Monday, January 19, 2009

The Art of Sound

Remember that guy, Michael Winslow, from the Police Academy movies? The one who made all those strange sounds with his mouth? How many of you have a student like that in your class? As you walk across the room, this is that special child that makes squeaking noises for every step you take, putting his classmates in hysterics. Few things amuse this kid more than the variety of different sounds made by gas escaping from the human body - and he can reproduce any one of them at will. Rather than strangle this child, maybe it would be better to let this unique individual express his talents in a constructive way.

Sound effects are a big part of creating a dramatic audio podcast. They can take your story and give it depth, creating a rich sound picture for your listeners. A good sound effect can create a picture in someone’s mind much easier than it would be to produce that same image on film or video. This is why I like the simple elegance of the audio podcast. You can create a multi-layered soundscape with relatively little effort or resources. No need for expensive equipment, dangerous stunts, or elaborate sets.

Creating sound effects can be fun. Did you know you can mimic the sound of a crackling fire by slowly crinkling a bag of potato chips? Sliding the lid off of a toilet tank sounds just like someone opening an ancient sarcophagus. Rapidly opening and closing an umbrella sounds like a bat flying. And of course any self-respecting Monty Python fan knows that two hollowed out coconut shells are a prefect substitute for a galloping horse.

With all the attention given to student created video I think we should not forget about the power of audio. An audio podcast project can be a great choice if you don’t have a lot of time or resources. Using free software like Audacity you can record your story, add music and sound effects, and export your show as a podcast friendly mp3 file in just a fraction of the time and effort it would take to do the same project as a video production.

To encourage students and teachers at my school to learn to use audio podcasts, I created an online elective course that teaches them about podcasting and how to use Audacity to create their own podcasts and post them on our system. I’ve also taken many elements of that course and posted them online on my wiki so you can share them with your students and faculty too.

Make Your Own Podcast Wiki

Feel free to use these resources and share them with your students and teachers. If you or your students create some great podcasts as a result, please reply with a link so we can all hear what you’ve done.


Rob Jacklin said...

Thanks for the refreshing idea. I know tons of schools who keep paying out nose for sound effects, podcast music, etc. We should be encouraging students to make their own. Great Point.

In our multimedia elective class, we tried to have students remix their own songs using free loops off the Internet, and man was it hard. Those students who really "got it" though were shining when their songs were done. Your post underscores the point that we need to continue to meet students where they are at and let them work to their strengths (especially if their strength is working with audio).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I use podcasts in class all the time as a way for students to follow along in class (so that I don't have to read the same thing 5 times a day) or at home (when I give online reading assignments, I add a podcast of the reading). For one of the books that we read, I recorded the book-on-tape onto my computer in GarageBand, but the reading is terribly slow, and I couldn't figure out how to speed it up in GarageBand. Audacity solved this problem quickly and easily. Definitely a great tool!

Thanks again!