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Audacity and Sherlock Holmes July 31, 2014

Having performed the major edits on my Sherlock Holmes audio track via a series of splits and joins, it was time to refine the work. The month was now April and I had already invested upwards of six hours, succeeding only in recording three chapters of “A Scandal in Bohemia” and editing out a few of the more unacceptable mistakes from the first.

At this point, I had begun to hit my stride and was, at minimum, capable of recognizing the wave patterns which indicated that I had taken a breath mid-sentence. These, I removed with ease, giving the audio a flow which sounded distinctly more professional than the original recording. But producing a track of the quality I wanted to present to my fiancé would require a bit more work.

Up to this point, my skills with Audacity had been rather basic. I was able to record, split, and join tracks. (If you’d like to learn how to get started with Audacity and use these features, click here.) That, however, was about the extent of my knowledge. Next, I needed to determine the best way to eliminate the background noise produced by the 27 gallon aquarium in my “recording studio”. To learn the art, I turned to YouTube and a rather informative tutorial by Phil Chenevert which can be viewed by clicking here.

Pulling up all three tracks, I highlighted a section of the track containing only the background noise I wished to delete. Selecting “Noise Removal” from the “Effect” drop down menu, I pressed “Get Noise Profile.” Then, highlighting the entire recorded track, I repeated the procedure, this time adjusting the bars and previewing the result until I heard the silence I was seeking. I clicked “OK” and the hum of my filtration system disappeared.

The removal of this base-line sound also went a long way towards the removal of the limited “clipping” evident in my tracks. (“Clipping” is a term used to refer to audio waves which extend beyond the peak recording volume. Such waves can contribute to sound distortion and, in some cases, actually cause damage to audio equipment. Clipping can be controlled by monitoring the volume of your voice as you record and, most unintentional clips can be removed by clicking Audacity’s “Effect” menu and selecting “Clip Fix” from the dropdown.) Applying “Click Removal” (also available on the dropdown under the “Effect” menu) went a bit farther towards cleaning up the tracks and I now had the smooth sounding audio that I was after.

It was time to begin the final stage of editing: removing the tiny bits of vocal track which were hard to split and remove when in normal view. Magnifying the tracks gave me a better view of the waves (and the beginning and ending of each vocalization) as I played through the recording. I carefully selected the portions I intended to remove and was left with what was quite a fine string of audio, ready to be exported as MP3’s and burned onto a disk for my fiancé’s listening pleasure.


An Audio Book, A Scandal, and Sherlock Holmes July 24, 2014

My fiancé likes the sound of my voice and, despite being a fan of the BBC television show “Sherlock” has never actually read any of the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I, on the other hand, am the proud owner of a complete copy in the form of an early edition (1927) gifted to me by my mother. Having been actively engaged in the pursuit of inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts, it seemed like a match made in Heaven. In one brilliant stroke of genius, I determined that I would record myself reading these stories and give them to him for his birthday.

I had been podcasting for a while as a host on Aboard the Knight Bus (an irregularly released podcast centered on four women who united their midlife crises with a love of the “Harry Potter” books). We used Audacity to record and mix our voice tracks and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to expand my skills with the program. So I set to work.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that recording an audio book was not quite the same as hosting a podcast. There were, in fact, numerous differences beginning with the fact that not everything produced in written form was meant to be read aloud. Obtaining the proper meter for the text proved a challenge and I soon resorted to reading each passage before recording it. Even then, the “voice” of the characters didn’t seem quite right and it took several tries before it was possible to distinguish between the accent-less Holmes and the equally American sounding Watson. Add in the Bohemian prince Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein (try saying that in one breath!) and a few words which I was not accustomed to pronouncing and what I had was ten percent art, ninety percent mess.

The month was March and it wasn’t long before my original goal of recording and producing a set of five stories before my fiancé’s July birthday seemed a touch over ambitious. Deciphering the technique involved in vocalizing such a production had taken time… and I was yet to hit my stride when it came to producing the program.

Initially, my recordings were a series of disparate tracks: each necessitated by my stumbling tongue. Every time I faltered, I stopped the recording, clipped out the poorly vocalized portion, and began recording again on an additional track which I later joined with the original.
This, of course, was rather time consuming and it wasn’t long before I abandoned the “edit-as-you-go” method in favor of a single, long recording which could later be split and joined at appropriate times. Unfortunately, this, too, had its drawbacks. To begin with, the intonation with which I had produced individual segments was not always entirely consistent with the intonation of the paragraph with which I intended to unite it. The result was a slightly robotic and distinctly “edited” sound. It had become clear that rerecording would be required. And that this work of love was going to require far more patience than I ever could have imagined! (To be continued…)


An Introduction to Podcasting or Why Our Enjoyment of Movie Adaptations Shouldn’t be Hindered by Our Love of the Book July 18, 2013

I didn’t feel like writing this morning, so after finishing an assignment that needed to be submitted, I retired to the couch with my copy of “Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Audio and Video Podcasting” by Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass.  This book is a part of my ongoing crusade to guarantee that when I start my own podcast, I’ll be producing something of acceptable quality.  After all, if you’re going to do something, you might as well take the time to do it well.

Meanwhile, I’m biding my time with a lovely show entitled “Aboard the Knightbus” which, if you listen to the promo, claims to be “a fun and light-hearted look at the Harry Potter books chapter-by-chapter”.  In reality, it’s a bit more like four women having an early mid-life crisis.  I’ve been slowly improving my performance as “your friendly, neighborhood Slytherin” by practicing my enunciation and, on occasion, purchasing new and better equipment.

The first piece of this equipment, my AT2020 USB microphone by audio-technica, arrived last week and I spent a good bit of time fiddling with it as I prepared for today’s recording.  I’m quite pleased with the product, though the sensitivity of the mic has led to some issues, namely, that it is capable of picking up the sound emanating from my headphones.  Since this will cause an echo in my voice track, it became necessary for me to pop out for a new set of “cans”.

It was during this impromptu shopping trip that I got sidetracked by one of our local bookstores.  (I swear, it just jumped out at me from behind the mall!)  I had recently seen a preview for the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, a book that a friend of mine has been repeatedly recommending for years.  I felt that it would be best to read the book before seeing the movie and decided to purchase a copy to read while I’m at an upcoming writer’s conference.

After explaining all of this to the sales clerk, she led me to a stack of books which I had walked right past in my endeavor to locate a clerk to help me locate the book as quickly as possible.  “It will ruin the movie,” she observed as she handed me a copy.  I smiled, thanked her, and headed for the checkout.

Her words echoed in my ears all the way home.  Would reading the book really destroy my movie-going experience?  The truth is, more than once, I’ve gone to see a movie adaptation of a book I enjoyed only to walk away disappointed.  “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” series’ were prime examples.  While both did an excellent job at visually portraying what I’d envisioned as I’d read the books, neither seemed to do justice to the story lines.  Neither Frodo nor Faramir had lived up to my expectations of these heroes and the sad absence of most of Severus Snape’s best lines left me with a sense of emptiness.

This sense of betrayal lasted until just a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to listen to Mugglenet Academia’s “Harry Potter: Book to Screen” interview with screenwriter Janet Scott Batchler.  Truth be told, I’d never really considered the many difficulties that screenwriters face as they attempt to adapt the written word to an almost entirely visual medium without angering long-time fans of the book.  Sadly, time and budget restrictions often result in writers expunging characters or sub-plots that have become dear to readers in favor of the primary story arcs which will attract those unfamiliar with the story.  Lengthy explanatory passages which worked well in print must be translated into dialogue.  And elaborate descriptions of scenery or costumes must often be reduced to whatever can be created with the technology or textiles currently on hand.  The result?  Even the best movie is likely to fall short of our expectations if what we’re seeking is a perfect representation of the book.

So what do we do?  Perhaps the best answer is to understand and appreciate both medium for what they are.  Books play primarily on our imagination.  They allow us to visualize the most unusual or extraordinary circumstances and personalize what we see.  And there is no limit to the number of pages they can take to convey this information.

Movies, on the other hand, convey the vision of the writers, directors, producers, and actors as they seek to convey their own personal perceptions to their audience.  Movies must maintain the pace if they are to keep the viewer’s attention.  They must convey color and excitement, drama, and romance, and all within a limited number of “pages”, if you will.

When we approach these mediums in this fashion, it may be possible for us to appreciate both – enjoying the intimate, personal experience of reading the book and relishing the social aspect of sharing in another’s interpretation of those same descriptive words.  Perhaps, when we do, we’ll walk away with yet another unique experience: that of enjoying both the movie and the book upon which it is based!


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