Category Archives: events

Fireworks, a large red, green, and white spherical firework above a river

Yasugawa Fireworks – 野洲川花火大会 – 2015

Our local summer fireworks festival – 野洲川花火大会 – was held on July 25, 2015. Hundreds of people lined the riverbank along Yasugawa Sports Park to watch a 30-minute display of fireworks over the river. Many arrived in late afternoon, lined up to buy food and beverages, and enjoyed some entertainment before the fireworks began at 19:45.

Before the fireworks began I found a location upstream from the main event area, where I could record in peace away from the crowds. First I set up my tripod and tried different lenses with my camera, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. I selected an Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 lens for its focal length, wide aperture, and wonderful manual focus capability.

Yasugawa Ohashi

I wanted to capture high-quality audio, so I mounted an Audio-Technica BP4025 stereo microphone with a Baby Ball windscreen and a Windjammer and a Tascam DR-70 four-track audio recorder on my camera tripod. The camera was mounted on the Tascam recorder and received input from the recorder. I made a four-track dual stereo recording with the secondary tracks recorded at -12dB. This proved useful at first, when the mic gain was set to High. After a few minutes I set mic gain to Low with the recording level knobs at about 11:30. This worked well, although I had to stop recording in order to change mic gain because the Tascam recorder does not have a hardware switch for mic gain.

After minimal post processing with only trimming and overall level adjustment, I posted the finale (05:30) on SoundCloud:

The recording location can be seen on a map at radio aporee ::: maps – Yasugawa Fireworks.

Although I concentrated on video, I also took a few still photos. I tried about 2-8 seconds at various apertures with ISO 200. Some long exposures worked well, but timing can be tricky!

Yasugawa Fireworks Display 2015

Yasugawa Fireworks Display 2015

Yasugawa Fireworks Display 2015

Yasugawa Fireworks Display 2015

Yasugawa Fireworks Display 2015

More photos can be seen in my Flickr album, Yasugawa Fireworks Display 2015

New Year 2015 Temple Bells and Fireworks

Since there was a light rain this New Year’s Eve, I recorded from my house by placing a stereo microphone in a window facing North toward the nearest Buddhist temple. Nearby houses reflect sounds, so the sense of space may seem distorted in the recording.

The view north from my house in Ritto City

The view north from my house in Ritto City

This was my first time to use a new audio recorder, a DR-70D. This recorder is designed for DSLR video recording, so it works well on a tripod, with or without a camera, and it offers a variety of input and output options.

I bought this recorder rather than its 2-track sibling (DR-60DMkII) because it can record four tracks at the same time, and it has a dual recording mode, which creates two stereo files from one stereo source. I fed the stereo output from an Audio-Technica BP4025 microphone to tracks 1 and 2 and used tracks 3 and 4 for a second stereo file recorded simultaneously at a lower level (in this case -12dB). I expected loud fireworks at midnight, so I kept the input levels somewhat low (mic sense high, input level knobs at about 10 o’clock); however, I had no way to know how loud the fireworks would be. Fortunately, I did not need the second file because the highest level was -2.2dB. If I had set the input levels slightly higher, I would have needed the second file.

The sonic environment in Japan often covers a huge dynamic range, with relatively quiet scenes punctuated by extremely loud sounds of thunder, fireworks, drums, street vendors, noisy cars and motorcycles, etc. For example, you can search my posts for fireworks.

We cannot fully reproduce the great dynamic range or the visceral experience of hearing thunder or large taiko drums, but in this extreme sonic environment dual recording capability greatly eases the anxiety of field recording.

Yasukawa Rafting in Moriyama

Moriyama City held its 33rd annual Yasugawa Adventure Tournament on June 29, 2014. I did not know about the event, but as I was cycling down Yasugawa in the morning I saw dozens of hand-built rafts slowly floating down the river from just above the Shiga Route 48 bridge to a few hundred meters below the Japan Route 477 bridge.

The Moriyama City Fire Department monitored the event, but one of the volunteers, a man about my age, told me that they didn’t have much to do. He’d been worried as it had rained the previous night. The river can grow dramatically after a heavy rain, but today it was very shallow for this season.

The current was very slow. People walking along the riverbank easily kept pace with the rafts. Many of the people on the rafts were paddling, a few were rowing, and some were pushing their rafts as they waded. I heard a lot of talking and laughter, but near the finish line the participants looked pretty tired. About a dozen people were watching from the Japan Route 477 bridge, sometimes waving and shouting encouragement to those who were floating down the river below.

After I got home I found an announcement of the event. It shows the starting point on an embedded map: 第33回野洲川冒険大会~いかだくだり~参加者募集~-新庄大橋上流スタート-.

New Year 2014 Temple Bells

Temple bells in Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan, ring in the New Year 2014 just before and after midnight. This recording was made along a path between fields northeast of Takano Shrine. The location can be seen on radio aporee ::: maps ::: Tsuji.

Field in Tsuji, Ritto City

I mounted the recorder and stereo microphone on a camera tripod. After recording began, I left the headphones on the tripod and moved away. The recording volume was set at Mic Sense High, Level about 5 on my Olympus LS-100 recorder. A few drops of rain fell, but not enough to hurt anything.

Recording New Year 2014 Temple Bells

The bells are quiet at these distances, and we can hear the rumble of traffic, a few trains, etc. This location is surrounded by roads, and we can hear trains on three railroads. If you listen with headphones at high volume, reduce the level at about 05:30. At midnight (05:41) a few fireworks appeared over Yasu City to the north, and one bird called out as it flew overhead (08:15).

Japan is a country of great sonic contrasts. Everywhere in Ritto we hear traffic and other human activity, but, except for vendors in small trucks, residential neighborhoods are quiet. On the other hand, many social and cultural events are punctuated by very loud percussive sounds. People chant, strike bells, pound on drums, set off fire crackers, enjoy large fireworks displays, pound rice with large mallets, etc. The contrasts between background ambient sounds and explosive sounds such as fireworks make field recording a challenge. In this recording I left the relative sound levels as they were. In post-processing. I trimmed the original recording to ten minutes and raised overall level to -0.2dB. As it was in the field, quiet sounds are difficult to hear while fireworks are overwhelming.

Most old families live near temples in their neighborhoods, which are clustered along narrow roads. They can hear their local temple bells clearly. For example, last year I made recorded the bell that we hear near the center of the sound field on this recording. At that time I was in a small parking lot about 20 meters from the bell as neighborhood adults and children took turns ringing it.

Whichever recording you prefer, Happy New Year from Japan!

Hayama Danchi Mochitsuki 2013 video

This short video is an attempt to express the spirit of my neighborhood as we made and ate mochi (sticky rice cakes) on December 22, 2013. I did not shoot or record with a plan, so it’s pretty rough. Also, wanted to use it for teaching, so I used photos in three ways: original 4:3 aspect ratio from the camera (pillarboxed with vertical black mrgains), cropped to 16:9 aspect ratio (same as the video), and cropped with Ken Burns effects (pan, tilt, zoom).

I kept the camera aimed low to avoid shots that might embarrass people or violate their privacy. That worked out well. Other bystanders and I stood side-by-side, looking at the same activities. I quickly discovered that the most visually compelling scenes were of hands: old, middle-aged, and young hands, often close together or touching. I was most impressed by the transmission of manual skills from old to young. Fathers, grandfathers, and other men held the smallest mallet (kine) with small children as they pounded rice together. At tables outdoors grandmothers and mothers guided girls’ hands as they formed the sticky clumps of rice into bite-size pieces of the same size and shape. In the kitchen grandmothers and mothers guided young girls as they prepared and served topping (kinoko) and green tea. In many cases such practice was followed by children doing it themselves. That’s how people keep their traditions alive, and it’s a great way to support young parents who want to raise their children in a healthy and supportive community.