I uncoiled the 50-feet length of coaxial microphone cable as I walked from the music room to the back door of the house. I then routed it through the rubber threshold door sweep to the outdoors. I plugged the cable into the back of the “Shure” mic. Back indoors, the other end of the cable was plugged into a “Y” connector which was already connected to the Sony component cassette deck, which, in turn, was already jacked into my integrated amplifier.
I removed the shrink wrap from the Maxell “metal bias” cassette box, placed the tape into the deck, and closed the compartment door. Next, the machine’s record and play buttons were pressed then I quickly touched the pause control. With the headphones on my ears, I adjusted the tape deck’s volume and filtering controls. At the stroke of 12:00 midnight I released the pause control and allowed the recording to begin.
The time was noted on the cardboard insert next to the date: August 15, 1988.
The tape was one of a series of recordings I made of the outdoor environments first at an apartment, then at the house I now occupy. The recording was one of the few to survive through the years because it was recorded on premium tape. The intent of the recording was that it was to be used as ambient background to help me fall asleep during the morning. The enhanced sleep helped me perform better at my graveyard shift job.
I stumbled across that tape the day before yesterday while looking for something else. I set it aside to play later. When it was time for a break, I put it in play in my current stereo, picked up a cup of coffee, then settled onto the sofa.
The rustling of leaves provide the background for the entire recording. There must have been a moderate breeze, because the sounds of large dead elm tree branches clunking together can be heard periodically. My eyes close for a few minutes and I mentally return to the dark hours of that mid-August day.
The crickets at the house foundation are brought back to life. Once again, a bullfrog croaks to the accompaniment of singing riverbank insects. The gentle sounds nearly lull me to sleep, but the distant siren of a police car, in pursuit, filters through the trees. I listen closer and hear the neighbor’s car arrive, the engine switches off, doors slam, next, there’s the laughter of the occupants. The happy sounds end when the apartment building’s steel door closes with a clank.
Suddenly I hear the loud rhythmic buzzing of an insect that has landed onto the microphone. Its tiny footsteps are magnified as the creature scurries across the mic’s foam windscreen. A minute later there’s the hiss of wings and the buzzing is no more.
There’s the rapid fluctuation of whining from a speeding motorcycle quickly shifting gears. I wonder if it’s two or maybe five miles away. That seques into the engine-braking roar from a semi-truck coming into town. Then, again, there is only the sound of crickets and riverbank insects playing their overnight song. I speak aloud, “the nighttime is sure noisy.” Then, almost on cue, the hooting of an owl mingles with the clunking of the tree branches.
The crickets and river insects become quiet for a minute or so. There is only the rustling of the tree leaves. Very distant thunder is barely audible, then the crickets resume chirping. What has happened to the river insects? Where is the bullfrog? Several seconds later, the audio vanishes, then in a moment, the tape deck clicks to a halt.
As I climb out of the sofa to switch off the stereo, I think that maybe I should make another field recording.