(CNN) – Seven years ago, American Libby Green was traveling with her mother in Italy and France, capping off their trip with a visit to the southern French Mediterranean resort city of Nice before flying to the US.
Meanwhile, German-born Marcel Gnauk and a friend were also in Nice, taking part in the Crossover Festival, a celebration of eclectic music.
Walking down the Promenade des Anglais by the city’s beach, Marcel spotted Libby holding a Hasselblad, a traditional medium-format film camera, and couldn’t resist approaching her.
“I love the old cameras, the Hasselblad, that’s amazing,” he recalls telling her.
The pair chatted about the camera and the trip, and he invited her to the music festival that evening. The next day, Libby returned to the US, but they kept in touch.
Less than a month later Libby traveled to Italy and she and Marcel, who was working in Switzerland, met again.
“That’s when I think we knew, OK, this is something special, something serious,” Libby says.
In 2022, Libby and Marcel recorded sounds at Bangkok’s historic railway station.
Libya and Marseille
Marcel then visited Libby in Los Angeles, where she was working in the film industry after studying cinematography, and they traveled together for several weeks through California.
At that moment they knew they wanted to be together and travel the world.
So Marcel went back to Switzerland, Libby stayed in LA, working another five months to save money.
They bought a bus and in January 2015 Marcel met Libby at Zurich airport.
“In less than a year we had quit our jobs and sold basically everything we owned,” says Libby. They then spent four months traveling through Europe. A bus trip to Japan followed, then Bali, Taiwan, Cambodia and Malaysia.
Over the years their passion has grown, not only for each other, but for a world of sounds, recorded with their high-end microphones and shared on their social networks.
The couple turned the practical matter of recording voice for a travel video they were making in Cambodia into a full-time business that supports their digital nomadic life. But it took some time before they discovered their calling.
“Everything came alive”
In the early years of their relationship, sharing their travel experiences online became part of their routine.
Libby is skilled at using a camera. But they struggled to find a focus.
“It was Libby and Marcel trying to be food bloggers,” Libby recalls.
“It was a disaster,” adds Marcel. “But it was a good learning experience,” notes Libby.
Then, in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, Libby filmed some pigeons in flight, which she wanted to use in a film. But she couldn’t catch the sound of their arms beating.
They searched the Internet, looking for sound libraries, but found nothing suitable. So Marcel got a $100 audio recorder and went looking for the missing voice to record.
He did not find any pigeons – but he managed to change the direction of the couple’s future.
Marcel turned on the recorder in a small construction site where women were removing gravel, listening through a cheap set of headphones.
He was amazed not only by the sounds of construction, but there were monks chanting and motorcycles passing behind, honking their horns.
“It was like the voice was coming into my head from all sides,” says Marcel. “Everything came alive and from that day until now I have never stopped recording.”
A passion for sound
In the six years since the first recording, Libby and Marcel have captured audio in more than 25 countries, primarily in Asia, Europe and North America, spending months in each country.
They’ve developed a more sophisticated recording setup to include stereo, Ambisonic and binaural techniques — but still compact enough to fit their traveling lifestyle.
This has meant investing in high-end microphones and recorders to fulfill their ongoing passion for sharing authentic soundscapes from every country.
“We’re documenting the world through sound,” says Libby. “We’re also trying to be a source of inspiration for others to look at sound in a different way.”
It can be an expensive passion. Typically, high-fidelity recording equipment runs into the thousands of dollars for individual microphones and audio recorders. For example, one of their stereo recording devices that includes German-made microphones costs about $8,000.
But for Libby and Marcel it’s not just about the equipment. Their goal is to truly experience a place through sound.
For example, they took two days to visit Iceland’s now famous black sand beach at Solheimasandur. They made the two-hour trek there and back carrying their equipment, spending up to 10 hours each day recording wind and hail.
A favorite memory was recording around the iconic wreckage of a US Navy Douglas aircraft that crash-landed on the beach in 1973.
“It was just amazing, how it sounds, how the metal is cracking in the wind,” says Marcel.
In 2020, the couple took their mobile recording studio to the shores of Iceland.
Libya and Marseille
Two hundred meters from the abandoned plane, waves crashed on the black sand beach.
“The terror of water. This is something you have to experience,” adds Marcel. “If you just go there and take a picture and then leave, you’re missing a lot.”
Free to use Sounds
Through their website they offer 145 free sound libraries with over 140,000 free downloads of sound effects and ambient sounds to support creators.
Additionally, they offer a variety of premium sound libraries for purchase aimed at commercial users, such as creative behind the production, games and sound design.
A passion becomes a business
Marcel says their “a-ha” moment came when he was sitting in front of a computer in 2017.
Libby had added a donate button to their website and a Hollywood creator behind the production had donated a few dollars.
“I say, ‘Oh! We just made three dollars!” Marcel recalls of their first donation.
It was then that he realized others had a passion for sound — and were willing to pay for it.
“We wanted to be an affordable source for all kinds of people to download sounds,” says Libby.
Since this beginning, Libby and Marcel have developed a variety of premium sound libraries for purchase as well as free sounds for download.
And they are still excited to travel to new places and record new sounds.
“It’s not like work because we just love what we’re doing,” says Marcel.
“I know we’ll still be touring, recording sounds in five years,” adds Libby.
The challenges of a nomadic life
What about the downsides of the nomadic lifestyle? Libby and Marcel have no home base and are constantly on the go. They have struggled through hard times, almost running out of money.
“When you have a home base, you have more of a concrete routine,” says Libby. “For us it’s always changing, so sometimes that takes more effort, more money.”
Marcel in Hong Kong, in 2020.
Libya and Marseille
“And we have so many leftover sounds,” adds Marcel, referring to their unedited recordings. “It’s more exciting to record, to be in the present than to sit with headphones in the studio.”
But the couple prefers to work on their own, without outside help.
“We don’t have anyone but us, it’s just the two of us,” says Libby. “Maybe it’s a matter of faith, but for us, we know what we can do.”
Libby and Marcel recently left South Korea to continue their travels in Malaysia. Their next big plan is to travel the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Ushuaia, towards the southern tip of South America.
“I think going to Antarctica to record sounds would be a dream. ‘Whoosh, a glacier erupts,'” says a smiling Marcel.
But whether it’s a transcontinental road trip, or the frozen wastes of Earth’s southernmost continent, Libby and Marcel’s passion for each other and the sounds they record will always be with them.
And, as Marcel says, “It takes us 45 minutes to pack our things and be at the next airport.”