Rapid prototyping Audio Digital Stories

This past week we talked about audio in my Digital Storytelling class. I spent Tuesdays class talking about This American Life, in particular the 400th episode wherein they take stories from their family members and try to make them interesting. I like the experimental parts of this example, and asked the students to have someone they know, friend or family member, tell them a story and then they try to make it interesting using the medium of audio to enhance the story, through sounds effects, music, multi-track talking over the story, etc. These stories aren’t due until this Tuesday (3/16), so last Thursday I proposed a workshop for Audacity, of which I am no expert, so that everyone could get their feet wet with some basic approaches to audio editing.

One of my own complaints about my approach to this class thus far is that I haven’t integrated workshops to explore the tools and their possibilities as much as I would have liked. So I committed the last class to a workshop, and while I was preparing it I came across a video on YouTube (which actually isn’t a video at all but an audio experiment by a student who tells a story strictly with sound effects):

After hearing that above “video” I got the idea of asking them to break up into groups of two or three and rapid prototype a digital story using only audio sound effects they found on the web. The would have 45 minutes to complete the assignments and the rules were as follows:

  • No verbal communication, only sound effects.
  • They had to use at least five different sounds they found online.
  • The stories should be no more than a minute and half long.
  • They had to complete it within 45 minutes

Those were the rules, and I gave them the following brief guidelines:

  • Spend the first 5-10 minutes coming up with the idea for a simple story.
  • The next 15 to 20 minutes finding the audio samples.
  • The final 20-25 minutes should be spent editing the audio.

It took me about 10 minutes to lay this all out, and for the rest of the class (save for about 15 minutes at the end when we listened to all the groups’ audio stories) they worked together creating the stories, figuring out audacity—which many of them knew, and showed their fellow group mates, and more generally laughing as they sampled through some crazy sounds. it was actually fun to be in the classroom hearing all these random, crazy sounds that I had no idea how they would make work. But for the most part they did, and I was pretty blown away by the results of a few groups.

I strongly recommend you check them out:

Damian Allen and Caitlin Murphy worked on this story about “harvesting the peasants” —the editing on this one is top notch. Hard to believe it’s not a movie sound track:
Download “Harvesting the Peasants”

“Relaxing after work” is a more comical approach to the audio story by Victoria Pacher, Olivia Newman, and Erik Zottnick. This one is hysterical, right up my alley and more than fit for the bava—I actually wouldn’t leave Victoria alone about posting it I was so excited– to both her great chagrin and annoyance 🙂
Download “Relaxing after work”

Try and guess what this one is. It’s a tight, action-packed story that pulls no punches created by Chris Anna, Laura Falcon, and Colin Klalo:

And then we have the old “man running from a rabid dog who is not hit by a train” story by Emily Roberts and Kayla Holcomb:
Download Title

We had one sex-inspired sound story by Kenny Cunningham and John Jolissaint, but the audio is no where to be found. It was pretty funny too, and played with your expectations in some very smart ways. When they post it correctly, I’ll link to it here.

We also had two Alien Attack stories:
Download Alien Attack Story by Mr. Charlie Rocket and the Whombag

And another one by Samantha Whay and Paul Longerbeam
Download “Demented Aliens Attack”

Matt Keaton and Dustin Lieske
went the Zombie route, an always welcome genre in my classroom 🙂
Download “More Brains”

And finally, Gail Larkin and Rachel Hirst went for a ride:


I learned two things from this exercise, my students are deeply disturbed and demented, but on the brighter side, they did some pretty amazing work quite quickly. The time I had been wasting talking about all these examples when dealing with digital photography and the first class on audio would probably have been much more usefully spent actively experimenting and prototyping around a specific challenge. I think this is how I am going to spend the next two to three weeks of class as we transition to video and then mashups—coming up with fun exercises and rapid prototyping for group directed stories. Fun, fun, fun!

Any good ideas for some ways to create a quick experiment with video or mashups? I had some idea about using the archive.org videos, but a little concerned about download time. Don’t be shy, I want to steal your ideas.

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2 Responses to Rapid prototyping Audio Digital Stories

  1. Well, I don’t know anything to propose in terms of tools that would let them quickly do a video or video mashup, but they should certainly know about http://thruyou.com & http://thruyou.org. Best YouTube mashup anywhere, millions agree.

  2. Martha says:

    I think it would be interesting to give them 45 minutes to tell a story with an unexpected Web site: delicious, for example. I think you could do something really interesting with that. Thinking about the built-in narrative components of a site like that — there’s a sense of time, importance, different voices/perspectives.

    I dunno. It seems like it would be interesting.

    I’d let them choose a site that they use for other, practical, things (delicious, doodle, evernote) and then ask them to use it to tell a story.

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