Fireproof gloves and eye protection necessary!

Fireproof gloves and eye protection necessary!

It's been a cold winter here in Edinburgh so what better way to warm up than to light things on fire (and record them). I've been wanting to get more field recording done in general as it's good practice for mic techniques, session organisation, and file management/meta data. 

I was hugely inspired by Stephan Schutze's workshop on recording fire, which is a great watch if you haven't seen it already! Watch here. Stephan shows some great techniques to manipulate a flame to get some great sounds. So, all fired up (...yup), I went to go record some nice whooshes and what not. Full disclaimer: I had the help and supervision of an ex-fireman at hand so please do be careful if you try this yourself!

For this first session, I used an old hand towel nailed to a large branch, which was doused in some standard petrol/gasoline. You DO NOT want this thing flying off as you're waving it around so the nails are highly recommended. With the flame on a large branch, it wasn't too bad to manipulate. The main issue was the weather conditions. Wind would really fan the flame and when you combine that with waving the branch around, you can end up with an unwieldly fire very quickly. My mic choice wasn't great either, my M10's omni mics really didn't help with getting a nice emphasised whoosh. As fun as this was, I didn't really end up with a lot of usable material. 

Feeling a little unsatisfied with the results, I organised another session. This time round I used a much more sheltered environment, giving me more control of the fire. I also went for a much smaller flame, opting for some percussion beaters dipped in petrol. Having a smaller flame was not only more manageable but allowed for more control and better results all round! This time round I also swapped out my M10 for a Rode NTG2. A more directional mic emphasised the whooshes so much better.

Some examples from the second session are below (raw recordings normalised -1dB). If you're interested in doing a fire session, I'd highly recommend Stephan's video as well as The Recordist's making-of video on his fire session here.