Friday, May 23, 2008

Mr. Microphone

I really want a quality, portable microphone for capturing sound in my documentaries. I've recently fallen under the spell of the Zoom H2 Handy 2 Track Recorder, which according to its product description, "is the only portable recorder with 3 mic capsules onboard for mid-side recording. A directional mic is in the center (mid) and two directional mics (side) are positioned left and right." Oh, that sounds nice!

I think, as a lot of newspapers making the leap to providing video reporting on their web editions are learning, it's ultimately the quality of the sound, rather then the footage, that matters to the viewer. The footage can be kind of crappy, a fuzzy talking head shot of the reporter, but if the sound is cruddy, if there's, say, an overbearing ambient hum of fluorescents buzzing throughout the piece or the person being interviewed is barely intelligible over the garble of the wind making hay of the reporter's microphone, then who really would be compelled to stick around and listen, right? Thankfully, some of the more involved video reporting pieces I've seen lately (and many papers are moving, albeit probably too slowly for their own good, away from simply putting up some lame accompanying video of the author's talking head giving a Cliff-Notes synopsis of their longer written piece) are beginning to demonstrate a more adventurous technical proficiency, complete with crisply composed shots, decent editing and a sometimes stunning overall sound design.

I'm not anywhere near capturing that "stunning overall sound design" in my own stuff, what little I have of it, but I'm really looking forward to exploring it more through some documentaries that I hope to get around to making. Operative words here are "getting around to making." But when I do, one of these includes a series of mini-documentaries, exploring favorite songs. I'd make some time to sit down and interview family and friends, get them to play me their favorite song and talk about it on video. They could do it in a single take (the length of the song, naturally) or a few if that suited them. We'll make it into a seamless whole. They could tell me a story they associate with the song, what the lyrics mean to them, how much the band or the singer or bass line meant to them or they could just tell me about the dinner they had this past New Years Eve.

I'd post them on a video-blog. Begin a series. They could be edited. Certainly I'd make sure that whatever song was being discussed sounded great in the final mix, sometimes in the background of the speakers reminiscence, sometimes in the forefront so as to punctuate a particular point in the narrative. When I'm really feeling the whimsy, I like to think that it might be fun to try and reenact one of the stories somebody tells about their favorite song. And come to think of it, maybe it would be better to stick to just asking one question, to have folks talk about a song and the memory they associate with it.

In any case, I'm attracted to Zoom's H2 Recorder not just for what seems to be its impressive sound capturing abilities (and the 100+ reviews on Amazon all seem to conclude that it's pretty great), but its portability. I like the idea of having the person talk about the song in an interesting place. It could be on a forest trail, along Lake Michigan or from the comfort of their favorite chair. I want to be able to conveniently, easily, capture the intimacies of the speakers voice and the ambiance of their environment. The microphones on most commercial camcorders, while decent, don't do such a good job of capturing this and offer few options for overcoming their modest sound capturing abilities. One of the things I love most about Dust-to-Digital's Art of Field Recording: Vol. I, a stunning collection of American field recordings made by the archivists Art and Margo Rosenbaum over the course of 50 some years, are the interview heavy selections, where you can hear the creak in the chair the interviewee is sitting on or some dog trotting by.

In any case, I'm kicking this idea down the road a ways.

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