Diving into Audio
This unit in ds106 we’re going to be diving into our first storytelling genre: audio. Working with sound often seems daunting, so we’ll be easing you into by focusing first on our listening. Nearly all previous ds106 students start here dreading audio, and in a few weeks they totally change their mind once they understand by experience the power of creating in and manipulating it as deftly as the edit text in a word processor.
We’ll ask you to do some listening exercises as well as complete some basic audio story editing. By the end of the unit, we suggest you to start forming groups for the mid-course project: creating a 20-30 minute radio show. You’ll have several units to work on this project, and we’ll be returning to audio in greater depth by unit 7.
Inspiration: How to Truly Listen
In last unit’s assignment of describing storytelling, you likely touched on the tradition of oral storytelling. There is no place where this plays out more effectively than on the radio.
Radio may seem like old technology, but there is not much more powerful creativity done in a single media. Audio is effective when sounds generate stories in the minds of listeners– the audio you produce is not the whole story, it is in what the audio can evoke in the listener.
You might be familiar with the panic in the late 1930s caused 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 more 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):
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.
Like we did earlier, pay attention and keep track of the “nuggets” 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.
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/environmental 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 reference, you might 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 unit.
Another technique that is counter-intuitive, is when sound is left out. Listen to this annotated clip, an intro to an episode of the TED Radio Hour, for what happens near the 3 minute mark when the background music suddenly stops
Here are some references for audio techniques:
- Radio Glossary
- What is Foley Sound?
- Video of foley artists at work on Prairie Home Companion
- The Wilhem Scream
And, if that is not enough, among the open participants of ds106 is Scottlo, a guru of audio and radio technique. Scott was one of several ds106ers who gathered in the summer of 2013 in Kamloops, British Colombia for SoundCamp, a one day hands on experience in learning audio recording and editing technique– check out the SoundCamp site for audio resources and tutorials.
Also useful from Scottlo are archives from his daily series from the Summer ds106 Zone class of 2013, below are some selected episodes where he reviews audio and shares Audacity tips:
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 a list of audio stories for you. Try to listen closely to at least one this unit 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? While we are interested in reading 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. Put the phone down, turn off the TV, tell the family to leave you alone. Just listen.
- This American Life “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always.” (Pick one to listen to)
- Radio Lab “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” (Pick one to listen to)
Understanding audio storytelling and the concept of radio means also learning how to be a participant by listening to ds106 radio, an internet radio station created 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:
- Listen directly in your web browser via http://ds106rad.io/listen
- Download one of the playlist links for low bandwidth 64kbps (slower internet connections like mobile or public wiki) or high bandwidth 128kbps (broadband internet) and open the file in a player like iTunes, Media Player, or VLC.
The way ds106 radio works is that normally it plays through a programmed set of audio content, a mixture of music as well as broadcast shows from other internet stations, but if anyone does a live broadcast, it will cut off the programmed stream. Your assignment this unit 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 radio station software the twitter bot is not working yet, we are working on it!)
The best way until that is fixed is to stay tuned to the #ds106radio hash tag in twitter (in Tweetdeck, if you have a column for #ds106, it will also pick up #ds106radio). We will ask a bunch of experienced ds106 broadcasters to go live this unit.
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 unit:
- Listen to at least an hour of ds106 radio. 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.
If you are highly motivated, you can even try to broadcast to the radio yourself– there are some tutorials and software listed on the ds106 radio information document at http://bit.ly.ds106radio.
Christina Hendricks (@clhendricksbc) and Rochelle Lockridge (@rockylou22) hosted live Google Hangout on September 17, 2013, where guests could ask and answer radio questions about broadcasting on ds106radio.
Learn from the archive of this session
In a few units from here, you ought to be doing a group project, which is creating an radio show as pre-recorded audio. We have no means to assist in the group formation in this open course, so use your communications channel to connect with others to be part of an audio group.
See the specifications for the audio project (add link)
The way we run ds106 is that we never require use of any single 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. If you have other software available to you, by means use it!
The ds106 toolbox has a growing set of resources audio editing and sources of free audio to use. If you have suggestions, just leave a comment on tool page and we will add it to the box.
Some resources if you decided to use Audacity:
- Download Audacity, a free open source audio editing software http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/
- Download and install the plugin needed to save your Audacity sounds as mp3 files http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&item=lame-mp3
- Create an account on SoundCloud, a site used for audio Daily Creates http://soundcloud.com (if you have a smart phone, you may want to also get the SoundCloud app for recording audio). See also Using Sound Cloud for Daily Creates and Layering Sounds in Audacity
- Create an account on Freesounds, a site for creative commons licensed sound effects http://www.freesound.org/
This unit, 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 assignments, you will find examples on lower left column by other 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 YouTube and flickr, put the plain text URL on its own line, and when you publish, WordPress will create a player to allow visitors to listen (on non WordPress platforms, you should look for embed code to copy to your site)
- 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. The tags are important– for example the two tags for the Sound Effects Story are AudioAssignments and AudioAssignments70— as they enable us to list your blog post as an example completed for that assignment.
Complete three daily creates this unit. As usual, write them up in a summary post at the end of the unit.
For your unit blog summaries always link to or embed all of your work from the unit. 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 your chops as a ds106er. We like to see writing with your media, a story about the story, or the story behind the story.
This unit’s checklist (only if you are masochistic and are trying to do everything) (but then again, out UWM students do ALL of this) (are you #4life yet?) 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 listening experience
- Have you signed up for a Radio Show team? What team? With who else?
- Summarize/link the Audio assignments – ds106 radio bumper and Five sound story
- Summarize/link at least 3 Daily Creates
- At least a paragraph on what you learned this unit, what questions/complaints you have.
How does this all sound to you?
Below is a fantastic recap of this unit recorded by Rochelle Lockridge and Christina Hendricks, and folded by Rochelle into a fun, chicken clucking video:
Also available in audio for listening or download pleasure
The ds106 Open Course
It’s always on and never ends (learn more…)
- About This Non-Course Course
- Open ds106 Syllabus
- Unit 1: Bootcamp
- Unit 2: Getting Through Bootcamp / Personal Cyber Infrastructure
- Unit 3: What Mean Ye Digital Storytelling?
- Unit 4: Listening to Audio
- Unit 5: Telling Stories in Photos
- Unit 6: It’s All By Design
- Unit 7: Advanced Audio And Radio Show Production
- Unit 8: Telling Stories Within the Web
- Unit 9: Reading Movies
- Unit 10: Making Movies
- Unit 11: ximeR and M@$#up
- Unit 12: Final Project and Wrap Up
If you have questions, corrections, suggestions, lavish praise, etc for this unit, please let us know via the comments form below.