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Creativity Competition - how the benchmark track was made

The RP Creativity Competition has already attracted a crop of entries. But are you stuck for ideas? How can you make a track from just a 1 kHz sine wave and white noise?


The Audio Masterclass Creativity Competition is still open, and the prize - fame and glory in the Audio Masterclass website - is up for grabs. You have until Friday March 31 to enter. Don't forget that the site is visited by industry professionals. Someone might hear your work and like it. After that... who knows what the possibilities might be?

If you need a reminder about the competition, check here, where you can find all the details. All entries will be made available in the Audio Masterclass Newsletter on Monday April 3, 2006.

In summary though, you have to make a short track out of just a 1 kHz tone and/or white noise. You can do any kind of processing, but you must not introduce any other sound sources.

Here is an example track that I made myself. Judging from the entries so far, it certainly isn't going to win, but it will serve as a benchmark. If you can do better than this, and I'm sure you can, then you're in with a chance.

The thinking behind my track is this... I set the creativity project a few weeks ago for a group of students in a classroom setting. Once they got started, it was clear they didn't need much help from me, so I thought I would have a go myself. The trouble was, they had bagged all the best equipment and I was left with the gear they had rejected - a couple of Revox B77 tape recorders and a small mixing console. Not much I could do with that, I thought. But then I thought again...

I started by recording the 1kHz tone onto one of the recorders. I recorded with the input level set full up, causing the meter to go hard over into the red. I was looking for some 'interesting' distortion.

One problem with the Revox B77 is that the electronics clip before the tape is saturated, so the distortion is harsh, not smooth like I really wanted. But in the end it didn't matter.

Next, I hooked up the system so that I could copy the recording onto another tape. I switched the source recorder from 15 inches per second (38 cm/s) to 7.5 ips (19 cm/s) so that it played at half speed.

As it was copying across, I slowed the tape down by pinching the flange of the reel with my finger and thumb, sometimes hard enough to stop the tape. This gave me the some frequency sweeps, going all the way down to the lowest frequencies the machine was capable of playing and recording. Pretty random, but good stuff among the chaos.

I repeated the process a couple of times, generating even lower frequencies. By this time I had some interesting material to work with.

Next, I cut out the parts of the tape that had sounds I liked, and spliced the sections into loops. I brought over another Revox B77 so that I could play two loops simultaneously while I recorded the mix of sounds. It isn't altogether easy to get a B77 to play a loop of tape, but with suitable positioning of mic stands as tensioners, it worked.

I copied this across for the full duration of the track. This gave me a bed onto which I could lay more sounds.

I went back to my earlier tapes and snipped out some interesting 'events' and spliced them together onto another reel. Finally I played my loop tape and my event tape together on two machines, and recorded them onto the third, with a fade in and fade out.

The rest of the process was a straightforward transfer to Pro Tools, with normalization because by now the levels were pretty screwy. No other processing was used. The whole thing took around an hour.

Ultimately, I'm not claiming that this is the best 'soundscape' in the world, but it was fun exploring the possibilities of sounds that I could get with comparatively meager equipment. And hey - no plug-ins were used!

OK, get to work and do better!!

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By David Mellor Monday March 27, 2006

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