Audio asset management
“When I decided to keep all my sounds it was to build a kind of – as Borges said – a library of Babel that makes everything exist like a pyramid, like a memory.”
Ever since I first heard La Ville by Perre Henry, his archive of tapes has been lurking at the back of my head. According to others that have attended concerts at his house the rooms are filled with tapes from floor to ceiling.
In spite of having a strong sympathy with his way of working, collecting sounds into an ever-growing archive, I have never found myself doing the same. Instead most of my works have emerged from processing of either synthetic sound or relatively short samples. And I have never gotten into the habbit of regularly doing field recordings. I guess there are a number of resons why, and some of them might be worth examining to better understand and challenge the current driving mechanisms of my own processes.
This summer, checking out Aperture, an asset management and processing program for photos, I realised that I have never found a sustainable strategy for managing sound files and recordings, and this might be one very practical reason for my limited use of recordings.
Aperture is not only a container for photos with added processing possibilities. What caught my attention was the use of metadata and image analysis to offer advanced ways of manouvering the dataset of photos. Photos can be organized by folders, projects, groups, tags, faces and geolocation. Some other examples of image database searches based on automated analysis are TinEye and Multicolr.
“It is like having a library full of the books that you treasure. It is also a collection of all sorts of things – noises, voices, animals, instruments… and all this was planned a long time ago, a long time before sampling appeared. I decided to keep my sounds. There are sounds, of course, which don␣t satisfy me anymore, that have to be thrown away, that have to be sacrificed, but apart from that, sounds are a part of what I like around me. They are my family-circle.”
In responce to a request at the microsound mailing list, I got several suggestions for apps to check out.
Snapper is handy for previewing sound files directly in Finder, with a generous trial period of 100 days. Easy to get addicted to, and I’ll probably get a lisence, but it doesn’t provide any functionality beyond Finder search tools for navigating libraries of sounds.
The strongest current contenders are AudioFinder, Library Monkey and the more expensive brother Library Monkey Pro. A more expensive solution mainly for the film industry is SoundMiner, but that’s out of my league.
Library Monkey offers possibilities of creating libraries, sets and bins. It is also have a rich amount of tags and fiels that can be set. Sounds can be previewed (or rather prelistened) or opened in other audio programs for further reviewing and processing. In general it doesn’t seem to provide any form of audio analysis, not even simple stuff such as reporting peak value. Waveform display and editing seems to be available in Pro only. The Pro version also supports AudioUnit and VST processing. Reading posts at various forums the developers of Library Monkey emphasis that one of the strengths of the application is the ability to import sample libraries from CD with all indexing information intact.
AudioFinder seems to use the screen more efficient, and the waveform display is welcome as compared to Library Monkey. Multichannel audio files are displayed as one channel only, and for long recordings the waveform do not seem to be displayed at all. AudioFinder supports AudioUnit processing. It is cheaper than Library Monkey (70 USD as compared to 129 USD or 399 USD for the pro version).
Tim Preble has provided an excellent overview of metadata support in a number of relevant applications.
Initially I’ll go with AudioFinder and see how that works for me. I still believe that there is a lot of potential for further development of this kind of applications, they are nowhere near the advanced analysis and search capabilities of Aperture, their image sibblinging. It would e.g. be a good thing to have geotags and map display for field recordings. A paper by Diemo Schwarz and Norbert Schnell entitled Sound Search by Content-Based Navigation in Large Databases presented last year at the SMC conference in Porto offers some suggestions for added search possibilities.
“First there is the initial creative act – which is to choose one sound rather than another. It is a sort of emotional and aesthetic intention, one chooses this sound which will later become longer or will be transformed. In fact, choices are related to harmony, harmonisation and counterpoint as well as orchestration. To me, it is close to what I learnt during my classical music training. (…) My own intention in composition is to orchestrate the sounds in relation to each other, it is being a composer, it is composing – there you have it.”
Here I believe that Henry points towards some of the other reasons why my use of field recordings have been limited so far. I often find them to be so rich in spectral content and dense in number of layers or sound sources present, that they are already “full” and poses challenges in terms of how I can compose them, in time as well as space. But this is something that I would like to challenge myself to re-examine and investigate further, possibly finding approaches that could circumvent the limitations I have found in most of the recordings I have done up until now.
I guess part of this question will also be how to find gear for field recordings that is light-weight, provides high quality sound recordings, offers possibilities for directional recording (zooming in at the desired source, leaving others out) and functional in windy conditions. This might be asking for a lot, but would be required in order to add it to the geek rug-sac that already contains my laptop and more, so that it could be with me at all times.
All quotes from John Dack (1999): Pierre Henry’s continuing journey. Diffusion vol. 7comments powered by Disqus
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