Audacity music maker rocks

Download: This new `multitrack audio editor' is powerful, simple to use and, perhaps best of all, entirely free.

May 06, 2004|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Yeeaah!

I can't remember the last time I whooped that way about new hardware, software, sites or services. It happens now and then, but not often.

But I couldn't help it the other day. I got this new program - for free - started it up, experimented with a first example and just yelped in amazement.

And then couldn't wait to find time to really dig in, learn and put this tool to work.

Most stuff I see is an improvement on what came before: nice to know about, but hardly a "revolution," no matter how many public relations people wish it so.

Audacity is different. It's powerful, it's easy, it's entirely free, and it lets me do something I had wondered about but never had the tools to tackle.

Audacity is a music processor. It lets you create, record, import, combine, modify, play and save music.

And as I said, it's free. You download it from SourceForge (home to so many wonderful and free software tools) at http://audacity.sourceforge.net. At less than 3 megabytes, it won't take long to download, even for a slow dialup modem. Get Audacity for Windows, Mac, Linux or BSD, get every new update for free, make copies for your friends, school or work for free. There are no catches to this deal.

Audiophiles would call Audacity a "multitrack audio editor" that can record sounds directly or import a variety of standard sound files including ogg, mp3, wav, aiff, au and ircam.

"Multitrack" means you can build a complete sound project out of different sound sources. In the final version, they all play at the same time, yet they stay separate in the processing program so you can change each without affecting the others. For example, a four-piece rock band could record the drums on one track, the bass on another, the rhythm guitar on a third and the lead guitar on a fourth. If you later wanted to turn up the bass or add some special effects to it, you could just work on that second track without having the volume or effects changes do anything to the other instruments.

What a word processor is to essays, stories, and books, what a photo editor is to pictures, Audacity is to music and sounds.

You see the sounds on a horizontal graph, spiky waves like the results of a seismograph or lie detector. Using your mouse, you can cut, copy and paste sections of those sounds as if they were paragraphs in a memo. Duplicate them, split, silence or delete portions. Mix sounds from various sources. Add white noise or a click track for timing. Apply any of two dozen special effects such as Echo, Fade, Invert, WahWah, Tremolo and High Pass or Low Pass Filter.

(Because Audacity is an open-source project that anyone in the world can contribute to, and with completely open programming, there should be a regular supply of new, interesting filters, not limited by what one sound software company might find marketable.)

At any time, zoom in or out on a particular area of sound, and undo or redo any of your operations.

That's a lot of possibilities, and after my quick play I was sort of overwhelmed by Audacity, unsure what to try next. The menus are short and well-organized, the toolbars neat and straightforward, but if you're a recording-engineer neophyte like me, you'll be glad to look at the free online manuals at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help.php, the online Audacity tutorial at http://www.daniel.uklinux.net/tutorial/ and the Audacity Wiki (a collective encyclopedia about the software) at http://audacityteam.org/wiki.

Sounds pretty audacious. But it's for real.

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