Interview with Lewis Hampson, producer of ‘All Creatures Small and Great’

Often, when we extol the virtues of audiobook narrators, we don’t have to clarify the humanness (or, rather, non-humanness) of the talents that bring our beloved stories to life. That, however, is not the case for entomologist and broadcaster Dr. George McGavin’s All Creatures Small and Great. While this groundbreaking original audio production from W. F. Howes already boasts a stellar cast that includes Sir David Attenborough and Alison Steadman, it is the many legged-and-winged creatures featured in the audiobook’s special binaural recordings who truly steal the show.

Put on your headphones and treat yourself to a very special message from our buzzy friends in the recording below. Can you guess what they are? (Hint: they are great admirers of flowers.)

We spoke with producer Lewis Hampson about his recording experience with All Creatures Small and Great. Find out what he has to say about recording insects, working with the rockstars of natural science, and why he loves audiobooks. Tell us about the recording experience for All Creatures Small and Great.

Lewis Hampson: Recording All Creatures Small and Great with George has been a brilliant experience, both in and out of the studio. George is supremely knowledgeable and through his career has made some fantastic contacts that we were able to utilise to further enhance the audiobook. As well as recording George at our in house studios, we were able to arrange a varied array of interviews with contributors such as Sir David Attenborough and Jane Horrocks, as well as guests such as George’s long-time friend Professor Steve Simpson and Natural History museum curator Dr Erica McAlister. This varied list of guests makes for a really insightful delve into the world of insects from many different angles. The recording of the book with George was an absolute pleasure, I am definitely much more knowledgeable about insects now too! Why did you decide to specially produce this book as a binaural experience?

Lewis: We decided to introduce binaural recordings because it is a fantastic way to further immerse the listener into the world of insects. We gave George a portable recorder and in-ear Binaural microphones so he could record the bees and insects himself. When you hear the binaural bees and windswept coastline, you are hearing what George was recording himself. The listener is transported into George’s shoes and can hear exactly all of these things as if they were there themselves. The nature of binaural recordings means that we can present these recordings in 3D! Sound is no longer just coming from the left or right of a traditional stereo field. It is now coming from 360 degrees and the difference is really noticeable when wearing headphones. It really is a great way to further drive immersion in audiobooks. It must have been quite a unique experience to work with so many insect sounds. How does producing audio of insects compare to a standard audiobook narrator?

Lewis: Producing the binaural 3D audio of insects requires some specialist equipment and knowledge about how binaural recordings work. It’s a very different situation to the controlled environment of a studio recording booth. George is quite literally out in the wild with the elements and insects, recording exactly what he is hearing. This can present challenges such as wind or other external/unwanted sounds potentially being captured in the recording, but with George’s expertise around bees and insects we were able to capture exactly what we need to bring the listener directly into George’s world. What would you recommend to listeners who wants to enjoy All Creatures Small and Great to its full potential? Should they listen to it on a hike with earbuds, on a home stereo system…?

Lewis: All Creatures Small and Great is best heard through headphones. Because of the nature of binaural recordings, the 3D effects the produce can only be truly heard through headphones. Listening through a normal speaker system is perfectly fine, but if you wish to hear the full effects of binaural (3D) audio then headphones is the only way to achieve this, so I would recommend people to listen with headphones were possible! What was it like to work with the rockstars of natural science?

Lewis: It was a real pleasure to work will all involved in this audiobook. From the absolute legends like Sir David Attenborough and Alison Steadman, to the fascinating interviews with University professors and museum curators, all of the extra content really helps to give the listener a wide array of experience and insight into the world of insects and why they are so important to us! There is a vast array of topics covered in the interviews alone which complement the audiobook really well. What do you love about audiobooks?

Lewis: I love how audiobooks elevate the words from a page and bring them to life. All Creatures Small and Great is a perfect example of this. Hearing George talk about insects and his passion for them is really infectious and I came away with a much deeper respect for the role they play. Audiobooks also give us the chance to hear from people themselves, in their own voice rather than just words on a page, which is really brought to the fore here. And of course we can provide immersive 3D audio! This is something simply not possible with a traditional book and it really helps to further immerse the listener. Can we expect more immersive binaural audiobooks from you? 

Lewis: Absolutely! Binaural is here to stay in Audiobooks and we can’t wait for you to hear what is in store.

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