Editor B’s Morning Ride to Work

Friends, I’ve got a new podcast rolling. Literally.

It’s called Editor B’s Morning Ride to Work, and the concept is simple. I record a short segment as I ride my bike to work each morning. Each episode is five minutes or less. Just a little audio window into my world.

Subscribe via one of the major providers using the buttons below, or tune in directly on my Anchor station.

Apple Podcasts    Google Play Music

Déjà vu?

Veteran followers of this blog will recall that I tried something like this nine years ago. (Egad. Nine years?) The technical problems have been surmounted at last. As to the “general lack of interesting content,” well, that’s the challenge. That’s the draw. Tune in to see if I can pull it off, or if I wipe out. (Hopefully not literally.)

Then again, I’m more comfortable with silence than I was the first time round. Sometimes I get tired of this “chittering chattering blithering blathering bubbling babbling mind-boggling bullshit they call the Information Age.” Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut sometimes and listen to the sounds rushing past me. That sounds refreshing.

In Praise of Audio

I’ve produced quite a bit of video in my day — well over a hundred programs, though probably less than a hundred hours all told. I don’t do much video production these days, but I’m called upon routinely to advise people who want to make a video, or think they do.

My most frequent advice: don’t.

That’s because, most of the time, what people really want is audio. In most of the cases I encounter, the subject in question is a single speaker, or perhaps a panel discussion. What is the crucial component there: a static view of the speaker’s head, or the words that are being said? If you said the latter, congratulations, you’re right.

We can prove this with a simple thought experiment. Imagine you’re watching a video of someone making a speech about a topic that is simply fascinating to you. Imagine that it’s poorly shot. It’s dim, and the image is grainy, and the camera is shaking all over the place in a way that induces nausea. But by some miracle the audio track is pristine — crystal clear — you can hear every word in the highest fidelity.

That’s a good video. Even though it’s bad. Back in the days of analog TV broadcasts, people would squint through fuzzy reception as long as they could hear what was going on.

Now, by contrast, imagine the reverse. The image is crystal clear, the lighting is beautiful, you can see every twinkle in the speaker’s eye in high definition. But the sound is off. The mic wasn’t plugged in, or something. It’s muffled, barely audible.

That’s a bad video. Do you get my point?

In short, for many programs, the audio is the most important component. Obviously there are exceptions, programs where the audio is virtually irrelevant. Sports come to mind. But for the vast majority of programming, the audio is more important than the video.

People think they want video because it’s got a certain techno-luster. Video is, in the common parlance, sexy. Good video can indeed convey crucial information with great economy and clarity. But by the same token, producing good video is hard work. Even producing a bad video is hard work. Trust my years of experience when I say that for most people, most of the time, it ain’t worth it.

Even if you’re willing to do some work, it may be counter-productive. Video is such a headache, and such a distraction, that all the effort gets sucked into the video aspect, and the audio is totally neglected.

Also, remember the following: No one really wants to watch your video anyway. Life’s too short. But they might just put your audio recording on their iPod and give it a listen during their morning jog.

So I advise people to focus on what’s really important, and aim for a decent audio recording instead.

The advantages of focusing on audio are manifold. Audio tools are cheaper than video. Working with audio is easier, both in production and post-production. Moving audio around is easier. You can buy a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder for about $140, and you will have a recording device that is easy to use and produces really good recordings in the form of digital files which you can transfer to your computer via USB.

Perhaps most important of all, audio is doable.

So: forget the video, and focus on the audio; you might actually get a quality product.

Five-Star Xmas

When I whipped up a Xmas mix three years ago, I had to engage in some serious scraping to round it out. Times have changed, and my collection has expanded. I can now present a collection of seventeen tracks with zero compromises. This is everything I consider necessary for a Five Star Xmas.

Enjoy! I guess I should add a few caveats. This is probably not safe for work. Parental guidance is strongly advised. There are dirty words, a measure of irreverence, and some loud raucous parts. If that’s not your idea of a good time, you may want to look elsewhere for your holiday cheer.

Creative Degradation

LEON'S "BROTHER HELP THYSELF" BENEFIT photo by spike55151

So I took the first six seconds of “So Emotional” and looped it eleven times, each time at a lower bit rate. I call it “The Degradation of Whitney in Eleven Stages,” and you can listen to it on SoundCloud. (My apologies to Whitney Houston. This is just intended to demonstrate how lowering the bit rate affects sounds quality.) I can’t embed the clip without bringing the whole thing down to a bit rate of 128 kbps, which would kind of defeat the purpose.

Here are some technical notes: The initial sample was extracted from an Apple Lossless MPEG-4 audio file with a bit rate of 787 kbps. The subsequent downsamples were generated with Audacity, then joined together in GarageBand and exported to MPEG-4. Since the export maxed at 320 kbps, the high rate of the original sample is not preserved, and the first two samples should be indistinguishable. The bit rates in sequence are: 787, 320, 250, 200, 180, 128, 80, 40, 24, 16, 8.

The degradation doesn’t register to my ears until the bitrate hits 80. What’s truly bizarre is that at the lowest bit rate I find I actually like the sound better than the original.

And so here’s the full “So Emotional” downsampled to eight kilobits per second. Again, apologies to Whitney. This is merely intended to demonstrate the audio effects of an extremely low bit rate. I think it sounds cool. Your mileage may vary.

So Degraded by Editor B

I realized in retrospect that the extreme effect of this process isn’t solely a result of exporting at a low bit rate. It also has to do with sample rate. The lower bit rates don’t support the 44.1 kHz sample rate of the original, so I had to resample the music. I chose a rate of 22.05 kHz and got the results posted above. But when I did it again and chose the lowest sample rate of 8 kHz, the results weren’t nearly so dramatic. It was definitely low-fidelity, but the song was much more recognizable. That’s right, the lower sample rate produced a higher fidelity result. So clearly there’s some sort of cross-effect between sample and bit rate that I’m not understanding.

To understand the difference between sample and bit rate, I found the following explanation on Helium:

It is easiest to think of sample rate as how often the audio signal is sampled and bit rate as the amount of information recorded for a unit of time.

So perhaps interference patterns can emerge between the two — kind of like audio moiré? I’m just guessing and probably wrong.

FOLC on WWOZ

WWOZ will be airing a “Street Talk” segment on the Lafitte Corridor greenway project today (Tues 1/12/10) at 2pm sharp. Listen on 90.7 FM in New Orleans or on the web at wwoz.org or just use the handy player on the FOLC website.

J on 1370

I’ve been converting old cassettes to digital when I get a spare moment. Is that still called “ripping” as with a CD? Anyway, here’s the latest.

April 13, 1994, Bloomington, Indiana — Tom Gulley hosts Afternoon Edition on AM-1370. The topic of discussion was “J&B Get Baked” and the issue of marijuana legalization. J phoned in and eventually came into the studio. It was a two-hour show, but we caught only part of it on tape, and after removing commercials and news updates, it’s about an hour’s worth of audio.

ROX on KSD FM

When ROX #85 debuted on the internet, we sent out press releases every which way, and we got quite a bit of coverage, from Time magazine to local media outlets.

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but Xy and I ended up on a drive-time radio show in St. Louis, live in the studio. That was fourteen years ago today, give or take a week.

I’m sure glad we hung on to the audio from that encounter. I think it’s worth a listen, not because of our lame attempts at humor, but for what it reveals about how people viewed the internet and the web back in 1995. Times sure have changed.

A Nightcap with J&B

The podcasting mania continues. This is rough, raw, intimate, easy, and definitely low-fidelity — kind of like us. No, it’s not ROX, it’s J&B’s Nightcap.

[audio:http://b.rox.com/media/nightcap/001.mp3]

Nightcap #1: The Old Fashioned

On the 75th anniversary of Prohibition’s repeal, your hosts J&B launch a new enterprise: this podcast, J&B’s Nightcap. We begin with that classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned. Our conversation diverges also to the joys of fatherhood, vomiting and marijuana.

Links for this episode:

I suppose I should really set up a blog specially for this. Maybe.

Open Sound New Orleans

I was recently contacted by the good folks at Open Sound New Orleans. This is a website where people can post audio clips to a map of the city. They loaned me a sweet little audio recording device called the Samson Zoom H2 and told me to go crazy with it. So over the past little while I’ve recorded over a hundred audio clips. Much of it is probably uninteresting to anyone except me, but there are a few good bits here and there. I’ve only added one clip to the map so far, but I hope to sort through these files over the next few weeks and add a few more. In the meantime, I just wanted to applaud Heather and Jacob for a unique and innovative cultural documentation project. They are definitely visionaries after my own heart. Check out Open Sound New Orleans, give it a listen, and maybe you’ll even want to contribute yourself.

Podcasting

Check out my new podcast, Anonymous Informants. I started this to learn more about podcasting, improve my interviewing techniques, and explore some issues that I find interesting. I’ve done two episodes so far, and clearly I’ve got a lot to learn. But that’s the point.

The Voskhod Experiment

Here is some random audio mess I mixed up lately.

Cosmonaut
  1. Voskhod [26:15]
  2. Proton [25:53]
  3. Cosmos [26:35]
  4. Soyuz [27:58]


All files are in MP3 format;
each clocks in at just under half an hour
and just around 50 MB.


Actually it’s not entirely random. There is a method at work here.

How best to describe this stuff? They might be called mashups or remixes. If I had a two hour slot on a freeform station like WTUL, WFMU or WFHB, this is what I imagine it would sound like.

These programmes are constructed entirely from the works of other musical artists. I believe I’ve created something that might be heard as either new work or derivative work. Either way I think these programmes are technically illegal. I did not get permissions or licenses from any of the artists whose works I used. In my imaginary radio show I’d come in between sets and give credits, but I’m not doing so here because that just seems like asking for trouble. (In the off chance that someone actually hears their own work sampled here, I can only hope you like it.)

Each piece is constructed according to a slightly different formula, with Soyuz being the biggest deviation from the norm. In fact I think I might prefer this alternate version, Soyuz [Second Variation], but I go back and forth. I’m still developing the technique.

Enjoy? I guess the real question is, can I do anything with this stuff besides just posting it to my blog?