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How to Record Winds

John Muir recorded wind using the available technology --pen and paper.
In this sound recording he captures a winter storm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains:

I drifted on through the midst of this passionate music and motion, across many a glen, from ridge to ridge; often halting in the lee of a rock for shelter or to gaze and listen. Even when the grand anthem had swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones of individual trees—spruce, and fir, and pine, and leafless oak. . . . Each was expressing itself in its own way—singing its own song, and making its own peculiar textures. . . . The profound bass of the naked branches and boles booming like waterfalls; the quick, tense vibrations of the pine-needles, now rising to a shrill, whistling hiss, now falling to a silky murmur; the rustling of laurel groves in the dells, and the keen metallic click of leaf on leaf—all this was heard in easy analysis when the attention was calmly bent.

Wind is one of the primal sounds of nature. Whenever we see a blade of grass bend, or a leaf turn, or pine boughs sway, we know that wind is present. While storms make it into headlines less dramatic winds facilitate richer, subtler and more compelling listening experiences.

Perhaps you know about wind’s evil side? An annoying rumble called “wind distortion” scars almost every recording unless a windscreen is used. Commercial windscreens reduce the likelihood of wind distortion but do a poor job of recording wind sounds. Commercial windscreens are best suited for non-wind subjects. As a result sfx libraries use wind recordings from artificial sources such as wind machines and wires.

If you want to record true wind sounds I recommend that you use a DIY windscreen and study the plant leaves carefully.

My DIY windscreen is a 5 foot tripod (fully extended) with the center column inverted and the microphones hung below. The entire setup is then covered with a layer of either mosquito netting, foam or both. While this looks like and embarrassing costume no one is there to see you. The large enclosed area between the microphone and the windscreen preserves fidelity and does a remarkable job of imaging.

DIY windscreen tips:

  1. Seal off the central column of the tripod so that it is not an open tube because this will create a flutelike sound when wind passes over it. A piece of foam will do and can easily be removed, too.

  2. Enclose the setup with a pyramid-shaped cover of ½” reticulated foam. Reticulated foam can be purchased relatively inexpensively from foam shops.

  3. For very light breezes you can use mosquito netting instead of reticulated foam. If using camouflage netting this can also be used over the foam cover to help conceal it from wildlife.

  4. Bring tent pegs to keep the covering taut and the noisy insects out.

Once you find a windy remote location with minimal noise pollution, relax and gaze loosely at the setting around you. Take your time. Wind is a powerful force that carves away rocks, creates cooler temperatures, and causes dehydration--in short, wind has a hand in shaping to some degree almost everything around you.

It’s time to let go of outcome. Listen--notice how each species of plant makes its own sound. Now imagine that all of this is inside a huge wind tunnel that is used to test products for aerodynamics. The flags are leaves. Some leaves are moving rapidly and some leaves barely move at all. Those calm places are where you want to record. Trust me, they are there. Keep looking.

Record one place and move on to another--experience the full range of opportunities. Just hear what you hear and feel what you feel. That’s all you need to know, trust your instincts and record.

Read also How to Record Thunder and Rain

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