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Paul Crossman Design Narrative: Sound Designing with Absynth

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Paul Crossman
27 March 2014

Title: Sound Designing with Absynth

Narrator: Paul Crossman (Course Developer and Tutor)

Situation: This subject is taught in the 11th week of a 12 week Sound Design course. Although the course is part of a larger accredited diploma, most of the students are there for the practical experience, the course is very vocational in that respect. It is the last ‘taught’ lesson before the students have to complete their final projects, and by this point they are well versed in several synthesis techniques.

There are 16 students in the class who are aged between 17 and 35. They are passionate about their music production and the class room is well equipped with Mac computers and all the software required. There is a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, and everyone generally gets on.

Task:  The task was to teach them how to use a software synthesizer called ‘Absynth’ It has fearsome reputation for being complex, for example, it’s capable of producing several different types of synthesis at the same time. By introducing it at the end of the course, the idea was to encourage the students to apply techniques and knowledge that they have learned through the course to the synth, with a view to demystifying a large part of it’s complexity. Through this I could measure their progress in the application of some of the more theoretical parts of the course to date and their work so far.

The overall measure of success was for the students to be able to be able to create their own sounds and to produce a short composition using different sounds (bass, strings etc) all programmed with Absynth.

Actions: The overall chronological order consisted of a series of short lecture / demonstrations followed by practical exercises repeated through out the day. The synth can be broken down into recognizable sections and each section can be looked at systematically. Within the demonstration, Q&A and discussion was actively encouraged and I tried not to lecture at them!

 When designing sounds during this stage, examples are drawn directly from the music that the students are ‘in to’ to make them as relevant as possible. Previous experience through the course made me aware that the students struggled with lateral application especially with theoretical concepts.

Students were given practical exercises (which they generally enjoy) at regular intervals and this is where one of the first problems started to appear. In planning the activities for the day, I underestimated the amount of time that would be required for each practical. This lead to having to revise the timings on the fly and I felt that certain sections became rushed.

As the day went on, it became apparent thatthe lecture/demo/practical approach was starting to fall apart. The students, were becoming restless as their concentration levels started to drop. To counter this I turned the remainder of the session into more of a group exercise. Between us we came up with a selection of sounds that they wanted to make, we then had a board storming session in which the sounds were deconstructed in to component parts and then we set about programming them, with them following me in the construction.

Once the sounds were finished I set them the task of each writing a short composition using those sounds. Within this there was scope for them to ‘personalise’ the sounds more if they wanted to.

Results:

Although I feel that I achieved the overall objective of the task, the route to it wasn’t the one that I had planned! In trying to fit in everything that I wanted to get across about the synth, I’d crammed in too much to the lesson.

Reflection: On reflection I was frustrated with not being able to get all the information across that I wanted. I am aware that I’m a big fan of this synthesizer (I’ve been using it for years) and that my enthusiasm for it actually got in the way of facilitating the students learning. My response to the session was to redesign the course material to stop it being a ‘learn the manual’ session and to make it more about the kind of sounds that the students want to produce.

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