StillWalks Production Kit and a Skylark’s Spectral Display

Last week’s production day on Ryer’s Down on the Gower in South Wales was a challenge. The weather suggests that the StillWalk to be produced will be “A Misty Gower Walk”. Fortunately, rain covers were not needed for the cameras but I was glad to have the waterproof case for the recorder.

I had all the sound and photography kit with me and alternated between them throughout the walk. This still meant that, for a relatively short walk, I was out recording and taking photos for 6.5 hours.

Kitted up and loaded down

Kitted up and loaded down

The kit includes:

  • Canon 550D x 2 (Canon)
  • Canon 18-55mm lens with stabilization
  • Canon 70-300mm lens with stabilization
  • Monopod (Manfrotto)
  • Fostex FR-2LE field recorder with Portabrace cover (Fostex, Portabrace)
  • Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone (RODE)
  • Rode Blimp windshield and suspension grip
  • Edirol R-09 compact digital recorder (as back up) (Edirol R-09)
  • AKG K271 MkII headphones (AKG)

All this plus a small collapsible stool (essential piece of kit), food, water, spare batteries, filters, etc. all in a great Lowepro kit bag, meant I was pretty weighed down. The trick is to be patient, take your time and not try to fit too much into the day. The recce walks are essential to ensure this can be achieved.

The mist never lifted as I had hoped it would, and the day was not as peaceful as on the previous recce visit when the Skylarks sang for us and traffic was non existent. Instead, normal farm life was ever present with the sound of tractors and other farm equipment in the distance. The Larks, however, sang through it all and their sound was as beautiful as ever.

Virtual Walks – I hope, with StillWalks, to provide realistic virtual walks. We don’t always want to wait until a beautiful Spring day to go for a walk and sometimes the sights and sounds around us are not what we would wish. However, these things don’t stop us, and wherever or whenever we decide to go for a walk, there are always a multitude of fascinating things to see and hear. Producing StillWalks helps me to recognize and focus on these things and enjoy the surroundings wherever I may be. I hope that they do this for you as well.

Technical Problems – During the Ryer’s Down production day I came up with a problem on the Fostex recorder and had to temporarily revert to the Edirol. I can only guess that the problem was electrical interference of some sort. The problem is illustrated in the sound clip and image below. I tried switching my phone to airplane mode and then off altogether but to no avail. I checked all my settings in case I had inadvertently knocked something but found everything as it should be.

interference1

interference1

Fortunately, I was able to use the Edirol instead – it’s not as good but very useful as a back up recorder. The problem, however, was temporary as, when I tried the Fostex again about 15 minutes later and another 100 yards further on, there was no problem at all and I was able to continue using it for the rest of the day.

Spectral Display – When viewing the sound files afterwards I find the spectral display a valuable element in Adobe Audition when it comes to identifying various aspects of the sounds I record. The image above shows the pattern created by the sound of what I guessed was electrical interference – the bright, gentle curve of the sound at the higher frequency is inaudible to the human ear but the broader curve downwards into the lower frequencies and then up again is easily seen and heard.

Skylark Song – The image below shows the pattern revealed through spectral display in Audition by a Skylark – and, of course, you must listen to the 10 second clip to which the image relates – enjoy 🙂

Ryers Down Lark

Ryers Down Lark Spectral Display

More to come in the future about both the production and post-production element of StillWalks.

Production Day – Ryer’s Down

Two weeks ago I went did a recce walk on Ryer’s Down on the Gower. Starting just along the road from Burry Green, the weather was misty but the sun just about got through at one point – though not quite!

Gower Mist

Gower Mist

Then, at the beginning of this week, I took some exploratory shots near the mouth of the River Loughor – the light was particularly difficult in the early afternoon because the sun was only half managing to to push through that same mist. This Little Egret is one of many on the Loughor Estuary.

Little Loughor Egret

Little Loughor Egret

I went ahead with the planned production day later in the week in the hope that, if I started out in mist, there was a reasonable chance I would finish in some sunshine – fat chance! The StillWalk that will be produced from that day will have to be titled “Misty Gower Walk” I think. It was still a beautiful walk however, and the Skylarks sang for me as well which would lift the heart of the most miserable soul. You can listen to them on SoundCloud and find out about them on the RSPB website.

Ryer's Down, Gower

Looking up Ryer's Down, Gower

And here are a couple of images that describe the different state of weather on the recce walk and the production day.

Recce Walk

Looking down from Ryer's Down, Gower on the Recce Walk

Production Day

Looking down from Ryer's Down, Gower on Producton Day

More photos from the recce walk can be seen on Flickr as well as many more from other explorations.

The Ryer’s Down production day was the first one where I used the full sound recording and photography kit simultaneously throughout the walk but I am going to write a separate post about the more technical aspects of the kit and production. Suffice to say for the moment, that I was very tired by the end of the day.

Finally, remember, anyone interested in the weekly recordings and photos I am getting down on the marshes can find them on SoundCloud and Flickr. Better still, download a StillWalk or two from the website and enjoy virtual walks in many different places at different times of year.

Before and After

As a follow up to yesterday’s post, I have to report a change to one of my favourite locations, namely the old St Teilo’s Churchyard.

St Teilo's Churchyard

St Teilo's Churchyard - Before

St Teilo's Churchyard - After

St Teilo's Churchyard - After

Something is missing!

St Teilo's Churchyard - Previously

St Teilo's Churchyard - Previously

It won’t look like this in the Summer anymore! I am very glad my StillWalk of the churchyard features it in this happier state rather than the current state. These large, well established trees were cut down in order to renovate a wall. :-/

Favourite Locations

Penllergaer Woods

Penllergaer Woods in Autumn

The locations of the StillWalks I produce are many and varied – from woodland to coast, townscape to park, I enjoy them all. Pre-production recce walks can sometimes be the most interesting as that is the time of initial discovery if the place is new to me. Production days, however, are the time to look and listen really closely.

Some of the places I have enjoyed most are: Penllergaer Woods, samples of which can be seen in – the Autumn Walks, Woodland Walk 1 and Woodland Walk 2 in Winter Walks. Also the old St Teilo’s Churchyard down on the marshes near where I live can be seen in the Old Churchyard Walk from Summer Walks and Carrick Shore in SW Scotland – Coastal Walk Evening in Spring Walks. One more is on the Swansea cycle route – Abertawe Walk from the Autumn Walks.

Pennlergaer Woods in Winter

Pennlergaer Woods in Winter

M4 Traffic – Pennlergaer and the old churchyard, are both close to the M4 motorway, which is busy at all times. In Penllergaer I find the gradual absorption of the sound of traffic, by the trees and their foliage, as you go deeper into the woods, very attractive. Perhaps it is the contrast of the two adjacent environments that creates a better sense of release from one and welcoming of the other.

On the other hand, I love the walk down to and around the old St Teilo’s Churchyard and you cannot get away from the M4 traffic in this place. I find I “filter out” a lot of the sound from the road and just listen to the birds that can easily pierce the sound of the cars and trucks.  The sound recorder does not ignore the traffic of course, but, as I do it subconsciously on location, I feel justified in filtering out some (but not all) of the background road sounds when editing.

StillWalks Works for Me – I tend to use them when I need to take a few minutes out of the working day, relax and focus my mind on something other than work. I also use them at times of stress – this is often when waiting for an approaching event such as a meeting. I use them occasionally at the end of the day too, when I need to wind down before going to sleep.

On the Move – If I am on the move and, therefore, watching a StillWalk on my iPhone, the screen may be small but with headphones plugged in and the video filling the screen, I find I easily “move” into the space of the StillWalk. At all times of viewing on a computer screen, I would always watch the StillWalk in full screen mode and I try to prompt others to do this. Not only do you see more, but full screen view also prevents many other distractions and helps promote your relaxation and enjoyment of the StillWalk.

Still Watching . . . I may have to add one of the latest StillWalks to my favourites list – Moss Wood Walk in the Autumn Walks. This is from Gnoll Park in Neath, South Wales and I have just watched full screen in full HD . . .

Week 6 – Marshwood Birds – Anyone interested in following my weekly recording and photos from this project can find the recordings on SoundCloud and the images on Flickr.

On the Move

On the Move, Swansea to York

A Jaguar Tale

Introduction

Last year my daughter, Ellen Duncan, had a short story included in an anthology edited by Kate North and called “The C Word”. It was published by Cinnamon Press and launched at Waterstones. Needless to say I was very proud of her.

I asked Ellen to write an account of a recent trip I took with her to the north of Scotland to visit my sister, Jane, on the sad occasion of her husband’s death from cancer. Philip had lived with cancer as long as he was able and maintained, with Jane’s help at the end, a popular blog about his experiences (www.philiprogers.co.uk). Jane runs RichThinkers.

Whilst in Scotland I wanted to produce a StillWalk for Jane, which would be dedicated to Philip – The StillWalk is “Winter Woodland Walk – Forres”.

I asked that Ellen’s story focus on aspects of the visit other than that of the funeral.

Alastair Duncan 31/01/2012

A Jaguar Tale 

The trip to Bristol Airport at three in the morning, was probably more round-about than necessary, a result of attempting to figure out how to use TomTom on my Dad’s new iPhone and not being entirely successful. Nevertheless, we arrived there in plenty of time and spent the next two hours drinking coffee and trying to decide whether it would be better to stay awake or doze until the flight. As it happens, even dozing is virtually impossible in a busy airport at five in the morning, regardless of whether you’ve slept earlier or not, and I hadn’t. So we stayed in a mostly silent daze until it was time to head to the departure lounge.

Sunrise at 20,000 feet

Sunrise at 20,000 feet

The flight itself passed in a haze of tiredness, broken by a spectacular sunrise somewhere around eight in the morning, and constantly underpinned by the gravelly whine of the engines. It was cold when we got off at Aberdeen Airport, a biting wind that even cut through my thick winter jacket, and we were both glad to reach the warmth of the arrivals lounge. Checked in with Europcar rental service, then got breakfast, and wow, what a queue of riggers! We were too warm by then, that’s always the way, but a full cooked English breakfast could actually be enjoyed, and then it was back to the Europcar desk. Another queue, more waiting.

I was hanging back, staring at nothing in particular, so it startled me a bit when Dad just spun around, grinning like a little kid, and said, ‘We’re getting a Jag!’

Jaguar XJ

Jaguar XJ

‘Awesome!’ Because, frankly, it was. Who’s going to be disappointed by that, especially when we were expecting a Ford Mondeo? So off we went, keys in hand, and suddenly looking forward to the two-hour drive to Forres rather more than anticipated. And there it was, gorgeous and shiny and black, absolutely stunning, with leather seats, and so comfortable . . . and Dad couldn’t figure out how to start it.

We worked it out, eventually; it was all electronic, automatic, but so smooth. We had fun playing with the digital display, tapping through the climate control (separate for each side of the car!) and figuring out the radio and sat nav. Hooking up the iPod was beyond us, so we travelled in the quiet – you could barely hear the tyres on the road, or the engine. I didn’t sleep. The sun was bright, the area was gorgeous and there was snow on the hills.

We were staying with my grandparents, opposite Jane, in her friend’s house. Lunch – thank heavens – was pretty much ready when we arrived, so after some admiring exclamations about the car, we settled down to eat, following which I passed out in bed for a couple of hours, catching up on some much-needed sleep while everyone else went out and got in the major shopping for the next few days.

And that, unfortunately, was when the problems began.

‘The boot won’t open.’

‘What?’

‘The boot won’t open. All the food’s in there.’

And try what we might none of us could get it open either. Dad ended up calling the rental service, Europcar, and they said they’d send someone out – but because it was snowy it might take a while. So we got on with things, and saw Jane, and cooked dinner, and poor Dad just had to hang around.

When they finally did arrive, late in the evening and while we were eating, Dad hung around outside while the mechanic tried to sort it out – but of course, things are never that easy, and even he couldn’t sort it out. Dejected, Dad came back in to finish his by-then cold pasta, looking harassed.

He had been explaining to the others about StillWalks, and since he had brought one of the DVDs up he decided to use it in a much-needed attempt to relax. It worked, too, for all of us, just sitting, watching and listening to them, going from a winter to a summer one, from coast to forest. Dad seemed pretty calm – right up until the point when Granny said, ‘I think you should call the car company again now, not in the morning!’ Quite a lot of the tension returned.

Next morning, while I was giving Jane a hand with some boxes of Philip’s books, poor Dad was still having to wait around, this time for the AA Jag specialist to arrive. As he had been hoping to use the time we were up there to produce a StillWalk of the area in memory of Philip, this was more than a little frustrating. When they finally did get there, still no luck. Whatever techniques they tried made no difference whatsoever, and on top of that it turned out the car wasn’t locking either. By this point we had all pretty much decided that a Jaguar, lovely though it might have been, was far more trouble than it was actually worth on this occasion.

Dad, in a last ditch attempt, tried calling Jaguar themselves, in the hope that they would have a solution. Considering the luck we had had so far, I don’t think any of us were surprised when they told him the only way to get in would be to cut through the steel and into the boot from the inside. By this time we decided just to give in, do the shop again, and apply to get the money back on the insurance.

That was how Dad and I ended up in Tesco, buying everything again – and it’s funny how it doesn’t matter where you are, Tesco is the same. At any rate, by the time we were finished, it was nearly dark, and sleeting along with it, making for a fairly miserable drive back while we tried to remember the route without a great deal of help from street signs. On our return my Uncle Simon joked that the boot would open only when we got back to the airport!

The next day, Dad took the morning to do the work for the StillWalk – by then, thankfully, the snow had more or less cleared. Granny had done the flower arrangements for the service that afternoon, so we drove there a little early. It was further than we had realized, and the roads were quite twisty, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when a humpbacked hill came out of nowhere – it felt like the car almost took off.

That evening, I found myself keeping my little cousin, Isobel, entertained with just about the strangest game of Hide and Seek I’ve ever played – it involved her showing me where she was ‘hiding’ something, and then the pair of us wandering off to start ‘looking’ for it together.

Unfortunately for us, we were leaving in the early hours of the morning again, and had to be up at 2am, which I can’t say is a time I’m too fond of. Nevertheless, when it actually came to it, despite all the trouble we’d had, the Jaguar is a nice car to drive and be in, and the roads were silent and empty, so we arrived at Aberdeen Airport in plenty of time, and not quite as tired or stressed out as we might have been. We parked in the hire car area, which was more or less completely abandoned, and were just grabbing our things off the backseat when Dad decided to try the boot one last time.

It opened! After everything, all the trouble and time we had taken trying to get it sorted out, and right at the very end it just opened. Leaving us to abandon £130 worth of food and wine just as it was finally accessible again.

Ellen Duncan 31/01/2012

I wondered later if it was that ‘flight’ from the humpback bridge that unstuck the boot, but I guess I’ll never really know. And the car? Well I know from the texts I sent, just how frustrated and annoyed I was at the time – but when I look back, it is the pleasure I felt at driving a brand new Jaguar XJ that I remember first and foremost.

Alastair Duncan 31/01/2012

NB Anyone interested in Philip Rogers books should contact Rich Thinkers.

Impromptu StillWalk

This short walk was made in to parts on the spur of the moment with my old iPhone 3!

StillWalks – iPhone Walk 1

StillWalks – iPhone Walk 2

The blurred movement in the images reflects something of the feeling I had whilst out on an evening walk and finding myself in need of something to eat due to a low blood sugar level. As a diabetic of many years, I am familiar with the symptoms and using my phone in this way this seemed like a good idea to show something of the effect a low blood sugar can have –  a bit like being drunk and having the munchies at the same time. Symptoms can vary quite a lot for individual diabetics and I am lucky always to have been able to recognize the onset of a “hypo” (hypoglaecemic reation).

Churchyard re-visit

I was down the old churchyard on the marshes again the other night (see the Old Churchyard Walk) and took these pics on my phone. Watch out on this blog for the impromptu StillWalk from the same evening also using photos taken on my (old) iPhone.

If you like the mossy pics, why not join the Moss Appreciation Society on Facebook

New Locations

I guess I’m a bit behind with this but, gradually, I am getting better organised with things and will be trying to put up more regular blog entries as well as a Facebook page and more.

The news is that there are now links to the locations for some of the StillWalks. The full length walks (5 – 7 minutes each) have all got location links for anyone who is interested and these will take you to a Google map. In time, all of the StillWalks on the website will be full length and linked to the full HD versions on Youtube with smaller files available in a separate browser window for those not allowed to access Youtube – such as schools.

More new StillWalks are on their way but the weather here in Wales, lately, has not been what you would call scorching hot! Also to come is a more detailed description of what is involved in putting the StillWalks together – they’re not just a bunch of photos thrown together as a slide show you know!

Arboretum Walk

Ok, so the sketches in the previous entry are there for you to see some of the background stuff that goes into StillWalks. The 1st walk that the sketches are from is now online and is the first one for Spring. There are others coming in the near future and some more recce images taken on my phone for other StillWalks I am working on.

I meant to do more sketch work as it is really helpful when it come to looking and seeing . . . and in that respect, I have been prompting the use of sketch work when doing the school workshops I have started. These are slightly different in that the StillWalks produced include overlaid text and voiceovers from the children which I do not want to use in my own walks but then, the aim of the school workshops is different.

StillWalks – the other side

Welcome to the StillWalks Blog,

This is where I want to show a different aspect of the walks I take to produce the StillWalks videos. Each walk starts with a recce during which I explore possible routes and look out for features of particular interest.

I had been taking snap shots on my phone to begin with but I am now starting to do some sketching as well. Below are a few examples of the kind of thing I hope to include in the future.