I am a fan of audio drama, particularly performances by the Texas Radio Theatre and Tales of the Extraordinary, who both perform on stage in Arlington, Texas and Culver City, California (respectively). I enjoy audio dramas over television, because my mind sets the picture, over books, because I can be otherwise occupied while enjoying them. I especially prefer them over audiobooks because different actors play the cast, and there are sound effects that help the mind really get a sharp picture.
While mixing in Linux can be done with Ardour, what is available for sound effects? In Linux, there used to be a program called “Tttrigger,” which could perform sound effects when the right button was pressed on an interface. However, it depended on the KDE 3 libraries, which are very rarely used anymore. Up until recently, it had been abandoned by its original author, but we’ll still have to wait and see what results come of the new maintainer’s plans. What’s a audio theatre troup with an interest in Linux tools to do?
A trigger program seems to be pretty simple in its execution: have a collection of sound effects available for use when the button is pressed. Now, are there any other programs that can play sounds when a button is pressed? If you guessed a drum machine, you’re right. If you guessed Hydrogen based on the title of this article, then you don’t count, you dirty cheater!
Naah, there’s nothing wrong with cheating; in fact, all innovation is just a way to cheat your way out of out of doing hard work when some efficiency can get it done better, and when everyone benefits, it’s just plain win. And so, too, is this cheating little trick. Yes. I’m a bad, bad boy.
“But wait,” I hear you ask. “This program is meant to play sounds in a regular pattern!”
This is true. By default, when you start the playback, Hydrogen will then loop through the sequence and play the specific drums needed; this is the basic nature of the Jack transport. However, as long as you didn’t set any beats in the pattern editor, then nothing will be heard. And as long as the record button is not pressed, any entry you play will not be placed on the pattern.
And since we have no need for a pattern, this suits us just fine.
Let’s begin by starting Hydrogen.
Now, Hydrogen comes with its own collection of instruments, but for our project, we don’t need them, so we can right-click on them, and delete instruments until the listing is gone.
Now, once the last drum is gone, all we have now is “Instrument 1”. This will be renamed once we have inserted the sound effect, but for now, we’ll just leave it.
Now, suppose we want to add a buzzing noise, as if a circuit has a short. I happen to have the wav file on my computer, and I want to add it to the first instrument. So, let’s begin with the “Layers” editor on the left. Just click on the gray button labeled “Layers,” and you will see several blank boxes.
Hydrogen is designed where you can place multiple levels of a sound depending on the velocity you hit the drum pad with. This can be useful with sound effects, such as determining if we’re hearing a small short, or breakage in a major power line. But, that’s not important right now, so we’ll just focus on the one sound.
So, what we need to do at this point is click on the layer we want to edit. It will then be highlighted; to the left, you can see that layer selected; it is surrounded by the red box.
Once selected, click on “Load Layer” underneath the layers list. This will open a file dialog allowing you to browse for wav files to add to this instrument.
All we need to do is select “short_circuit.wav”, and it will show the information in the bottom, including the sample rate, file size, and sample length (in time). It will also show the waveform, and have play and stop buttons to make sure the sound is the one you want. If you don’t want to manually edit the instrument name, you can check “Filename to instrument name”, which will assign the instrument the file’s name, minus the “.wav”.
Now, we have the sound in the layer, as you can see to the right here; the first layer is now black, and marked “1”. When you click on the black, you are given another listen to the sound. The light blue bar underneath, when clicked, allows you to select that layer, in case you want to change it. At the bottom there, you also see the waveform for the sound effect.
The sound effect is now completed, and whenever you click on either the new instrument in the instrument list, or when you press the appropriate button for the sound on a drum machine, you will be creating the desired sound effect when you want it to be made. You can repeat this process as many times as is necessary to have all the sound effects you want to have assigned.
Now, once the sound effects have been made, you don’t want to have to re-assign them every single performance, right? I sure don’t. So, we will now save this collection as a new library, which you can load when you need your sound effects ready to go.
At the top, you select “Instruments” -> “Save Library”. The following window will appear. You just give it the desired name, and fill in the relevant information.
The library will the be saved in the program itself.
In order to access the library, you simply need to switch the instrument section (the one showing the layers right now) over to the library list by clicking the tab on the top labeled “Sound Library.”
As you can see, I have a pretty hefty collection of drumkits already saved in the program, but as we can also see, the SFX item is also visible in this list, complete with the short_circuit sound effect. Yes, I’m too lazy to rename it. Or is that next?
Not yet. First, we want to load a different instrument library. You know, I’m in the mood for a little Death Metal, so let’s get the drums ready, shall we? Just right click on “DeathMetal” (or whatever drum kit you DO have available, GMKit and TR808EmulationKit are available by default), and select “Load.”
Now, the instruments on the right should have changed, and the short circuit is gone. But we want Johnny 5 back, because he’s alive!
So, we right-click on SFX, and select “Load,” and lo and behold, our beautiful sound effects have returned.
Next order of business, that name isn’t very pretty. Yeah, it’s a short circuit, but we don’t need it to be all-lowercase, and separated with an underline. Yech! So, we will rename the file accordingly. So, we switch the section back from sound library to instrument, and then switch from layers to “general.”
Once you see the title here, you just need to click on it. A box will appear asking you to change the name, at which point, we will give it a good cleaning; we’ll capitalize, and replace that underline with a space. In no time, “short_circuit” becomes “Short Circuit”.
Now, we just need to save the library. Unfortunately, there’s no way to re-save the library without entering all the information over, but as long as you remember to give it the exact same name, it shouldn’t create a duplicate copy.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and find it useful for making sound effects available for theatre productions in the future!
Have fun, and make something good!