“There’s so much that happens in life. Little stories, big stories. Things that were no story and all the sudden you realize the significance of it. And that there really is a story there. But at the time you don’t know it. And for a long time you don’t know there’s a story. Until something clicks, and you tie that event together with something else that makes it a story. And that’s the beauty of life. You just go from one story to another.” – Seth’s Mom, Karen
It was a real joy to collaborate with John Johnston in Glasgow, Scottland (@JohnJohnston Twitter) and Seth Goodman in Arizona (@GoodmanSeth Twitter) to create our DS106 Headless ’13 course radio show, Spinning Round, for Advanced Audio weeks 7 & 8 – with live DS106 radio premieres on Oct 22nd for the US time zone folks and Oct 24th for our European contingent.
It all started with John’s description of a theme he wanted to explore that intrigued me so I added my name to his radio show group.
Thinking of stories with little narrative, without conclusions, that put a picture in your mind. Perhaps stories from your family, your people with little detail… Perhaps some other idea.
With the use of a shared Google Doc we started brainstorming our ideas. All of us were well aware and expected the final product to be something different than what we started with, and it was. Although the original theme of using story snippets to put a picture in your mind, and exploring whether stories needed a beginning, middle and end remained. There was also this unique concept we threw into the mix of exploring, for lack of a better phrase, an Audio GIF: A repeating audio phrase that highlighted the essence of a piece.
During our first Skype call we brainstormed more, throwing around ideas of a room full of voices where one voice or story would come to the forefront then fade away as another faded in. I could see how this might work, but wasn’t clear how it would actually unfold. I knew if I had some raw material to work with something would emerge. We each uploaded a few files to our shared dropbox, and even though we hadn’t decided on how to divvy up the workload, or even what we were going to do yet, I took a stab at editing the pieces together using GarageBand ’09. I thought it would give us a good place to start when we had our next call.
The background music came about because John had listened to my first live DS106 Radio broadcast and had commented that he couldn’t get RnA’s (Rochelle and Amber Lockridge) rendition of “Comes A Time” out of his head. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, it lent itself well to our Audio GIF experiment. Not only is it being sung, but our speaking voices are layered in as well. Additionally, since I had recorded and engineered the original song I had the individual tracks available to mix and match if wanted. By underlaying only the guitar on certain segments I was able to reinforce the importance of one section over another.
THE RAW AUDIO
Upon listening it was obvious that each of us was coming at this in a different way. Seth had interviewed his mother about family stories, John shared glimpses of stories, and I had told two stories about my daughter as if I were telling them to my grandson. This presented a creative challenge. John’s segments were short, I could use them as is. Mine were also relatively short. Seth’s interview, however, was about 15 minutes long, (See media player below to listen to the full length interview.) and we were shooting for the entire piece to be 15 minutes.
SOUND EDITING BEGINS
I wasn’t certain how I would tackle the editing of Seth’s interview with his mom. I could go through it minute by minute and add notes for each segment, then with my analytical mind pick out which parts I wanted to work with. But I didn’t find that process very appealing right then. I opted instead to lift out the parts that I felt attracted to – no rhyme or reason to it. If I liked it, I split that section out and copied it to another layer. I don’t know why I was attracted to one segment over another. I just was. When I finished I was left with about 5 minutes of the interview that I thought I might like to use. Then I started pulling it together. Mind you, I hadn’t checked any of this out with John or Seth. I just thought I’d play around with stuff and see what happened.
There comes a time when memory fades. The backdrop gets blurred. Are we remembering or recalling our own retelling? Or perhaps our stories are simplifying, clarifying or crystallizing around an image. – John Johnston
I began grouping the segments together to have a “logical” flow to the piece. As I worked an arc of a story began to emerge. Much the same as what happened during my Bygone Backyard Photo Safari. The music flowed in and out easily, and segments magically aligned (with minimal tweaking) to have logical ending points as the song ended. The “process” continued to be very intuitive. But the amount of work I put into “playing around” was way more than I had expected to put into a rough draft. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when John & Seth were pleased with my “draft”. It was a go!
AUDIO QUALITY ISSUES
We had some audio quality issues which had to be addressed such as different audio recording quality, volume levels, etc. We hadn’t expected to use these initial files. We were basically throwing things at the wall initially to see what would stick. And now most of it was sticking. The interview with Seth’s mother would have to be used as is. We couldn’t redo that. So when I needed to add more volume I simply doubled the tracks. It worked fine. For John’s pieces we really did need to have them re-recorded with more volume. We ran into a snag there as he had a newer version of GarageBand (11 vs 9) and I wasn’t able to open his files. After beating my head against a wall thinking there was something wrong with the drop box and my access, I finally just broke down and paid the $15 for the upgrade and everything was “fixed” immediately.
MIXING AND MASTERING
My skill as a sound engineer, mixing and mastering, are continuing to develop. I’m quite familiar with layering and adjusting the volume levels and placement of sounds on the timeline, etc. My post on the Obruni Arrives in Africa Sound Effect Story is a good example. This one, however, presented an unexpected challenge that required more “futzing” around than usual. I expect that most people will be listening to our show on their computer or mobile device. So relying on the quality of sound from mixing while simply listening through good quality headphones would be insufficient.
I needed to adjust the EQ and effects to optimize the audio experience across several platforms: Computer, computer speakers, headphones, tiny cheap radio speakers, iPhone/iPod. Adjusting the volume of the music soundtrack was especially tricky. On one set of speakers I could hear it just fine, another it was too low.
I also added a new tool to my sound engineering arsenal, Ozone 5. A professional sound mastering software package that I picked up following a GarageBand sound editing class at my local Guitar Center. While this optimization process was very time consuming. It was well worth it in the end. When I myself enjoy listening or viewing one of my projects over and over again, I know I’ve got something there.
I can tell you…. after all of the work I didn’t like having to reduce the quality to save it as 128K. It about broke my heart, but those are the sacrifices one still has to make so that the piece can stream over the internet and download more easily.
I hope you enjoy listening to our show as much as we enjoyed creating it.
(Note: If you felt your audio experience was less than optimal listening to us spin our tales, try another listening mode. I’d even recommend you doing that anyway so you can hear for yourself what a difference it makes. Someday I hope to learn how to make these adjustments with learned skills instead of with trial and error.)
SUPPORTING AUDIO FILES
UPDATE: 10/26/13 addition of pre & post show live discussion on DS106 Radio 10/22/13 US premiere
- + John Johnston Commercial
- Pre Show Discussion: Alan Levine, Christina Hendricks, Seth Goodman
- Spinning Round Radio Show (14min)
- Post Show Discussion
- Full Conversation with Seth's Mom (15min)
- Comes A Time Sound Track
- Comes A Time: Guitar Only
IMAGE SLIDE SHOW