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The Songs of Insects — Sound Recording

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the whole project was capturing clean recordings of all 77 species. Recordings from the field are certainly more pleasing to the ear. That is, if there are no trucks, cars, planes or barking dogs. It is becoming increasingly difficult to capture the sounds of nature either with recording gear or just your own ears without the intrusion of a multitude of man-made sounds.

We traveled to many locations from Canada to Florida, from the east coast to Missouri in order to capture pristine field recordings of these magical singers. For the very quiet singers we brought them indoors and recorded them in an anechoic chamber (a carpeted walk-in closet). For indoor recordings we used the Sennheiser MKH 60 short-shotgun microphone (photo below) for it's extremely low self noise and its ability to reject sounds coming from the sides. For outdoor recordings we used Sennheiser MKH 20 mics in a variety of parabolas as well as the MKH 60s handheld or on a boom. All ofMKH 60 these microphones have a wonderful sound and a faithful reproduction of the frequencies that were there originally.

SASSFor binaural recordings we used a Crown Microphones SASS housing that had been modified to hold two MKH 20 mics. This device mimics the density of the human head as well as the distance from one ear to the other. The resulting recordings are very natural sounding with a wonderful sense of depth and realism. If listening with headphones you will swear that you are there in the woods or fields with the insects.

Most of the recordings were captured using Sony TCD-D 10 ProII RDAT recorders. Rugged and reliable these recorders were with us everywhere. The small RDAT tapes allowedTCD-D10 Pro II us to carry a lot of recording material in the field. As a rule we used 60 minute tapes as they are slightly thicker than longer tapes and therefore less prone to the stretching and if a tape were lost or de-stroyed it would be only an hour of recordings missing.

All of the recordings were transferred to computer hard drives using a digital input so that the audio did not go through another digital to analog to digital conversion. The files were analyzed using Adobe Audition on a PC or Wave Edit, Peak, Adobe Soundbooth, or Pro Tools on the Mac. After the exemplary recordings were identified they were copied to a master folder and edited for length and some noise reduction was applied to remove distant traffic rumble or jets. All of the files were normalized to a level that was comfortable to the human ear. The amount of normalization certainly varied from one species to the next. Some songs are very shrill and annoying to human ears and these had to be toned down. Other songs are very pleasing or high pitched and these had to be made louder to match the other songs. In the end the files for the compact disc were ready for mastering and the narration was recorded and added to the tracks.

Sound Spectrograms or Sonograms

The background-less recordings from the anechoic chamber were used to produce the sound spectrograms that are in the book for each species. Spectrograms are a visual representation of sound with frequency in kHz on the left axis and time in seconds on the bottom axis. The darker the trace the louder the sound. The sound spectrogram pictured here is a Red-headed Meadow Katydid. Notice how you can see the ticks that are followed immediately by the trills. Click on the play button in the spectrogram controller to hear the song and follow along.