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Dog Day

May 24, 2010

I’ve been helping to gather a bank of sounds for a forthcoming film project recently.  In particular, dog racing sounds have been my main focus over the past week or so.

We had another short flight ban in the UK one day last week so I thought I’d use the opportunity to have a go at some ‘dog feet foley’ in Bushey Park which is very near to where I live.  It’s a large enough open space to enable you to get a decent amount of distance between you and the nearest roads (by London standards anyway) but I’ve never really done much recording there in the past because there is normally a relentless barrage of air traffic passing over on it’s way to or from Heathrow.  The ban must have lifted first thing that day because as the morning went on the occasional high altitude plane began to appear every ten to fifteen minutes but even this seemed a blessing compared to the normal rate which seems more like every two minutes.

Anyway, on my way to a secluded spot in the park, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by the sound of a woodpecker hammering away at a tree.  I gradually managed to figure out which of the large trees the sound was coming from (there’s a lot in Bushey Park…) and in the end I’m pretty sure I was within 25-30 metres when I made this recording:

I absolutely love the sound woodpeckers make.  Considering what a violent activity they engage in, it’s amazing that they are so relaxing to listen to.  As you can probably hear, the woodpecker was surrounded by a variety of birds including crows, jackdaws, pigeons and lots of parakeets, which have apparently been around for a while but their population in Southwest London seems to have absolutely exploded since the ’80s.  I wish I could hear what the park sounded like ten and then twenty years ago – very different I imagine.  My recording certainly sounds a lot more exotic than I would have thought most people would expect an English park to sound.

Half an hour passed before I was happy to move on and get back to my quest for dog sounds.  However, as soon as I started having a go at imitating dog feet on the ground with my hands (in soft leather gardening gloves) I realised that it was a really rubbish idea and that I didn’t have a hope in hell of recreating the rhythmic pattern of a greyhound sprinting past.  Fortunately though, while I was failing miserably at this, lots of dog walkers suddenly materialised from every possible direction.  I was having to stop recording to let these people pass anyway so I thought I might as well give up on the foley attempt and just start asking dog walkers  if they were up for trying to help me out.

All of them were.  I stopped 4 or 5 people in the end and got some potentially useful stuff to work with.  Have a listen:

(NB.  As you’ll have noticed, I’ve been leaving a lot more of my tracks unedited since my Scotland sound diary.  I feel that sometimes it’s a lot more revealing if you can hear the unadulterated track, mic bumps and all, rather than a perfectly manicured version of it.  However, let me know if you are finding it annoying or unpleasant to listen to)

So, after an eventual success in the park that morning, I organised to go and do some sound recording at Wimbledon Dog Races in the evening.  I went along with a colleague who got miked up with a couple of DPAs in order to try and record some close cheers and shouts in amongst the small crowd that was there, while I went about capturing some wider chat tracks and tannoy sounds with a stereo Schoepps.  It was interesting to hear the real sound of the dogs hurtling past but the background sound of the crowd and the tannoy made it pointless to try and capture any clean running sounds on this occasion.

With more than ten races taking place that evening, we got a lot of stuff (I’ve been ploughing my way through it all ever since!)  However, amongst all the great wide sounds that I got of the crowd, one of my favourites of the night is actually a close recording of a few guys who were chatting on the far side of the stadium, away from the main crowd.  They all seemed to have some personal involvement in a dog and seemed to know each other from other race meetings, so it was interesting to hear some of their banter:

It’s not actually much use to me as a sound effect due to the mixture of overlapping sounds and mic handling noises but, as a stealth recording of a slice of life at a sporting event that may not be around for much longer, I think it’s a really interesting piece of audio.

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