FIELD RECORDING: BOTSWANA

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After a first trip in Africa, mainly culture orientated, time to see another side of this continent, the savanna and its impressive wildlife. It was a kind of a hidden kid dream but not knowing I would go there one day.
Botswana has quickly become our best choice due to the amount and the size of its national parks all around the country. When I heard that the biggest population of elephants was there, I signed straight away for it.

How to get there?

Going there is not that simple. long distance flight are a bit limited from Europe and there is only one main city, Gaborone, the capital.
The best deal for this trip was to land at Johannesburg, south africa, 400Km away from the border. From there, there are two options to get to Botswana’s bushes:
-Go with a tour operator who takes care of all the organization.
-All by yourself, what we have done.

Make it wild:

We had booked in advance a 4WD fully equipped car for long trip in autonomy, including a tent on the roof. That was our home and security fence for a month in the bushes. The goal was to do a 5000 km loop through most of the national reserve of the country, on the path of the big 5.

Living in autonomy means there is no option for B plan, you need to be prepared for most of the situations and manage your food, water and gasoline tanks for many days ahead.
There are only 3 cities where you can make the full of everything, the rest of the time your are far away from everything, driving through the Bush.

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Live it wild:

The first days were all about learning about this new environment, how to drive in sandy or muddy trails, where and how to find animals…

The most important thing when doing this kind of safari, is time.
Be patient and stay quite close to what you consider a nice spot.
Then life slowly starts to show up, Elephants come for a fresh bath, waking up the hidden hippos you haven’t seen earlier in the water, followed by a group of impalas, two or three males start to fight with each other at a distance …

It is an impressive feeling to be in the middle of this wildlife, sometimes scary but always very exciting. There is also another kind of situation, the one when you suddenly face an animal that was hidden behind a tree or just after a turn. Of course in these cases, your are never ready to hit the rec button quickly .

Finally, comes the night. Everything must be packed and done before it gets dark.
Till the sunrise, you can’t really go out of your tent or very carefully. Some nights can be more singular, especially when you have chosen to camp on an animal path, or close to a fruit tree that elephants love, these ones are generally shorter.

In every situation you need to be very careful, a danger can quickly come from anywhere.
The main one comes from animals, we had a scary experience with a female elephant protecting its baby. Then there is the road, some trails are very hard to manage and require a lot of attention. The most challenging parts are probably deep sand trails and large river crossings.

There is always something to keep in mind: if you break the car and can’t fix it by yourself, you are probably stuck for few days before getting any assistance.

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Recording the bush:

Most of the time, you only get a permanent light wind that blows through the thin branches of the bush, resulting in a nice noisy shower of high frequencies..
Most of the big animals stay silent, even an elephant walking few meters away from you does very discreet sounds.

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Once more, the key is to be patient and probably combined with a pinch of luck. Waiting for the moment where wildlife wakes up for a brief instant. These lucky moments can lead you to a sudden rich panel of wildlife merging all together at the same place, creating a beautiful and ephemeral soundscape:

Most of the takes were long run recording.
The mics were often set on the hood or the roof of the car. It was a great way to get a 360° point of view and quickly adjust the frame when necessary.

There were two main issues with this technique:
-The wind, as you are very exposed without protection.
-Sounds from the car still hot after the drive, and the fridge that starts running every hour.

Recording at night was another challenge, at some specific locations I’ve set a couple of miniature DPA 4060 out of the tent, my recorder next to me in sleep mode, ready to quickly turn it on and hit the rec button.

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In terms of equipment, I left France with my “basic travelling” set:

-4MinX from Aeta, very silent amplification stage and super robust.
-A couple of miniature DPA 4060 protected with small rycote.
-A couple of MBHO with cardioid and omni capsules, protected with “Super Softies”.
-A pair of NPL batteries with a 220v converter to charge directly from the battery car.
-Bunch of accessoires, tripod, handle, spare wires, magnets,…

The cardioide capsules were great when I was close to large animals, like hippos or elephants. The omnis were mostly used to record ambiances in these large open bushes. They both had a very low noise level that saved me many times when I had to push the gain quite high.

This set-up has been working very well in most of the situations, unfortunately I had some issues with my SD card in the middle of the trip, some takes have been completely corrupted. I’ve lost some great stuff like elephant groanings and lions fights at night, too bad…

Hearing the bush:

The quietness has been the most surprising thing I will keep in mind. In the middle of a wide open area (called a pan) there is almost no life you can hear. Only remains this permanent light breeze that blows in the dry branches.

When the sunset comes, these places can suddenly turn into a dense sonic landscape where all lives wake up at the same time.

I will also keep in mind the huge dynamic range you can experience, the most impressive thing was probably the roar of a lion one night, local people say that it is so powerful that you can hear it up to 7 km.

Then there are these places near the water, life comes and goes quickly with a large variety of unpredictable sounds.

Finally at night, you always keep an ear open. You never know which animal is next to your tent, hidden in the bush, waiting for the nightfall to go out.

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It was an unforgettable journey far away from civilization where nature still remains wild, full of beauty and harmony. I end this post with a phrase, full of good sense I have often seen there:

“Takes only memories, leave only footprints”.

 


Botswana sound library is on sale on AsoundEffect:

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