Sennheiser’s rifle mic generally performed very well, giving a tight pick-up of the sounds of individual NZ parrots like the kaka and kea, and having a high output which got round the pre-amp noise in the recorder without the need for any extra gear. The ME67 mic capsule added some brightness, which suited some effects and could still be filtered from others. I soon found myself wishing for a second Sennheiser to gather stereo effects at a distance. A pair of ‘shot-guns’ would have been very useful for some of the bush recordings of birds, and much of the geo-thermal activity, which is difficult to get close to without falling in to something hot and wet, or getting a facefull of sulphurous fumes! The Sennheiser’s ‘pro’ velour windshield proved too refined for many of New Zealand’s winds, and I wished I’d invested in a full basket shield with a hairy cover for the one mic I had!
One other piece of equipment wasn’t available when I left England, but was later to prove to be the ace in the pack! Clarity Systems, a relatively new company based in Southampton, promised to ship one of their new high-gain microphone pre-amps out to me in Auckland so that I could try it out ‘in the field’. The plan was to use it with the ECM 959 to overcome the inherent noise in the D7’s built-in mic pre-amp, which is fine with loud sources, but becomes problematic when the gain control has to be set between about 8 and 10. The Clarity pre-amp gives 50 to 60 dB of gain, depending on the source resistance of the microphones, and feeds directly into the line input of the tape machine. It is specially designed to work with dynamic mics like the AKG D202 and the Beyer M201, but can also be adapted to work with higher output electret mics by adding in-line pads. That was how I hoped to use it once I collected the equipment in New Zealand. In the event, the increase in noise performance seemed marginal with the ECM 959 (probably because the source impedance was wrong) but was stunning when I tried connecting the pair of Shure mics directly to the pre-amp. The two mics were more cumbersome, and extra weight to carry, but the results certainly justified the added inconvenience. Besides, the pre-amp was only the size of a cigarette-packet, so that was hardly a burden, and the “super-hearing” results were amazing!
Recording in New Zealand was a voyage of discovery about both the equipment and myself! You have to devote a lot of time, energy and patience to field recording to bring home good results. Luck plays its part, of course. I drove on miles of unmade road and climbed through thick brambles hoping to record one of New Zealand’s loveliest-sounding birds – the Kokako – only to get caught in a thunderstorm. I never heard a Kokako, but the recording of distant rolling thunder sounds great!
Postscript: Returning to NZ in 2017 I revisited many of the locations including Mapara Reserve, and that time I was rewarded by being able to both hear and see a Kokako! The resulting recording appears on New Zealand Naturally.