Geothermal events occur worldwide in association with volcanic activity originating deep within the Earth’s crust. Geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, steam vents, and mineral springs gargle, spurt, trumpet, boil, and gush with an amazing variety of sounds guaranteed to make your Greatest Hits list. But before you rush off to capture them, heed some simple advice, to avoid inadvertent parboiling.
Finding a location is simple. The most active geothermal places are well-known tourist destinations. They will be easy to find online, worldwide. You’ll be recording at night, when a still atmosphere allows sound to travel clearly and noisy tourists are tucked into bed.
Because you’ll be working at night, wear a headlamp at all times and have a backup mini-light in your pocket. Ask local authorities about the possible presence of toxic fumes and recon during daylight to locate safe access paths. Be aware that ground that looks firm may be only millimeters thick, overlaying deadly superheated soft matter. Stay on marked trails. If no trails exist, look for hoof marks from large mammals, like elk, and follow their sage prints.
Follow your ears while listening through your microphones. Faint sounds which can only be recorded up close can be incredibly intricate. Be sure to get your microphones pointed down and as near as a couple centimeters to the ground for some of your sonic exploration. I use a monopod instead of a tripod to make this task is easier. But remember: In such geologically active areas, temperatures can quickly climb by as much as 100 degrees and corrosive gases will destroy your equipment, so use your oldest, most expendable gear while you become familiar with a new location.
Hold off longer than usual before you end a recording. Figure five to ten minutes minimum, to make sure you experience the constantly cycling events. Better to hang on an extra half hour. For example, while recording Upper Grizzly Basin at Yellowstone National Park, the first five minutes just sounded like a growling slobbery beast. But after 15 minutes I could recognize many sonic rhythms, and, later, listening to the hour-long recording I patiently produced, it became evident that no two moments in this never-ending, upwelling dynamic cycle are ever the same. Be sure to plan at least three nights per location. You’ll need the first night just to settle in safely and explore responsibly, then a second night to hunker down to your favorite concerts, and a third night just in case bad weather causes delays.
Popular geothermal locations produce an endless variety of surprising sounds. Arrive prepared to record at night, get close to capture faint sounds, and heed safety tips.
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