Field Recordist George Vlad Travels Everywhere With Bubblebee Wind Protection
From recording African lion and hyenas to capturing the sound of rabbits in a Surrey field, George Vlad says Bubblebee Windbubbles ensure his audio is always pristine.
When award-winning sound designer and field recordist George Vlad uploads videos to his own YouTube channel, thousands of people tune in so that they can lose themselves in the exotic sights and sounds of the places he travels to. From Scotland to Kenya, from Madagascar to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, George Vlad specialises in recording natural soundscapes that truly evoke his location, whether it’s the roar of an African lion, the shriek of a howler monkey, the cry of a mating stag or the extremely annoying sound of the White Bellied Go Away bird.
Capturing these soundscapes - and the effects he also records for his work as a computer games sound designer - requires an arsenal of high end microphones from companies such as DPA, Sony and Senheisser. But equally important, he says, are Bubblebee’s Windbubble wind protectors that help combat wind noise and ensure that his recordings are always clean and clear.
“I do a lot of unattended recording where I set up a microphone rig and leave it for up to a week, and I like to have the smallest footprint possible because that attracts the least attention, which is important when you are recording wildlife,” George says. “The best way to achieve this is with a lavalier microphone and a Windbubble. If I use a blimp or some of the larger wind protectors, my rig becomes too obvious and that can have a detrimental effect. Usually, my rig consists of a power bank, a cable, a small recorder and one or two pairs of lavalier microphones, each covered with a Bubblebee Windbubble. This not only protects against wind noise but also help prevent damage to my mics when I’m working in wet or humid conditions.”
George’s love of Bubblebee Windbubbles means that he always takes a large bag of them every time he goes on a recording trip. Available in a variety of sizes and colours, the Windbubble’s secret lies in its clever design and use of high quality Bubblebee fur, which creates a bubble of dead air around the microphone capsule and slows down the ambient wind.
“I always take more than I need because rodents like them, as do birds that often think Windbubbles are also birds, so they rub against them and peck them,” he says. “I’ve had baboons, hyenas and lions break my equipment. Ants as well – in Costa Rica it took them 18 hours to get into my recorder bag, eat all the cables and bring in dirt to build a nest. Being able to hide mics is also useful in places where there’s a lot of foot traffic from local people. I had this situation in the Amazon rainforest a few months ago when I wanted to record on what was effectively a hunting trail. I couldn’t leave a large mic in a blimp in case it got moved or stolen, so I hid small lavaliers with Windbubbles and was able to leave them unattended for hours.”
Originally from Romania but now based in Surrey in the UK, George Vlad began his journey into the world of audio when he took up DJ-ing as a teenager. Before long he was making his own music and playing with effects on his digital audio workstation. After gaining a degree in Sound Design from Edinburgh University, George began working as a sound designer, and creating music and effects for podcasts and video games.
“I was working 100 hours a week, which was too much, so inevitably I burned out because it was not sustainable,” he says. “By 2013, I was a wreck. I flew back to Romania and went walking in the mountains for a month, doing sound recording and photography and not using a phone. I had a fairly feral upbringing in Romania, so I was lucky to have the opportunity to reconnect with my childhood passion for being outdoors. I decided I’d never go back to working 100 hours a week.”
When he returned to Scotland, George would escape to the hills and forests around Edinburgh if things got too much and that was the start of him focusing on sound recording. He perfected his technique through trial and error and took part in various organised trips to Scandinavia and South Africa before realising that he wanted to plan his own expeditions so that he could go to even more adventurous places. He has subsequently been to numerous countries including Kenya, Oman, Senegal, Ethiopia, The Congo, Costa Rica, Madagascar and, just recently, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Sahara Desert in Algeria.
In 2014 George set up Mindful Audio so that he could share his recordings with sound editors and designers. He now has over 20 terabytes of recorded material which he releases through his YouTube channel where there are now more than 120 video, and he has also created sleep podcasts featuring an hour of soft, relaxing sounds for Amazon Audible.
“I earn enough from computer games sound design to justify going on recording expeditions,” he says. “I like to focus on pristine natural soundscapes free from human influence, of which there are less and less every day. My quest to escape man-made noise takes me to remote and sometimes inhospitable parts of the world. This is more than fine with me as I love exploring and I don’t shy away from a bit of adventure.”
Of course, some adventures are more welcome than others, and George has had his fair share of uncomfortable experiences.
“I don’t chase high intensity moments by going to war zones or anything like that,” he explains, “but unfortunately, in a lot of places where nature has been preserved through lack of development, there is also poverty, which makes people make bad choices through lack of options. You can’t think about preserving the environment when you are starving.”
During his trip to Madagascar, he encountered dahalo bandits who raid farms for cattle. His local guide spotted a group of them on the road and quickly drove to the safety of a nearby village. Later than night a villager was shot by the bandits, indicating just how dangerous they can be.
“Luckily sound equipment isn’t as attractive to steal as cameras because a lot of people don’t realise its value,” George says. “I carry cameras and drones as well and that could put me at more risk, but as a child in Romania I was taught not to flaunt wealth, so I’ve never lost equipment to these situations or had anything stolen.”
Making use of local knowledge and carrying out careful risk assessments is the best way to stay safe, George says. He also has an SOS button on his Garmin GPS device and always knows the distance to the nearest clinic in case of emergencies.
These precautions obviously pay off as the most dangerous situation he’s faced was in Surrey when a herd of cows threatened to trample him.
“I was recording rabbits and they didn’t like it,” he laughs. “I had to grab my stuff, run and jump a fence into stinging nettles, which wasn’t great. Generally, though, wildlife is not out to get us. Animals are just going about their business. They only become aggressive when they are afraid, otherwise they run away. If it isn’t safe to get close to an animal, I use a boom pole to reduce the distance between my mic and the sound source. I like to adapt to the environment and be inventive with my solutions. On one occasion I hung my mic and recording bag on a long stick so I could record a beehive 10 meters up in a tree. I didn’t bother the bees and I got a really good recording. It pays to be resourceful and inventive and think on your feet. On location, you can’t physically carry a different accessory for every eventuality, so you learn to fashion what you need from what’s available.”
George Vlad’s dual career as a sound designer and a field recordist has won him plaudits from numerous quarters. In the video games world, he is renowned for his work on Horizon Forbidden West, Dune Awakening and Path of Exile, and was among a team from Guerrilla who won the 2022 MASA Best Sound Design in Gaming award. The same team was also nominated for the 2023 BAFTA for Audio Achievement, the 2022 MPSE Golden Reel Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing and the 2022 Game Award for Best Audio Design.
George’s work has also been included in a number of film and television series dealing with conservation issues. These include The Territory and Dark Green. In addition, he works closely with many conservation organisations and is a guest lecturer at various universities including Belgrade and Bath Spa.
“There is so much biodiversity in the world, and so many endemic species, but a large number of them are very threatened,” he says. “If their habitat is lost, they die out. I’d like to think my work can help in some small way, even if it is just by bringing attention to what we have so we can try harder to protect it before it is lost.”
For more information about George Vlad, please visit https://mindful-audio.com/
Listen to George's recordings on his YouTube Channel.