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Week Four: Introduction to Audio- Listening First

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This week in ds106 we’re going to be diving into our first storytelling genre: audio. Working with sound can be a bit daunting and unfamiliar, so we’ll be easing you into it this week. Nearly all previous ds106 students start here dreading this media, and in a few weeks they totally change their mind.

We’ll ask you to do some listening exercises as well as do some audio story editing. By the end of the week, we’ll organize you into groups for your mid-term project: creating a 20-30 minute radio show, which is due right after Spring break. You’ll have several weeks to work on this project, and we’ll be returning to audio in greater depth the week before break. 


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Will Folsom

About Audio Storytelling

In last week’s assignment for describing what is storytelling, many of you touched on the tradition of oral storytelling. There is no place where this plays out more effectively than on the radio. For many of you radio may seem like old technology, but there is a lot of current poqerful creativity done in a single media. Audio is most effective when sounds generate stories in the minds of listeners.

You might be familiar with the panic caused in the late 1930s when Orson Wells produced the radio show of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds– it was so effective, people thought it was real. If you think we are much more savvy in the modern age, read about what happened when producers of an Italian movie tried to play out a promotional video as something like looked like a real news broadcast.

We’d like you to listen to some experts on audio storytelling describe a bit of how this is effective, probably no one has their game on for this than Ira Glass, host of This American Life, a weekly radio storytelling show on National Public Radio.

Listen to least two parts of Ira Glass’ Series on storytelling (all together they’re about 20 minutes)

Find Part TwoPart ThreePart Four.

For another point of view, listen to a short interview with Radiolab‘s Jad Abumrad on “How Radio Creates Empathy”:

or listen to his longer talk where he shares how he and his colleagues go about the process of creating radio shows.

Jad Abumrad: Why “Gut Churn” Is an Essential Part of the Creative Process from 99U on Vimeo.

Like we did earlier, pay attention and keep track of the “nuggest” that grabs your attention- and write a blog post summarizing what you learned about how these experts describe their craft. Come back to these later when you review some audio shows we recommend listening to.

Introduction to Audio Techniques

Some things to notice when listening to audio are the pacing (think of the equivalent of paragraphs in sound), the use of music, sound effects, ambient/envionmental sounds, the introduction of radio “bumpers” to remind us of the show, introduction and exits. Of key importance is trying to hear the layering of sounds, of how audio can create a sense of place by being more than just a recording, but a deliberate stacking of audio.

For a great reference audio reference, you moight want to listen to an episode of Howsound, the radio show that takes you behind the scenes to understand how these shows are produced- Dissecting Joanne Rosser, Papermaker.

As another example, we took out elements of an hour long episode of RadioLab, a 2007 show called Detective Stories, and uploaded a shorter version to Soundcloud, where the comments indicate how some of these are used in the show. See if you can pick these out in this example and then in other audio you listen to this week.

Some other references that may help you understand radio techniques include:

These are all references for you to use in the listening activity below.

Listening to Stories

One of the best ways to understand how audio can be used to create stories is to listen to some great examples. We’ve assembled this list of audio stories for you to listen to. You should to tune into at least one this week and write up your reaction and thoughts about it.

Overall, how effective do you think audio was for telling the story(ies)? What types of audio techniques did the producers use — sound effects, layering of sounds, music, etc. — to convey their story? We’re interested in knowing what you thought of the story being told — but we’re just as interested in your reflection about HOW the story was told. Try and step back from the story itself, and reflect upon the technique that the storytelling/producers used. What choices did they make that impacted your understanding of and feelings about the story? What are the techniques from the references above that you may not have noticed before?

Pay very close attention to not only the stories told but how they are constructed in audio format. Take the time to focus on listening, not just in the background of being on your computer. Just listen.

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Listening to ds106 Radio


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by myheimu

Understanding audio storytelling and the concept of radio means also learning how to be a participant by listening to ds106 radio, and internet radio station create for ds106 but is open to a wide range of uses beyond this class.

There are a number of methods to listen, try one of these:

The way ds106 radio works is that normally it plays through a preset list of audio content, a mixture of music as well as broadcast shows form other internet stations (AutoDJ), but if anyone does a live broadcast, it will cut off the AutoDJ. Your assignment this week is to listen to at least an hour of ds106 radio, most preferably to a live broadcast and write a blog post about your experience.

How do you know what is on the radio? First of all on twitter, start following @ds106rado – this is an automated Twitter “bot” coded a few years ago by a ds106 student, and it polls the stream to announce that there is something new playing (Note, with a recent change to the raido station software the twitter bot is not working yet, we are working on it!)

You should also bookmark the radio status page, which lets you know what is currently playing. Normally this shows the AutoDJ broadcast, but you will see a special block when someone is broadcasting live. Often when people broadcast live, they send a notification out with a #ds106radio hash tag (this will come up if you are monitoring the search for #ds106 in twitter)

Screenshot of the DS106 Status Page

When listening to the radio, try to send tweets to the person hosting the stream to let them know you are listening. Include those tweets in your radio experience post!

Your ds106 listening assignment this week:

  • Listen to at least an hour of ds106 radio this week. Try to listen when there is someone doing a live broadcast.
  • Make sure you tweet (and get the URL for your tweet) that you are listening. Use the #ds106 or #ds106radio hashtag so that whoever is on the air knows you are listening. Use Twitter to send your reactions, feedback, etc. to that person.
  • Write a blog post about the experience. Check the radio status page to how many other people are listening, include this info in your post. Embed whatever tweets you or others sent during the show in your post.

Your First Audio Stories

Start your work on these assignments by reviewing this list of audio resources and/or the Audio Section of the ds106 Handbook section on Tools. You will find information here about software you can use to produce your own audio, as well as links to sites where you can download free clips, music, and sound effects.

We will not force you to use any software, but most highly recommend using Audacity, the opensource (free) audio editing software. Besides having many useful tools, a key features is its ability for multitrack editing, so you can layer your sounds. Some more tool references:

This week, we do want you to get your feet wet with creating two short audio assignments; these are the first ones you will do that come from the ds106 Assignment Bank. If you seek ideas what to do for these assingments, you will find exmaples on lower left column by othre ds106ers.

  • Create a DS106 Radio Bumper. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with ds106 radio, try your hand at making your first radio “bumper” – a 10-30 second short audio that announces a radio station that is played between songs to remind listeners what they are tuned in to.

    This should be saved as an MP3 file, and then upload it to SoundCloud. Make sure in soundcloud that you enable to option to allow downloads (so we can add it to ds106 radio!) Your audio must be embedded in your blog post summary of this assignment. You can embed soundcloud audio just like you have done for Yourtube and flickr, put the plain text URL on its own line, and when you publish, WordPress will create a player to allow visotrs to listen.

  • Create a sound effect story. This is a challenge to tell a short story (no longer than 60 seconds) using nothing but sound effects! Again, upload it to SoundCloud and make sure you embed your audio in your assignment post.

Share each of these contributions in separate posts on your blog, and tag them according to the instructions on their assignment page.

Daily Creates

Complete three daily creates this week. As usual, write them up in a summary post at the end of the week. Two of them this week are audio challenges, so its worth your learning to try at least one of the audio assignments.

Continue The Comment Group Activity

I’m pleased so far with much of the feedback adn conversation I’ve seen in your blogs this week. Continue with your same group thios week, and aim to provide at least 2 comments to someone else. This will only work if you do this early in the week! Make your comments if possible by Thurday morning, you are more than welcome to commnet on someone’s post form week 3, especially their weekly summary.

Again, in your weekly summary, I am looking to see both what kind fo feedback you got via your comments and what you leanred by looking at the work of your classmates.

Weekly Summary

Your weekly summary is due by Sunday, February 10 at midnight. As always, link to or embed all of your work from the week. Use this as an opportunity to reflect upon your initial foray into audio. What did you struggle with? What ideas/exercises were most challenging or interesting?

Now we are moving into the main part of the course where the bulk of your work is writing up assignments, you are going to be expected to follow the criteria for Blogging Assignments Like a Champ – just posting “here is my assignment” is not going to be enough to earn credit. There needs to be writing with your media, a story about the story.

This week’s checklist includes:

  • Summarize the key points you learned about audio storytelling from the Ira Glass and Jad Abumrad videos.
  • Summary of the radio story you listened to, making special notes of the techniques used. Be sure to link to the show you listened to.
  • Summarize/link to your ds106 radio listenig experience
  • Summarize/link the Audio assignments – ds106 radio bumper and Five sound story
  • Summarize/link At least 3 Daily Creates
  • Summary of your feedback from your Comment Group and what you gained by looking at other people’s blogs.
  • At least a paragraph on what you learned this week, what questions/complaints you have.

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