone

Hydrophones have been used to record everything from whale calls, walrus vocalizations, shrimp feedings, and iceberg collisions to internal sounds of the human body, recordings of a drip system into a porcelain bowl, and burning embers underwater. Hook one up to a field recorder and explore the marine possibilities.


Renowned sound designer and electronic music producer, Richard Devine, often incorporates his hydrophone recordings with sounds he’s created on the computer—a collusion of organic and synthetic effects that have led to sample libraries like Mechanical Morphs Sound Effects and The Electronic Music Manuscript, and the sound design for Google’s new virtual reality platform, Daydream.  

Ever wonder what an underwater recording of burning wood embers sounds like? Check out Richard’s recording here:

Hydrophones don’t come cheap, but Aquarian Audio has an inexpensive selection ($129-$169), including the H2a-XLR model used by Richard Devine. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can also make one yourself using directions here or here.


Uncover local soundscapes from your beach chair

If the possibilities of underwater recording sounded intoxicating, you might want to get your hands on a wildlife recorder.

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Though used primarily in the field of bioacoustics to monitor animal ecology and behavior, wildlife recorders offer another way to find natural and unusual sounds in your own backyard—without you even being present. Built as a true weatherproof device, these recorders can be strapped to a tree or set up in the dunes and programmed to begin recording at a specific time. Get that dawn chorus without ever leaving your bed.

Wildlife Acoustics has a plethora of animal-specific recorders and analysis software, including deep water hydrophones. Frontier Labs, based in Australia, also carries a line of very durable and saltwater-resistant products. These are not for the faint of heart, as most run upwards of a few hundred dollars.

Embrace the hostility of the environment

The beach is not an ideal place for electronics, so embrace the hostility of the environment and plan to break some gear. Hit the thrift stores or Craigslist, and buy cheap electronics, like cassette recorders.

Get that sandy microphone tone and dried salt water hiccups on the tape. Sometimes sh*tty is pretty, and those beach-induced imperfections could provide a character to your music that you couldn't achieve otherwise.

So, what are you waiting for? Take your hydrophones, wildlife recorders, thrift store electronics, and go see what sounds you can find. And if you run out of ideas, you can always try out soda bottles and wood flutes.

To learn more about Richard Devine and how he uses nature as inspiration, read Eliptik Magazine’s article, Richard Devine: Retaining Mastery Of Machines In The Face Of The Singularity. Check out his SoundCloud account for other wild recordings.

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