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Ambient Recording captures big undersea surround sound from shrimpy source

Ambient Recording recently plumbed the depths of surround sound production when it developed a special recording system for what is believed to be the first-ever commercial documentary to feature underwater surround sound.

To achieve the feat, the German company relied on Sound Devices' 788T multitrack digital audio recorder. Ambient Recording created a unique underwater housing (SD-UW) for the recorder, which it used to capture the ocean's unique noises.

Recorded offshore from the Caribbean island of Bonaire in November 2011, the undersea surround sound will be part of the documentary "The Cannon Crackers of the Pistol Shrimp." As one of the loudest animals on the planet, pistol shrimp live in colonies of up to 16,000 and snap their claws so fast together the water around them vaporizes. They also create bubbles, which implode with a loud cracking sound. The cracking noises, along with vibrant imagery of the shrimp, form the basis of the film.

"The underwater world is not a silent one," says Timo Klinge, marketing manager, Ambient Recording. "Coral reefs are filled with millions of sounds just like a jungle or a summer meadow. We knew we wanted to use Sound Devices recorders when we created our complete surround underwater rig because they are extremely compact, very rugged and have excellent sound. We created the underwater housing in order for the 788T to operate efficiently underwater."

The Ambient Recording housing, designed for all Sound Devices 7 Series recorders, is made of hard anodized seawater-resistant aluminum, which is then PTFE-coated for durability and stability. The top is made of 4cm thick Plexiglas to offer an undistorted view of all meters and displays for the Sound Devices 7 Series recorders. Power, record, stop and volume functions can be controlled through the housing.

The housing is waterproof up to 328ft and weighs 22lbs, including the recorder, but beneath the water, its buoyancy is just slightly negative, which can be adjusted by adding buoyancy bodies.

In addition to the two Sound Devices 788T recorders, Ambient Sound used a Sonar Surround RS5 underwater surround rig attached to the Sound Devices underwater 7 Series housing with four Sonar Surround DS30 directivity spheres, each equipped with an Ambient TC4042 hydrophone. Three Ambient TC 4013S hydrophones were attached to one of the camera housings and one Ambient TC4032 hydrophone was used to record far-off sounds.