I guess the joke's on me. A dozen years ago, I wrote a sardonic article called "20 Sounds That Must Die" for Keyboard magazine's 20th anniversary. Suggested by another Keyboard editor who wrote the bulk of our CD reviews, the article poked fun at the way certain preset synthesizer sounds showed up everywhere. For example, you can hear the E-mu Emulator II shakuhachi sound in Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," Enigma's "Sadeness," "Sade's "Love Is Stronger Than Pride," Tangerine Dream's "Yellowstone Park," Wang Chung's "Wake Up, Stop Dreaming," and Roger Waters' "Radio KAOS."
Synth maniac Paolo Di Nicolantonio took a more cheerful approach, turning my list into Synthmania.com, a wonderful website of synthesizer sounds and information. In this episode, we listen to famous sounds, infamous sounds, and Paolo's favorite synth ever. He sent so many examples that I had to break the episode into two parts. Check back soon for more. (DMI 04-20-2007: 15 minutes 48 seconds)
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Because Paolo and I live on separate coasts, we decided to do the interview by Skype and record it with Ecamm Call Recorder. To maximize the audio quality, I used a Rode Podcaster USB mic instead of my usual Logitech headset. (The Rode is what I use for the show's main voiceover.) I recorded into Call Recorder using the highest quality AAC compression setting.
But we also tried a radio trick called a "two-ender" to boost the quality further, and it worked great. Paolo set up two mics—one feeding his Skype computer and another feeding Sound Forge on another computer. After the interview, he sent me the local recording, and I substituted it for his side of the Skype recording. (One of the great things about Call Recorder is that it saves each side of the conversation on a separate track.) Not only did the direct recording sound fuller, it avoided the clipping distortion in the Skype signal (see screenshot), something I encountered on my previous Skype podcast as well.
This Skitch screenshot from Ableton Live shows how I replaced the Skype recording I made of Paolo (bottom waveform) with the direct recording he made at the same time (top waveform). The middle waveform is my voice. To align the direct recording with the Skype version, I found the same word in both files and slid the direct track back and forth until it lined up. Then I panned the Skype track 100% left to silence the remote channel, panned the direct track 100% right, and saved the result as a new stereo file.
One thing I hadn't expected was that the two recordings didn't stay in sync; perhaps the Skype compression changed the duration as well. I got around that by slicing one of the tracks into smaller chunks and then aligning those chunks with the original.
Here's a comparison of the two recordings. It's not a direct comparison because Paolo used different mics and had to sit farther away from the Skype mic (a BLUE Snowball), causing it to pick up more room reverberation. But the direct recording (an MXL V57M mic into an M-Audio 1814 audio interface) does sound much better.
After creating the composite interview file, I imported it into BIAS Peak 5 and trimmed the "ums" and P-pops. As usual, I recorded my voiceover with the Rode Podcaster mic into Peak as a 16-bit, 44.1kHz, mono AIFF file. I edited some of the music examples in Peak as well, but did most arrangement inside of Ableton Live 6.
With all the source files inside Live, I arranged the musical examples around my voiceover and the theme music. I compressed and enhanced the voiceover with Izotope Ozone. Finally, I rendered the mix to an AIFF file, converted it to an MP3 in Peak, and then used iTunes to clean up the ID3 tags and add artwork.
I produced the Digital Media Insider theme music in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan. Then there are a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, the theme took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.
The Di Nicolantonio Techno Trio playing (left to right) Roland TR-909 drums, TB-303 bass, and TR-808 drums. See Synthmania's video page for more.
More on the article that started it all, with links to ace sound designers Eric Persing and Jack Hotop.
Paolo Di Nicolantonio reviews Hammerhead, a free Windows drum synthesizer. Includes downloadable audio examples.
Synthesizer guru Jim Aikin introduces his top five virtual instruments, explains why they're great, and then shares MP3 examples.
Daisy, Daisy, make your computer sing. Listen up as we uncover sneaky new tricks for speech synthesizers and audition some amazing new singing software.
What makes a good musical theme? We ask Emmy Award-winning composer BJ Leiderman, the melodic mastermind behind NPR's Morning Edition, PRI's Marketplace (which features one of the 20 deadly sounds), and many more irresistible tunes. Then we digitally deconstruct an original theme song to see how it works.
David Battino is the audio editor for O’Reilly’s Digital Media site, the co-author of The Art of Digital Music, and on the steering committee for the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). He also writes, publishes, and performs Japanese kamishibai storycards.
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