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GMU Week 5: It Sounds Like a Story

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You have worked on creating stories through images exploring the methods of photography and the way visual design works. This week, we jump media to look at telling stories in audio, which we first observed in week 2. This week, you get to make stories with just audio.

To do this, you need first to set up a SoundCloud account as a place to store and share your audio, and, if you do not have software already, install a free, open source software for editing sounds. Next, we look at the magic world of Foley Sound and practice assembling and creating stories in just sound. And to wrap, you will do at least one more audio story assignment.

By this week, all of your posted assignments should include all of the criteria for blogging assignments like a champ — they each should be a complete story on their own– with a beginning, middle, and end (and a catchy title!).

How does that sound?


You may think of audio is just recording into a device, but creating good audio stories goes back to the concept of layering media. In a Transom Review article, Using Music, producer of of The Truth podcast Jonathan Mitchell shares insight on the use of layered music and sound in a specific episode.

When you add music to your story and let it run under a person talking, what you’re really doing is creating a new piece of music. It’s like when a hip-hop artist samples a short bit of music, loops it, adds a beat, and starts rapping. What we’re doing is a lot like that; we’re just working in a different style. Every sound you bring into your story is working together to create not just a story experience, but a musical experience, and the music you’re making can either serve or undermine the meaning of your story.

Read the full article for descriptions of editing layered audio

Read the full article for descriptions of editing layered audio

Final Show “The Constructal Law”

Listen to the final produced show, then return to the article to learn more about Mitchell’s techniques.

Sound Tools

For a few reasons in this week you need to set up a free account on While you can upload images to your site, audio is a media that you would have to pay to be able to upload directly to your blog. That’s where SoundCloud comes in, it can store all of the audio you upload, but more importantly, you can easily embed a nifty audio player directly into your blog– just like you have seen for YouTube. It is also an interesting way to find original music and recordings among its community.

For example, I can link you to an audio example I created for an assignment to tell the story of a nursery rhyme like a Fox News story. But just by putting that URL on a blank line in plain text:

You get this when published:

See more options for embedding SoundCloud tracks in your site.

Create your own account on; personalize the settings with an avatar picture. Try out a simple recording directly into your account — say something like you are a TV news broadcaster following up on silly news story.

Create your own account on, write a blog post that embeds your audio directly into the post.

Next, for doing your audio assignments, you must have software that allows you to edit multitrack (e.g. layered) audio– an app or software to record is not enough. If you already have software like Adobe Audition, Apple Garageband, ProTools, etc you are more than welcome to use software you know or at least have.

But there is another option, it is one I use for all of my audio editing… and it is free. Download and install a copy of Audacity. So that you can export as MP3, you will also have to install a little piece of support software the LAME Library (it’s not lame).

Set up your audio software early in the week- if you are new to Audacity, we will get more into the nuts and bolts in our assignment below.

Create a Sound Effect Story

To get some practice editing audio, you must create a story made only of sound effects, the Sound Effects Story assignment — a story told in five or more different sounds.

You can find many examples on the assignment page (and tutorials by other students) such as the Invasion story by Ary Aranguiz

First try to think a story about what you could convey only in sound (no dialogue). Keep in mind our concepts of story shape and the story spine.

Where can you find sound effects? Try these sites

You can also record your own sounds– but your final story must include at least 4 sounds found online, that is the goal here to see what you can assemble from different sources. Keep track of the sources of the clips that you used.

Now you will put your audio editing software to work. You will have to import the sounds, move them around on the timeline; edit them like text (copy/paste), perhaps add some sound effects. If you are using Audacity, these resources should help:

You might notice that many students for this assignment create a sound track that is one sound pasted after another. What do you notice in the space in between? There are gaps. That’s where the best stories use layers to overlap sounds; you may want to explore the fade in / fade out features, or think how to put a low volume sound effect in the background.

Here is a screencast I made to show you the most important editing features in Audacity, and how to work in multiple tracks/layers

When you create something in Audacity, it creates a project file, like Photoshop PSD files; you must export to an audio format that you can listen to and upload to SoundCloud– Use the Export to MP3 feature to get a reasonable sized file, then upload that file to your SoundCloud account (although you should listen to it first to make sure it sounds good).

Write a blog post categorized as an Audio assignment of your Sound Effects Story

Edit your story together, and upload to your SoundCloud account. Write a blog post where the audio is embedded, and include all of the criteria for blogging assignments like a champ — including linked sources for all sounds you downloaded (just writing “found in google” does not count). Make sure you include the proper assignment tags from the Sound Effects Assignment.

As an addition, for your audio assignments, include a screen shot of your audio editing software, so I can get a sense of how you are constructing your sound stories.

Foley is a technique used in both radio and film to create audio effects that emphasize and emhance the audio atmosphere. Learn more about what a Foley Artist is. Watch at least the first video to get an appreciation for what Foley artists do.

You can see what they do in a live setting in this clip of a segment of A Prairie Home Companion show performed live:

One of these artists, Fred Newman provides an array of examples created just with his own body!

And if you crave mire, see also “Ask a Foley Artist” – Interview with Dean Minnerly.

Your task will be to generate foley sounds using objects you assemble or ones you can create with your own body for a 30 second segment from this clip for a scene in the 1928 silent Charlie Chaplin film The Circus. This is the scene where The Tramp gets trapped in the lion cage. These must be sounds you generate live, not ones from sound clips found elsewhere!

Here is how you know which segment is yours to work on:

  • If you were born in January or July, you are responsible for all sounds from 00:00 to 00:30 (tag chaplin-lion-01)
  • If you were born in February or August, you are responsible for all sounds from 00:31 to 01:00 (tag chaplin-lion-02)
  • If you were born in March or October, you are responsible for all sounds from 01:01 to 01:30 (tag chaplin-lion-03)
  • If you were born in April or September, you are responsible for all sounds from 01:31 to 02:00 (tag chaplin-lion-04)
  • If you were born in May or November, you are responsible for all sounds from 02:01 to 02:30 (tag chaplin-lion-05)
  • If you were born in June or December, you are responsible for all sounds from 02:31 to 02:55 (tag chaplin-lion-06)

The first thing you should do is watch your clip and write a list of every action in that 30 seconds that could require a sound (in a few places there could be dialogue, make up a line for what the actors might say). Think of the subtle elements, like the sound of the wood latch falling, the rustling of the lion’s tale. Or be inventive as to what sounds would be effective (or funny).

Next, find objects or things you can use to generate the sounds. You should not use downloaded or recorded sound clips- all sounds are to be ones you create physically. Practice a few times generating the sounds in sync with the video.

When you are ready, record your segment- you can do this directly into your sound editing software, or you can use a mobile phone app, or even record directly to Soundcloud. This should be done in a single take. Make sure it is exactly 30 seconds long. Upload it to Soundcloud, and include the tags “ds106”, “chaplin-foley” and the tag listed above for your segment. There is a reason for all of this tagging, you will see!

Write a blog post that includes an embedded version of your foley recording. Include your list of brainstormed sounds and the objects or methods used to create the sounds. What was the experience like?

Audio Assignment

For this week you should complete one more ds106 audio assignment, it should be posted to your blog, appropriately tagged and categorized.

Each assignment blog post should include:

  • Name and link to the assignment you did, and parphrase in your own words the assignment.
  • Write about thinking behind the assignment, the inspiration, what it means to you. What is it’s story? Think of this as similar to the extras on a DVD, the “making of” material.
  • The visual you produced for the assignment embedded into your blog post.
  • Share your process. What tools did you use? What techniques? Think of this as information that would help someone else doing the same assignment. Include a screen shot of your audio editor screen.
  • To have your work connected back to the assignment, your blog post must include the two tags for the assignment, one will be Visual Assignments and the other will have a name like Visual Assignments324. Look for the Tags entry box on the right side of the WordPress editor, below the Categories.
    If you do this correctly, your own example will be added to the assignment within an hour of your publishing your blog post.

Below is a list of assignments I recommend you choose from (or select another the other Audio Assignments)

Bookmark and model the criteria for blogging assignments like a champ (you get a rubric too if you are In It For a Grade).

Ongoing: Storified and Non-Storified Content

If you are feeling worn out on this exercise… tough! Just kidding. If you are not finding new topics this week, you can take an opportunity to revist some of your previous ideas, and refine or develop them further.

As we started in week 1, as you go about this week, look for something that might be a potential topic for your “storifying” final project. This could ba a set of instructions, a piece of media, an object, that perhaps lacks a “hook” of interest or something that connects to the experience of a character who might need to do/use said item. All you need to do is to write about it, why it attracted your attention, and possible ideas for introducing story elements.

Write another blog post summarizing what you found that might or might not work for something that could use a story approach to make it more effective. Or revisit a previous idea and expand upon it.

Ongoing: Giving and Reflecting on Peer Feedback

You have gotten comments and will get more from your instructor, but it’s important as a community to comment on your classmates work, incorporate, and reflect on that feedback. Now that you have experienced how commenting works, choose at least 4 audio story posts from other GMU students to give feedback to. For these week, you can leave comments on other students’ blogs, but also try and leave at least two comments directly in their Soundcloud recording. Find ones to comment on:

You will likely find that the more constructive comments you give, that in you return you will get that back, and maybe more.

Your task is to give at least four constructive comments on any of participants blog posts or SoundCloud files. You are also asked to summarize what you observed in seeing someone else’s site and what you gained from the feedback you received.

Weekly Summary Checklist

Your summary blog post for this week should include and link to the following required items. Remember, I am also looking for more that a list of what you did; take some time to reflect on what you learned or discovered this week. Write what you struggled with. I expect that you will continue to give feedback to the other blogs in your comment group; include in your weekly summary again a sense of what kind of feedback you are getting on your blog and how you are giving feedback to others.

  • First SoundCloud Create your own account on, write a blog post that embeds your audio acting like a news casrer directly into the post.
  • Sound Effects Story Write a blog post categorized as an Audio assignment of your Sound Effects Story
  • Chaplin Foley Segment Write a blog post that includes an embedded version of your foley recording for a 30 second segment of the Lion Cage segment.
  • Assignments: You should link to and discuss the posts for the one ds106 audio assignment completed. Each post should be put in categories that you made for your site, and should also include the tags specific to each assignment. Be sure that your assignment blog posts contain the elements out line in the ds106 Handbook.
  • To Be Storified Example Write a blog post that includes another potential topic subject for your final project or a revised idea from a previous week
  • Giving and Getting Comment Feedback A summary of what you saw in other blogs and SoundCloud clips that was helpful, and what constructive feedback you got from others.


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