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Location Recording Around The North Pole With DPA

Australian composer & digital media artist, Daniel Blinkhorn, recently used DPA 2006A's for some demanding recording projects above the Arctic Circle...

Location Recording Around The North Pole

The polar region of Spitsbergen (also known as Svalbard) is unparalleled in its geologic and environmental rarity. Positioned at 81° north, 10° East (situated above Norway) the archipelago is a truly remarkable part of the world that continues to inspire awe and fascination, and is often at the heart of our collective consciousness for its ecological and climatic sensitivity. It’s also renowned for its visual and cinematic beauty, and it’s no surprise that sound plays an integral role in the uniqueness of its appeal. There’s a great deal of sonic activity within the archipelago, both animal (innumerable species of aquatic and birdlife, walrus, arctic fox, deer, polar bears etc) and aqueous (ice sheets calving from glaciers, icebergs colliding, pancake and brash ice melting, as well as of course plenty of driving wind and snow!)

As part of an interdisciplinary art and science expedition, I recently had the good fortune to travel throughout the region on a traditionally-rigged tall ship (known as a Barquentine). I undertook a variety of projects during the expedition, including field recordings for creative works (sound installations, electroacoustic compositions, ambient field recordings and phonographic essays etc), the creation of a feature for the ABC radio’s 360 program (of which I am a freelance producer) and furthered my own research into developing strategies and techniques for composing with environmental sound in fixed-media and live performance.

A typical day within the expedition consisted of landfall twice (morning and afternoon), where I was able to undertake location-based recordings in a number of truly remarkable locations throughout the archipelago.

In regards to field recording in this type of location, it’s paramount that the sound equipment used is highly portable and easy to handle, is highly reliable and acoustically accurate and of course isn’t likely to malfunction within extreme temperatures. There were a number of obstacles that were encountered whilst undertaking the expedition, including extremities in wind, rough seas and lots of moisture, but the most salient characteristic was definitely temperature.

To capture the field recordings I took along an array of specialist microphones, the most impressive comprising a pair of DPA 2006A, twin diaphragm omnidirectional microphones. I was hugely impressed with the fact that, despite the weather often spiking below -30 C. the 2006A’s performed flawlessly (often for hours at a time), capturing every nuance of detail within the environment, time and again.

Whilst the region can be excessively noisy due to wind and water, inversely it can be incredibly quiet, and I was taken with how well the 2006A’s reflected the true nature of the extremes. Driving wind (often at up to 80 km/h) and smashing ice was captured perfectly (with a decent wind jammer of course!) and the complete absence of human activity/ intervention meant often near zero noise within the environment, which the 2006A’s captured so completely, ensuring the smallest sounds within the silence became highly articulate and acoustically authentic.

The majority of the time I used an AB stereo configuration (housed within a modified blimp) and the accuracy of the 2006A’s working in concert with one another ensured a beautifully homogenous and balanced stereo image, with a consistency that ensured striking resolution throughout all the recordings.

I also used the microphones in an individual, omnidirectional configuration and was once again highly impressed with their accuracy and depth, where they seem to provide such an expansive and detailed spectral window, no matter what the subject matter (ice calving, snow melting, walrus barking etc). In short, thanks to DPA’s remarkable design and overall attention to detail, I found the 2006A’s impossible to fault, providing a truly inspired recording experience!

I’ve made a selection of the recordings available (through Creative Commons Licensing) for listening and use. The recordings can be provided upon request from the website at the bottom of this article, and they can be previewed on soundcloud at http://soundcloud.com/danielblinkhorn

(The expedition was made possible through the extremely generous assistance of the Winston Churchill Trust, where I am a 2011 Fellow, as well as through the Ian Potter Cultural Trust, who have also been very generous in assisting me to undertake the initiative. Of course a great big thank you to DPA Microphones also…!)

Daniel Blinkhorn 2011  www.bookofsand.com.au