Men traveling to a world of sound

(CNN) — Seven years ago, American Libby Green traveled with her mother to Italy and France, ending their trip with a visit to the city of Nice before flying to the US.

Meanwhile, German-born Marcel Gnauk and a friend were in Nice, attending the Crossover Festival, a celebration of eclectic music.

Walking along the Promenade des Anglais beach, Marcel saw Libby using a Hasselblad, a classic film camera, and he couldn’t resist approaching her.

“I love old cameras, Hasselblad, it’s amazing,” he remembers telling her.

They talked about the camera and travel, and he invited her to a concert that evening. The next day, Libby flew back to America, but they kept in touch.

Less than a month later, Libby traveled to Italy, and reunited with Marcel, who was working in Switzerland.

“I mean we knew, yeah, this is special, it’s special,” Libby said.

In the year 2022, Libby and Marcel recorded the sounds in Bangkok's historic train station.

In the year 2022, Libby and Marcel recorded the sounds in Bangkok’s historic train station.

Libby & Marcel

Marcel visited Libby in Los Angeles, where she worked in the film industry after studying film, and they traveled together for several weeks around California.

That’s when they knew they wanted to get together and travel the world.

So Marcel goes back to Switzerland, Libby stays in LA, working for five months to save money.

They bought a campervan, and in January 2015 Marcel met Libby at Zurich Airport.

“In less than a year we quit our jobs, and sold everything we really owned,” Libby said. They then spent four months traveling around Europe. A camping trip in Japan followed, then time in Bali, Taiwan, Cambodia and Malaysia.

In the years since then their passion has grown, not only for each other, but for the world of voices, recorded with their high-end microphones, and shared on their social networks.

The couple turned a practical challenge of recording audio for a travel video they were making in Cambodia into a full-time business to sustain their digital nomadic lifestyle. But it took a long time before they found their calling.

‘All is well’

In the early years of their relationship, sharing their travel experiences online became part of their routine.

Libby is adept at using the camera. But they were hard pressed to find a point.

“There was Libby and Marcel trying to be food bloggers,” Libby recalled.

“It’s a disaster,” said Marcel. “But it was a good learning experience,” Libby said.

Then, in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, Libby photographed some pigeons in flight that she wanted to use in a movie. He could not catch the sound of their wings.

They looked online, searched audio libraries, but couldn’t find anything suitable. So, Marcel took a $100 tape recorder, and went in search of the missing sound to record.

He didn’t get pigeons – but he changed the course of the future.

Marcel turned on the recorder at a small construction site where women were gathering gravel, listening through a small set of headphones.

Not only was it the sound of construction, but there were monks chanting, and cars passing behind, honking their horns.

“It was as if the sound was falling into my head from all sides,” said Marcel. “Everything was saved, and from that day until now I haven’t stopped recording.”

A passion for music

In the six years since that first recording, Libby and Marcel have captured the sounds of more than 25 countries, mostly in Asia, Europe and North America, spending months each this nation.

They’ve developed a more flexible recording setup that incorporates stereo, Ambisonic and binaural technologies – yet compact enough to suit their traveling lifestyle.

This means the installation of high-quality microphones and recorders to fulfill their constant desire to share authentic sound from any location.

“We’re documenting the world through voices,” Libby said. “We try to be an inspiration for others to look at sounds in a different way.”

It can be very demanding. Typically, high-fidelity recording equipment costs thousands of dollars for microphones and voice recorders. For example, one of their stereo recording boxes that includes German made microphones costs about $8,000.

But for Libby and Marcel it’s not about the furniture. Their goal is to truly experience a place through sound.

For example, they took two days to visit Iceland’s famous black sand beach at Solheimasandur. It takes two hours to climb there and back with their gear, up to 10 hours a day braving the wind and hail.

A favorite memory is hanging around the wreckage of a US Navy Douglas plane that crash-landed on the beach in 1973.

“It’s just amazing, how it sounds, how the metal cracks in the wind,” Marcel said.

In 2020, the couple took their permanent recording studio to the coast of Iceland.

In 2020, the couple took their permanent recording studio to the coast of Iceland.

Libby & Marcel

Two hundred meters from the abandoned plane, the waves crashed on the black sand beach.

“The horror of the water. This is something you should know,” added Marcel. “If you just go there and take a picture and leave, you’re missing out on a lot.”

To use sounds

Libby and Marcel share these experiences via Instagram (@freetousesounds) and their YouTube channel (Free To Use Sounds — Traveling for Sounds). Through their announcements they not only share their interests and experiences in recording audio, but also the details of the equipment and techniques they use.
Libby produces and edits their YouTube videos, and maintains their website (www.freetousesounds.com). Marcel does most of the recording and editing, as well as the webcasts.

Through their website they offer over 500 royalty free audio libraries. Of these, 145 are free to download.

A passion becomes a business

Marcel said their “a-ha” moment was when he was sitting in front of a computer in 2017.

Libby added a donation button to their website, and a former Hollywood actor donated some money.

“I was like, ‘Yeah! We made three bucks!'” Marcel recalls of their first offer.

It was then that he realized that other people wanted the sound – and they were willing to pay for it.

“We want to be the perfect source for all kinds of people to download music,” Libby said.

Since then Libby and Marcel have developed a suite of premium sound libraries for purchase and free to download sounds.

And they are happy to travel to new places and record new sounds.

“Work is not the same because we just love what we do,” says Marcel.

“I know we’ll still be going, still recording songs in five years,” Libby said.

The challenges of nomadic life

As the drawbacks of nomadic life? Libby and Marcel have no home base and are always on the go. They fought hard times, almost ran out of money.

“When you have a home base, it’s more of a routine,” says Libby. “For us it’s always changing, so sometimes it takes a lot of effort, especially money.”

Marcel in Hong Kong, in 2020.

Marcel in Hong Kong, in 2020.

Libby & Marcel

“And we have a huge backlog of recordings,” adds Marcel, referring to their unrecorded recordings. “It’s much more fun to record, now, than to sit with studio headphones.”

But men prefer to do it themselves, without outside help.

“We don’t have anyone else, just the two of us,” Libby said. “Maybe it’s a confidence issue, but for us, we know what we can do”.

Where else

Libby and Marcel left for South Korea to continue their journey in Malaysia. Their bigger plan is to cross the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Ushuaia, in the southern part of South America.

“I think it’s a dream to go to Antarctica to record the sounds. ‘Whoosh, the glacier is breaking,'” Marcel says with a laugh.

But whether it’s a transcontinental road trip, or the dry wastes of the southernmost region of the world, Libby and Marcel love each other and the sounds they carry with them forever.

And, as Marcel said, “It took us 45 minutes to pack our stuff and get to the next airport.”

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