A Bridge, a Microphone, the Police.

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Contact microphones on a hollow metal pipe at the Story Bridge in Brisbane. A brief recording moments before the police arrived.

 

What is it about wandering around with headphones and microphones that raises suspicion from passersby?  Walking with a camera in hand it is easy to dissolve into the surrounding crowd, but the sight of a microphone and attentive listening seems to amplify the field recordist’s presence no matter how discreet we try to be.

And so it was yesterday afternoon at the Story Bridge in Brisbane …

My recording objective was to attach contact microphones to the bridge’s support beams and listen to it creak and groan under the movement of the city traffic.

The sound of the traffic was so loud that it was impossible to hear what I was recording. A police car drove past flashing its lights. I tried a second recording, this time placing the microphones on a long pipe that ran along the length of the bridge, this being the recording in this post.

While packing-up my recording equipment I noticed two police officers walking towards me. Call it a guilty conscience but I instantly knew they were coming to “have a chat”. And so they did. After introducing themselves they asked what I was doing, having been monitored by cameras on the bridge.

I was asked to empty out my bag, show them my microphones and recorder and explain why I felt the need to record the bridge. And there, on a sunny winter’s afternoon in Brisbane, I had an impromptu discussion with the city police about field recording and “sound art”.

Questions were asked:

Did I appreciate how suspicious my recording looked? Yes, to an untrained and paranoid eye the cables probably looked as though I was setting-up explosives!

Did I make any money from my recordings? Yes and no.

Why had I driven 2 1/2 hours to come to Brisbane? To record the bridge.

What else would I be doing while in Brisbane? Not much, I just wanted to record the bridge.

Pause. Dubious look.

After my I.D was checked and recorded I then demonstrated how the contact microphones worked. I now like to think that the Brisbane City Police will call me any time they need to add sound effects to any of their training videos.

The police were quite polite throughout the interview, and I had a good laugh about it afterwards, but I wonder if any other field recordists have experienced similar interactions with the local constabulary?

As for the sounds I was seeking, they will have to wait for another day …

15 thoughts on “A Bridge, a Microphone, the Police.

  1. Fantastic. Great post. I have never been stopped by police but I’ve certainly had to answer lots of questions from people passing by on many occasions. Whenever I’m making below surface hydrophone recordings on the beach, everyone thinks I have some kind of fancy electronic beach worm collection technology!

    I hadn’t given much thought to this but with so much of the metro regions of Australia under some kind of camera monitoring, it will be something to be aware of in future.

  2. Hey Jay-Dea despite your experience with the police, this short recording is beautiful. I did have similar experiences on a train (with pick-up coils) and in the underground stations. A friend also told me that while in University in London, he went with the all class and Peter Cusack to record the Millennium bridge. A minute after setting up, he said they were approached by ARMED police. I’d love to hear that recording too. Anyhow, now that the police knows you :-), you may as well asked for a permission to be there, i guess.

    1. Thanks, happy that you like the recording, Your story about Peter Cusack is quite remarkable. Still, he is a man known for recording danger zones. I just never knew the Millennium Bridge was such a place.

  3. “Why had I driven 2 1/2 hours to come to Brisbane? To record the bridge.
    What else would I be doing while in Brisbane? Not much, I just wanted to record the bridge.
    Pause. Dubious look.”

    Just classic……

    I have never been stopped by police but I have had to (try to) explain myself a few times…. The dubious look I know so well… You can hear their thoughts… ‘what is this nut reeeeeeeally doing’.

    Yep – hate to disappoint but I really just want to record the bridge…….

  4. Great post JD. I completely agree with what you say about microphones versus cameras. When I take a microphone out of my bag it always seems to attract attention but nobody takes any notice when I take out my camera.

    I’ve recorded the sounds of lots of bridges in Paris but I’ve never attracted the attention of the local gendarmes, at least not yet!. I was once though approached by two very suspicious men in suits who asked questions and lingered for longer than seemed appropriate. I always find the “I don’t speak French, I’m just a tourist” line comes in useful.

    I loved the sounds of your bridge recorded with your contact mics. You’ve got the better of me there, my contact microphone recordings of bridges have so far been unsuccessful.

  5. Visited Amsterdam for a conference a few weeks ago, just packed the bag with small protable recorders, a h4n and a walkman (for quick and dirty soundcollages straight to cassette) with built in mic, a few contact microphones and so on. Suspicious looks everytime I used anything else but the walkman. Really interesting how putting on headphones and holding a microphone quickly makes you in a way a potential invader of some private sphere but holding a dslr with zoom lense is perfectly allright…

  6. Bit late to this page but I have a story. I was a sound recordist working in documentaries years ago. One day when recording close to the Art Gallery in Sydney I decided on impulse to take my Nagra (showing my age) and my Sennheiser 416 complete with wind gag and fluffy cover into the Art Gallery to record some sound in there. I thought it would be nice to get some quiet crowds, footsteps etc. I was stopped at the entrance because the old bloke on guard thought I had a camera. Not a camera I explained. Sound recorder. Well I can’t take that in either. Why? Because you can’t take pictures. It’s not a camera I said and went to show him the microphone inside the windsock. Nope. Come back without your gear he said. No photos in the Art Gallery.

    1. Funny, funny, funny mixed with a twist of frustrating. Good to know those guards at the art gallery take their job seriously. In the past I’ve also considered recording inside galleries but have balked at what kind of attention it would create … your story confirms my worst suspicions.

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