Comm Lab, Week #2: Audio Equipment Test and Short Sound Piece

For my comm lab class, our assignment was to get a Zoom H4N sound recorder and record some sounds and then compose them into a short audio piece to present in class.

Here’s our piece: http://benturner.com/sound/CommLabWk2.mp3

CommLabWk2 by Benghis Khan

My partner, Stef, and I got the H4N and a shotgun microphone and, after spending an hour and a half trying to figure it all out, took the equipment out into Washington Square Park and onto the subway for the duration of one stop away on the N,R subway line.  We got some ambient noise, some construction noises (a circular saw powering up, a guy hacking a machete at some branches, big trucks starting up), we recorded some kids babbling to each other in the park, and we talked to some people in the park including a guy named Darryl Goodwine who did some spoken word for us after we sang along to a portable radio which had Bon Jovi playing on it.

We took audio of the subway trains coming to a stop and then leaving, which maxed out our audio levels and which we ultimately didn’t end up using much except for one small clip in the beginning.  The reason we chose that clip was that it sounded creepy — Stef’s original thematic idea was to make our sound piece Halloween-themed, with a normal beginning that got distorted and weirded for the rest of the piece.

We began putting the clips in order planning for this theme, but what we ended up doing was working the sound piece around Darryl’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Ben”, which he sang to me after learning my name.  I think what we learned from all this is that it is easy to lose the thematic origin of your work, but it is important that it all makes sense at the end, which may mean removing some sound elements when they no longer fit the new theme.  It’s good to let the audio clips guide which direction you go in, but in the end, it still needs to be thematically consistent to make sense.

We wanted to take the children’s clips and slow them down and change the pitch to make them creepy-sounding, then use the circular saw and subway noises as scary ambient noise.  Urban sounds can be fairly scary, or they can sound a lot like you’re listening to a clip on Fresh Air or Ira Glass on NPR.

We found that the shotgun mike picked up really good audio (suffixed filenames with I), but the microphones on the H4N (suffixed filenames with M) tended to be strongly affected by wind, ruining a lot of our two-channel audio.  We’ll need some wind guards for them next time.

We used Audacity to produce the sound piece (learning quickly its limitations, while we yearned for ProTools, but no laptops were available with ProTools installed).  We saved often, and made several copies, trading with each other using OS X Lion’s awesome Airdrop feature.  We used effects to echo the Michael Jackson piece (which I bought off Amazon.com and not iTunes, because Amazon.com gives you an MP3 format that’s easy to import) and elongate it and fade it out.  We did a duplication and inversion of the sound of the circular saw starting up, so it would also spin down.  We duplicated the laughs to make fun of the Bon Jovi karaoke — what was funny about that was no one knew the next line of the song.  We used a Blue Snowball to do the intro audio, which definitely picked up the cavernous classroom ambient noise and which made Stef sound like she was speaking from inside a closet.  We’ll have to work on getting closer to the mic.

So the long and short of it was that we tried a lot of techniques and used different sources, and so we learned a lot, but we found that our theme changed halfway through.  Good teamwork, Stef! ^5

We also have a ton of audio on Darryl Goodwine’s spoken word.  It’s pretty awesome in a “hey, says Stef, let’s ask people to sing for us” kind of way, which I was hesitant to do.  It turns out New Yorkers have almost no inhibitions!

Goodwine clip #1, Goodwine clip #2, and finally (!), Goodwine saying he is Blackula.

Via SoundCloud:

Goodwine1 by Benghis Khan

Goodwine2 by Benghis Khan

Blackula by Benghis Khan