An early-morning Hindu temple ceremony, a busy street in Bangkok — Soundsnap contributor Charlie Atanasyan has travelled the world, collecting the unique sounds of each country along the way.

We caught up with him to find out how he captures the essence of a scene, from the tropical jungles of Thailand, to the muezzin-calling mosques of Turkey.
Throughout the post, we’ve included links so you can hear the sounds Charlie describes.

How did you get started sound recording?

I started my career in Paris as a sound editor, mostly for documentaries. I used a lot of sounds from libraries — mainly “Sound Ideas,” as that was the largest choice of samples you could find at the time (CD by CD and track by track, a pain).

Charlie Atanasyan capturing ambieces in a cave - Soundsnap Blog

I was not always fully convinced by the authenticity of these recordings and I was definitely missing variety. A few years later, I started travelling around the world.

I left France with one thing in mind: to listen to and capture all the sounds along my way.

What’s your gear setup? Do you have a go-to microphone technique?

It took me some time to find my perfect setup. The devices and mics have to be small, light and robust, without compromising quality. After many tests using different equipment, I have settled on a MIXY from AETA Audio linked to a Sony PCM recorder via Toslink.

image of Charlie Atanasyan's field sound recording gear for capturing ambiences

 

The MIXY provides 3 amazing mic inputs, flat and clean, with a high quality analog to digital converter. I have built a custom metal box to carry everything easily and safely.

In terms of microphones I have a “basic kit” when I travel. It’s composed of a couple of miniature omnidirectional DPAs, a hypercardioid from Neumann and sometimes a shotgun from Audio-Technica. I use each mic for different applications, depending on distance and acoustics.

A nice upgrade in the future would be a 4MinX from AETA and a couple of new mics from DPA.

What’s the most interesting place that sound recording has taken you?

For sure it’s India. Probably the northern part for it’s Hindu temples and hyperactive cities.

The country is such a beautiful playground for a sound hunter.

Charlie Atanasyan capturing ambiences inside a canyon - SoundSnap Blog

Ever had any bizarre/funny experiences gathering sounds?

One of my trips in Thailand took me to a beautiful wet jungle for a couple of days. After checking in with a local guide to get some information about the location, I was alone.

The first night was an adventure. I was surrounded by wildlife and mosquitos and I didn’t feel very safe, but it was too late to turn back. The next morning, after a short night, all my food was gone — stolen by one citizen of this jungle. I was not well prepared for wild places…

That was definitely the most intense experience relating to sound recording I ever had, but nevertheless, my best takes came from there. No pain, no gain.

Favorite sound you’ve recorded?

The wet jungle of Thailand! There was such a huge variety of wildlife, birds, and insects placed in beautiful acoustics. If I had to choose one, I would say the recording of a fight between two families of gibbons defending their territory.

What draws you to recording background sounds?

As previously mentioned, one of my first jobs was sound editing for documentaries. I had to manipulate a lot of ambiences. Working with this material has become a real passion. You can provide so much information and emotion with background sounds.

Do any sounds drive you crazy?

I’m a big fan of two kind of sounds: The ones relating to religions, muezzins, ceremony, and prayer… And the sounds of nature and animals, especially from tropical places.

Charlie Atanasyan capturing ambiences with local tribe - SoundSnap Blog

What do you think ambience sounds can add to a project?

You can communicate a lot of information with ambiences — time of day, size of the place, climate… They help set the mood and bring the world to life. I can’t start editing an area or sequence without an ambience in place.

Ambiences are the foundation of every sequence. They add a dimension to the picture that the visuals cannot bring.

How long does it take you to finish a library? Could you give us a synopsis of the process?

Before leaving for new territories, I try to get some information about the location in order to have an idea of what I could find there, and what I will need to take with me.

I try to record a bit of everything, keeping a diary about the takes of each day. I take note of the location, the date, and a short description of the content. To get some variety, I try to cover 5 different types of sounds: cities, nature, market, music and quiet places (like villages and the countryside).

Back home, I start the editing. It takes about 5 hours to edit 1 hour of recording. It is all about small corrections (EQ and normalization), and cuts to remove noises, clicks, and pops. The last step is the naming and metadata tagging. This final process actually takes some time as it’s not always easy to find the right terms to describe a sound. On average, I manage to keep 70% of the original takes.

Finally, any tips for aspiring sound recordists?

First of all, open your ears wherever you go!

Try to play with your microphones to find out how they sound with different acoustics, distances and angles. It’s better to know them well.

Finally, be patient, a good take is all about being at the right place at the right time. You may have to go back to the same place many times, at different times of the day, before you find the perfect conditions.


Head here to explore more of Charlie’s immersive ambience sound effects on Soundsnap.

To find out more about Charlie, visit his website.

All images used in this post are courtesy of Charlie Atanasyan, Copyright 2016.