Un-needed Air Cover...

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by mdemeyer, Nov 2, 2008.

  1. mdemeyer

    mdemeyer Active Member

    Since it seems nothing bad has happened to anyone in a while, I'll share one of recent 'adventures'.

    On the 9th of September I was scheduled for the second session of a recording of a new work for two quartets (a string quartet paired with a quartet of traditional Chinese instruments and percussion). We we using a church in Berkeley, CA for the recordings, the first of which had gone well.

    I arrived at the church at 10:00 a.m. to find three - not one, not two, but three - helicopters hovering low overhead. What a sound! Just not the one I was looking for. Undeterred, I unloaded the gear and schlepped it into the church.

    At 11:00 the composer and the first of the 8 musicians arrived. The helicopters were still hovering. At this point, we were getting really concerned. Given the difficulties of scheduling the two ensembles and a deadline for completing the recording, we had no choice but to get two movements down that day. After a round of jokes about recording Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet (for which we were one chopper short), we started making calls to the local police department and city hall.

    It turns out that we had selected (months in advance) the day on which they were going to run off the 'tree sitters' who had be protesting the cutting down of some old trees on the UC Berkeley campus. (http://www.zombietime.com/berkeley_tree-sit_finally_ends/) These people had been living in the trees for months and there was a crowd gathered on campus for the event. The three choppers were all local news birds trying to get some action. They had already been there all morning and there was no telling when they would leave.

    Decision time... do we stay or do we go? We decided it came down to optimism or pessimism. Optimism prevailed. We decided to go forward, although it would clearly be impossible to record anything useful with the whump-whump-whump of the choppers in the background. We set up and the musicians took some additional rehearsal time.

    The gods were smiling on us. About 1 p.m. first one, then two, then all three of the helicopters flew away. Now we were down to only the usual occasional traffic intrusion, which we could deal with.

    We had two movements to record and knew that they might return at any moment. We decided to record the quiet movement first, since the other was scored for both quartets and percussion - it had a chance of competing (or blending) with the helicopter noise. :wink:

    The recording went without further incident and we finished the quiet movement by around 3:30. The last movement, for both quartets and percussion, was in progress when the choppers returned for the 'live at 5' news coverage, but fortunately they didn't stay long. Even with the percussion, we couldn't outplay them.

    In the end, a successful session - but not without its moments. :)

    I haven't had one as strange as this since location recording millions of Cicada in the 1971 17-year hatch - in the fields with an open-reel Nagra...
  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Congrats. Sound like you really earned your pay for the day.

    We did a recording session for a string quartet in a very nice very rural church. We had used this venue on a number of occasions before and never run into a problem. Behind the church is a cemetery. The church is air conditioned and is very quiet even with the AC running. The string quartet was assembled from literally all points of the compass and we had one day to get down the four movements we were recording. We got set up and checked out and were waiting for the last member of the string quartet to arrive. Outside we heard a truck drive up and some men started to unload a lot of landscaping equipment into the cemetery. We did not think anything about it since we had never run into any problems before. The final member of the string quartet arrived, they tuned and did a quick run through of a couple of louder passages so I could get some levels and check microphone placement. We were already to start and someone outside started a BIG lawn mower. I went out and asked how long they would be mowing and was told about an hour. We decided to get some breakfast and sent out our runner to get some food at the local 7-11. He came back we ate and the mowing stopped. We got ready to record and someone started three weed wackers. I again went out and asked how long and was told 20 minutes. We waited and about 20 minutes later they stopped. We again got ready to record and again someone started up a BIG diesel tractor. I went out and was told that there was a burial on the next day and they had to dig a grave. I asked how long and they said about an hour. I asked them if they had anything else they needed to do and was told no this was it. So we waited and the string quartet rehearsed. We finally heard the tractor stop and heard the sound the the tractor driving away. So finally the church was quiet and we were ready to record. I started the recording process and heard a lawnmower starting up. I stopped the recording and went out side to find that the church's custodian had decided to cut the church's grass for the funeral tomorrow. I asked him if he could do it later and he said no so I finally had to call the minister to have her tell him NOT to mow the grass. He put away the lawn mower and we started the first movement. About 10 minutes into the session I heard an airplane overhead. It came in loud and then went away and then came in loud and went away. I went outside and realized that the plane was crop dusting a field near the church. We waited and about 30 minutes later he was gone. We decided to break for lunch and after lunch came back and got started. The session went very smoothly all afternoon and about 6 pm we were within minutes of getting done and we heard all this commotion outside. People yelling, car doors slamming and someone came into the church and went downstairs. I went after them and asked what was going on and she said it was the weekly picnic and baseball game. I asked who was in charge and went and talked to her. I asked if they could give us some quiet time for about 30 minutes and we would be done and out of there. She said ok and we finished up. I went outside to tell here that they could crank up the picnic and just as I was walking back into the church I heard a loud clap of thunder and saw a squall line of rain coming though the parking lot. Everyone outside ran for cover. About that time there was a large flash of lightning and all the lights in the church went out. We we done and packed up so it really did not matter but we still had to load up my van. It was still raining hard outside and we decided to wait until the squall line was passed. The rain finally stopped and we went out and loaded the van. As we were driving out of the church's parking lot the sun came out and there was a beautiful rainbow formed overhead. I guess it was just one of those days when everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The rainbow was a fitting way of ending the day and when I got home I listened to the tapes and found that we had gotten a great recording in spite of all the problems.

  3. mdemeyer

    mdemeyer Active Member

    Tried to put this in Horror Stories, but accidentally went to the main thread. Maybe someone can move it...

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