This past weekend I traveled to a fascinating location I’d been reading about for several months, the Salton Sea, CA.  The area is ripe with images of urban decay, isolation and surprisingly, tranquility.  My goal was to capture some of these characteristics with sound.

To prepare for this session I read as much as I could about the history of this fascinating area, poking around on travel blogs and Yelp pages to find the spots that could hold the most sonic interest and produce the most evocative recordings.  There were many interesting places around the shore, but when I began to plan my journey I realized that travel time visiting all of these locations would burn up all my daylight hours, it really is a huge body of water!  So instead I cut it down to three locations that I thought would provide an interesting variety of potential sound.  

Salton Sea State Recreation Area

Our first spot sported a nice paved parking lot, an air conditioned visitor center and a beautiful white beach, a stark contrast of what was to come.  Not all was as it seemed however, and as we trekked out towards the water it became apparent that a sandy white beach this was not!  Almost the entire beach within a few hundred feet of the water was composed of the tiny shells of deceased marine life and rotting fish bones!  I took advantage of this unique and unnerving opportunity to capture some very unusual foley.

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With that grim task out of the way I moved on to one of my favorite subjects: Water.  I really loved the interesting texture the shells lent the waves in these recordings.  In the distance you can occasionally hear birds, seagulls, and some fishermen chatting.

Soon the beach became more crowded and we decided to move on to our next destination, which we expected would be much more secluded.

Bombay Beach

Bombay Beach was likely once a thriving neighborhood boasting beachfront property and its own pier.  While I can’t say that “thriving” really describes this area anymore, it is beautiful in it’s own way.  

Once again I tackled the water.  There was such a variety of sound here, it seemed that every ten feet the waves beat a new rhythm onto the sand, rock and bone of the beach.  Some spots felt more urgent, as if the water was rushing the reach the shore, only to splash against the sand and recede instantly, while others felt more relaxed.  Generally, the waves here moved much faster and had more force than at the Rec Area, possibly due to the wind rising, or the beach facing to the south rather than west.

As we drove back over the hill from the beach, we had to stop and check out this way cool abandoned garage.  

There was some very interesting graffiti, and peeking inside, it was clear someone had been living there, but not for a while.  Now, its only occupants were pigeons, who peered dubiously down at me from the rafters.  As a car turned the corner outside, the pigeons scattered, bursting out of the building, startling me, and inspiring this next recording.  While the birds studied me from the sand hill across the road I slowly walked my tripod and microphones into the building, placing them underneath the area the birds had been roosting.  I set my gain conservatively, punched record and retreated to the car.  Shortly after my departure, the pigeons, having decided I was not interested in vandalizing their impromptu home, flocked back to their nests, cooing excitedly.  Here’s an excerpt from the longer recording, showcasing some interesting vocalizations.

The Seep Fields

Our final location, and the one I was most looking forward to, were the Davis-Schrimpf seep fields, where liquid mud bubbled out of the ground, forming grand volcano-like structures and(hopefully) some interesting sounds.  I was not disappointed.


As at Bombay Beach, I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of sound scattered across the landscape; each spot seemed to have it’s own unique personality.  My favorite was also the largest, a pool, probably one foot by two feet, that formed massive bubbles, far larger than any other spot.  It brought to mind images of a witch brewing a devious concoction, or a mad scientist preparing some dangerous serum in his lab.  

Some sounds were hiding under layers of hardened clay, and could be heard through small holes, giving a sound with some unique reverberant properties.

Unfortunately due to the extreme heat and humidity, I was not able to capture all that I was hoping for at the seep field.  When I return I’ll tackle that location first, to ensure I can capture as much material as possible.  

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