A few days ago, the HartFX crew took a trip down to Gatorland. If you haven’t been to Gatorland, you need to go sometime. It’s totally awesome! Huge gators everywhere, plus a ton of other animals too. Very cool place, and the management there is just as awesome! We hooked up with Tim Williams, the “Dean of Gator Wrestlin’ “ (that’s what his card says!), who is just about the nicest guy you could meet. He toured us all around the facility before hours (very nice of him!) and told us all about the gators. Tim started wrestlin’ gators over 30 years ago! He now trains the other wrestlers at the park. The guy knows a lot about gators!
So our first stop on the tour was Chester’s Pen. Chester is nicknamed “The Dog Eater” because he used to terrorize neighborhoods in the area. When they caught him, the park adopted him so they didn’t have to put him down. Anyways, Chester is a 13.5 footer who lives in his own pen because he doesn’t get along with the other guys. He doesn’t much get along with anyone, really, which is apparently why Tim brought us in.
Tim explained to us what types of sounds we might hear. Gators don’t have any vocal chords, so any sounds they make are from forcing air through their throats and lungs, etc… They often hiss at you, which is a warning to stay away. They will also snap their jaws at you, which is a territorial thing. They can also grunt, growl, and bellow. So we prepped our levels the best we could – we set the gain to a lower level (but not too low!), just in case.
Quick side about the gear: I was armed with a Sennheiser MKH60 in a Rode Blimp and a Sanken CSS-5 in a second Rode Blimp. I had a Sound Devices 744T running at 24/192. (I wasn’t running a mixer, I just hot swapped the mics when I wanted to switch). Johnny was also running a 744T with the same settings, but had a Sanken CS-3e locked and loaded, holstered (see what I did there?) in a Rycote S-Series blimp. Mariah was designated photographer and gear jockey. She was backing us up with two boom poles (A K-Tek K102CCR, and a K202CCR – great poles!) and whichever mic I wasn’t using at the time.
Tim opened the door, but an airplane went over (because, why wouldn’t it?), so we held for a minute. While we were waiting for the plane to pass, I asked Tim if there was anything we should know for safety’s sake – any signs we might look for to know whether or not we were in danger – this was, after all, a massive eating machine… Tim’s answer? “If you hear me say ‘haul-’ then run. If you hear ‘-ass,’ you’re already too late…” Very comforting…
The airplane passed and we went into the pen. Tim shoved me close to Chester (my hand was probable 2 – 3 feet from him) and then started taunting him. That felt safe… Chester looked a bit annoyed, but didn’t make any sound. So Tim grabbed a giant wooden pole and started poking Chester in the head. That felt even more safe… Chester finally opened his jaws really wide and started hissing. Sounded very strage! Here’s some of that:
He also snapped his jaws at us. Here’s one of those:
Must have been to early in the morning, or too cold, because he just went to the bottom of his pool after that. He didn’t feel much like growling at us
We decided to move on and headed over to the Breeding Marsh. The marsh is a large lagoon area with a ton of medium to giant gators in it. They have free roam over the whole area, and their are boardwalks and observation towers all around it. Very cool place to visit. So we arrive at this gate that says “Hungry Gators, Do Not Enter”, completely ignore it, and move on in. We walked up to the edge of the water, and Tim starts calling the gators over by name. Wait, what? Yes, he called them by name, and they responded to their names (Harvey, Homer and Otis – I don’t remember the others’ names. So I say, “Oh hey, that’s cool, they respond to their names. So these guys are relatively tame then?” Tim responds, “Oh no, they’ll eat you in a heartbeat.” Thanks Tim, very reassuring.
Now we have 4 giant (10+ foot) gators all within a few feet of us, very aware that we are here. Again, Tim grabs the mics and shoves them closer to the gators. This time, my mic is only about a foot away from this guy’s mouth. He opens his mouth a little bit with Tim’s taunting, but no sound yet. So Tim starts smacking this guy in the nose – with his hands! Ok, so maybe he’s been working with gators for nearly 40 years, but this is still making me a bit uneasy. I mean, I’m a foot from 4 giant eating machines, and I have all this gear strapped to me, which would severely hamper any attempted escape.
Apparently these guys were a bit tired too, because they really didn’t have much of a reaction. One or two started hissing, but no growling or bellowing. Tim told us that bellowing is a territorial call, and that it’s not really something that can be easily cued. It could happen any minute, but it might not happen at all that day. If it did happen though, it would more than likely result in a gator fight. That would be totally awesome!
Fun fact about this location: The gator scenes from Indiana Jones 2 was filmed at this location!
We continued on through the marsh and came across so many birds at their nests that it was a little ridiculous. I couldn’t even believe how many there were! It was so loud, which was both good and bad. I got some wicked bird recordings (at least they weren’t peacocks!), but it made it a bit difficult to get clean gator sounds. We managed though.
We found a place we liked and sort of formed a home base. I attracted a bunch of gators over by swinging my Rode Blimp and Dead Wombat right over the surface of the water. Took a few minutes, but eventually I had a few come over. They just sort of started at it though, so I decided to bop a few on the head. That got their attention! But only kind of. They just opened their mouths and started it down. Every once in a while one would hiss or snap, but no real action. One or two would jump at the mic, but it was only a half-effort jump. I was a bit bummed, but at least we were getting something.
All of a sudden we heard this really weird rumbling noise and looked up to see the water vibrating. It was a gator bellowing! Finally! We were able to get a little of the bellowing sounds, but he was across the marsh, so it was a bit contaminated (with birds). Here’s what we were able to get:
After he was done, I went back to bopping gators. All was going swimmingly (I’m on a roll today!) when one gator got a bit feisty. He jumped and got my (brand new!) Dead Wombat!! Oh No! He grabbed it and started his head spinning thing (what gators do to disorient and kill their prey). I pulled back on my boom pole, but it snapped (oops). He got the Dead Wombat off the blimp, bit through the front of the blimp, and popped off the back end cap. After he got away with that, I was able to grab the rest of it. Luckily, he didn’t get the mic! Most of the blimp was salvageable, and I only broke one section on the boom pole. All in all, I figure I’m out about $300 – $400. Bummer! First official HartFX gear casualty. Rode (being the awesome company that they are) told me they’d replace the end cap under their “Gator Warranty”. Awesome. Just need to buy a new Dead Wombat and an new K-Tek Section.
K-Tek is totally awesome and they are fixing my broken K102CCR for around $100. WAY less than I thought it was going to be! They don’t charge for labor on repairs and they sell the parts for cost. Talk about awesome!
Also, Rode is sending me all of the replacement parts for my blimp for free! Now THAT’s customer service!
I was actually surprised at how well the blimp survived – the tube only had a little break at the seam – easily glued back together. There was only a slight bend in one of the bottom rails of the shock mount. I can probably bend it back no problem. The end caps popped off, saving the rest of everything. Had he gotten my Rycote WS series, I’m convinced he’d have taken the whole thing.
Cool sound though. Here’s the recording from my system:
Johnny had his mic only a few feet away from mine, so he got some cool sounds too. What I don’t understand though, is why in the world Johnny “meowed” in the middle of the whole thing! Who does that?
I was a little disheartened after that one, so I sat it out for 30 minutes or so and watched some birds and such, eventually returning to my other, still in tact blimp, and started recording more ambiences.
Johnny kept recording though and got a few cool things. One of the sounds he was able to get (by luckily having his mic pointed in the right direction) was a gator grunting as get got into the water. Again, the birds were so noisy that the recording was really quite contaminated, but it’s a cool thing to hear. So here’s the original version of that:
I felt a bit frisky and tried editing out some of the background noise despite the poor recording and this is what I got:
Kinda sounds ok, but not quite library quality…
Anyways, the park had opened by this point, and things started to get a little too busy to be able to record much more, as we decided to call it a day. Tim invited us back though – we definitely we come back in March for mating season (and possibly again before then). Tim was an absolutely wonderful host – definitely very passionate about what he does. Thanks so much Tim! A special thanks also goes out to Mariah Roberts for being our gear wrangler and photographer. It was her first time out with us, but perhaps she will make a repeat appearance! And most importantly, thanks to all you readers for stopping by!
Go out and record something cool! Just look out for those gators!