John Patrick is a Dunedin-based sound recordist. He has worked for National Geographic Television, TVNZ, the Natural History Unit and the BBC. John shares some stories about his career and how Zaxcom technology has changed his approach to location sound.
Where did you start?
I first started working at RNZ in Dunedin as a studio operator in the mid-seventies, and moved to TVNZ in the mid-eighties. I found the training at RNZ to be fantastic. Learning about mic placement and choosing the right mic for the right job, has served me well. I was doing a lot of music engineering work, so the move to TV as a field sound recordist was quite a shift.
Can you describe a few of the more memorable jobs you’ve worked on?
So many! There are so many places I’ve been, things I’ve experienced, and people I’ve met that make almost every day special. I count it a great privilege to see so many different sides of life on this planet: being chased by komodo dragons in Indonesia, meeting Nelson Mandela, setting foot on a crab-fishing boat in the Aleutian Islands, as the snow settled on the water around us.
And being able to watch the most amazing act of generosity I think I have ever seen, while shooting in the slums in Bangladesh. We had just shot a sequence of a young woman getting water from a well, and followed her back to her tiny tin hut—mud floor, a few boards to lie on, and an obviously starving baby in the corner. When we had finished, this woman offered the last meager scraps of food to the three well-fed white guys standing in her doorway.
You recently changed your mixer to a Zaxcom Nomad 10. What have been the benefits of this new technology?
My decision on the mixer was pretty much made by some gear purchases over the preceding three years. For years I had insisted on hard wiring until I can get a radio link that allows me to hear what is happening at the camera. I consider it my job to make sure the audio is being recorded properly on the camera. So when the Zaxcom QRX100 arrived I had to bite the bullet and buy one. Partnered with
a TRX900AA transmitter, with IFB receiver (both return audio and timecode from the camera) and built-in recorder, it was not only all I had ever wanted in a link but, with the recorder, it was more.
Then I started working on a cooking show with a well-known female chef. The sound of the companders in my radio mics started driving me nuts—with the loud beating and banging of cooking utensils. Again I turned to Zaxcom for their fully digital radio mics. I have to say that I love them! They sound like a hard-wired mic. I also purchased a small Zaxcom 2-track recorder for atmos tracks, and a couple of ERXTCD IFB receivers.
So to the mixer: I decided to go with the Nomad because all my Zax gear talks to everything else. The Nomad 10 was completely new ground for me. Because I had never dealt with a menu driven mixer before it took me a couple of days of reading and playing before I could get sound to go in one end and come out the other.
The mixer can be set up in pretty much any configuration you can imagine. I have set up 4 different monitoring options: Output, Camera Return, External Recorder, and Internal Recorder. There are a whole bunch of screens you can setup, but I stick with just one that shows me output levels and levels going to each of the tracks. I also have a couple of different mixer configurations stored in its memory so with a few clicks I have a different mixer.
The internal recorder is set to take timecode from the camera, via the QRX IFB transmitter. The recorder runs when the camera runs, and stops when it stops. My audio has the same timecode as the video, and my mixer beeps in my headphones each time the camera op buttons on or off. A small thing I know, but REALLY handy.
Is there a specific shoot you’ve recently completed where Zaxcom really earned its keep?
I do a number of Country Calendars. Often we will be shooting something like animals moving in the foreground with our talent on radios way in the distance. The Nomad and my Zax radio mics give me so many different options. I still send FX to one channel on the camera, and talent mixed to the other - but I’m
happy that post can use my stereo FX, and overlay any or all of the talent iso tracks.
It’s fantastic knowing that I have a backup of everything, and it’s all timecode stamped to drop into the edit time-line. I have even used the Zax transmitters as stand-alone recorders on kayakers. Set them off down the river, and saw them again six hours later. Brilliant!
What is the radio frequency situation like in Dunedin? Have you had to change or upgrade radio mics?
The radio mics that I have been using since about 1995 have only once had a problem - and that was years ago on Bluff harbour when radiated EMF from the smelter nailed them. I’ve had no trouble with my Zaxcoms either, and because the transmitters have built-in recorders (which can be stamped with the timecode from the camera), I don’t see myself worrying too much in the future about dropouts. As long as there are no clothing or wind issues I am happy that I have clean audio recorded at the transmitter.
How do you view the business of recording sound today? Has it changed much over the years?
We live in a different world now, and it’s really the last 10 years or so that have changed the face of the industry. The equipment of my dreams has now become reality. For a long time I prided myself in being able to do a live mix to camera, and not rely on separate tracks. But in the interests of the programs I work on I have found myself wanting to become a “data carrier”. There are still plenty of skills required in getting good audio to keep it a challenge for me each day. Also, for a very long time, if you had some good quality sound gear, and looked after it, it would last you for years - while camera guys were having to update their kits to the latest and greatest format and specs. That has changed now, and we too are having to keep up with technology just to stay in the game.
For this reason I have just ordered a couple of Zaxcom's latest generation radio mics. Again the on-board recorder, and being able to control that recorder, levels, transmitter frequency and output power from my mixer were big parts of my decision (along with "NeverClip"), but more importantly for me were the new Extended Range, and the fact that these new Wideband units span four full blocks! Given where our space in the spectrum is going, and how those spaces may well be in different blocks in different cities, these things are a godsend for everybody everywhere who is using a radio mic. If you need convincing, there is a video on the Zaxcom site that demonstrates these units. It's a bit naf - but impressive.
Article by Peter Kraan. Thanks Peter!