Category Archives: Audio

Cecilia 101

My biggest challenge has been figuring out how to transform these raw sounds I’ve been collecting into the rich soundscapes of music concrete, because let’s be honest, no-one wants a 7-minute track of me swallowing and rubbing my bits of polystyrene together. My first port-of-call was Adobe Audition, but I quickly found it was very limited in its ability to transform the sounds. Sure it could stretch the length and pitch, even apply a collection of bizarre filters which sounded better suited to a Dr Suess book (such as the ominous Flanger), but playing around with these I struggled to create the vast echoing soundscapes of Wishart or Derbyshire. What I needed was something which really broke down the sounds into their base forms, so that I could create something new.

It turns it out there was a piece of software which did exactly that – Cecilia. Whilst not your stereotypical ‘digital audio workstation’ (DAW), Cecilia is unique in that it focuses on transforming sounds rather than assembling them. So, whilst you couldn’t piece together an interview like DAWs such as Audition can, it certainly makes my polystyrene sound a bit more interesting. The way it works is that you load in a sound, open that sound in one of Cecilia’s many ‘Modules’ and then play around with it. This is the main aspect I have found in which audio differs from video. Generally with video you have a set idea of what you want to put together, whilst with audio you tend to fiddle around with it and see what works, taking a more ‘poke it with a stick and see what happens’ approach. Although potentially more time-consuming than video, there are a lot more surprises in terms of content creation. Something as simple as a door creak can suddenly become a cavernous roar more suited to a certain giant, flame-whip wielding monster in Lord Of The Rings.

But I’ve sidetracked. Cecilia has a wide range of modules, all of which do very different things. As someone somewhat inexperieced with audio, I don’t actually know what 80% of the words in the program mean, but you tend to pick it up as you go along so don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand the terminology. At the moment a couple of my favourites are the Pelletizer, which stretches the pitch and length of  a sound (amongst other things), and StochGrains, which uses algorithms to randomly generate synth notes – really good for creating a base layer of your soundscapes. Another cool feature of Cecilia is that it allows you to draw the waveforms of the different filters, further adding to your ability to control the sound.

To be honest, going back to my stick-poking analogy, the best way to find what works is load in a sound and Shift+Ctrl+O which opens up a random module and just play around with them until something clicks. Just have fun with it!

Stories and Spaces

My latest university module, ‘Stories and Spaces’, requires us to create a live projection-mapped exhibition using the new Fusion Building on Bournemouth campus. The required content is definitely the most abstract we’ve encountered so far on the course, with the brief asking us to create a visual and aural experience based on the words fluidity, macroworld, and microworld. Normally I would be heavily involved in the visuals of a project, but this time I decided to challenge myself, and take on the role of Audio Producer. Sound is something I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a while, but I’ve been waiting for the right project. ‘Stories and Spaces’ requires the most interesting audio role I’ve encountered.

Musique concrète, which was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer in the mid-twentieth century, is a highly experimental technique revolving around the idea of acousmatic listening. Acousmatic means a sound can be heard but not seen, so the visuals are not directly linked (like playing babies crying over Rick Astley, but less horrifying). In doing so this removes the original meaning of the sound and creates a new one. This idea of transforming sound in order to give it a new identity is something that will heavily influence how I tackle creating content for this project. At the moment all I’m doing is recording ‘interesting’ sounds on my phone, which means I have now become excited by arbitrary things like rubbing polystyrene together and recording the result. So, apart from a possible deterioration in the fibres of my sanity, I think I’m on the right track. I’ll explore how I come to transform these sounds in a follow-up post.