Lets Gi’it A Shot!

I have signed up to a new scheme – new to me at least. I sometimes have the vague notion that people will like to listen to my field recordings. The best place to do this is to listen to the CD on good headphones. Failing that, if you want a bit more of a public impression of what I get up to then listening in an Art Gallery would do.

Thing is, the latter has been next to nothing.

So, I signed up for Yorkshire Art. I will keep you abreast of developments on my Artist Blog HERE.

They say they will be able to get more Gallery appointments and, hopefully, I will be able to chalk “Artist” on to my CV.

A New Edition Of The Parish News

I managed to record another edition of The Parish News. No biggy – it is something I do every week. This week, I recorded it in my flat with new gear. I have had a Sound Devices MixPre 6 for a number of months now but never really used it for the show – still, makes a change. I used it on the One-Hundred and Ninth Edition of The Parish News.

There is something else that is new. Brand new. I have a new mic. An Audio Technica BP4025 – it is specifically designed for Field Recording so I look forward to using it in the field. It seemed to be good for the show.

If you listen to the enclosed audio on Headphones, it sounds like my voice is just behind the centre point of your hearing. This is because it is a stereo mic (X/Y) therefore giving a lot more width to my voice. It’s reet mint!

Other than that, I have been doing a lot of work – I was interviewed by S. Watson-Power as part of her school project on music. It really was a good, wholesome feeling I got from it. If you want to read the interview, I have transcribed the interview on my Arty Site HERE. I wish her every luck in getting a good grade with her presentation – I was sent a copy of her presentation, but, I figure it is a bit too personal to give away on Sophie’s behalf. So, if she ever wants to make it public I will let you know. But it was sweet.

I will try and write ‘home’ a bit more regularly from now on. That is how I take this Blog – it is a bit like Writing Home. There is a familiarity to it, coupled with a duty – ‘I have a duty to maintain this blog’ is one way of seeing it – the whole stubborn “I’ve started so I will finish” but then there is the tenderness associated with such memories that my blog throws out there every now and then. Ijo Pona is my online Home. And it has had a fresh lick of paint.

The Day We Went Bat Hunting

After a farily uneventful weekend of sleep and slobbing, I decided to try and make one last hurrah for the weekend. The plan conspired after a telephone call to my Dad who mentioned that the Bats had started to fly around Dark Walk Woods on an evening.

I figured I had the right sort of microphone (a BatBox Baton) and the appropriate recording equipment (Olympus LS100) so I invited some loved ones to Valley Gardens in our town of Harrogate.

This was the first time I think I had been to Valley Gardens specifically to look for Bats – indeed, I cannot think of many other people who would be inclined to go to Valley Gardens to look for Bats.

Allan, Stewart, the wife & myself met up at our flat for quarter to nine and set off to Valley Gardens at a furious pace – I was determined that there would be bats and I was determined to see / listen to them. When we got to Valley Gardens it was still quite sunny and warm – it is just the other side of the town centre – as it had reached about 200ºc that day.

We walked up to the top of the parkland to the woodland, all the while surrounded by trees, bird-song and Stewart’s aromas. We sat kicking our heels for a good half an hour before we conceded that there were not going to be any bat sightings that night and I started apologising because me.

On the way down to the front end of Valley Gardens, I saw a massive Bat in my peripheral vision and drew the BatBox Baton like a six-shooter in the ol’ days of the West.

Long Eared Bat Spectrograph[/caption]yle=”text-align: justify;”>We spent a twenty humblingly blissful minutes listening to sounds that I do not think anyone in Valley Gardens had heard before – And, they were every where; the Bats that is. I was gobsmacked as the swooped, dived, pivoted and gracefully ate flies on the fly. I passed the BatBox Baton around the group and we all took a turn in pointing the thing, wildly spinning around on the spot trying to keep a track of the flying fur-balls.

Eventually, I had the gumption to whip out the LS100 and below is a two minute recording of, what I think are, Brown Long Eared Bats.

How did I arrive at the conclusion that they were Brown Long Eared Bats? I mean, they flew so swiftly that it was hard to make them out in the growing gloom. Well, tech.

After calling in to Major Tom’s & The Blues Bar for a swift libation I set about trying to figure out what species these magnificant creatures were.

I had a piece of software running on a Windows computer called BatScan. After editing the recording from the LS100 in Audacity I was able to compare the spectrograph of my recording with the sprectrograph of several species.


The spectograph of the recording above.


Brown Long Eared Bat


At first I thought I was on to something as the frequency range is the same a Pipistrelle – although, Pipistrelle have a condensed ‘natter’ in their call that was not present in my recording.

The duration of the peaks and troughs and the frequency range seem to fit the Common Long Eared Bat (Plecotus auritus), also known as the Common Long Eared Bat. According to my online research, the Brown Long Eared Bat is a fairly large European Bat and has ‘strikingly large ears’ (relatively) – please see attached image. They hibernate over winter, between November & April and feed along Hedgerows, Gardens, Woodlands & Parkland during the summer – my online research says that they have a relatively slow, fluttery flight; my opinion is was damn hard to keep up with the buggers. This species can live up to 30 years and is a good indication of the health of the local Eco-system as they are particularly prone to the effects of The Man.

Fun times had by all ….. and Bats!

Mars Microphone

Mars 2020, the successor to the Curiosity rover, is currently under development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The robotic explorer is expected to land on the Red Planet in the next decade, and could carry with it a very special instrument: the first Mars microphone.

For the past 50 years we’ve been exploring our closest planetary neighbor, Mars, with the help of a fleet of robotic space probes. We’ve learned that Mars was once very similar to Earth; that the harsh conditions were once more hospitable, and the barren world could have supported life. We’ve got our most convincing evidence yet that Mars may have traces of liquid water on its surface today, and we’re beginning to understand how Mars lost its atmosphere. What our trusty robotic pals cannot do, however, is tell us what Mars sounds like.

At least, not yet.

The late Carl Sagan, scientist and co-founder of The Planetary Society, was the first to propose the idea of a Martian microphone. In 1996, he wrote a letter to NASA, petitioning the agency to consider adding a microphone to the upcoming Mars Polar Lander. “Even if only a few minutes of Martian sounds are recorded from this first experiment,” he explained, “The public interest will be high and the opportunity for scientific exploration real.”

Sagan hoped that through the development of a microphone, the sounds of Mars would enthrall the public

The goal of the Planetary Society is to inspire and involve the public in space exploration through advocacy, projects, and education. Sagan hoped that through the development of a microphone, the sounds of Mars would enthrall the public, garnering more public interest in space exploration. Sagan’s petition was approved, and the first Mars Microphone was born.

Designed, constructed, and tested by the University of California Berkeley’s Space Science Lab, the Mars Microphone was launched as part of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999. Unfortunately, during its descent to the Martian surface, the lander lost contact with Earth, and was never heard from again.

Image: S. Mauric et. al./47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

However, due to huge public interest, it didn’t take long for the microphone to secure a new ride. The French space agency (CNES) wanted the microphone to fly on its 2007 Netlander mission to Mars. The mission would send four identical small landers to the Martian surface in order to study the planet’s atmosphere and interior. The agency’s plan was to redesign the microphone to fit inside the lander’s camera head. However, just three years before launch, in 2004, the mission was cancelled due to lack of funding.

The Planetary Society did not give up. It built a second microphone to ride to Mars as part of NASA’s Phoenix Lander; however, it was never turned on.

Due to its experience with building microphones for other worlds, the Planetary Society assisted the European Space Agency in converting data collected by acoustic sensors on Cassini’s Huygens probe—part of the Cassini mission and the first probe to land on Saturn’s largest moon Titan—into sound files we can hear. In the audio file, we can hear the sound of the wind as the probe approaches the surface. Scientists can then analyze the intensity of the echoes to learn more about the surface.

At the upcoming 47th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, members of NASA’s Mars 2020 SuperCam team will make their case for why the Mars microphone should be included as part of the rover’s instrument payload.

As the lead author of an abstract submitted to the conference, Sylvestre Maurice explains that the addition of a microphone has major scientific as well as engineering benefits. Ears on the Red Planet will give us a second sense as well as a whole new set of data. Based on the sound recordings, scientists can better measure the wind speed and even identify passing dust devils.

The addition of a microphone will also provide scientists and engineers with another way to monitor the rover’s systems. The microphone would be able to detect the whirr of the rover’s actuators, listen as the wheels crunch across the Martian surface, and much more, allowing engineers to pick up on any potential issues.

But that’s not all. Maurice and his team are not just satisfied with a microphone on the rover, they also want to make sure it’s included as part of the SuperCam remote-sensing instrument. SuperCam is basically a suped-up version of Curiosity’s ChemCam that uses “remote optical measurements and laser spectroscopy to determine fine-scale mineralogy, chemistry, and atomic and molecular composition of samples encountered on Mars,” according to NASA.

At the heart of the SuperCam is a laser called the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy or LIBS. The laser is designed to analyze rock composition by vaporizing them. By adding a microphone to this instrument, scientists argue they can measure the volume of the sound produced as the laser is hitting the rock, to then determine the mass of the rock vaporized. This will provide more information to help determine what the rocks are made of.

Perhaps some of the most exciting results to come from this microphone are the ones we aren’t expecting. Who knows what sort of sounds this microphone will pick up? Will we be able to detect the sounds of life? “We have seen other worlds and even touched them via robotic senses,” said Louis Friedman, executive director emeritus of The Planetary Society, “but the Mars Microphone will offer humanity the opportunity to listen to the sounds on the surface of an alien world.”

Natural Radio

 The earth is alive with its own radio broadcasts. Lightning, the solar wind and solar storms create a variety of radio signals that surround us and lie just beyond our reach. They lie just beyond our perception because although their frequencies fall within the range of human hearing, they are radio waves that our ears don’t perceive. But the simplest of receiving equipment will allow you to hear them. Just hook an antenna to any high-gain audio amplifier and these hidden signals will become audible.

– Mark Karney

After three days of no sleep (always my most productive time) I fell upon the site www.naturalradiolab.com. I enquired further and found the whole oeuvre fascinating – it was like GCSE Physics but I was not being told what to do by a Paedo who played Dungeons & Dragons.

I trawled the list of expensive handmade Natural Radios and realised, due to budget constraints, I will not be able to import one from the states. I set about building my own: I bought a cheap Shortwave radio for £20 – it is important to receive reception of 3Hz – 30Hz (this is where you hear ‘Natural Radio’). My radio, an Eton M400, only goes down to 5.90Hz so I downloaded the free app iSDR for my iPhone – Link them up with an iRig – BANG! It did not work.

I returned to the fountain of Wonder (Google) and went about a search. I found that there are Radio Stations hooked up to VLF receivers around the world. Looking on the TuneIn app there are two stations available, on in Italy – but, there was one closer to home, Todmorden. If you search for ‘Live VLF Natural Radio – Todmorden’ you will come across the station using the TuneIn app.

Well, what will you hear? First of all, atmospherics or “sferics” for short. These are the radio waves generated by lightning and sound very much like the radio static you hear when there are thunderstorms in the area. I heared sferics  above the background hum of the day to day electrical appliances.  ’Tweeks’ are usually heard at night and are spherics that have traveled a long distance and have a resonant “twangy” sound. You can probably hear tweeks on almost any night.

Whistlers are more rare. They originate from lightning and sound like a descending tone or a descending “swoosh” and may last several seconds. Whistlers can occur at any time of day but are most often heard in the pre-dawn hours.

There are many more sounds that are often grouped together under the term “VLF Emissions”, VLF being Very Low Frequency. These sounds originate in the magnetosphere and are the result of disturbances originating from the solar wind and geomagnetic storms. These sounds are most often heard before and for several hours after sunrise, especially during geomagnetic storms.

Why do people listen? For the same reasons we watch whales, the sunset over the ocean, brave the cold to see the Northern Lights, fight the mosquitoes to see a meteor shower and so on. We like to experience the awe and mystery of creation. But there are scientific reasons for these observations also. Before satellites were common, whistlers taught us a great deal about the nature of the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.

As we become more and more dependent on satellites for communication and earth observation, the study of “Space Weather” and the ionosphere and magnetosphere will become increasingly important. As we gain a greater understanding of the earth-sun connection we will realize how activity on the sun can affect weather patterns here on earth. This will be relevant as we study the causes of global warming. We are just beginning to see how the cycles of the sun affect our weather here.