Blaugust Day Three Sound Impressions: A Salford Acoustics Experiment

A few days ago, The University of Salford’s Acoustics Department posted a link to an online survey/experiment called ‘Making Sense of Sound’ which (after I’d hunted down headphones and then realised that I didn’t need them) turned out to be about grouping sounds, that is, choosing words from a list and putting them in groups. You then had to choose a title for each of your five groups.

The link to the survey (assuming it’s still live whenever you’re reading this) is ‘Sort our Everyday Sounds’ on

It was quite hard not to overthink this, as I only had a short time to do it in! (And there really isn’t a wrong answer.) The study seemed about the psychology of how we categorise and understand sound, and after end of the experiment, a page came up which explained a little more. The end goal is to improve audio search terms, so it was looking at a whole host of words that could be used to describe audio, from ‘urban’ to ‘unpleasant’ and trying to find out what people actually mean by those terms. It will be really interesting to see the results of this experiment, and how those results might have changed from the short-term study outlined on the web page.

Back to Video Editing 

Last night, I was downloading some footage off my sisters GoPro, I was reminded that I started to edit a video of some of our skiing trips. I loaded up the project, and was immediately reminded of how much I used to enjoy editing. After working on that project a little more, I went rummaging through the dark corners of my PC’s hard drive, and was reminded of how much different creative stuff I used to do. Photoshoots, Photoshopping, music, and videos. I found an old file of vlogs from my masters degree, and they weren’t anywhere near as cringy as I thought they might be. I could even be tempted to make more! (Maybe). 
So I’ll be revamping my defunct YouTube channel at some point soon (especially if the weather continues to be as wet as it currently is) and throwing up some videos, just for the fun of making them, and to whip my editing skills, such as they are, back into shape. 
One of my video problems has always been that while I enjoy editing I feel I’m less good at actually having an initial idea and filming it, which is something I would like to get over. So for the time being I’ll be looking back over any remaining old video clips on my computer, and seeing if there is anything that I can do with it.

Blogpril April 5th- now with more music

So I squandered the time that I should have been blogging listening to a lot of old favourite songs, which actually turned out to be no bad thing. With the rise of music streaming services, especially Spotify’s carefully curated playlists, which I have praised in the part and still think are a great idea to some degree, I’ve realised that at some point music became just background noise to me, rather than an actual emotional force. Since I’m now working for a musical organisation (as of this week) I’ve decided that won’t do at all. 

As a result I spent quite a bit of this evening deliberately picking out songs and pieces of music that I love/have loved and giving them a proper headphones on/eyes closed listening to. Some of them brought back strong and unexpected memories, which is something mood music playlists (though they absolutely have their place) can’t really do for me. I’ve resurrected my old MP3 player too, which will be travelling with me from now on, and I’ll be seeking out some new music from artists I already like, and trying to make some new emotional memories rather than treating music as part of the acoustic furniture.

Blaugust Day 29 – The Sound of an Empty Office

Full confession – the ‘strange post’ that I referred to in yesterday’s blog… Is not this one. I had much of that one written up, then as soon as I posted Friday’s blog and was about to go back to finish today’s… I decided that I didn’t like it. Moreover, I felt I had a better topic, and immediately decided to roll with that instead. 

I used to wrote quite a lot about sound and acoustics on this blog, since I did study audio for a long time. But the less I was was involved in audio, the less I wrote, and eventually those kind of posts petered put altogether.

Alongside this I had another realisation – I don’t listen in the same way any more either. A few years ago, picking sounds out my environment, isolating them in my mind, analysing them and even considering how they might be reproduced, or altered in  studio environment, was almost second nature to me. 

This hit me today while I was at work, probably because, usually, there were hardly any people in our large open plan offices, and for long periods of time I was sitting there completely by myself. I found myself starting to pay attention once more to the background noises that I’ve quite unconsciously learned to tune out – road traffic, the food processor in the restaurant downstairs, people chatting under the window.

Back when I was studying film audio, knowing about these sounds was vital, because they are what part of what make a film seem real, even if the audience don’t fully realise it. Picking out those sounds and recognising their importance is a learned skill, and one I’ve realised I don’t want to lose, even if I’m no longer in that field. 

Recorded Music and the Online World

(Awkward disclaimer: This blog is formed of several ideas that were probably meant to be separate blogs, so it’s a little bit… rambling?)

A few years ago during my undergraduate degree (and it’s a little depressing that I can call that a few years ago) I got to do quite a lot of work on the history of recorded music. The beginning of the recording industry is fascinating for a whole lot of reasons, not least because of the trips that fledgling record companies sent their employees on in search of new music. Sound engineers such as Fred Gaisberg were sent out all over the world from the fledgling Gramophone Company to find new genres to record – the idea was to bring back music which could be sold to ethnic minorities within the United States. Sometimes the recorded music wasn’t very good as the engineers would have to try and find out who the best local musicians were, and if they couldn’t they would just take whoever they could get!

Nowadays, many people have accused mass media of homogenising music, particularly in the pop music world. Top 40 artists are often known and followed around the world, creating an industry where popular music is similar in many countries. Many academics worry about the effects of fusion music and influences upon certain musical cultures that might take over and eradicate the original traditions. (Philip V. Bohlman discusses this in the first chapter of his book – ‘World Music: A very short Introduction‘.)

However, there is a flip side to this. There is a mind boggling amount of music out on the internet for free, so while the music of many cultures might be homogenised, the originals are often preserved too. While shellac discs and wax cylinders might wear out, or take time, effort (and honestly space!) to preserve and maintain, .mp3s take up next to no space, and can be shared easily through Spotify,, YouTube etc. etc. etc…

Some of those preserved shellac 78s – Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A – obviously not a disappearing piece of music though this is an early UK commercial recording – from around 1923? I’m too scared to even play these most of the time, they’re irreplaceable. Which is a shame, as the second violinist was my great grandfather.


This can and does create niche audiences and enthusiasts from all parts of the world for music from other cultures. I had lessons in traditional tabla while at University, and I’ve performed both in the straight up traditional style and in more fusion-type pieces. I didn’t learn this online, but it’s clear that plenty of people do – many teachers offer skype lessons which keep musical styles alive in a world that far from being ‘homogenised’, sometimes seems more diverse than ever.

Playing tabla with some of my friends while at university.

Making Sound Free

Over the past few years, I done a lot of work in making sound, sound of all kinds, which led me from doing electroacoustics and recording my friends overblowing clarinets to wanting to study sound design, which led to me studying at Salford Uni which is where this blog started… over time I’ve accumulated vast folders of audio that’s just sitting around, being useless. And that’s sad.

I’m making this short post as a promise to myself to upload more sounds to Free Sound. I have a tonne of files from my H2N field recorder marked ‘Zoom (x)’ which are so old I don’t even know what they are.

Anyone who has read my blog might have noticed I spend a lot of time talking about YouTube, and of course I spend a lot of time (one might say, too much!) watching what various YouTube channels have to offer. I’ve seen a lot of great short films, comedy skits and webseries, but sadly I’ve noticed a recurring theme in some of them – the same sound effects. For example, over and over and over again, I’ve watched people get punched to the exact same ‘smack’ tone. I’ve heard the same ‘pigeon wings fluttering’ when a flock of birds fly off… well you get the picture. These people are making great videos, but they end up relying on the same CDs of bought sound effects, rather like relying on the same royalty-free music tracks as everyone else (*Cough* Incomptech *cough*). I don’t blame the video makers in the slightest, but wouldn’t it be great if there were more sounds out there, and that more people knew about the stuff already out there?

Free Sounds is a website for creative commons sound effects, that anyone can upload to (it is moderated, but just for accurate description etc. mostly.) I’ve talked about it here before, but honestly I never get sick of how great this site actually is. It’s sound effects, and they’re free, often even for commercial use. Awesome.

I mean, I get that some people are still suspicious of creative commons. Why would you give your work away? Well, honestly I’m not using any these sounds, plenty of them were made for students projects, some for fun, some are good quality, some aren’t, but even the low quality stuff might be useful to someone. It’s a great feeling when someone messages you to tell you that washing up sound you created whilst testing a borrowed RN-09 over a year ago turned out to be just what they needed in their radio play.

Also, I don’t feel this resource undermines the great professionally produced that are for sale out there. There’s still a place for those – in professional or semi-professional production. But it allows anyone who wants to make films, plays, audio dramas, anything involving sound, a place to go for everything they need.

As proof, here’s the credits of Lucius, a famous indie-made horror game from last year. Every single sound in a game which was designed to be extremely creepy/atmospheric (with moments of graphically bloody violence) was from Without that, the developers might have been dependent on a smaller selection of sounds that, while high quality, could have been limiting and even cut into budget used for other things.

Picture from YouTube – ‘Lucius Part FINAL [LP]’ by PressHeartToContinue

So there, just wanted to share the love for this site and others like it, and maybe encourage someone to upload their sounds – you never know where they might end up!

Anyway, I’m off to play with Cubase and figure out what all these files are…

Plink by DinahMoe – The anonymous jam session

I recently found the web app/game ‘Plink’, and I’ve been completely addicted to it. Plink is an experimental app built for chrome by creative audio company DinahMoe which allows people to create music to a continuous beat. It is fairly simple, you mouse click (or tap if using a touch screen) to create a note and you can change your ‘instrument’. While it is possible to set up sessions with friends, you can also play with a small group of random people.

A screenshot of Plink. Each player has a trail of bubbles – solid ones show where notes have been played. The lines and gaps indicate the notes of the scale.

The best thing I found about Plink was that while the game doesn’t force co-operation between players in any way, that co-operation happened anyway. It would be totally possible to disrupt the musical flow by tapping completely out of time to the beat, or dominate the session by constantly tapping, this didn’t happen at any point whilst I was playing, even though I felt that I almost expected someone to ruin the game (I think there’s another blog topic in there – do we always expect the worst in anything anonymous on the internet?) The music would soon fall into a pattern where one or two people would be creating the tune whilst the other players would be adding accompaniment and waiting their ‘turn’ just as you would in a standard Jazz session.

I suppose it’s possible that most of the people who would be interested in something like Plink would already be musical in some way, but whether or not that’s true I was quite touched by the level of co-operation between users who were only nicknames on a screen. I’ve sometimes found that with many different online games, the less interaction the players can actually have with each other the more they do co operate, and can even find ways to communicate using the tools available – I had several ‘duets’ with other players where we copied each others musical phrases or tried to respond to a phrase with something appropriate.

I found literally as I was writing this blog that DinahMoe have made a number of other sound-based games which sound amazing and I’ll be checking them out right after this.

  • ToneCraft – A game where adding blocks in different places and of different colours in a 3D environment creates a musical composition (Google Chrome)
  • Traffic Jam – A racing game where the music indicates changes of events (so I guess kind of the reverse of the game AudioSurf, in which events change in time to the chosen musical track)

(I have to apologise for the briefness of this article as I haven’t written much in a while and need to get back into the swing of things. I’ll hopefully be starting my Masters Degree Dissertation on Mobile Film making soon and I’ll be writing more frequently. I just felt that Plink was too awesome not to talk about!)