To celebrate my 200th blog entry on the O'Reilly Digital Media site, I thought I'd look back at some of the sounds behind the stories. In this episode, you'll hear how a bad pianist inspired the first computer music program, the surprising benefits of high-resolution distortion, and sneaky uses of voice recorders. (DMI 04-24-2008: 12 minutes 50 seconds)

  • Right-click or Control-click to download this MP3 file. You can also subscribe to the Digital Media Insider podcast via RSS or iTunes and get the files automatically.

Production Notes

The audio examples in this episode came from my blog or the sites I mentioned. I used Ambrosia Software WireTap Pro to record the output of various Web players, then cropped and faded them with BIAS Peak 6.

Once again, I used an SE USB2200A USB mic to record my voiceover into QuickTime Pro, which doesn't trigger my Mac's howling fans the way more complex music programs tend to do. The initial voiceover distorted at the mic, so I activated the –10dB pad switch and recorded again.

After recording, I used Peak to snip out P-pops, tongue clacks, and false starts. Next, I imported vocals, the music examples, and the background music into Ableton Live and enhanced the vocals with Izotope Ozone. After adjusting levels with envelopes, I rendered the mix into a stereo AIFF file. Finally, I converted the mix to an MP3 in iTunes, where I added the cover art.

Robot Yo
Speech synths are a favorite blog topic. (Robot photo by AZAdam.)

The Digital Media Insider theme music came together 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.

The theme also features a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, it took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

Dog Calliope
This hand-carved calliope graced at O'Reilly's Foo Camp and Maker Faire. It's driven by punched paper encoded from MIDI files. Read more in this blog entry.

Blog Entries Mentioned in the Show

  • Computer Music to the Max — Computer music pioneers John Chowning and Max Mathews discussed nearly 50 years of breakthroughs in the field during a special lecture at the Computer History Museum. (Includes video link.)
  • Need a Break? Try the Sloppy Online Drum Machine — This Flash-based drum machine is the first one I've seen where the notes aren't quantized, which produces an interesting, sloppy feel. Cool sounds, too.
  • Shootout: Stereo Digital Voice Recorders — I've been getting lots of mail about my enthusiastic review of the Olympus DS-2 stereo voice recorder. Several readers wondered what I thought of the WS-200S, a smaller, higher-capacity model that came out shortly after I finished the review.
  • The Oxymoronic Audio Plugin — First we had digital emulations of analog audio gear. Then we had digital emulations of digital gear. And now . . . a bizarre new breakthrough in fidelity.
  • The Sound Inside the Sound — Like microscopes, audio editing software can reveal amazing new worlds within everyday sounds. Check out "Winnoise," for example. It's a three-minute song made by manipulating Windows error sounds.
  • Fun with Binaural Mics — Annoyed by the handling noise my pocket voice recorder picks up, I bought some external mics. Interestingly, they're designed to fit in your ears, using the shape of your outer ears and head to create a binaural image.
  • More Fun with Speech Synths — O'Reilly recently snuck a wacky speech synthesizer into our blogs. As a speech synth enthusiast, I immediately started looking for phrases that would produce funny rhythms.
  • 90 Years of Digital Corruption — I recently found a 90-year-old digital recording in my local library: a CD of piano rolls played by ragtime pioneer Scott Joplin in 1916, a year before he died. Firing up the disc, I was shocked.
  • Punching the Monkey...Organ — During a break at this year's Foo Camp, Tim O'Reilly's intense technology conference, I noticed a surprising contraption on the lawn.
  • Super Monkey Fruit Pizza — I've been playing with the Cepstral speech synthesizer, which offers a unique twist: You can buy individual voices at bargain rates. The standard voices cost just $29.99, and the special-effect ones, which I find have more creative potential, are just $6.99.