Everyday field recording with baby monitors


I have been working a lot with field recordings lately, especially the idea of sampling the space in which one is playing and using it in performance. A couple weeks ago, it occured to me that I could use a baby monitor, strategically placed, to pull in at will, sounds happening outside the performance space. I almost immediately went on ebay and purchased a Sony BabyCall monitor.

I selected this model because I’ve had good luck with being able to mod Sony’s products in the past, and because this model was supposedly battery opperated, and thus, I figured, I could plant the transmitter anywhere I wanted without having to worry about power. But the listing was misleading and it ended up having a battery opperated receiver, and an AC opperated transmitter. A bit of a bummer, yes, but I think I might be able to mod it eventually.

The other night I got the idea to plant it in by back yard over night, and record the output on my computer upstairs. I quickly mounted an output with a switch inside the receiver and got to setting it up before bed. I put the transmitter outside and connected the receiver to my laptop. I set up Sound Studio to auto record when the input went above background noise level and went to bed.

The sounds that awaited me in the morning were great fun. Planes, busses, and car horns, dominated the soundscape, but the monitor warps everything in such a way that even these fairly plain sounds sounded magical to me.

I decided to set it up again, this time while i was at work, to capture the sounds in my backyard during the day. The sounds were much more of the same, cars, airplanes, trolleys, the occasional dog bark, some frequency disturbance of some kind, etc, but more frequent and louder i think. There was even some random talking that appeared (probably my neighbor). The one other thing that wound up on the recording, was my wife throwing some bottles and stuff in the recycling bin. This part was particularly interesting to me for it’s haphazard percussive effect. 

So far, this has been great fun. I think my next step is either to successfully mod my monitor so that it can be placed further from my house, or build one of these. 

I am anxious to try these techniques in performance. I’m hoping when i do, it will be a nice source of random sounds, and i really like the idea that I’m interjecting something both real-time and random into the set. Enjoy the samples.

– Domesticity

– This is a back yard

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9 Responses to “Everyday field recording with baby monitors”

  1. startlingmoniker Says:

    Back in the days when I HAD baby monitors around for actual baby-monitoring purposes, I favored using a cordless phone set to “intercom” mode, which yields a similar effect when used with a microcassette recorder set to voice-activate.

    Another highly interesting baby/sound product you might check out is the Prenatal Heart Listener from Bebe Sounds– http://www.bebesounds.com/products_prenatalheartlistener_description.asp

    You can find these in a lot of places, and they’re fairly cheap.. great for pulling small sounds of out weird places.

  2. howsthatsound Says:

    Ah, thanks for that link Dave! Those look like a lot of fun.

    I managed to free the transmitter of my baby monitor from it’s AC cord, so there’s a whole lot more fun to be had now. Now I just have to see what kind of range it has on it.

    I think I’ll post the AC cord removal as a project here, it was really simple.

  3. startlingmoniker Says:

    With at least one of my transmitters, increasing the range was as simple as extending the internal copper wire out from the actual housing.

  4. howsthatsound Says:

    interesting. i was thinking about experimenting with that. i’ll have to try some range tests soon.

  5. Maxwell Says:

    Very interesting stuff has been done by a artist called Scanner – real name Robin Rimaud. You may already be aware though.

  6. Orangettecoleman Says:

    I thought about trying to have a show where I would leave the stage and walk out the door with a cordless mic, and make on-site field recordings on the street that the audience would be listening to in the venue. I have a feeling that i would return to find nobody there though…

    • howsthatsound Says:

      i’ve thought about doing the same thing and just never got around to it. my idea though, was to get a “spy bug” or something similar to place somewhere outside the space before the show. they usually run off a small battery and can transmit up to a mile. all you need is a shortwave radio to pick it up and play it in the space. if you were playing in a place where you could hear the outside anyway, it could be interestingly disorienting.

  7. Aria Lopez Says:

    The forensic science textbook post is definately the very best i have seen today.

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