Apr 13, 2011

Further Adventures In Audio

In late 2009 I found myself in Los Angeles again working on Carlawood, Season 2 (a comedy/reality series featuring Carla Collins and produced by Lone Eagle Entertainment.) It was during Season 1 of Carlawood that I began using the Aaton Cantar on a regular basis. During that first season of Carlawood the audio requirements were not onerous. Most of the time I was running only 2 or 3 channels of audio, meaning a couple of wirelesses and a boom. DVDs of the audio were burned each day for the edit suite to access should they see fit. Most times the editors deferred to the audio feed that was sent to and recorded on the camera (a Panasonic 900). The director, Paul Kilback, was very experienced and organized. He would spend time scouting locations when we were down so time wouldn't be wasted on shoot days figuring how best to deal with a location. He also devoted several days to shooting "B" rol during which times I was able to record several stereo ambient tracks at locations like the beach at Malibu, the boardwalk in Venice, and the overpasses of the 101 highway. I used a Saken CS-5 stereo boom mic.

Season 2 of Carlawood saw a change of directors as Paul was not available. The new director, Craig Goodwill, was younger and used a different approach in dealing with the rigors of comedy/reality television where an episode a week gets shoot. On several occasions I found myself running 5 wireless mics in addition toswinging a boom. The mix to camera was being recorded on channels 7 and 8 on my Cantar which pretty much accounts for all the conventional inputs of the Cantar. While I have worked on productions where I have used up to 18 channels, I was usually working with a number of assistants and working off of a cart. As for off the shoulder documentary style shooting 6 inputs plus a mixdown of 2 tracks is as far as I would want to venture.

While I haven't bought myself a good handheld PDA device to access the Cantar via bluetooth, I have been making audio notes electronically very slowly by using the scrolling wheels of the Cantar. There were times when scenes and action were changing too fast for me to keep current with the electronic notes in the field. I didn't really sweat it. When turning over my DVDs of the recorded audio I also turned in a handwritten set of notes. From pre-production meetings I heard from editors that they would prefer handwritten notes as they were not accustomed to using the PDF files and other meta data contained in the audio DVDs. Most days were suitably active and long that I didn't feel like always playing the day's takes on Majax which is Aaton's browser/player software and making corrections to the meta data using my laptop. I would burn the audio DVDs, make some handwritten notes and then set the batteries on charge as I was going out to dinner. There are only so many hours in a day and why obsess over things people are going to ignore anyway.My fellow Cantarist Ao Loo does his corrections and updates on Majax and has been known to print out the PDFs and turn them in to editors with his audio DVDs. In Los Angeles during my 9 week shoot I didn't have a printer with me so this has to remain an option to be exercised in the future.

This brings up an interesting point. When does the day end for us? So much of location sound recording involves data management. This is in addition to actually recording the audio. So far I have been fortunate enough to have jobs that are well paying enough to justify spending the extra time shaping the notes that accompany the DVDs I burn. Also, most of the shows I work on seem to have a delay built into them. The editors don't actually start cutting the footage until some 6 weeks after it is shot. What this means is that I'm never under huge time constraints in getting my package together for the editors. There have of course, been exceptions, but so far I have bit the bullet and done the extra work without complaint.

In recording sound for television we seem to be in a period of transition. For years we used to record all audio directly to the camera either via a cable connection or by a wireless link. Now with the advent of small and reasonably priced multi-track hard drive recorders, backing up an audio mix sent to the camera via a wireless link becomes a no-brainer. I now never really overly worry about hits and RF interference with the link to the camera as there is backup which I can monitor. Also, there are iso tracks that the editors can access if they choose to, over working with a 2 channel mix that is sent to the camera.

The most liberating in all this is the unhindered ability to record ambient or wild tracks. I have particularly felt this when I started recording wild tracks with my new Sanken WMS-5 surround sound 5.1 microphone. In the photo the Cantar is set up for recording prairie ambiance with the Sanken WMS-5, 5.1 stereo mic. I find when doing 5.1 wild tracks it is best to set the mic up on a stand, hit record and take a few steps back. If you are too close to the mic you will probably hear yourself breathing on one of the tracks.

I have recently finished work on a 1 hour wildlife documentary that aired on CBC on the series "The Nature Of Things." The episode was titled "Return Of The Prairie Bandit." We essentially shot for a year in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, documenting the life of black-footed ferrets that were bred in zoo and released into the wild. As ferrets are nocturnal animals, and make very little sound in the wild, I busied myself with making ambient recordings while the cameraman and director were out with their night vision lenses in the various dog towns where the ferrets live. My thinking at the time was that the 5.1 recordings would form an acoustic base for a lot of the footage being shot at night as well as for the various other "B" roll daytime visuals. I found that in the fall and winter the environment was remarkably quiet on the prairie. Aside from the wind, the most distinct sounds I recorded were coyotes howling in the distance. I did recordings in both stereo and 5.1 surround sound and found that the stereo mic is easier to handle and to set up and is way more forgiving for handling noise.

Here I am recording a 5.1 track with the Sanken WMS-5 5.1 microphone. Over my left shoulder deep in the distance are the rest of the crew shooting scenics.

From my first experience with the Sanken WMS-5 microphone I think I will use it with my Cantar in a mixer bag dedicated for that function rather than using my regular bag with all assortment of cables and wirelesses. This will make the set up cleaner so I won't have to root around my regular bag unplugging and plugging cables until everything ends up in a tangled mess in the field. It will also lighten the load carried into the field. When using this mic, I am recording for extended periods of time, not just grabbing a track here and there on the fly. I'll see how it goes. Assimilating new gear into your work flow is often an evolutionary process.

This was my usual field kit for the "Return Of The Prairie Bandit." On the left is the Sanken CS3e and on the right is the Sanken WMS-5, 5.1 stereo microphone. On the prairies wind protection is of paramount importance. While Rycote fur and zepplins are quite common for boom mics I am constantly amazed at how many Holophone 5.1 mics are out there in use. By comparison with the Sanken the Holophone sounds cheap and tinny and it doesn't have any wind protection worthy of mention, making it totally impractical for any kind of wilderness shoot.

One problem I've run into with the Sanken WMS-5 is trying to make a short cable for it so I can plug the mic in at the base of the handgrip of the suspension mount that it sits on. Fortunately for me I had ordered an extension cable with 12 pin tajimi connectors on it in case I wanted to run the mic up a long boom pole. In order to make the short cable for the Sanken WMS-5 I had to cannibalize the 12 pin tajimi connectors on the extension cable I had bought. It seems 12 pin tajimi connectors are incredibly difficult to come by. The problem seems to be with North American distributors, in this case Marshall Electronics who have none in stock and are evasive about when they will have them in stock. It's been my experience that these companies often won't order more stock until they have enough orders to justify a shipment from the manufacturer in Asia. If that is the case they are doing their customers a huge disservice. During times like this I don't mind paying a premium for a part I really need. The last thing I want to hear is that it is going to take 6 months to a year to get the items you want.

I understand manufacturers like Tajimi Electronics of Japan often need distributors for their products in various parts of the world and often give rights of exclusivity to sell that product to distributors in a given area. I also think it behooves manufacturers like Tajimi Electronics in this age of internet to sell directly to customers even if it is at a premium rather than directing them to a distributor who delays in ordering a part until they have enough orders for a shipment.

In addition to working on the "Nature Of Things" episode following the release of the black-footed ferrets into the wild in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan I have concurrently been working on several episodes of a new series for History Television titled "Museum Secrets." One of the privileges of working on a series like "Museum Secrets" is access to iconic artifacts and locations. Here I am in the lit up Sistene Chapel after hours just before we began setting up.

For the most part "Museum Secrets" has fairly conventional requirements for audio as experts and historians walk and talk through various parts of the museums involved and in some cases locations related to the topic that are not in the museum.

Here's a shot taken during an interview in the Sistene Chapel ground level. We later shot an interview on a scaffold that reached quite close to the fabled ceiling. That interview on the scaffold made this episode quite challenging for me from an audio perspective. We erected a scaffold some 10 meters in height from which Bob Lang (co-director of the episode) could interview Maestro Maurizio de Luca, Director of Restorations of the Painting Laboratory of the Vatican Museums. The idea was that they would be closer to the ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo. There was only room on the scaffold for the camerman, Mark Caswell, Bob Lang, and Maestro de Luca. The challenge presented to me by Bob Lang was to have Maestro de Luca hear the questions he proposed to ask through the translator and for him (Bob Lang) to hear the translations.

The simplest solution for me was to put a remote speaker on the scaffold at the feet of Maestro de Luca that was powered by a 9 volt battery and send audio to it via a wireless with line level cables. I used a small Sound Devices Mix Pre by the speaker to receive the signal and boost it. The feed to the wireless came from my Cantar foldback outlet that I use for my Comteks. My Comtek cable is split so I was sending Maestro de Luca's responses on one side to the translator. The other side of the cable was sending the translator's speech to the speaker on the scaffold. This was so the translator could hear the Maestro's responses and the Maestro could hear the translator. Because the 2 feeds were separate there were no feedback problems on the scaffold with the Maestro's lav. I tested the whole concept at home where I have a loft style indoor balcony. Everything worked fine. What I didn't count on was the degree of resonance and echo in the Sistene itself. It rendered spoken instructions shouted from the floor to the top of the scaffold almost unintelligible. At the last minute Bob Lang made an executive decision to do the interview in English, deeming the Maestro's command of English sufficient, and thus also acknowledging the North American television audience's disdain of reading subtitles. Broadcasters in North America seem to prefer interviews in English even if it is a little stilted and accented to having to use voice overs or subtitles. It sometimes works but often compromises passion and articulation when speakers can't elaborate in their native tongues. As for me, I was off the hook with my set up in this case as it was not used even though it was in place.

A second and more curious audio challenge occured on our second trip to Rome to film at the Vatican. We shot a stand up with an art historian not currently in favor with the Vatican in a church (Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) for which we had no permit in front of a Michelangelo statue of a nude adult Jesus that had been covered up by the Vatican after the sculptor's death. Since the shoot was not sanctioned and had to be done surreptitiously the choice was made to use the Canon 5D which is essentially a still camera that is capable of taking some incredibly good quality video footage. At first it was going to be a visual only type of scene with the art historian walking through the church and standing by the statue and voice over narration was going to cover the content but then in conversation with the director I expressed the feeling that we could record sound if I plugged a wireless into a Zoom recorder I had with me.

I always carry a small recorder around with me for recording street ambiences in foreign cities. This is the small device I currently carry for fooling around, the Nagra ARES-ML. It's a bit better built than the Zoom and has a better microphone. The one really bad feature about the Nagra is that it only records to internal memory which can't be removed instead of to an SD card. This makes it awkward for downloading the recorded sounds and certainly sets a ceiling for the quantity of audio that can be recorded.

I had originally purchased my first such device, the Zoom, some years ago mainly as a toy. I would take it with me to record street ambiences in places like China and Japan. I was impressed by the small size and the inexpensive price. I wasn't sure how I was going to use these wild tracks, perhaps as some kind of aural sculpture, a testament to my itinerant work life. While the Zoom was a great machine for the price, I wasn't really taken with its internal menu which can be confusing and counter-intuitive, its cheap plastic body which can transmit a lot of handling noise if using the built-in mic and I had also come to dislike its windsock which I felt was ineffective.

In the van on the way to the church I was madly trying to access the settings in the Zoom which would allow me to plug in my wireless receiver. When I finally got everything set we were in front of the church. Then my batteries died in the Zoom. I had to madly dash into a tourist shop where I bought 4 of the most expensive AA batteries I had ever paid for and proceeded into the church having hit record.The walk and talk had already started. The others had gone ahead of me. The agreement had been we would all go in separately to attract less attention. I managed to convey my concerns and we redid the beginning. The result was fairly good given the chaotic and haphazard nature of the prep.

The Canon 5D has come under a lot of criticism for its use as a video camera by a lot of audio, video, and film professionals, many of who deem it unsuitable for serious work. Without delving into compression of its picture, its lack of time code etc., I have come to the conclusion that it has a definite role in the making of serious documentary films. When a crew has to resort to guerilla tactics to get the job done it seems ideal. I think I have to refine my technique with the Zoom recorder a bit to get comfortable doing this kind of shoot on the spur of the moment. To this end I bought the Nagra ARES-ML recorder which has a better internal microphone than the Zoom and switching menus is a lot faster. It, needless to say, also cost a lot more.

Since writing this I have been back to Grasslands National Park working on an episode of CBC's "The Nature Of Things." Here I am loaded up for work. During the shooting of "The Return Of The Prairie Bandit" we had to hike in to our locations. There was a strict no vehicles policy in the park to preserve the native prairie landscape. I am also wearing my snake gators should we startle some rattlers on our way to visit the black-footed ferrets.

There had been an unusual amount of rain in the spring in southern Saskatchewan in 2010 and the park was a robust green. During the fall and winter the prairie was eerily quiet except for the wind. Now there were birds everywhere. I was able to capture some very exciting sounds with my Sanken WMS-5 surround sound microphone. One evening I stayed by the river and recorded a symphony of frogs. For my trips into the field I took only the Sanken WMS-5 and the Sanken CS-3e. I stopped bringing the stereo Sanken CS-5 due to the fact we had to hike cross country to our locations and there is only so much that fits into backpacks and onto slings.

This picture illustrates how we got all of our equipment to our locations in Grasslands National Park. This picture is taken in the summer when the park was still in a verdant state due to the heavier than usual rainfall. Nature documentaries can be physically punishing.

Before our spring trip to Saskatchewan for the "Nature Of Things" we had one trip in winter. In preparation for that I sent my Cantar back to Grenoble, France to have heating coils installed into the main LCD display panel.These heating coils would draw their power from the main batteries powering the Cantar. LCD panels have a reputation for slowing down as the temperature falls and finally disappearing. My friend Ao Loo told me of how he had a winter shoot in Quebec City and when the temperature dipped below -30˚C, the display on his Cantar X1 disappeared. The unit still worked but it was impossible to change input grids and deal with metadata. Since I live and work a lot in Canada I felt this mod was a prudent measure to take. Aaton did the work quickly and I had my Cantar back within a month. The jobs I did during this time I performed with my SQN and Sound Devices 744T recorder which I had thankfully resisted the urge to sell. Life is certainly a little more stress-free with a good backup kit. What was surprising in all this was the amount of money spent on shipping the Cantar to and from Grenoble. Over $600.00! I am now convinced that the next time I need some bigger overhaul of the Cantar I will write Aaton and ask them to give a time slot when they can schedule the work and fly there myself and holiday until the deck is ready for pickup.

This is a shot I really like that shows the vast emptiness of the prairie in the winter. Here it almost looks like the sea. I am holding up a wireless receiver to get better line of sight reception from the distant wildlife biologist.

When the heating coils were installed in my Cantar, a temperature sensor, Techset20 on the unit, was activated, which shows the temperature of the display and of the hard drive. This past summer I also spent some time working in the desert in Egypt where the ambient temperature reached +52˚C. I remember nervously eyeing this setting and seeing the display reading reach +62˚C and the hard drive temperature hitting +92˚C. Everything worked just fine but it certainly begs the question as to when these things turn to liquid.

This was our base camp in the field in Grasslands National Park during our summer shoot there. The winds were strong enough that one of our tents blew away one day. It's probably in Montana.

When we first started filming ferrets in Saskatchewan I hung back and let the camera take front and center. It was important that we get a lot of good and interesting footage of the ferrets in the wild. Filming wildlife can be tricky and tedious. At all times we were accompanied by Park personnel or a qualified wildlife biologist. Needless to say I wasn't about to swing a boom too close to animals and scare them off. As our shoot days piled up and footage of the ferrets accrued I became more adventurous in my audio recording techniques.

Ferrets are nocturnal animals. You wouldn't know it from this snapshot I took with my small digital camera right at dawn after being up all night. I guess this fellow was keeping extended hours as well. At any rate to find ferrets at night in the dogtowns where they live wildlife biologists would use spotlights or very strong lamps to scan the terrain. Prairie dogs are active during the day so only the ferrets and badgers would be up and about during the night. With the swath of light cast by the spotlight one could pick out the reflective flash of ferret eyes. I should note here that the spotlighting was always done by trained personnel, in most cases wildlife biologists, working under a special Parks Canada permit. Once the ferrets had been spotted our crew would be alerted and with our night vision lenses in place we would steal up to the site and roll. Usually the closest the cameraman Mark Caswell could get was some 30 to 40 feet away.Even at these distances the boom was totally ineffective so I would busy myself with getting general ambience a little away from the rest of the crew. One day Travis Livieri, Executive Director of Prairie Wildlife, suggested to me it might be interesting to see if we could capture some audio of the ferrets in the wild. I went out spotlighting with him and he pointed out a mound where he was certain a ferret pop out of. With his help I planted a small lavaliere microphone by the edge of the hole and camouflaged it with some grass and buried the wireless transmitter it was attached to under a thin layer of soil. Before doing that I had placed the transmitter in a zip lock plastic bag to protect the unit.

Sure enough later that night not only 1 but 2 ferrets popped out of that hole. I was able to capture a few minutes of their chatter and footfalls before they took off for another mound. I also had some technical difficulties. When I was burying my wireless by the mound Travis had placed a ring over the mound that had cables attached to a device that read the microchips that had been embedded into the released ferrets. The ferrets that were originally released in the park were bred in captivity and all of them had microchips embedded in them with a unique bar code and serial number. The idea being that when a ferret stuck its head out of the mound, through the ring, the reader would scan its number. If there was no number then it would be cause for real excitement as that had to be an animal born in the wild. My problem was that after several minutes of golden audio I started getting some kind of electronic interference. At the time I was unable to pin down the source. The cables to the reader ran right across my microphone cable, also the signal was not as strong as I had originally hoped. I had perhaps covered my transmitter with a little too much dirt spurred by Travis' concern that the ferrets might make off with my mic. In any case the audio that was recorded was promising enough that we decided to try again.

The following night I went out again with Travis. This time we buried 5 wireless mics in a series of mounds. Travis wasn't sure which mounds would be the most promising and this way we could follow a ferret if it left one mound for a look and see in a neighboring mound. This setup was a rousing success even though the ferrets were not as vocal as on the previous night. I was able to capture footfalls and the noises of scurrying as the ferrets ran around. I ran 4 of the wirelesses into the mic inputs of the Cantar and for the 5th I used line level cables running it into the line level input. I reserved the 5th mic input for the boom.

Sometimes it is best to record wildlife ambiance from the relative safety of a vehicle, especially amongst herds of bigger animals like bison. I was quite surprised by the reach of the Sanken CS-3e in picking up snorts and farts of the bison. Once in awhile it's a privilege to work out in nature and record sound as it occurs in nature undisturbed by man made background noise. As an urban dweller I know that I have become far too tolerant and accepting of the din of 21st century life. I am totally taken aback when dropped into the wild and listening to that great gaping silence that is not silence at all but a rich aural tapestry of life before man. In Canada we a truly privileged to still have large areas of land relatively undisturbed by man.

Documentary crews are very lean and keen. On the left is the DOP of "Return Of The Prairie Bandit" Mark Caswell. In the center is director Kenton Vaughan. I must say that working on that project with them both was one of the peak experiences of my professional life.

Interspersed with shooting "The Nature Of Things" in Saskatchewan I also spent a considerable amount of time on the road with "Greatest Tank Battles." I have probably mentioned that this show from an audio perspective is not overly complex. For me most of my activity revolves around green screen interviews with veterans and historians. Over the past 2 years I have had to deal with variables in terms of the locations where we shoot the interviews. Most interviews are shot in hotel conference rooms and quite often we find ourselves setting up a green screen in the home of a veteran, especially if they are frail and too infirm to travel to a location. The variables I have to deal with are ambient sounds that are found in most modern buildings emanating from ventilation, heat, or air conditioning systems. My frustration builds when we are faced with a location where there is audible air flow and no way to control it. Quite often these systems are centralized and maintenance people are unable to shut down a specific location in a building. It was therefore no small wonder that I was intrigued when Schoeps announced their new Super CMIT digital microphone.

Here are the Schoeps CMIT 5u on the bottom and the Schoeps Super CMIT digital microphone on the top. In size, weight, and appearance they are quite similar.

In Schoeps' own literature they explain the technology of the Super CMIT thus: "The Super CMIT 2U has one capsule positioned behind its forward facing interference tube, plus a second capsule that is aimed in the reverse direction. At frequencies below 6 kHz the signals of these two transducers are analyzed and compared by a digital signal processor using technology from illusonic (patent applied for). It can recognize sound energy arriving from discrete directions, deduce whether its direction of arrival is persistent or not, and distinguish such energy from diffuse arriving sound.

"This information is then used to focus on the discrete sound energy while suppressing the diffuse sound. Thus the 'reach' of this microphone is greatly increased without artifacts or colorization of the sound.

"Above 6kHz the signal from the forward facing transducer is used without further processing, since the interference tube's effect is already optimal at that range.

"The Super CMIT is the first microphone in the world to offer such high directivity while maintaining such high quality sound."

I have more often than not been on the bleeding edge of technology and I impulsively ordered the microphone without really thinking through what I was doing. I remember Alex Bernardi of Audio Services in Toronto asking how I was going to use the microphone and I nonchalantly assured him that it was going to be my main interview mic. He nodded and mumbled something about it being a very tricky mic to use and I passed off his unease as no big deal.

At any rate the vaunted microphone arrived some 6 weeks later when I was in the throes of a shoot abroad, which was fortunate because there were a couple of cables to be made before I could fire up the microphone. I promptly ordered the cables over the phone - a 3 pin XLR to AES in/out and a 12 volt DC power cable that I could connect to the 10 volt phantom power supply that came with the mic. Yes, that's right! 10VOLT PHANTOM POWER. The power supply that Schoeps sends out with the mic is with an AC adapter that plugs into the hirose socket on the power supply. Since the AC adapter was regulated to 12 volts, Javed, the bench tech at Audio Services in Toronto decided it was prudent to regulate the power flow of the hirose cable that I was going to use to power the power supply from a V lock camera battery to 12 volts as well. Sometimes these camera batteries when fully charged can be up as high as 16 volts and I wasn't about to get cavalier in dealing with higher voltages.

When I finished my shoot abroad and picked up my cables and mic and too them home to find out what the Super CMIT sounded like I was not only totally underwhelmed but felt the first stab of panic that this was not going to work at all.

This is Cantar #602 (me!) with the digital in/out cables attached. The yellow sticker stating "This journey 1% finished" was something I got at a Facebook conference in Toronto I was working. I think it aptly describes my working relationship with my Cantar.

At any rate, after hooking everything up and selecting the proper input routes and turning on the digital power in the Cantar, I could hardly hear the microphone. Holding the Super CMIT close to my mouth like an announcer holds a hand mic I could make the mic peak at around -30dB, far too low for anything useable that could be introduced into a mix. I phoned Audio Services in Toronto and talked to Javed, the bench tech. He told me that there should be a gain built into the microphone and that by tapping each of the 3 filter switches twice each quickly, the gain would increase by 10dB. I tried this and nothing happened. Going over Schoeps' web page it appeared that a firmware update was required for the mic to be able to do this.

This picture shows the digital AES jack of the Cantar on the underside of the unit with my in/out digital cable.

On my behalf Audio Services turned to the Schoeps distributor in Canada, a company called Elmatron to find out about the firmware update. What transpired then completely boggles the mind. The people at Elmatron didn't know that the Super CMIT could have the gain activated by the filter switches, let alone that there was a firmware update that was clearly announced on Schoeps' own web site. It took the incompetents at Elmatron a week to find out that yes, indeed, there was a firmware update and it had to be done at the factory in Germany and that the update was free of charge except for the shipping. At my insistence Audio Services shipped the microphone directly to Schoeps with explicit instructions for them to ship the microphone back to Audio Services. It didn't make sense to me to have to deal with a third party in Canada. It would only prolong matters. I have since also found out from the people at Trew Audio in Toronto that they consider Elmatron completely incompetent and useless and that they get all their current information for Schoeps products from the Schoeps U.S. distributor. For Trew this is easy, as their head office is in Nashville, Tennessee. As for myself, I have long had an aversion to assholes, especially if they are difficult and obtuse. In future I will most likely do any major purchase of a Schoeps product through a European distributor. Easy for me to mouth off like this but I also have an EU passport and address and have done this in the past, most recently when I wanted a KT Stuart bag for the Cantar. The quotes in Toronto I got were so obscenely high so I ordered the bag directly from KT Systems UK and had the bag sent to Estonia where I have an address and picked it up on the tail end of a European gig. I could have purchased 3 bags in this fashion for the price I was quoted in Toronto for 1 bag. Normally I am willing to give any local supplier or distributor 20 to 30 points above manufacturer's price for the trouble of ordering, securing, and landing a product but there comes a point when marups get out of hand and you get the distinct feeling you are being hustled and fleeced or in Elmatron's case dealing with people who are stupid and unhelpful. These days the internet is a great leveler in terms of accessing information and pricing. That still however leaves the question of warranties.

In my expeience most warranty work on audio products is usually done at the factory which means you still have to absorb the shipping costs but more importantly regional jurisdiction has no real importance. Professional audio equipment used currently in cinema and television is a fairly specialized niche market and there are very few authorized shos that do any significant local warranty work. You will still end up dealing with the factory and whether you want to involve the local distributor or not is entirely your decision.

In our work camera crews travel with a lot of gear. I find that on travel days I work as hard as on regular days humping gear and dealing with airline personnel and customs officials with carnets. It never ceases to amaze me that most production companies have no comprehension of this fact and try to cheap out on rates for travel days. I have a Margussound carnet for my equipment and usually charge a modest fee on a per folio basis during trips. Considering that an audio equipment carnet costs between $800.00 and $1,000.00 to open for a production company and involves a fair bit of paperwork there are still production companies that balk at paying my per folio charge. I have never made money off of my carnet and run it on a cost recovery basis figuring that I am saving production companies money and hassle by offering the use of my carnet. These days I get quite militant. You don't want to use my carnet, fine. Here's my equipment list, you get the carnet, and you eat the total cost.

Here I am in a quarry in England shooting the blowing up of a van and the set-up of that for "Museum Secrets." It was at times raining quite heavily. My rain poncho has a window on the chest so I'm able to see what I'm doing with my Cantar. I also have the rain cover over the boom mic. It's an effective cover to soften the sound of raindrops on the zepplin and can be periodically just wrung out when it becomes too saturated with water. I've also used it to good effect on dramas when the rain machines get going and drench everything. Ironically I bought it from Location Sound in Los Angeles where it hardly rains at all.

I finished the year 2010 by mixing a feature film, "Margarita" shot on the Red camera. On these kinds of projects audio is essentially double system, although in this case I did send a guide track to the camera. To my knowledge, the only time anyone aid attention to the guide track was the camera operator who, during a few scenes where the actors on wires were quite distant, listened for lines so he could judge camera moves by the dialogue.

Earlier that year I had purchased an Ambient Trilevelsync Lockit box because I was getting offered too many projects where the Red was the camera of choice. Reds are notorious for their lack of ability to maintain accurate time code. I have always found this perplexing. How difficult can it be over the course of some 30 plus builds to come up with an accurate timepiece? At any rate the Ambient worked flawlessly and neither time code nor synching were ever a problem.

For this feature I used the Cantar as a recorder and mixer. It was essentially a small scale project with only 5 principal actors and I never felt under equipped having only 6 plus 2 chanels to work with. I ran the mix tracks from the Cantar into a Sound Devices 744T as a backup recording. Most of the shooting took place in a large Toronto house. To facilitate ease of movement and quick turnaround I ran a wireless boom for the duration of the shoot without any hint of trouble. I worked with a wonderful young boom op, Sean Koch, who has come to film audio from music mixing. He had done some boom work on several features before this and had good focus and set etiquette. I was particularly impressed by his fluency in technical matters and his astute ear.

What was also refreshing was that I didn't have to submit to post a mixdown on track 1 for rushes as was the case when shooting film and using aging telecine transfer facilities for rushes. This is a bit of a problem with the Cantar as one has to perform a polyrotate function when burning or transferring data and this seems to take up significantly more time than a straightforward burn or transfer of data. This is something with which I have had no experience but seems to be a topic of hot debate on the Cantar User's List. I, for the most part, have worked on projects using electronic based acquisition formats. With "Margarita" I would simply dump my audio files on to an external hard drive at the end of each day which I would then give to the IT guy who dumped it into his computer and transferred it to the edit suite. For the most part an editor was working throughout the shoot doing a quick and rough assembly so production was always aware of inherent problems and a reshoot could be scheduled if necessary.

On the left in this picture is the DAC C462 external digital gain and 10 volt phantom power supply that I now use whenever I use the Schoeps Super CMIT digital microphone and the Cantar. It was manufactured by Lake People in Germany and cost about 1,000 euros. It can also be used as an A/D converter if working with analogue mixers. The unit itself is bigger and more awkward than I would have liked when working out of my bag with the Cantar but otherwise functions quite well. It is however, a bit of a power hog, consuming 800 mA per hour which means a large V-Lock camera battery will last just over a half day running just this. Beside it on the picture above is the 10 volt phantom power supply that comes from Schoeps when you purchase a Super CMIT microphone.

This is a view of the XLR jacks in the DAC C462 put out by Lake People. The hirose connector on the extreme left is something I had added on by the bench tech at Audio Services in Toronto. The power supply that comes with the unit is A/C only and is plugged in via a flimsy friction fit mini plug which is totally inadequate for reliable work on location unless one is working off of a cart in a totally controlled environment.

Towards the tail end of "Margarita" my Schoeps Super CMIT came back from Germany with the new firmware upgrade. I brought the mic to set one day to show my boom op Sean and he was totally amazed by it and wanted to put it to use right away. I was dead set against this. Firstly, while the Cantar has a digital input, it doesn't have a digital gain. The DAC C462 hadn't arrived yet. I felt in a drama situation where the dynamic range of actors can be quite significant during the course of a single scene, it would be crazy to use this mic coupled with the Cantar. Also, there was the issue of having to use a hardwire as it was pointless trying to send a digital signal over an analogue wireless system. On our set it would have been a huge headache trying to run cable. We were working in an old ansion and not on some studio floor. I did howver do some tests and wrote to the Aatechs at Cantar.

"Happy Holidays, I hear there is lots of snow in Europe this year.

"I got my Schoeps Super CMIT microphone back from Schoeps where it was getting a firmware upgrade. Now by clicking each of the 3 push buttons on the microphone tube twice each, in sequence, the gain is increased by +30dB. When used with my Cantar this brings the level of the mic up to something that can be useable and introduced into a mix. Since the Cantar doesn't have a digital gain this is a crude way of recording sound but is perfecty feasible for sit down interviews.

"I set up a mock interview in my house yesterday with the Super CMIT. I ran a lav on channel 1 with the digital boom on channels 5 and 6. To give the mic a real test I turned up the fan of my Wolf gas stove to its highest setting and turned on the air exchange system in the house. Combined, this was louder than most environmental noises I encounter during my work. With the Schoeps Super CMIT set on preset 2 I got a clean recording from the filtered boom. I ran all the tracks through Majax to be able to better judge each track on its merits. To my ear the Super CMIT seemed colorless and clean and not nearly as warm sounding as the CMIT 5u. Perhaps this is indicative of some kind of analogue/digital prejudice of mine.

"During a second take in addition to the above mentioned noises I had somebody with a vaccum cleaner working some 3 meters from the subject being interviewd. Again the Super CMIT was on preset 2 and I could hear sonic artifacts and pumping as the mic tried to settle on the voice and suppress the other noise. Clearly this time the noise was a little too aggressive and close but the sound was not as bad as I expected. I have seen and heard post production houses do worse at trying to rehabilitate sound from situations like this.

"As a reult of these tests I am ready to use the Super CMIT with the Cantar for sit down interviews. For the past 2 years I have been engaged on 2 television series for History Channel that involve very long green screen interviews in one case and interviews in front of a rear screen with a projector for the other. For sit down interviews I use a light stand with a boom pole holder that holds the boom mic above the subject. The gain during my test could easily be adjusted by the distance between the mic and the subject.

"When my Super CMIT came back from Germany last week I was finishing up work on a feature film. I brought the microphone to set as my boom op was curious to see it. He was amazed by the sound and its ability to defeat surrounding noise. In fact he was so amazed that he wanted to put it to immediate use. It took considerable effort on my part to dissuade him. I was nervous about the fact that there was no digital gain on the Cantar. Drama being drama, the dynamic range can be huge from very quiet to very loud. Also, we were filming in an old mansion and I was using a wireless boom for ease of work flow in making our scene changes faster. I wasn't about to start laying down cable down cable all over the place. I was also afraid of digital handling noise. Yesterday, while setting up my mock interview I in fact heard that digital pinging that is indicative of ultra low frequencies overloading preamps. This, coupled with no digital gain, I think I would avoid using this microphone with my Cantar in a drama. For drama, as we inch forward into the realm of digital microphones I may look into a different recorder/mixer setup. In fact a supplier in Toronto, where I am based has offered to let me take out a Sound Devices 788 for a test evaluation in the new year. I originally bought the Cantar because I was doing a lot of expedition type documentaries and it is by far the most rugged piece of kit I have ever used. I know from experience because my SQN and Sound Devices 744T were constantly in the shop for repairs. This year I shot in -28˚C weather in Canada and +52˚C in Egypt and the Cantar never faltered. I will keep using the Cantar for documentaries and will be using the Super CMIT with the Cantar for interviews that are conducted during the making of these documentaries. Therefore it would interest me greatly if 10 volt phantom power could be implemented from the Cantar. That way I could avoid having to pack both Schoeps' power supply and the large V-lock battery I use to power it. Here's hoping you can make it so."

That was the kind of year 2010 was. Intensely busy with a lot of technical challenges and new tools to play with.

Here we are shooting an interview outdoors on the prairie for "Return of the Prairie Bandit." The lighting setup is simple but effective.

Ambiance is always important to record. Here I am in the Vatican Gradens by myself doing just that.

Recording ambiance in the desert. I generally try to get away from the rest of the crew and the noise and chatter they make. I find that better than constantly yelling for quiet while they are shooting scenics.

Here I am in +55˚C heat. Not much shade around in the Valley of the Kings. I must say that all the equipment worked flawlessly in the heat and sand in Egypt.

As a post script to the above, I spent 3 weeks in Athens in March 2011 for "Museum Secrets." I used the Schoeps Super CMIT with the Cantar to great effect for interviews in noisy museum environments where we have little or no control. The Super CMIT is most effective with constant noises such as the hum of ventilation or traffic and not effective at all with random noises like the loud chirping of birds or car horns.

I have not heard back from the Aatechs at Aaton about implementing 10 volt phantom power. Since I was able to borrow a Sound Devices 788 and CL-8 from Audio Services in Toronto for evaluation, I found that unit to be most effective and impressive when working with the Super CMIT. It does 10 volt phantom power and has a built-in digital gain. A minor cavil is that the preamps on it don't sound nearly as good as on the Cantar. Since the Super CMIT has become a vital part of my sound package I might have to consider switching over to the SD 788 and CL-8 for a large part of my day to day work for ease of work unencumbered by external gains and power supplies and retire the Cantar for use only during expedition type documentaries that would be too punishing for the much more flimsier Sound Devices built gear. It's a shame since the Aaton Cantar is a superb piece of equipment built to withstand all kinds of challenges but they seem, as a company, hesitant and reluctant to advance into the digital realm with their audio products.

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