A Sense of Awe: science, faith and wonder
October 28, 2011 3

From interview to air: WAV files and unacceptable vocal habits

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Making a radio program is not as simple as doing an interview and sending it into the airwaves. Let me share some secrets…

You wouldn’t believe the torrent of unacceptable vocal habits that pollutes the audio landscape. Unless of course you’ve had the joy of editing a WAV file.

This past week I’ve spent lots of time at the ABC in Southbank, Melbourne with WAV files passing before my eyes on a computer monitor. It’s part of the cost of cleaning up interviews into a product fit for public consumption on a national broadcaster.

Everyone makes a program differently, but this time I made a full transcript of my interviews (which you may have read here) and then planned the program using the transcripts. But of course only a small part of hours of interviews will find its way into the final 48min program (48min 28sec to be precise!)

That’s where the WAV files come in.

The audio from the interviews is in a sound file that ‘looks like’ the one above. After making the big cuts and pasting together all the chosen clips of sound in the right order it’s time to do some finer editing. Fine editing means cutting out extraneous material:

•  extra spaces and hisses and bumps including the time I knocked the microphone or kicked the table
•  false starts to sentences: “I think… personally, well actually science is similar to faith…” which might lose “I think” or “personally” or “well” or “actually” or any combination or even all of the above
•  heavy breathing
•  lip smacking and other odd vocal behaviour: the vertical cursor bar in the WAV file above is located at one of my noisy lippy introductions to a question which will be cut out for posterity
•  and the list goes on

But there’s more to a cut and splice than the old days of using scissors to cut a reel-to-reel magnetic tape and Sellotape to join the clips. Most joins finish up sounding bumpy and need some fine tuning to blend into each other. And a typical paragraph of say five sentences might finish up with 25 splices, more if the speaker tends to speak slowly and in partial sentences with many ‘um’s and ‘ah’s and ‘you know’s.

Let me admit to being an amateur WAV splicer. When it comes time to do that finer work of smoothing out my clunky clip connections I work with a technical expert, in this case Dave Manton, musician and sound editor extraordinaire. Actually, I sit beside him and he does the work.

Then, when Dave has done his work (almost) and we have about 50 minutes of program, it’s time to add some music and atmosphere (that’s ‘atmos’ for the aficionados.) But that’s another story altogether.

Alright, I see you’re fascinated, so let me give you a taste of the challenges of choosing music. Imagine three people in the studio debating what music to use as background to a philosopher and a scientist discussing nature and Gothic cathedrals. You have the old hand, an expert at radio production (who warns that well worn music elicits well worn responses), the young techy (a popular musician who splits his time between Triple J and Radio National) and yours truly with a tin ear for music who likes classical favorites and even started his last program with a well worn theme from Lord of the Rings. I have to admit I’d probably use Moonlight Sonata and a bit of John Williams in every program. A challenge indeed!

This was my starting list for the Sense of Awe program we’re working on (and yes, it was revised in the light of conversations with the aforementioned old hand and young techy):

•  Vangelis: “Tears in Rain” (from Blade Runner)
•  Stravinsky: “The rite of spring” first part, introduction (Bassoon solo)
•  Vangelis: “Spiral” at 3 minutes in.
•  Daft Punk: “Technologic”
•  Pink Floyd: “Shine on you crazy diamond” especially the beginning
•  Holst: “The Planets-Mars”
•  Dvorak: “New World Symphony” second movement, “Going Home” melody (Oboe)
•  Bloody Beetroots: “Warp”
•  Aled Jones: “Piu Jesu” and “Vespera”

If you want to know the final decisions on music, you’ll have to listen to the program. It goes to air on November 6th and will be available online after that at abc.net.au/rn/encounter

COMMENT on this post

3 Responses to “From interview to air: WAV files and unacceptable vocal habits”

  1. James Garth says:

    Chris, you are being far too unkind to yourself; I think your eclectic collection is hardly that of a ‘tin ear’, it actually has a bit of street cred! Classic Vangelis, Daft Punk, Holst = all good. As a film score aficionado who enjoys scoring personal projects, I’ve found that themes from unfamiliar or less popular films can tend to work very well; for example John Williams work, while brilliant, is perhaps so familiar to people that his themes would be distracting, or come across as cliched (unless you played one of his lesser known scores like Amistad or Memoirs of a Geisha).

    The other interesting trend to note in recent film/tv scoring is the tendency to use ‘songtracks’; picking up a particular song or two (be it Edith Piaf or Linkin Park), playing a key portion multiple times through the project, and then weaving it through the underscore itself.

    Anyway, if I were scoring A Sense of Awe, my temp track list would look something like this:

    – Overture from Handel’s ‘Messiah’
    – ‘Plastic Bag Theme’ [American Beauty score] by Thomas Newman
    – ‘Fireworks’ by Moby
    – ‘Intriguing Possibilities’ [The Social Network score] Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross
    – ‘The Shining Path’ by The Thievery Corporation
    – ‘Frank Barnes’ [Unstoppable score] by Harry Gregson-Williams
    – excerpts from ‘Old Souls’ and ‘One Simple Idea'[Inception score] by Hans Zimmer
    – ‘Lost in You’ by Dusky feat. Janai
    – ‘Injection’ [M:I-2 score] by Lisa Gerrard & Hans Zimmer
    – excerpts from ‘This Tongue Thing’s Amazing’ and ‘My Name is Lincoln’ [The Island score] by Steve Jablonsky


  2. Anne Stead says:

    I think that a sense of awe is of the spirit and is necessary for a feeling of connectedness to the world and beyond. Feeling connected is perhaps necessary for a commitment to caring for the earth, the galaxy and the cosmos. For me, as a Christian, the connectedness goes beyond the physical earth and cosmos to connectedness with God, which is an intensely spiritual connectedness. Many people will feel a spiritual connectedness, a sense of awe, that they will not associate with a connectedness with God, and that’s ok. My sense of awe connects me to God, puts me in communion with God.

  3. Anne Stead says:

    http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2011/10/24/the-shining-and-the-shiny/ Have you seen this? You may find it interesting and relevant, but then, you may not!

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