Month: March 2016

Adventures in Audacity

(For some reason my blog currently isn’t loading all images I post and you may get a white oblong box thing instead. I’m hoping this glitch will sort itself out. On with the post.)

On recent forays into YouTube territory I noticed the gazillion cover versions of well known hits.  I mentioned this to son No.3, when he was home one weekend, and he informed me that yes, YouTube is most definitely filled to the rafters with amateurs belting out covers of just about everything, and had I just noticed this?  I’m miserably behind when it comes to all things internet.  For instance, on first starting up this blog I would sit there, wracking my brain, trying to come up with something/anything to write about.  Eventually a little light bulb would come on, about an inch above the old noggin, and a riveting post would appear, after much research, editing and spell checking (my own, not’s, which thinks in American.)  Feeling pleased with myself that I, and I alone, had come up with internet gold, I would type my post subject matter into Google to find that roughly a million other people had got there before me.

And so it is with the song cover situation.  Because a couple of months ago I began thinking wouldn’t it be nice to record some songs, put them onto my invisible blog and break things up a bit.  And wouldn’t it be better to go with songs people already know, since I lack genius song writing skills.  The light bulb came on, above my just turned 55 head, and I thought maybe YouTube has karaoke versions of popular songs to sing along to, so off I went, to discover that the entire world had had the same idea.

Undeterred, I decided to give it a go anyway and further questioned Son No.3 re: cover songs, beginning with how did I get my mitts on a karaoke track, in order to be able to sing along to it and actually record the whole thing.  To my astonishment (but Son No.3 was adamant that literally EVERYONE knows this) he rapidly converted the karaoke track I wanted from YouTube to an mp3 file and then downloaded a free audio software package, to this very laptop, called Audacity (according to Son No.3 EVERYONE knows Audacityexcept me) and then moved the mp3 track into Audacity , where I would be able to sing over the top of it.

I find this state of affairs remarkable.

33 years ago I paid (or my parents probably paid) for time in a recording studio, in Liverpool, to record 8 songs I’d written whilst at uni.  The recording studio was dismal, dark and contained a rickety old upright piano.  I played the piano a bit, and strummed a guitar a bit and then sang, perched on a wooden stool, into a microphone on a stand, whilst a young lad sat behind a glass panel recording the whole thing and mixing the piano, guitar and vocal tracks.  The process seemed to take a very long time and felt like hard work.  The end result was a MASSIVE reel enclosed in a cardboard box and the forking out of £70, which back then was probably roughly equivalent to a million.

And here I am in 2016, with the ability to record stuff at home, on a tiny laptop, for (almost) FREE.

Unfortunately a certain amount of cost was involved, and the process also involved a lot of trial and error.  The first thing was to buy a microphone.  I got a SubZero SZC-500-USB condenser microphone for £45 which came with a stand.

aud 3This seemed pretty cheap and, as I’ve now realised, is probably too cheap to get a really good sound (YouTubers seem to go with Rode mics costing over £200) but no point breaking the bank when it comes to songs for the blog that no one reads. The next thing was to get a very cheap pop shield filter, which cost £6.

aud 2

This filter supposedly blocks all the clicks and pops and hard consonant sounds which ruin your average recording.  It kind of worked in the end, I think, but there’s still quite a lot of clicking going on.

But onto the recording. I plugged the mic into the laptop and things seemed to go ok until a few days later I started getting a horrible thumping and hiss, along with the vocal track.  The husband decided the laptop’s inbuilt microphone was interfering with the USB mic and disabled the laptop mic. The problem was fixed instantly – hurray for the husband.

Audacity allows you to record as many tracks as you like, which overlay on each other instantly – is it just me who thinks this kind of thing is miraculous?  It comes with all kinds of effects and tools to edit your tracks.  I didn’t use any of them, being as I couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use them, preferring to sing the tracks all in one go and see how it turned out.  I did add the ‘echo’ effect once, which turned out to be absolute rubbish, so didn’t use it again.  I went with simplicity – just voice and backing track.

I spent two weeks messing around on Audacity, during which time I found that sound recording can be a real pain, due to the fact that everything gets recorded; to the sound of your next door neighbour’s washing machine; to the creaking of your kitchen chair (thought the kitchen would lend acoustics); to the tinkling of the microphone; to every little clearing of your throat, particularly when you’ve got a head cold. I remedied these by not holding the microphone and making a home made mic stand from a cereal box (not wanting to go to further expense.)  The mic came with a stand that wouldn’t sit on a table owing to the fact that the mic lead had nowhere to go, so I cut a hole in a cereal box, sat the mic on top, fed the lead through, then placed the box on some very thick books, leaning the shield against the mic.  I then used the loft as a recording studio being as it’s away from neighbourly noise and has softer, non creaking chairs.

audacity 1

The loft is also the husband’s den.  That massive thing to the left of the mic is an electrical testing gizmo.  You can see Yoda was watching the recording session to the right.

I chose a very basic karaoke track to Mad World from YouTube.  Feeling well pleased with my choice I then discovered that this song would appear to be everyone and his mother’s favourite song to cover, before also finding, a couple of nights ago, via our haunted TV (see here) that Lloyds Banks is using it for their latest advert; which is quite good actually, because now I can post a video to sort of go with my recorded effort, being that having something to look at ALWAYS enhances a bit of music (and vice versa.)

I sang 5 melody lines for about 30 minutes and then saved it as a project file.  I then had to research how to get that file onto here, without having to create a soundcloud account etc. The answer was to export my audio file to a WAV format and then upload that.  However, after consulting Son No.2, I was advised to download free software called LAME, which let me convert my Audacity track to an mp3 file, which would compress the original file to more manageable proportions.

You’ll have to read this next bit carefully.  Above my mp3 file I’ve uploaded the Lloyds Bank advert from YouTube, featuring a Mad World piano cover. Start the YouTube clip which I’ve muted (if it isn’t then mute it, unless you prefer the piano to my singing) pause it then go back to the beginning.  Start my audio file, wait until the bit where I start singing and play the YouTube clip at the same time and it should kind of sync.  I found this complicated set up more rewarding than just (literally) listening to the sound of my own voice, because you get to watch a lovely black horse trotting about in Slo-mo.  You’ll have to keep re-playing the clip too, to last the length of my track. ( I’m hoping the clip won’t be deleted for copyright or some such.)

I’d like to add that the dreams in which I’m dying are most definitely not the best I’ve ever had, and that I very rarely drown my sorrows.

There’s a Ghost in my House – or maybe there isn’t

I used to have a recurring dream, many years ago, that began to take on a nightmarish quality the longer it went on.  I’d be lying asleep in bed, which I actually was of course, in the non-dream world; but I’d be lying asleep in bed in the dream world too – adding a weird confusion to the whole lying in bed scenario – but that’s what dreams do – confuse the brain, so it believes something is actually happening, when nothing is happening at all.  So there I’d be, lying there asleep, perfectly still;  dreaming that I was lying there asleep, perfectly still.   Actually, as far as nightmares go, this one is sounding pretty rubbish, until the bit where I would hear the radio come on.

The sound of a radio would slowly drift up the stairs.  To begin with I’d be aware that I was too heavily asleep to really notice the sound, then the noise would become more insistent and I’d wake up, get out of bed, go downstairs, find the radio in the middle of the lounge floor (which it never was in the real world) and turn it off.  Then I’d traipse back upstairs, getting about half way before I realised the radio was on again, only this time the noise seemed louder.  Back down I’d go, turn off the radio, then back up the stairs, getting to maybe the second step before the radio came back on again.  This state of affairs would go on for some time until I’d barely get through the lounge door before the radio would turn itself on again, only no music that time, or pleasant night-time chatter, just the continuous shrieking hiss of scary white noise, and by that time I was in a sorry state indeed, wondering if I would have to live with the sound of a shrieking radio all my life.

(Which I kind of had to do years later when chronic Tinnitus struck, but that’s maybe a whole other riveting post.)

Waking up to the real world, it would take some minutes to realise that it had all been a dream, but it was the kind of dream that would haunt the rest of my day, the way some dreams do.

As the years went by the radio turned into the television.  There I’d be, asleep, when I’d become aware that the TV was on.  Down the stairs I’d go, thinking that someone had left it on; I’d turn if off via the on/off button (this was pre-flat screen days when our telly was tiny and lacked a remote control) and go upstairs again, only this time with a faint feeling of dread, as my dreaming brain obviously knew what was coming.  Like the radio, the TV would finally end up emitting that white, wavy line tuning signal thing accompanied by a horrible HISS.   Yes, I clearly had a thing about uncontrollable, evil household appliances.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

A couple of evenings ago I flicked the telly on, at about 7’ish, just in time to catch The One Show (which I’ve now swapped for the delights of the Great Interior Design Challenge) and settled back for a couple of hours of telly watching, which is just about all I can stand these days.  The TV is never on during the day in our house, if I can help it, if it were I might have been alerted to the strange goings-on a lot sooner.

At a very important point during the GIDC shenanigans, the TV suddenly switched itself off, in that the lovely HD screen went completely black and fell completely silent.  Wondering if we’d had a power cut or if I’d accidentally sat on the remote, I began looking around for the remote in the immediate vicinity, to see it perched in its usual resting place (the arm of the husband’s chair) – a good four feet away from where I was sitting.  A couple of seconds later and the TV came on again, picking up from where it had left off, as though nothing untoward had happened.

30 minutes later and the same thing happened again.  Deciding to attribute the telly’s behaviour to a fluke of its internal wirings, or some suchlike, being that I have no idea how tellies work, I later switched it off and forgot all about it.

Yesterday the same thing happened again, three times, and the black screen began to look a bit ominous, and visions of that very scary looking girl from The Ring started coming to mind.  Please don’t let anything start climbing out of my TV screen, I silently pleaded, with whoever it is who can stop ghostly presences emerging from your average household appliance.   I then decided to consult the husband, who was up in his usual habitat – the loft.  I left the room to the sounds of Mad Max and the half-dead gang making their way down Fury Road; a case in which the black screen was infinitely more preferable.

On my way to the loft I passed the heating thermostat in the hall, just outside the lounge, and heard its audible click as the heating turned off, whereupon Mad Max and the gang went strangely quiet.  The screen was black again and I had a eureka moment.  The central heating was turning off the TV!

Running upstairs to the loft, I told the husband about the scary black screen TV affair and that I was pretty sure the thermostat in the hall was turning the TV off.  After laughing in my face, the husband said the obvious, which was to test my theory by turning the thermostat up and down in the hall and seeing if it also turned the telly on and off.  So I did just that and absolutely nothing happened – the TV stayed resolutely unblack.

Being an intelligent and rational person, I decided to go with the only possible plausible theory.  My house is haunted and a ghost keeps turning my TV on and off, presumably because it has nothing better to do.

The thing is, the TV isn’t the only contraption that has exhibited paranormal tendencies.  Just a short while ago the printer kept turning itself on, up in the loft, and printed off empty bits of paper, at ridiculous times during the night, when we were all asleep.  When any one of the sons was home and this strange behaviour, on the part of the printer from hell took place, it caused quite a stir, as you’d be surprised how incredibly LOUD printers sound when they suddenly go off at 3 am.

There’s also the questionable behaviour of the loft ladder in the upstairs hallway.  Many are the spine tingling times when I have been woken, from a not so deep sleep, by the sounds of someone/something, climbing the wooden loft ladder on their way up to loft hell.  Creak, creak, clunk,  the ladder goes as ghostly feet apply ghostly pressure.

But back to the scary TV.  In a scientific experiment, the telly has been on during most of the day today.  So has the heating, being that things are on the chilly side, and the thermostat has clicked twice – and both times the telly went black.  This is too much of a coincidence so, deciding that the ghost theory was probably not the way to go, I typed into dearest Google:

 ‘my heating thermostat is turning off my TV’… be met with an absolute barrage of similar complaints coming right at me through the internet ether.

Help my fridge is turning off my TV
Am I mad but I think my boiler is turning off my TV
Don’t laugh but I think my oven is doing something to my TV – please help

The general gist, from anonymous electrical experts, is that electromagnetic thingamajigs coming from my thermostat, or my boiler’s igniter spark thingie, are causing ‘spikes’ in the electrical waves filling up my home which are temporarily interrupting the signal to my telly.  Feeling like I was now onto something (and wondering why I hadn’t done this before) I then typed in:

my printer turns itself on at night’,  to find that printers like to do this sort of thing on a regular basis, it possibly being something to do with the auto power on/off thing.

Typing in:

‘my wooden loft ladder creaks at night’ – I found that wood contracts and expands during the day, a sound we are normally unaware of, being that we’re all very busy with housework and suchlike (pauses here to laugh, whilst watching Malcolm in the Middle, instead of doing housework.)

So, there isn’t a ghost in my house – there’s just a few basic laws of physics going on around my bog standard 1930’s home – oh, and I can’t wait for the husband to come home and laugh on the other side of his face.

(Would be sort of nice in a very scary kind of way though, wouldn’t it, if just one time it did turn out to be a ghost.)