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DPA Microphones competition uncovers crazy stories

From recording the sound of Antarctic wind and saving a Gibson True Vintage guitar, to making movie magic in Hollywood and capturing the sound of termites at dawn in Africa - the competition attracted 700 entries

DPA Microphones launched a competition in October asking the audio community to tell them how they use their products and they were overwhelmed with more than 700 entries from around the world.

Philip Samartzis, the current Australian Antarctic Division Arts Fellow, won the grand prize of €2,500 with his story about travelling to Casey Station in Eastern Antarctica earlier this year to record the sound of Katabatic wind.

“I used two d:dicate 4006 omnidirectional microphones to record numerous environments and weather events, including two blizzards. One of the blizzards measured 100 knots and is the strongest blizzard ever to be recorded at Casey Station during summer. The recordings are amazing,” he said.

“The presence of katabatic wind inevitably shapes the way sound is heard and experienced on and off station. It can push sound away from you and it can draw it closer to you. Its intensity can mask sound and its absence can heighten it. At its most ferocious it simply obliterates everything within its path.”

Samartzis (pictured) used a variety of DPA microphones, including four d:dicate 4006 Omnidirectional Microphones, two d:screet 4060 Omnidirectional Miniature Microphones and a d:dicate 4017 Shotgun Microphone. He also used a now discontinued 8011 Omnidirectional Underwater Hydrophone Microphone, which DPA developed for him in 1999 for a project entitled Unheard Spaces that documented the city of Venice from an underwater perspective.

For his prize, Samartzis has chosen a pair of DPA d:dicate ST4011 cardioid microphones so that he can explore new stereo and surround recording configurations and techniques. He plans to use them on a public art project he is working on in Tokyo, documenting the sound ecology of a traditional shopping district.

Belgian Willem Sannen, who has a personal sound library containing over 6,500 sounds, loves using his d:screet 4060 miniature omnidirectional microphones and also scooped one of the eight prizes on offer. He told PSNEurope he works part time as a sound designer for movies, games, apps and video art.

“I like to capture my own sounds since they are original as opposed to commercial sound banks and therefore you can tailor the audio for the context that it is used in,” he said. “I also have just released an album called Brussel Noord at gruenrekorder. It is a field recording album. The last few years I find myself more and more recording my environment with a more artistic purpose: trying to capture a place in sound, the equivalent of landscape photography, but then in sound. Listening to a place can be a profound cinematic experience although there are no images involved.”

Sannen said some of his favourite sounds recorded (pictured right is one of his recordings in action) was walking in a cornfield, which was captured with two omni mics, and the “end of summer” ­– rain drops on the plastic canvas of the swimming pool, which was done with two cardioid mics in AB under a table facing the swimming pool.

He adds: “I have placed my DPA’s on my own head for binaural stealth recording of crowds. I attached them near the exhaust and the motor of a driving car. I lowered them in drains, air vents, grilles and they swung down off the roof from the eighth floor. They took rain, wind, dirt and mud.”

Another winner has also put his DPA microphones through a lot of abuse. Eilam Hoffman – a film and video game sound designer in the UK – has put the microphones through their paces with engines of tanks exploding and burning oil slashing everywhere, chariots and horses running over them, fire from fighter jets and hungry big cats trying to eat them – but they have always survived.

“I have been using DPA for about 15 years. The biggest challenge of them all has been recording fighter jets with onboard microphones. The DPA microphones could stand the high SPL and produce a tonality unlike other condenser microphones,” he said. “The compact DPA mics are small and light, they are great for mounting on or inside sound effects/foley props and even mounting on animals.”

Hoffman’s film credits include the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Transformers: The Last Knight, Ben-Hur, Bridget Jone’s Baby, The Legend of Tarzan, Everest and The Theory of Everything.

Belgian sound artist Stijn Demeulenaere was also one of the winners. In his entry, he wrote about going to South-Africa to take part in the Sonic Mmabolela residency, which gives people the opportunity to record in places that are not easily accessible, and also work and record together with 14 other sound recordists, sound artists, musicians and composers. 

“What I like most about the recording (in South Africa) is how everything fits and sounds together. It’s not about the separate sounds, but really about the moments and the time passing, how the insects, and the birds and the sparse mammals change from register to register, almost in counterpoint with one another. A higher pitched bird taking over from the owls that were hooting at night. the whole range of bird sounds: from vibrant sparkling songs over low pitched oohs too guttural snaps and shrieks. the low bellowing of some mammals in the distance,” he said.

“The wind booming in just the right moment. The tempo changes in the whole recording, from a slow awakening to a full on morning outburst of sounds when the baboon troupe passed.”

He has released one composition wholly made out of recordings from the residency, called Oortreders.

Demeulenaere added: “I’m also working on live sets where I combine my recordings from South Africa, with recordings I made in Iceland during a Chris Watson residency. The backbone of the live sets are the recordings from South Africa and Iceland, but I also mix in recordings from other places, like Brussels, or Oostende, or Southhampton. Next year I want to release an album that will grow out of this work. That project is called Latitudes.”

He got his first pair of DPA 4060’s in 2011, and they have been my main mics since then. “I’m happy I can now invest in more DPA mics thanks to the prize. I’m really looking forward to them … . I first worked with DPA’s myself in my last year at uni in 2009, where I was able to borrow a couple of Bruël and Kjaer 4006’s, and I was blown away by them. Those are high on my wish list.” 

Getting into the festive spirit was winner Matt Thomas from Switzerland, who submitted a DPA holiday poem, which played off the original ‘Twas the night before Christmas. Lines from his poem included “So I hung a DPA 4006A by the chimney with care, In hopes of recording St Nicholas there … The omnidirectional’s sensitivity was such, That through my headphones I heard a tiny “crunch, crunch. Could it be the diaphragm was so lively and quick, It had captured the allusive sound of St Nick?”

Thomas was a musician for years, but now creates iOS apps and said the idea for the poem came from a discussion from his wife a few days earlier about how everyone knows the first line of the famous poem, but no one knows the rest.

He added: “I’m now working on my first music based app, which I’m really enjoying, it’s pretty novel, but I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag yet.”

His poem ends with ‘Twas the night before Christmas, but as it turned, in this house, There WAS a creature stirring, there was one hungry mouse.” And when asked if he might capture Santa this year? “Well this year I’ll have a DPA mic, so I think my chances are much better,” he quipped.

Other winners included Ed Novick, who used his d:screet 4061 miniature omnidirectional microphone under the mask of Bane (pictured), played by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises and Giovani Capeletti, who wanted to preserve the flamenco guitar sound.

Anne Berggrein, DPA’s VP of marketing adds: “We were overwhelmed by the response and very surprised by the creativity of so many of our users. It was great fun hearing about the many different environments in which our mics have found themselves and the applications they have been used for. Picking a winner was hard because there were so many to choose from.”