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THE PROBLEM WITH RECORDING IN THE TROPICS

Doing oral-history audio recordings here in Guyana is a tricky business. In London, I did my initial interviews in cosy, closed-off rooms stuffed with echo-sapping cushions. My biggest issue was ticking clocks and the noises of other people chatting or clattering around in the house. Here the potential mindfields are endless.

First of all, Guyana is hot. So that means humming air-conditioning units and whirring fans, which have to be switched off (although you then sit there in a pool of sweat). Windows must be shut, but even then that doesn’t seem to banish the ever-present sound of chirping Kiskadee birds, buzzing crickets and croaking frogs.

I was recording a piece for the BBC the other day and it was almost farcical the lengths I had to go to.

Recording the basic voiceover, I shut all external doors and windows, closed my door, drew the curtains, draped blankets over the curtains and hung clothes on the large blank walls, to try to reduce sound bouncing. I even tried sitting in my wardrobe.

“There’s quite a lot of echo, did you record it in a large room?” the concerned producer asked me, on receiving my recording. Not especially I said, cursing the thin partition walls, which finish about a foot short of the ceiling to keep the air flowing.

I went to my cousin’s house to try again. Soft furnishings? Check. Air-con off? Check. Fan off? Check. Walls that end at the ceiling? Check. Windows closed? check. But still sounds crept in. A faint buzzing. Night-time crickets. The sound of my vein about to pop…

Waking up at 5.30am to record a wild track (just background noise) to help with editing out the echo, I stopped and started the recorder each time an unwanted sudden sound sent the sound levels spiking. Which was about every 30 seconds. The dog next door, barking at some imagined threat. The local factory blasting its horn to start the day. A car beeping furiously to get the attention of a neighbour inside… I finally got something vaguely acceptable about two hours later.

I got ready to go out and record some street sounds. Then the rain began. Heavy, noisy, tropical rain.

What can you do? Just go with it, I guess… life isn’t quiet here. Better get used to it!

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