Neither Cold Nor Beast Can Stop Krause From Recording

Apr 15, 2004 12:00 PM, Editors


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After more than 35 years of field recording, during which he has built the largest private library of animal sounds, Bernie Krause has yet to find a microphone to surpass Sennheiser's MKH series in sound quality and performance. Krause can also attest to the ruggedness of Sennheiser microphones, having not only used them in environments of extreme temperature and humidity, but also having witnessed his set-ups survive being mauled by both a jaguar and a black bear--and he has the recordings to prove it.

"I've recorded in Alaska and the Antarctic when it's been 50 or 60 below, I've recorded in temperatures hovering around 120 degrees," says Krause, who owns three M-S (mid-side) pairs of Sennheiser MKH 30 and MKH 40 microphones. "The advantage of working with that kind of mic system, in humid conditions and tropical rainforests, and in deserts where it's very dry, is having the reassurance that you're going to get most of what you're there for."

Krause and his Wild Sanctuary sound and media design company have amassed an immense library of animal and habitat recordings. "We have about 3,500 hours of material from every representative habitat on the planet (terrestrial and marine) and about 15,000 creatures. We're actively looking for a sponsor to fund the transfer of this library to an academic institution," he says.

On Wild Sanctuary's Amazon Days, Amazon Nights CD release, listeners can get up-close and personal with a jaguar. "We could smell this critter, which was leaving its scent marks along the trail, but we couldn't hear or see it because it was so dark that night," recalls Krause. "My colleague went off to record and I set up my mics. I have a 10-meter cable, so I was 30 feet away, and had just switched on my recorder when I heard this growl at the microphone. I realized the jaguar had been following me and had just stepped up to the mic. I had my earphones on so it sounded like it was right at my head. It was a life-affirming moment, as they say!"

Krause, who replaced Pete Seeger in the world-renowned folk group, The Weavers, in the early 60s, is also credited, together with his creative partner, Paul Beaver, with introducing the synthesizer to popular and film music at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The following year, Beaver and Krause began recording their debut album, In a Wild Sanctuary, reportedly the first album to ever use natural sound, which Krause recorded around the Bay Area and the San Francisco Zoo, as an orchestral component.

Initially adopting the X/Y mic configuration for his recordings, Krause recalls that he read an article about Sennheiser and M-S recording in the mid-80s. The M-S configuration pairs a cardioid mic (the MKH 40) to record the mid component with a coincident figure-8 mic (the MKH 30) picking up the side signal. Using an M-S matrix, the apparent width of the stereo image may be controlled during recording or post-production and a very robust stereo mix is the result.

"I tried it and my life was changed," he states. "In almost all cases, the M-S system was by far the most compatible and flexible for our work, so we stuck with it."

On occasion, Krause admits, he's allowed his Sennheiser microphones to get wet. "More often than not, they didn't fail. But, when they did, it took less than half-an-hour to become operational again. I beat the mics up all the time. I don't keep them in boxes and I don't keep them carefully protected as we've had to do with other systems. They're just so rugged, and they typically just keep on working."

His mics have also survived close encounters with a bear, he reports. "We were recording for the National Park Service in Sequoia National Park. We had set up three Sennheiser systems at different sites. At one of these locations a colleague had just moved away from his rig when a black bear came up to the mic and completely engulfed the zeppelin [wind shield] with its mouth. I have the only stereo surround recording of what it's like to be inside a bear's mouth."

For anyone seeking more information on Krause's field recording techniques, his new book/CD, Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World (Wilderness Press) includes a chapter on technology that is largely devoted to Sennheiser equipment. More contact information can be found on the Wild Sanctuary Website: For more information on Sennheiser's products, go to their Website at

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