M-Audio MicroTrack—The Pro Choice in Handheld Recorders
An otherworldly screech pierces the night, jolting you from slumber. If you’re like most people, you pull your pillow over your head and try to get back to sleep. But if you’re Academy Award-winning sound designer Tim Larkin, you grab your M-Audio MicroTrack recorder and plunge into the woods.
Larkin has joined the growing number of acclaimed sound designers, editors and photojournalists who rely on M-Audio’s best-selling recorder for capturing pristine sound beyond the studio. From Washington’s forests, to Hollywood sound stages, to conflict zones in the Middle East, the MicroTrack is enabling pros like Larkin (Myst, Half-Life 2), Tom de Gorter (Emmy-winning supervising sound editor, Lost), and the reporters of World Picture Network to capture high-fidelity sound more easily than ever before.
Tim Larkin: Transforming wildlife into fantasy worlds
Composer and sound designer Tim Larkin brings over a decade of game industry experience to his role as audio director of Cyan Worlds, the company behind Myst and a variety of other titles. However, his talent extends far beyond games. In 2003, Larkin won an Academy Award for his work as sound designer for the Sony Imageworks production team's "Best Animated Short." He’s also delivered live trumpet performances with Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Mel Torme, Sheila E, Huey Lewis and others, and has released a solo project through Avenue Jazz. Throughout his career, this accomplished artist has demonstrated a keen ear for sonic innovation.
Larkin transformed the screeching owl outside his window into a 30-foot-tall, bird-like creature that dwells in the interactive world of Myst Online—all by simply pitching down the audio and adding some EQ. Thanks to the convenience and high fidelity of the MicroTrack, a variety of other sounds from Larkin’s neighborhood and daily life have found their way into the soundscapes of video games like Half-Life 2 and Sony’s Lair.
"I keep the MicroTrack with me pretty much everywhere—in the car or a briefcase, even on my nightstand at night," says Larkin. "I think it's more rewarding for me to use my own sound rather than libraries whenever possible. And with the MicroTrack, sounds become more available. You get sounds you couldn’t get if you had to set up a remote recording rig. It's not something you plan for; it's spontaneous because you just happen to have the MicroTrack with you.
"One time I had it with me on an airplane," he continues. "I was flying to Seattle and I wanted to get some sounds of the airplanes taking off and landing. I used the MicroTrack and that sound ended up in Half-Life 2. There’s a launch sequence where a rocket takes off and that was part of the underlying rumble sound that I used for it."
In addition to convenience and intuitive operation, it’s the sound quality that sets the MicroTrack apart from other handheld recorders. Since it’s in the same class as M-Audio’s award-winning interfaces, the MicroTrack records WAV and MP3 files at up to full 24-bit/96kHz fidelity—so sound designers like Larkin can just drag and drop them into today’s audio and video editing software.
Tom de Gorter: From Foley and ADR to sound effects and more
Emmy Award-winning sound editor Tom de Gorter has spent the last two decades working in the television industry, racking up diverse credits including legendary TV series Twin Peaks, Law & Order, The Shining, Alias and, most recently, Lost. During this time, staggering advances in technology have opened up a world of possibilities, enabling him to do his job much more quickly and easily. Always eager to push his sound in exciting new directions, de Gorter couldn’t wait to get his hands on the M-Audio MicroTrack.
"I fell in love with it immediately," de Gorter explains. "The portability is great. I keep it in my bag, so if I ever hear a cool sound, I pull it out and record it on the spot. Because it’s so small, it’s very stealth. So if I’m in a restaurant and want to get some ambient sounds, I just put it on the table and start recording. I also use it on the mixing stage all the time—I use it on practically every episode of Lost for one reason or another."
Based in Los Angeles, the Lost sound design team crafts the show’s surreal sonic world from a combination of sound library content, effects and original audio. While much of the show is recorded in the field, all the Foley, footsteps and movement are recorded to each episode—often with the help of the MicroTrack. The recorder also comes in handy when the sound design team needs a unique effect that’s unlikely to be found in a library.
"The most unusual MicroTrack usage was probably for the season two season finale of Lost," says de Gorter. "There’s a scene where one of the characters, Charlie, temporarily loses his hearing because of a bomb explosion, and we’re experiencing his point of view. We had muted and muffled all the other sound effects, but we were missing the sound inside your head when you breathe. So I took the very small microphone that comes with the MicroTrack, wrapped it in tape, stuck it in my mouth and just breathed. And it captured this really weird, cool sound that we used for the character reacting to his situation."
"I’ve also used it for looping," he continues. "One time I had to loop an actor that was playing on our softball team, so I couldn’t get him on the ADR stage. I had to go to the game, drag him out to my car, do the ADR in my parked car, and then go back to the stage and cut it in. It’s always fun to figure out new ways of using the MicroTrack like this."
Unlike some handheld recorders with built-in mics, the MicroTrack features two professional balanced 1/4" TRS inputs with phantom-powered mic preamps. This configuration accommodates a variety of mics for different recording techniques. "The little stereo mic that comes with it is remarkably good," attests de Gorter. "But I’ve also used the MicroTrack with the M-Audio Pulsar and Nova microphones. I’ll hook up a stereo pair of Pulsars for stereo effects, or I’ll use a Nova for recording dialogue or recording ADR."
"All in all, I’m using it like crazy. I’m just a huge fan," he concludes.
Paul Kwiatkowski and WpN: Storytelling with sound
From global warming issues in Papua New Guinea to American baby beauty pageants, World Picture Network (WpN) has it covered. With more than 500 photographers and over 5,000 media clients in every corner of the world, the WpN photo agency offers greater coverage than most traditional wire services. And with digital media formats transforming journalism, WpN is eagerly embracing new technology to deliver even more comprehensive news coverage. The agency has partnered with M-Audio to outfit a select group of photographers with MicroTrack recorders, providing a convenient and reliable way to marry sound to a powerful visual.
"Sound in general helps tell a complete story and adds dimensions to the world from which the photographers are reporting," explains WpN new media editor Paul Kwiatkowski. "And most importantly, sound allows you to capture the atmosphere in the photos. In terms of creating strong media-driven work, this helps facilitate a narrative arc and linear structure."
When integrating sound recording into photojournalism, reporters need to quickly produce high quality sound on location—without carrying large, cumbersome equipment. Kwiatkowski was therefore attracted to the MicroTrack recorder’s lightweight, portable form factor, as well as its easy-to-use platform and performance options. The ability to use a CompactFlash memory card for both the MicroTrack recorder and a digital camera is an additional boon to WpN photojournalists.
"The recorders work great; they are sturdy, lightweight and easily fit in your back pocket," says Kwiatkowski. "They’re perfect for easy access while traveling abroad. Many of WpN’s photographers are located in conflict areas around the world, so it is essential that they are able to quickly access the recorder, gather sound and move on."
From sonic artists who create alternate worlds, to journalists who tell the stories that matter most in ours, the M-Audio MicroTrack is clearly the professional choice. M-Audio recently unveiled the MicroTrack II recorder, which delivers new features including an extended input gain range, analog input limiter, 48V phantom power, faster file transfer rate, BWF file format, seamless recording of files beyond 2GB in size and other enhancements. To check out samples of sound captured via the MicroTrack, visit the multimedia section of www.WorldPictureNews.com