Tag Archives: Audacity

Sound Editing for Oral Historians

The second project in the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) was to put together a short course, explaining the basics of sound editing so that local, oral historians – using the free program, Audacity, could edit and present their work. Of course this is equally applicable to music.

Here it is…

Sound Editing in Audacity for Oral Historians

Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)

In October 2011 I applied to participate in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). Under the mantle of Creative Learning Networks, the idea was to enhance creative learning in the (public sector) workplace – school, community etc. One spin-off would be that silos who have neither time not opportunity to communicate would have reason to come together, in the interest of learning. This very much appealed to my cross-curricular mind-set.

Under the leadership of Ruthanne Baxter – then Arts Education Officer and Manager for Creative Learning Network in East Lothian – I was paired with Caroline Mathers at the John Gray Centre in Haddington, soon to be moving into its new premises in Lodge Street. Various ideas were discussed and two projects were agreed:

  1. a short series of videos where working composers would give tips to pupils to help with the composing/arranging component of the SQA Music courses
  2. an online course in the basics of sound editing – using the free program, Audacity and aimed at oral historians

The latter idea seemed especially fitting for two reasons:

  1. the John Gray Centre is, among other things, a museum devoted to local history and community
  2. this seemed, to me, to fit the cross-sector brief

Five composers were initially scheduled to be involved in the video interviews but, due to various commitments, two were unable to take part. Nevertheless, I feel that the three videos we have will be invaluable to students of composition.

I shall post each of the two outcomes individually.

Desert Island Mashup

I’m in the process or preparing a short CPD session for colleagues on the free, open-source sound- recording and editing program, Audacity. When pitching the idea, I suggested that we could each prepare a Desert Island Discs CD, featuring 1 minute each of eight tracks. In addition to learning such aspects of the program as fade-ins and fade-outs, it would encourage us to discuss music with one another – a thing which, somewhat ironically, rarely happens. The other irony is that, in seeking accommodation, I discovered that the room containing the most computers, loaded with Audacity is not in a Music department, but CDT.

To experiment with cross-fading, I’ve cut down my original Desert Island Disc extracts to a few seconds. This is the sort of mashup one could use to give an overall flavour of, say, a school concert. While I think you’ll agree that this selection desert-island-discs-mashup doesn’t represent the ideal dinner party mix, it probably doesn’t matter as, on a desert island, one tends to dine alone. “Just as well,” some of you may say upon hearing these extracts.


Outside Our Time

Imagine if your favourite radio programme were broadcast only when you were unable to listen but, fortunately, was made available as a podcast or mp3 download. You begin to download, building up an increasing collection but seem seem unable to make the time to enjoy them. You consider putting them onto CD to listen to in the car. A blank CD holds 80 minutes of audio. However, the programme lasts 45 minutes and putting one episode on a CD, leaving 35 minutes worth blank, doesn’t fit in with your generally planet-saving outlook (let’s worry about the car thing another day).

Never fear – Audacity is here – and free. As a precursor to shortening the file to just under 40 minutes – we will also amplify it to avoid having to turn up the volume of the in-car entertainment system, which might invite hiss into an otherwise perfect world – in addition to taxing your car battery a little more. Who needs that in this approaching winter of discontent?

  • Open the folder where the multitudinous files are hoarded

  • Choose one and Right-click the name of the mp3 file

  • Left-click Open With

  • Left-click Audacity

  • From the Edit menu choose Select all (keyboard shortcut Ctrl+A)

  • Go to Effects menu and choose Amplify (Alt+C then A)

  • The optimum amount will be offered, so simply click OK (or press Enter)

  • Ensuring that the Select All situation is still in place (the continued darkening of the image of the sound wave should confirm this) – return to the Effects menu and choose Change Tempo (Alt+C then C,C,C). The word tempo is essential because, should you choose, Change Speed, the pitch of the voices (or notes) will rise – this adds little to a serious documentary – unless its a biography of the element Helium.

  • Drag the slider to the right until percentage increase is 6% – to some this moment seems counter-intuitive because we hope to shorten the file but we appear to be adding 6% to the original. Remember we are increasing the tempo – not the length

  • Go the File menu and Export the file as an mp3. Audacity saves in its own file format (ogg) so be sure to Export as opposed to saving – otherwise you will be unable to open the file in another program. The very first time you Export as an mp3 in Audacity, a message will appear explaining that you need to hunt down a supplementary application entitled Lame from the Internet. This is quite straightforward, and has to be done only once. If you feel in any way uneasy about this, the alternative is to Export as a wav. This, at first seems an unnecessary waste of your hard drive (an mp3 is 1/10th the size of its wav version). Remember that as you intend to create CDs you needn’t keep the files on your computer.

  • The exporting process should aim your file at the folder from which it was taken – and its original name will be offered. Rather than dreaming up a new one, creating an expanding universe of confusion, I tend to use that name, adding the suffix dim (for diminished). That way both files will appear together in the folder. You might choose to delete both which is easier when they are neighbours.

  • When your have diminished two programmes, it’s time to open them in iTunes (other Media Players are available)

  • Create a New Playlist (Ctrl+N) and give it a name which combines both programmes. Drag both files into the folder. This new folder/playlist can also be deleted once the CD has successfully been burned.

  • With this new playlist selected (you’ll know this has successfully happened because only the two chosen programmes will appear in the right pane. Insert a blank CD into the drive and choose Burn Disc – depending on which version of iTunes you have, the location of this command varies

  • You now have just under 80 minutes of mind-improving audio material to brighten up the most routine journey. There’s no better condition in which to arrive at your work than fascination.

  • If you are truly in planet saving mode then pass the CDs onto your friends or form a group of like friends to share the conversion.

Music, memory & emotion

The second half of yesterday’s Material World came from The Cavern, where the BA Festival of Science – Brains, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll was considering the fields of music, memory and emotion.

One thing to emerge was that important memories, associated with specific pieces of music, tend to be formed between the ages of 15 & 25. I’d come across this notion a few times and, for some reason, was reluctant to believe it – almost as though it belittled musical content of the remaining 23 years. However, when considering tracks for a Desert Island Discs project I recently proposed for an In Service* many were works I’d come across in that very period. Why not consider your own choices and see whether this is true of you?

The programme mentioned the The Magical Memory Tour which invites people to contribute a memory associated with the Beatles.

You can listen again or download a podcast from the Material World site – until Thursday 18th.

* the idea here, rather than simply listening to music at tax payers expense is to encourage colleagues to experiment with sound editing software (such as Source Forges excellent and free program, Audacity) to produce 8 x 1 minute extracts, each intended to convey specific expressive ideas. I think it would be interesting to see one another discuss expressive content, emotion, composition, technique, cultural and personal context etc.