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I saw a documentary recently featuring close-up camera footage of insects walking on plant leaves, etc. There was sound that I could interpret as originating from the bugs, but how would I know? It actually could have been anything if put together well.

But, humor me, what kind of mic would, in fact, be able to pick up such tiny sounds? My Earthworks QTC50 covers 4 to 40k hz, but is a little noisy. A RODE NT-1A is low noise, but picks up fewer transients.


anonymous Sat, 03/29/2014 - 04:31

Maybe a Sanken. They make a lot of different mics, but I've read about some of their "scientific" contact mics which incorporates a small "needle" to detect vibrations on surfaces, instead of air movement. This allows faint sounds to be amplified without any ambient noise.

Apparently they've recorded the sounds of ants, and even a snail's heartbeat.

You might have heard the results of something like this on that documentary, but it could have also been sound FX creation, which were then dubbed in during post.

paulears Sat, 03/29/2014 - 06:10

Almost every natural history programme record sound to imitate what people 'think' an insect makes - walking, crunching on leaves and everything else. The short job I had at Anglia TV in the 80s for their wildlife programmes had me with big heavy leather motorbike gauntlets flapping them up and down making the sound of an Eagle's wings in flight! The recorded sound from the location sounded like a blackbird - not big and heavy at all!

Larry F Sat, 03/29/2014 - 14:10

I'll look into the Sanken.

I could have expressed my question differently. Let's say that I wanted to know what kind of mic one would use if recording very soft sounds, such as ants. A better example would be if I pressed the pad of my first finger on a violin body, then moderately slowly lifted it off. It helps if the finger is slightly moist.

Anyway, I'm not really talking about ants, nor moist fingers on a violin. Just very, very soft sounds that might be interesting if they could be heard clearly enough.

pcrecord Sat, 03/29/2014 - 14:12

Some noises and sounds just don't exist or are too lite to be capture. Since images are more believable with audio, a lot of the noise we hear on TV are just created with some other stuff. In most every sci-fi films, crossing the camera with a flashlight will make a noise. Come on, light doesn't make noise !! The lightbulb or flashlight could make a noise but then it would be there even if the light was'nt crossing the camera :)

So the walk of a fly ?? I just thing that if my ears can't hear it, how can a mic catch it with out grabbing a lot of other noises ??
But wait !! What if you make (or wait for) a fly walk on a drum or a guitar... If you put a mic in it you'll certainly hear something. But would it be the sound of the fly ?? No, just the vibration of the drum head or guitar body...

paulears Sat, 03/29/2014 - 14:21

So what you want is a super sensitive microphone that could hear amazingly quiet sound sources?

No normal microphone is designed to do this kind of thing - condensers, especially small diaphragm ones are the most sensitive, but none are going to be as sensitive as the examples you cite - hence why we all explained why people cheat!

If you really want to hear almost silence, then a large dish and a mic at the focal point is one option, but hardly practical? What exactly do you want such a super sensitive microphone for? Something designed to do what you want won't have enough dynamic range to then cope with moderate sound levels at the high end.

Boswell Sat, 03/29/2014 - 16:46

The "nature sounds" on most documentaries of the type you mentioned are added in the Foley studio. Even the BBC Bristol studios that make the David Attenborough films dub the feet of the polar bears crunching on snow.

I've done micro-recording in an anechoic room to test an ultra-low noise pre-amp I built (less than 0.1 microvolt r.m.s. over the audio bandwidth). You have to use dynamic mics for this sort of thing as they do not contain any electronics that can generate noise above the Johnson level. I even had to strip out the microphones' internal transformers to keep the impedance as low as possible, as the thermal noise power is proportional to the effective resistance. For comparison, a 1K Ohm resistor generates about 0.4 microvolt r.m.s. noise over a 10KHz bandwidth at room temperature.

Larry F Sat, 03/29/2014 - 17:23

I'm a composer and often use electronics in my work. Here's a piece I wrote for clarinet and digital sounds:
My process is about the same for everything I've done for maybe 30 years. I record sounds, modify them, extract segments from them, and put them into Pro Tools (used to be 4-track tape). I layer many of these, so that one sound starts at, say, 2.0 seconds and ends at 4.0". On another track, I place another sound, starting at, maybe, 1.7" and ends at 2.8". The second sound might be panned more to the left, while the first sound is panned almost to the middle. Then using volume automation, I might have the beginning of the second sound loud, then fading to half from 1.9" - 2.2", then fade completely out from 2.5" - 2.8". In making a composite sound in this manner, I might layer 3-6 sounds against the original.

Because most sounds that I start with are recorded in a studio or anechoic chamber, when I extract a short segment out of it, it often cannot be recognized by the listener. By removing the real-world connection in this way, the listener and I gravitate to the musical relations of the sounds to each other, in terms of timing, pitch, timbre, envelope, etc. This might appear to be a labor intensive and time-consuming process, but I have learned how to automate parts of the process, as well as how to modify any composite sound so that it sounds different to any degree that I choose.

I use some plug-ins to help shape the sounds, including filters and EQ, as well as time-stretching and pitch-shifting (Serato Pitch n' Time is a longtime favorite). While it is helpful to use plug-ins, I have found that I get the best results by recording interesting sound sources as cleanly as possible. One of many sources that I use is the MIS collection of musical instruments recorded note-by-note in an anechoic chamber. I have been building a library of now 23 orchestral instruments for the University of Iowa Electronic Music Studios: http://theremin.mus… . By the way, anyone can download these for free. I have found that the first 10-25 milliseconds of the attack of these sounds can be very beautiful and evocative when normalized and time-stretched (varispeed is even better, in terms of quality). For a few years, I have been recording a wide variety of sounds produced by other objects: pieces of wood, glass, cardboard, rubber, paper, plastic, and so on, often focusing on the first 30 ms of these sounds. I sometimes extract just the first 30 milliseconds of sounds. However, this is naturally very soft at the onset, and increases in volume only a little bit in its 30 ms lifespan.

I am now starting to experiment with recording these sounds fairly hot. This means that, while the main part of the sound might be distorted because of the mic level, the first 30 ms might be of a very workable level.

What to do? I use Earthworks and Rode NT-1A, Earthworks pre-amps, and a Metric Halo interface to acquire the sounds, and I am starting to look for better ways to capture those soft parts. Ideas?

RemyRAD Mon, 03/31/2014 - 20:30

What you're really asking about is what the Hollywood filmmaking industry calls Foley. It's manufacturing sound effects that audibly mimics what is seen in the picture. Sound effects are not necessarily always a natural thing that you capture.

Bird calls are not insects chewing on leaves. For that, parabolic microphones are frequently used, as they are the most long reaching, directional microphones. But they're really not intended for actual high fidelity work. Whereas a shotgun microphone is frequently used for high fidelity recordings as it includes no terrible resonance from a parabola.

There really isn't anything natural about electrical recordings. We are creating sounds to describe the picture. It's like back in the old days of radio drama. When you needed the sound of a raging fire? You would take a handful of cellophane and crunch it up in your hand on microphone. It creates a raging fire sound effect. Walking on gravel was done with a cake pan full of gravel with a pair of shoes on the sound effect guys hands, making walking sounds. This has been done since we got sound for film starting in the early 1930s. It hasn't changed.

And if you're talking about sound effects for cartoons? The sky's the limit. And I think it all started with a Jew harp? Boing boing boing boing. Yeah baby.
Mx. Remy Ann David
(I'm a Jew but I don't play hard)

Larry F Mon, 03/31/2014 - 21:12

I think I saw a demo of what a Foley artist does on the Mickey Mouse Club show as a child. I can still remember the sounds, as well as the visual images. Doors, footsteps on cement, sand, gravel, and the coconut galloping horses. I wanted to do that.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with projects and teaching, and don't always keep track of upgrades to the studios that my assistants have been overseeing. Anyway, imagine my embarrassment here to remember that I actually bought a parabolic reflector 6 months ago. We did a little test with it today. We used two Earthworks QTC-50s and two Earthworks ZDT 1021 pre-amps, into a Metric Halo and Pro Tools. We made some sounds, such as, flapping a sheave of paper, flapping a cloth towel, shaking a bottle of ibuprofen, etc. We were in a hurry, so it was just literally stuff we grabbed from a drawer. We tried to keep the source the same distance from each mic. The non-parabolic mic was pointed at the object about 2-3 feet away. The parabolic mic was pointing toward the back of the dish, also about 2-3 feet away.

The parabolic track was louder and had much less of an ambient background. Then, I normalized each track relative to itself, not to the other. The result, of course, was that the two tracks were equally loud, in terms of peaks. The para track was cleaner, with much less ambient background, and fuller, with more body. In a limited way, the para track could seem maybe a little compressed by comparison. Not at all like it was running through a compressor, with the artifacts associated with that. Perhaps it was more like a Waves L1 Ultramax, in the sense that there is more of the sound, and more of the waveform displayed on the screen. In other words: success, for what I am trying to achieve.

There are a lot of variables to work with. But I am off to a very encouraging start. Thanks, everyone. Damn good forum.

paulears Tue, 04/01/2014 - 00:57

I thought the opposite, he used the insect noise as a sort of metaphor for being able to record tiny sounds that he can then manipulate - rather like the somewhat dated 'music concrete' popular 50 odd years ago. The noise of a bit of sticky tape being pulled off, the sound of coins being slid against each other, the whirring of a old pocket watch - if recorded they sound very odd! Realistically, a decent microphone, very close in and a recorder with a decent preamp are all he needs, and these things were available 50 years ago, so today's equipment specs should be sufficient. I don't think (but his writing style makes it tricky to say for certain) he wants to record insects at all, but just that type if quiet sound. Sure - the noise of insects munching leaves could be useful, but the real sound, as many have already said, is not quite what our imagination suggests it is.

fosla Mon, 03/29/2021 - 06:08

Hi Larry F,

Thank you for sharing your technics! And I really love your musicometry. I would be really interested to learn more about your process. Do you have any suggestions of online courses or publications abour creating this kind of insects sounds SFX? (as I start to work on a project with a lot of insects sounds to create)

If you're still interested in recording some real insects sounds you could listen to the Knud Viktor works (a danish sound artist who lived in the south of France)

Thank you


cyrano Mon, 03/29/2021 - 09:43

Larry F, post: 413083, member: 47955 wrote:
Thanks, this has some good info. I am going to look into parabolic mics. Whoa! Just did. One is $2,500. Mmmm.

I wouldn't use parabolics. Too big, too shiny, too wind sensitive. Useful for birds, not for insects. You can't place a mic when you hear an insect. The insect will stop making noise and might even run...

I've recorded bugs and the only practical way is to spread as many cheap miniature microphones in the place where the bug normally can be found. Then, hope for the best. Usually, we stick the mics in a bush the evening before and hope it doesn't rain. That's why you need cheap mics :D


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