On editing

This post is copied over from the Sonic Wallpaper blog, as I realise I have never written in any depth here about the editing process, which is curious, since I spend an enormous quantity of my working hours editing sounds.

I thought I would try to describe here the process of sorting and editing the Sonic Wallpaper interviews. I hope this will provide insights as to how the discussions about the wallpaper samples at MoDA will eventually become sound pieces.

For editing the interviews, I am using Adobe Audition. I like how I can non-destructively edit the interviews (I’ll explain what I mean by that later) and create a rough edit using its Multitrack mode. I find the system very flexible for moving things around, and I appreciate the way that this programme allows you to do rough edits and extremely detailed fine-tuning, as each stage of your project requires. Now I am rough-editing; the fine-tuning of the interviews will come later.

At this stage what I want is to have all of the clips relating to each wallpaper sample organised into groups, so that I can quickly and easily determine which of the samples have yielded the richest and best quality audio. This will help me to decide which wallpaper samples will go on to be framed and exhibited, along with their accompanying sound pieces. At this stage my editing process has 2 purposes;

1. Group all the clips relating to each wallpaper together
2. Begin forming ideas about where the papers might best be shown, and what kinds of sounds I will need to record during the final phase of this project

How will I do this?

Today I began by opening my project file, a session which I have titled “All-interviews.”

At the moment it looks like this:

What you see are several tracks of audio. The top 2 tracks are from one interview; the third and fourth layers down are from another; and the fifth line down is from the interview which I edited earlier on today. I have colour-coded all of the clips for the wallpaper samples, assigning one specific shade per wallpaper design, so that I have some way of visually arranging and grouping clips together.

To have reached this stage, I first of all imported individual interviews into the Multitrack view, (1 interview per 2 Audio tracks). I then named each track after the person/people speaking in that particular interview. At a glance I can see whose interviews I have processed, and which ones are still waiting to be done, and by keeping different voices on different tracks, it is easy to see who is speaking at any one time.

You’ll notice that when an interview is first brought into the Multitrack view, it is all one colour and just looks like a giant waveform. In that state, it is very difficult to use; there is no way of telling – at a glance – which section of that long, rambling conversation relates to which piece of wallpaper. In order to begin clarifying what’s what, I begin by muting all the tracks above, so that I am just listening to a single track, containing the new, imported audio.

As I listen, a very precise white cursor travels over the soundwave, and I can zoom in or zoom out to get a closer look at the sound signal. With this particular example, at this point in listening, I realise that everything to the left of the cursor is just me introducing the project, chattering away at Colleen and Annie, and rustling about as I begin taking wallpapers out to show them. I do not need any of this audio of me banging on about the project; what I want to keep is people’s natural responses to the wallpapers. So as my bit of introductory guff is coming to a close, I stop the cursor and press Ctrl+K, which splits the clip. I can then just delete the unwanted audio feat. me talking and banging around with the wallpapers from the Multitrack view. What is great, however, is that if I decide in the future that actually I want some of my rambling or wallpaper-rustling back in, then I haven’t deleted it from the original file – just from this Multitrack mix. Does that make sense? I have excised the unnecessary audio from the track without actually destroying it, and that is the beauty of non-destructive editing.

I continue listening, and realise that the next section relates to a particular wallpaper design. I listen through to that, and I split the clip at the end, so that it is now a discrete little snippet of sound. I’m not going to do a precision-edit on it at this stage, but I will assign it a specific colour, so that it can be put with other people’s discussions of that design. To do this, I check my private notes about the wallpaper designs to find the right colour.

You’ll notice that I have given all the papers descriptive terms which I can remember, and which do not necessarily relate to the formal names of any of the papers! The naming of the papers – although it might not be best-practice from a traditional conservation point of view – is an important stage in terms of developing the sound pieces which will go with the samples.

The names reflect the character that different designs have taken on through the interview process; “blue/white starburst”, “nervous system” and “sea-creature-purple-ness” are names derived from things people have said, from ideas and flights of fancy inspired by looking at wallpapers. Consulting the list, I see that the clip-colour I have assigned to the wallpaper design currently being discussed in the audio is 154, and so – having neatly isolated this segment of conversation from the rest of the audio using the Ctrl+K command – I now colour that clip with 154.

When I have gone through the entire interview, splitting and colouring every section in this way and cutting out anything which is unusable, I will have something resembling the fourth layer down; a long stretch of audio, cut up and coloured into different shades. Next, I shall match up the different sections with the sections above, putting like with like, so that all the audio relating to each wallpaper sample gets grouped together.

It takes time, and a lot of shuffling around… and at times it feels a bit like doing one of those impossible jigsaw puzzles. Some of the shades are very close together, so clips must sometimes be heard through a couple of times to make sure they are in the right place, with other clips relating to the same design…

…but these segments – these snippets of sound being heard and re-heard as they get moved around – are giving me ideas.

“it reminds me of my Grandmother’s House” “it makes me feel sick” “it reminds me of my brother’s matchbox car” “that one says 1970s carpet to me” “that one reminds me of a jewellery box and the sounds of the pearls sliding through your fingers” “I would have that on the end wall of an indoor swimming pool”

In this way, the editing process has an important, imaginative role in the development of the project. It is not only a process of clinically organising the interviews into manageable chunks, but also a process of fantasising and extrapolating; of “auralising”, if that can be a word. As I listen and shuffle, I am quietly compiling a list of the sounds which might be recorded for this project, to contextualise and augment interviewees’ comments on MoDA’s wallpaper collection.

Things I could record: Aquariums, swimming pools, heavy costume jewellery, fuzzy felt and velcro, the ambience in an Indian Restaurant, the sounds of creaky old stairs, an owl in a tree; jellyfish in the London Aquarium (would that even make a sound?)

People’s words in my ears give rise to sonic pictures, and so although the process of organising the interviews is visually a little monotonous (even with the colours) putting them in order is essential to the thinking process that accompanies the creation of Sonic Wallpapers.

Practically speaking, once the sections are organised into groups so that all the clips relating to one design are together, I can export one giant wav-file of the whole project, and then cut this up into even tinier pieces, so that at the end, all the chaff is gone, and we are left with the kernels – the good wheat – of the interviews. I will then take these words, and record sounds with which to contextualise them, so that some of the richness of what is imagined when we consult old wallpapers – memories, associations, dreams of home and domestic creativity – might be transmitted to you in sound.

…At least that is the theory.

I would love to hear the experiences of other folks who work with sound; what is your editing process? How important is editing to the development of your ideas? How do you work with sounds/ideas when you are sorting through a truckload of audio? Would you approach this task differently? How?

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