Hi and welcome back to Parallel Worlds. Please note today’s tasks will involve some sound editing, and you’ll need to use a device that you can edit multi-track audio on. This could be a phone – if you’re using an iPhone, GarageBand is a free app that can edit audio – or you could use a computer. The programme Audacity is free and quite easy to use. There’s a list of programmes that you can use on the resources page of the website, at parallel.olliepalmer.com. But today is the day when we’re moving into the world of audio production.
First of all, we’ll start the day as ever, with five minutes of free writing, or free recording – or even free drawing, if you like, about your current circumstances. Five minutes without distractions to let your mind wander into where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re feeling. Remember not to police your writing, to just go with it, see where it takes you.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
OK, how was that? Did you try something new? Are you enjoying this exercise? I hope you’re getting more of a sense of what’s going on, and are feeling more in touch with your self and creativity. The reason I’m asking you to do this each day is because later on we will be writing stories about the everyday, much like you did in the first week, taking a journey through the world you’re living in now. Quite often we’re so busy living our lives, we don’t stop to reflect on what they really look like. Hopefully you\re capturing reality and will be able to look back on your writing to see what real really is. But we’ll also be jumping out of that reality and into a parallel world, somewhere fantastical, somewhere else. You’ll be in control of both – we’ll be working in audio, telling your stories.
In order to get there, we’re going to have to get some new skills.
So, the past week and a bit, I’ve asked you to record sounds from your everyday life. I hope you have a folder full of those sounds now. If not, you’ll have to go away and record them.
Let’s think about those sounds like camera shots. Hopefully you have some sounds that are like wide-angle shots. The sound of a room, a street, something like that. Sounds that create an atmosphere. Perhaps it’s an air conditioner, perhaps it’s the sound of birds chirping. The sort of thing that if you heard it wouldn’t make you look up immediately, but build atmosphere.
I hope you’ve also got the equivalent of some medium shots: perhaps the sound of a dog barking, or a police siren going past, or the sound of someone talking nearby. If we were to think of these sounds in an audio story, they might not carry the story, they’re not the centre of attention, but you’d notice they were there.
Then you probably have the equivalent of some close-up shots, something where you put your microphone or phone right by the action. The sound of a kettle boiling up close, something that you could use to drive the story in a scene.
So start thinking of your recordings like this as you do them, and maybe find a way to categorise them like this later. It’ll be handy when you come to use them, knowing that you’ve got ambient soundscapes, or non-narrative-driving incidental sounds, or things that you want people to focus on.
For today’s task, I’d like you to listen to one of your sounds, preferably one that’s over ten seconds long. Listen a few times, and try to break apart the layers of sound as you’re listening. Is there a hum? The sound of spluttering, water, anything else? Try to picture the sound in your mind, get to learn the ways bits fade in and out. Listen enough times that you’re anticipating each of the sounds as it happens.
Then I’d like you to try to recreate that sound, as accurately as you can, using only your mouth. You’ll have to take each of the elements you heard earlier – low sounds, washy sounds, pops, tings, whatever they are, and record one track for each of them.
My pro-tip here is that if you can find a way of listening to the sound as you’re recording your new parts, you’ll be able to get the timing more accurate. So, if you can listen to the original sound on headphones from a computer, and record it on your phone, you’ll be able to record each layer with the right timings. Or listen with headphones on your phone, and record on your computer – whichever works for you.
Another tip is to put your source sound on its own layer in your composition. You’ll be able to see the waveforms and check things are lining up. You can put that layer on ‘solo’ when you want to listen to it, or ‘mute’ when you want to hear your vocally-made version.
Just to warn you, this task will take some time, especially if you haven’t worked with audio before. But there are loads of great tutorials online for using Audacity or multi-track software – and this is your chance to look around the interface and see what works. Don’t be precious! And save your work iteratively and often, so you don’t lose your changes.
Good luck! If you need any guidance, do look at the resources page of the website. And let me know what you think of the exercise – if you loved it or hated it, if you’re proud or ashamed of your work. As ever, there’s a link to leave a voice message in the show notes.
I will be back tomorrow. Good bye!
- Self-reflection (5 minutes)
- This exercise requires a computer, or a multitrack audio editing programme on a smartphone or tablet:
- Part one: Over the past few weeks you’ve been recording sounds from everyday life. Your task today is to find one or more of those sounds – ideally something more than a few seconds long – and listen to it very carefully. What are the identifiable parts of the sound? Try to draw a diagram of the sound, and think how you might be able to recreate that sound without using the original objects. For example, with the simple-seeming sound of filling and boiling a kettle, I have the noise of opening the lid, filling the kettle with water, closing the lid, clunking the kettle onto its stand, flicking the switch, the low frequency boil starting, the bubbling and swooshing of water, the switch clicking off. There are low frequencies, high frequencies, bits that are one off, bits that repeat. It might help to draw a diagram of the sounds (see the way that Michel Gondry broke down the song ‘Star Guitar’ in the making of the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GF0-wGbRqEs).
- Part two: Try to recreate the sound using only your mouth, and multi-track audio recording. You might need to work on this in layers, for example, making the click noises on one soundtrack, and the burbling noises on another, and so on. Top tip: if you listen to the sound using headphones, and record using another device, you can accurately mimic the timings of the original.
- Once you’re done, listen to both sounds. How good a job have you done?
- Making of ‘Star Guitar’ (2002, dir. Michel Gondry). Gondry’s technique for breaking down the sounds within the Chemical Brothers’ song Star Guitar shows an innovative way to visualise sounds, using pen and paper, then objects such as oranges, cutlery, and shoes.
- This is a great article about sound design from NPR! We will definitely refer back to it later, so why not give it a read now?
Want to contribute? Send a voice message!