Collections: Audio: The Big Picture
Annette Lamb - Reflection: Growing up in Iowa, my teacher put great emphasis on Iowa history. My class would sit in a circle around the reel-to-reel audio tape player and listen to fascinating stories about topics like the button factories along on the Mississippi River in the 1800s. As I watched the audio tape spin around and around on the reel, I was captivated by the narrator's voice as he declared Muscatine, Iowa as the Pearl Button Capital of the World.
Today's teacher must compete with dazzling video productions and flashy animation. In the 2000s, my elementary teacher would have many more options for helping us learn about Iowa history. Although the old tape players are gone, audio is still a great option. For example, the Harvesting the River website contains images, video, and even audio related to the button business in Iowa. We might listen to the folk music of the people who settled Iowa, hear to the call of the state bird, the Goldfinch, and enjoy an audiobook by an Iowa author.
Rich collections of audiotapes and compact discs can be found in many schools and libraries. In addition, digital collections can be accessed through library networks and the Internet.
Many options are available for people who enjoy listening to the world around them. Audiobooks can bring reading alive for nonreaders or for people who like to listen while driving or working. Other spoken word materials such as comedy programs and "how-to" tapes have informational, instructional, or entertainment value. From spooky Halloween sound effects to whale songs, there are many audio materials that focus on the sounds around us. Of course, music may be the most popular audio resource. Coming in dozens of styles, everyone in the family can find something they enjoy.
Spoken Arts has produced a number of award-winning audio recordings based on children's books such as The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz.
A popular trend is the combination of an audio format with other media formats. For instance, instructional audio recordings often come packaged with books and posters.
Many children's books come with a CD containing narrative, music, and other sound elements. For instance, Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton contains the book and CD of an imaginary musical revue. The first half of the book contains lyrics and illustrations, while the second half includes musical notations for each song. The cast includes famous acts such as Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon.
Analog technology began when Thomas Edison first recorded sound waves on a piece of tin. Later this analog wave was stored on vinyl records (called mechanical recording) and tape including reel-to-reel and 8-track (called magnetic recording). You'll still find vinyl records in many schools and libraries. Audio cassettes are the last remnants of analog audio recording.
From compact discs to MP3s, we now live in a digital world. Digital recording technology has high fidelity and perfect reproduction (also called optical disc technology). In other words, the sound is very close to the original and it sounds the same every time you play it. Analog waves are converted into streams of numbers and stored on the compact disk. CD players then convert the data back to an analog wave that's heard through amplified speakers. The audio files (MP3, RealAudio, WAV) found on the Internet are stored as digital audio files.
For a complete and easy-to-understand explanation of analog and digital recording, check out the website How Analog and Digital Recording Works by Marshall Brain at How Stuff Works. You might also want to skim the online resource: Choosing a Digital Audio File Format at JISC Digital Media
Audiotape. For more than twenty years, audio cassettes were the standard for audio recordings. Although most music labels have dropped their support of audiotapes, older or popular items are still available in this format. Because the players are inexpensive and readily available, audiobooks are still being sold in this format. Learn more about this technology, visit How Tape Recorders Work by Marshall Brain from How Stuff Works.
CD (Compact Disc). Since the early 1980s people have been converting to compact disc audios. In the past few years CDs have become the recording standard. CDs containing 2 channels (for stereo sound) can store up to 74 minutes of music. About 783 megabytes fit on a 12 cm diameter plastic disk that's only 1.2 mm thick. Information is placed on a single spiral track of data that starts in the middle of the CD and moves outward. Explore How CDs Work by Marshall Brain from How Stuff Works.
About Audio Files: Music, audiobooks, famous speeches, sounds, and sound effects can all be found in a digital audio format. Digital audio is available in a variety of file formats including RealAudio, WAV (WaveForm), MIDI and MP3.
MP3. This digital format is the current wave of technology for music compression. MP3 technology has taken center stage because of it's high quality and high compression. This is accomplished by reducing the number of bytes needed to reproduce a sound without reducing the quality. A 32 MB song on a CD only takes 3 MB on MP3. The files are also easy to share because they download fast and take up much less space than other storage systems. MPEG is an acronym for Moving Picture Experts Group and MPEG Audio Layer-3 (MP3) is the sound compression system.
Rather than storing files on tape or disks, MP3 files are generally stored on hard drives, memory chips, or storage cards. They are then shared between computers or portable players. You can learn more at How MP3 Files Work by Marshall Brain at How Stuff Works.
Others. Many other formats are on the horizon. The most notable are DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD. They can be played using a DVD or DVD-Audio player and can hold up to seven times the information of a CD. You can also get better sound fidelity, higher audio quality. Skim the DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD articles at Wikipedia.
For those who need a bit more more information and added understanding, visit the online tutorial, (1) Introduction to Audio from MediaCollege, and (2) Digital Sound Recording (2010) by Jean LeLoup and Bob Ponterio.
Streaming audio means that a remote server sends your computer small amounts of audio data (a data stream) which are held in a buffer until enough audio is there to begin playing. If there is no interruption, the audio program will play to the end of the stream. As each chunk of the program is played, the data is discarded.
Downloading audio means that the audio files from an Internet location are copied (downloaded) onto a local storage disk (onto your computer). The advantage is that once you have a local copy, you can store it, play as often as you wish, duplicate the file, and distribute it to others.
RealAudio. Web-based programming is available through "streaming" technology. In other words, the audio files play more quickly than other audio downloads because they begin playing almost as soon as they reach your computer. These files are not permanently housed on your computer, so they can't be stored and played "off-line". The .ra format is used by RealNetworks.
WAV. The WaveForm format provides a high-quality sound that can be downloaded to your computer and stored. They can be played without being connected to the Internet. Although they take longer to download than RealAudio files, they are useful because they can be inserted into PowerPoint presentations.
MIDI. The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) was first used for music. Rather than recording sounds, it recreates sounds using your computer.
The Value of Audio and Music
The listening experience can be stimulating, relaxing, and emotional. Whether getting lost in a symphony or crying at the ending of a good audiobook, sound can have a tremendous impact on our lives.
There are many elements to literacy. One aspect is “oral literacy”; the ability to convey ideas through auditory channels. An important aspect of oral literacy is listening. Like other literacy aspects, students must learn to be good listeners. This can begin at an early age with parents reading books aloud. Unfortunately it often ends when children learn to read themselves. Books-on-tape and audiobooks are a great way to extend listening practice through a lifetime. Whether listening to a tape in the car or popping in a CD at the beach, there are many opportunities for listening.
Along with listening to the spoken word, music is another an important element of our world. The more people are exposed to a wide range of music, the more likely they are to appreciate and seek variety in their listening. Music intelligence, one of Howard Gardner's ideas of multiple intelligences, is the ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch, and timbre and have an appreciation of the forms of musical expression. Music is for the whole brain, possibly the first of the intelligences to develop.
Beyond Pop Music
People are interested in music; they switch their ringtone (cellphone) to a favorite tune, load their iPod with thousands of songs, and download and purchase MP3 cuts online. They know where to find music downloads or catch the latest music videos. Their music interests are often in sharp contrast to content found in many libraries and multimedia presentations at school, where music and audio are often afforded little attention. However, the auditory sensory channel is very powerful and music and sound warrant adequate consideration.
Music can set the mood. Almost everyone is a music consumer in some fashion and to some degree. We listen to music on the radio and via satellite. We purchase and play music CDs or MP3s. Music is ever-present on television programs. One can hardly imagine a commercial, movie, or play without some type of music.
When people think of music, rap, hip hop, country, or other popular styles may come to mind. However schools and libraries will find other lesser known styles equally interesting. Folk music, swing, jazz, classical, and music of various cultures are interesting to explore. They provide opportunities for patrons to experience a wide range of music without the need to make personal purchases.
Jack Gladstone is an award-winning Native American - German singer and songwriter. His songs provide great connections to American history on topics such as the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Louisiana Purchase, and Hudson Bay Company. Listen to Buffalo Cafe, one of his most popular songs, at YouTube.
You can also read an Online Review of Jack Gladstone's Music. You can sample other songs on the Buffalo Cafe album or one of his other albums such as Tappin' the Earth's Backbone at CDBaby. Learn more about this unique artist at his website: Jack Gladstone.
People generally think of music when the topic of audio productions is raised. Today independent musicians of the Indie music movement have jumped into the Internet music arena. Indie musicians are not connected with a major recording label. With computer production capabilities and Internet promotion and sales, Indie music has made inroads into the market stranglehold of the “big four” corporate music groups; i.e., Universal Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI, and Warner Music (According to Wikipedia, these four control near four-fifths of the world music market). Check out some of the music from the Indie scene at sites like Indie-Music (online magazine) and Indie Rock Cafe.
Although there are many producers of audio materials, Rhino Records is known for their wide range of nontraditional audio materials. From famous historical speeches and radio programs to popular artists, Rhino is known for buying the rights to reproduce older materials for new audiences. Keep them in mind when exploring interesting audio options.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is the trade group representing the United States recording industry. RIAA members create, manufacture and/or distribute about 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the U.S. In recent years, RIAA has brought legal action against publishers of file-sharing software such as Kazaa, Napster, MP3.com, and others to strictly enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1988) (PDF document). As the result of anti-piracy initiatives including Internet Service Provider (ISP) agreements, today most file-sharing practices have been altered or curtailed.
Dr.J's Jags & Jabs
Also in the production arena, there are music mash-ups, sometimes called remixes, bootlegs, blends, cutups or bastard pop and not-to-be confused with a website or web application that combines content from more than one source. A musical home brew of sorts, mash-ups are often illegal music (derivative works) created digitally by combining elements from the tracks of two or more songs -- melding them together to create a different piece of music. Read how the rock music singer, songwriter, and musician Beck stirred up the commercial music scene in a Wired Magazine article: The Infinite Album (Sep 2006). Learn more about this type of music and it's history at Mashup (music) from Wikipedia and Mix and Mash: The Mashup is Born from a Blend of Two Songs (Sep 2004) by Eric Hellweg at Edutopia.
Mash-up music is seen by some as an underground protest reaction to the copyright restrictions supported by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Some music mash-ups are permitted if the original music is licensed under a Creative Commons license or the amount and manner in which the music elements are used fits within the Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia. In some mash-up instances, the original music source cannot be easily identified. The musical goal for a mash-up piece is to achieve a balanced blend of unique musical harmonies. Listen to some examples at websites like (1) Beatmixed, (2) MashupCiti, and (3) Music Mashup Charts. There are hundreds of these type sites!
For the purposes of this website, audio materials are organized into three categories; (1) local music collections, (2) local spoken art and sound collections, and (3) remote audio collections. You'll notice that there's lots of overlap between these groupings. For example, audiobooks have their own area and are also part of the Spoken Arts, Sounds, and Sound Effects area. Remote collections will contain the same genres as local collections. Visit each of these other areas of Multimedia Seeds from eduScapes for a more complete overview of audio collections.