Olympic Project Audio AnalysisBy David Ellis
A curious title, I must admit. A bit nebulous and open ended, but a journey none the less. My recording interest does relate to a specific target, capturing possible Sasquatch vocalizations. It seems that my never ending quest for information and refinement of recording methods has brought me to a topic of discussion I wish to expand. My goal is to nudge the ball down the road, in a direction of scientific scrutiny, for audiophiles doing field recording. I am not the first person doing outdoor field audio recording. In fact there are good number of researchers getting excellent field recordings and have been doing so for a very long time. They have been an inspiration, which in turn helped me to consistently up my game, so to speak.
A little background and personal history will help the process of understanding how I arrived at a desire to disseminate information, on my recordings. My innocent beginning, into outdoor audio recording, started when I received a gift from my Daughter and Son. They had heard my stories about possible interactions with Sasquatch. They thought a listening device, to amplify sound, would help me clarify what I thought I was hearing in the woods.
Soon after receiving the gift I put it to use, in one of my favorite study areas. The amplification of the sounds brought a new awareness of my surroundings. It wasn’t long after I turned on the device I heard bi-pedal movement flanking my position, imagine my surprise. I was with a small group of investigators, at the time. I asked if somebody could strike a tree with a piece of wood. This technique, for the uninitiated, is called Wood Knocking. A wood on wood strike is a sound some researchers associate with Sasquatch. We immediately heard a rapid wood knocking sound in return. The woods became quiet for a short period of time as we stood motionless. Then, with the aid of my newly acquired listening device, I could hear the bi-pedal flanking movement again. I motioned, silently to the others I was hearing movement. I then pointed to a direction and nodded we should move that way. No sooner did we start to move when we heard rapid wood knocking coming from the direction we were headed. We stopped and all went quiet. Again I nodded to move forward. It was deja vu all over again with a repeat of the rapid wood knocking. We stopped, and collectively decided to move in another direction. Apparently that was what the Wood Knocking culprit desired as we did not hear any more movement or knocks.
This intriguing interaction, with an unknown source, had me hooked in the world of audio. The missing piece was, recorded evidence, of possible interaction. All I had was a story. The world of Sasquatch research is mostly a collection of great stories of experiences. After having this possible encounter I thought I should step up my game. I purchased a digital audio recorder that I could connect to my listening device and headed back to the woods. Sometimes, in life, you are rewarded for your efforts.
I would have to categorize my next outing, in a word, fortuitous. Again, I went back to the study site, with another investigator, where two weeks prior I heard the wood knocking and flanking movement. I was lucky we got a repeat performance, This time I capture the amplified sounds on the digital audio recorder. It was a Saturday morning around 10:00am when we arrived at the locked gate into the area of interest. As I was prepping my audio recorder and listening device the other researcher asked if I heard the wood knock. I had not, but would eventually learn that it was common for wood knocks to occur as we entered and left this particular location. I hurried my final prep, turned on the device and entered the wood line, recorder going. Immediately I heard a wood knock. My partner in research, picked up a couple of rocks and began to clack them. Then things really got interesting. We heard vocalizations and wood knocks in return. We had quite the interaction for about 3 minutes. I was in shock and quite ecstatic about the developments. Not only did we have suspicious interaction but now it was recorded and open for debate.
This single event inspired me to continue on my path of documenting and refinement of audio recording. It was my first step toward a documentation of my experiences. An audio recording is a record of events that can be reviewed by others . I am not without understanding that what is being recorded is a open for debate. My thinking at the time, the Sasquatch research community, needed more physical evidence to debate. I was aware other researchers were recording in their own personal study areas. I was hoping to contribute to the growing collection of research audio.
My refinement of audio recording technique and equipment was/is a trial and error process. . Your equipment will define the quality of the recording. I soon learned that while I was excited about the recording process the quality of the sound was totally dependent on the quality of the gear being used. A great encounter with a bad recording is very frustrating. I also learned that amplification of sound is non discriminatory. If you are being assisted or near other researchers in the field the need for them to talk trumps your desire for quiet. Many a recording has become worthless by chatty field partners. Outdoor recording requires patience and sometimes isolation from the group.
The recording quality can only be as good as the equipment chosen. My first listening device was an inexpensive parabolic dish that failed the fourth time in the field. A frustrating moment for sure, but I was fortunate to be accompanied by another researcher that allowed me to use their hand held dish. I learned right away this was a better device and soon acquired one. Although the listening device was better my digital voice recorder was marginal at best. After doing some research, I selected a studio recording quality hand held digital recorder.
Now that I had good equipment my focus shifted to audio recording techniques. This too was/is still a trial and error personal methodology. There are many good field recordists. Each recordist will have a different technique. Some folks like long term field deployment, some turn on the recording device after hearing a suspicious sound. I have tried many methods, with the exception of the long term field deployment. Although this technique has great possibilities, it doesn’t fit my immediate inspiration. I much prefer taking my equipment back home with me.
My initial recording style was turning the recorder on an off. I mainly did this to keep my recording file size to a minimum. Soon I discovered that I missed some really good audio by not having the recorder constantly recording. Slowly, I gravitated to a method of turning on the device and leaving it on. This method was facilitated when I purchased a recorder with a new capability. It had automatic incrementing, which rolls files into a new one, at a certain file size, with out stopping the recording process. Small file size is important for importing recordings to software with file size limitations.
Usually when I go into the field I have two different recorders operating. One is stationary dish deployed in a selected location based on prior experience or best guess. I carry a one man hunting blind, tripod, listening Dish, recording amplifier, and recorder. Once assembled I leave it alone for the evening recording all night long. The other recording device I carry with me into the field. I have discovered that by manipulating recorder settings it will pick up anything I can hear. The caveat being, walking noise, who is with you, and the noise they create. Some investigators are using separate mics and clipping them to their clothing. This technique seems to reduce the ambient noise quite a bit. The trade off is the caliber of the mics on your recording device may be better than the separately attached mics. Again, the quality of sound is related to the quality of the device.
So in retrospect, field equipment technology and how it is used will determine the quality of the recording, and your ability to capture the suspicious sounds you encounter. The bottom line is you have to develop your own personal plan. Think it through and refine what you determine is not helpful or could be improved. I would like to suggest too any and all doing field research, document your work with field recordings. Trial and error, learning from other audiophiles, and a desire for acquiring a good recording should keep you motivated.
OK you are interested, purchased some equipment, deployed it, got your recordings. How do you know if you have recorded anything of merit? Here is my evolution of audio review. Initially I listened to every file from beginning to end. A slow and arduous process. It wasn’t too time consuming because I kept the files short and only turned on my recorder when something of interest vocalized. Like I said before this technique was problematic because I missed some good audio by not having my device on at the time something vocalized. Slowly my files started getting larger because I left the recorder running for longer periods of time. That created big problem, now I had to invest more listening time to review the longer files. I asked around talking with my research buddies how they reviewed audio. I learned some researchers were reviewing audio in Waveform, which is fairly typical. Waveform shows the audio in a visual form of vertical oscillations. The louder sounds being signified by longer spikes and opposite for softer sounds. The notion was you could cut your review time down by just looking for the longer spikes in the Waveform denoting a louder noise. The theory was the louder sounds should be your focus so don’t bother reviewing the softer sounds. Fortunately this method did not work for me. I suspected and later discovered that many suspicious sounds reside in the softer parts of the recording. So initially, visually reviewing audio, was a bust. My thoughts regarding visually analyzing sounds would change, and in a big way.
That change occurred in 2009 when I was introduced to software that utilized another technology called Spectrographic Analysis. Up to that time I was resigned to only listening to my audio to find sounds of interest. I began an exchange of information with another audiophile on the East Coast, he goes by the name Monongahela. He was very interested in some of my audio recordings and asked if he could review them. He began to notice and show me things that my ears did not hear. I would ask him how did he find that sound, usually it was very faint, and something my ears did not originally pick up. He began my tutelage in the use of the software, Sonic Visualizer. A freeware that can be acquired on the internet. I downloaded the software because I wanted to SEE and HEAR what he was finding.
Once I downloaded the software my world was opened up to the possibilities where this new found method could take me, in the world of research. For the first time I saw merit in visually analyzing sound. Think about that, visually analyze sound. This software creates a sonogram (e.g. VOICE PRINT) which certain characteristics can be visually scrutinized. Specific sounds have specific sound signatures. All of a sudden my 2D world of sound was turned into 3D and Technicolor. The notion of cataloging sounds in an audio visual format was intriguing to me. I believe this process will elevate the discussion from “Did you hear that”? , to “Do you SEE that”? Once we are able to agree upon what we are seeing now we can speculate with a little more authority what this VOICE PRINT, sonogram represents. Analysis will now be a process of visually comparing known sounds of known creatures to what we speculate may be a curious signature. Consensus will be easier using sight and sound vs just depending on what we hear.
By the way Spectrographic analysis is not new. This method of analysis has been around for a while. There are many researchers who have been using it for quite some time. The technical scientific term is bioacustics. Research scientists are utilizing the spectrogram to identify specific sound signatures. One of my good friends and fellow Olympic Project member, Paul Graves is very familiar with this technology. Ever since I met Paul he spoke of a specific resonance that suspected Sasquatch calls reside. I always wondered how he knew that. I eventually found out he was correlating information visually. I just recently had a discussion with a biologist heading to the jungles of Ecuador. She will be recording the sounds of specific monkeys . She confided the use of Spectrographic Analysis and will be LOOKING for various subtitles in their vocalizations. The Software and methodology is in place and being used by science to gain specific information. We too, should apply the same science and the same techniques. Much can be learned from audio recordings in specific areas of interest. Creating and cataloging the known and unknown sounds can now be done visually. This method, I believe, can gain more consensus. The world of Spectrographic Analysis raises the bar, making the capture of field audio more important than ever.