Vince Purcell, Sound Recordist
Vince's job was to record representative sounds at all the filming locations. He often worked alone and away from the main camera team.
What was the most stirring or surprising experience for you in each place?
Greenland: Floating next to beautiful icebergs the length of a city street will always be my lasting memory of Greenland.
Madagascar: I was walking through the Berenty Reserve in southern Madagascar, hoping to record lemur sounds. I must have walked for two hours without seeing or hearing a lemur. Tired and discouraged, I stopped, turned around, and found a line of 10 or 12 ring-tailed lemurs following me in single file. I have no idea how long they had been following me! I moved slowly to the side of the trail, started up my recorder, and captured the sound of each one scampering down the trail as they ran off.
Chang Tang Plateau: Camping near the nomads on the plateau, we woke up one morning to about 5 inches of snow. But later that same day, it reached a high temperature of 75 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit!
Iguazu Falls: Working around the waterfall was just incredible: It is truly a beautiful place, and the sound these falls make is just incredible. It's like white noise on a million televisions with the volume turned all the way up!
Amazon River: Very early one morning in Tombopata, I was following a trail toward the clay lick to record the sound of the macaws and parrots. It was around 5 a.m. and completely dark, so I was using a head lamp to find my way along the trail. Suddenly, I caught sight of a big tarantula in the lamp beam. It was poised in the opening of a large hollow log, probably waiting for an unsuspecting insect to happen by. I walked that trail every morning for a week, and that tarantula was there to greet me every time.
Namib Desert: I had the chance to see the beauty of the desert from a helicopter. Those huge sand dunes seem to go on forever. It was quite a ride!
Okavango Delta: On our last day there, I was awakened around 3 a.m. by the sound of a lion roaring not far from our camp. My recording equipment was ready, so I pulled my clothes on and jumped into the truck with one of our guides. We tracked the lion by listening with my stereo microphone. Recording that lion roar was a real highlight for me.
What kind of souvenirs did you bring back?
I found a wonderful carved gourd in the Amazon. I also brought home a lot of beautiful stamps and coins from each country. My favorite is a series of stamps from Madagascar featuring all the species of lemurs.
What handy tool or piece of equipment would you recommend be taken along when traveling to these places?
I would suggest you take a Swiss Army knife, para-tool or Leatherman -- something with lots of tools and gadgets on it. You'll use more of them than you think you will! Also, pack plenty of sunscreen. I received the worst sunburn of my life on the Tibetan plateau: The tips of my ears and nose peeled for weeks.
What are your favorite anecdotes from your experiences in these places?
There were a lot of insects in the Amazon. Since I was recording sounds, a mosquito or bee near my microphone would sound like it was right next to my ear in my headphones. Our Peruvian guides got a real kick out of my constantly waving away invisible bugs. Eventually, I became accustomed to the sound of insects buzzing in my headphones--except for one time when there actually wasa wasp buzzing next to my face!
Once when we were filming the Tibetan nomads, I was in the pasture recording the sounds of the sheep when I heard someone singing in a beautiful male voice. It was a shepherd, about a hundred yards from me. I approached him slowly, and by talking with "hands and feet" explained to him that I was recording sound. He sang his beautiful song for me, and then I played the recording back for him. He seemed to really enjoy that.
What one thing or experience typifies each place for you?
One thing that really struck me about each place was that, while they are all very beautiful, they are also all very challenging places to work. Even the supposedly "easy" places turned out to be quite difficult at times. There are no shortcuts when you're making a film about nature: Sometimes you have to wait hours, days, or even weeks to finally get the shot or sound you need.
What image or impression of each place comes immediately to your mind when it is named?
Greenland: Giant chiseled icebergs; 23 hours of sunshine every day.
Madagascar: Desert, rain forest, tropical islands, lemurs leaping to and fro.
Chang Tang Plateau: Bright sun, thin air, happy nomads despite political oppression.
Iguazu Falls: Big, BIG waterfalls.
Amazon River: Heat, humidity, insects, endless rain forest, and beautiful, cloud-filled skies.
Namib Desert: Dry and quiet, but also loud and windy. Huge sculpted sand dunes.
Okavango Delta: Golden sunsets over the delta's wetlands.
Did any place engage your senses more than the others?
Working near Iguazu Falls, the roar of the falls was so loud we had to yell at each other just to communicate.
Do you have a story that has to do with the geography of a place?
I wouldn't venture too far off in the rain forests of the Amazon. It would be very easy to get very lost in no time at all! Also, in the Okavango Delta, it's important to stay inside the vehicle and not venture far from camp, because hippos are very territorial and kill more tourists than any other animal in Africa.
Has your relationship to yourplace changed by having been to these greatest places?
The world has become a much smaller place for me. I had traveled extensively in Europe before, but now I realize that with a day or so of travel, you can reach practically any point on Earth.
Greatest Places Online © 1999 Science Museum of Minnesota