Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ocean Sounds for Babies

Download: audio | cover art

It's widely accepted that the sound of the ocean surf can help babies fall asleep, presumably because the white noise of waves breaking at the seashore is similar to the acoustic environment inside the womb. Not surprisingly, there's a multitude of electronic baby gadgets on the market designed to synthesize the sound of the surf.

Figuring the real thing to be preferable to a simulacrum, I decided it would be fun to record the actual sound of the ocean to have on hand as a tonic for grouchy babies. For the project, I used a Tascam GT-R1 digital recorder and a Nady CM 2S stereo condenser microphone.

I chose Muir Beach in the Marin Headlands as a setting because it's easy to get to, yet still reasonably secluded. By walking a few minutes along a footpath that leads away from the public beach, I was able to find a spot where nothing could be heard except the sounds of the ocean and the occasional chirping of birds.

Setting up, it quickly became evident that wind noise was going to be a considerable challenge. When wind blows on a sensitive mic like the Nady, the resulting bass rumble can easily drown out what you're actually trying to record. I was able to mitigate somewhat by using a windscreen and by activating the high-pass filters on both the mic and the recorder, but the results still weren't acceptable.

The solution I finally settled on was to sit directly in front of the mic with my back toward the ocean, thus shielding the mic from the wind. Not only did this solution cure the wind noise problem but it also created a much more favorable acoustic environment, which I would describe as being akin to resting your head in someone's lap: The crash of the ocean surf becomes somewhat muffled and distant, and occasional ambient beach sounds are perceived more intimately.

The end result was exactly the kind of snooze-inducing recording that I wanted to make. Listen for yourself and let me know what you think:

Ocean Sounds for Babies - Muir Beach, California
(MP3 / 192kbps / 22.6 MB / 16 mins)

p.s. The high-resolution CD cover art is available for download, in case you'd like to burn an audio CD of this recording. Enjoy!