Recordings

Notice that when asked to pick something he wanted to do, Brett headed straight for the Recordings activity. It handles libraries of sound recordings that have been stored on the computer — sound effects, podcasts, and music cuts.

At this point, the library is maintained by iTunes, so a sighted user is required to rip CDs and subscribe to podcasts. It is planned to have AUI capable of doing all that from a spoken menu.

In this demonstration, you see Brett move around a little in the Activities menu and select "Recordings". After a little pause (filled with burbles), AUI says "Recordings Activity" and offers the list of things the Recordings activity can do — and a few it can't yet.

Brett selects "Build Playlist" to string together a number of sounds to listen to. The menu now presents selections of the different categories of sounds that may be added to a playlist: Sound Effects, Music Tracks, and Podcasts. The Playlist menu also includes the commands to save the list to a disk file, reload a list, and play a list.

Notice that when he clicked on the Music Tracks selection, "Music tracks" was displayed in the center menu bar in the Display as long as the left mouse button was held down.

AUI now says "Select a music cut" and presents a list of all the files iTunes knows about and classifies as music, in alphabetical order. This menu can get very long, so it's 'indexed': pressing a letter on the keyboard will move immediately to the titles that begin with that letter, if any.

In Brett's library, the first title is "0 (zero) <something>". That's because to a computer, numbers come before letters in the 'alphabet'. He moves past that and the next title, and stops on "80 Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper" (Brett's a fan of Country Music).

Something interesting happens here — he presses the left button and the title is displayed, but then when he holds it down for a couple seconds, AUI starts to play the song for him. He quickly decides this isn't the one he's looking for and releases the button. The music stops.

The demo ends here, but if he'd double-clicked on the Tear Stopper title, it would have been added to the playlist he was building.

From there, he could have gone on to other music titles and added them, or he could have exited the Music Titles menu and moved to another of the sound categories, Podcasts, say. There, he could have added a Garrison Keillor monologue about the News from Lake Wobegone or a Sherlock Holmes story or a chapter from Tom Sawyer, if he had my iTunes library. Or he could have added some variety from the Sound Effects menu (if the soundClips are installed), then come back and added more music.

The playlist keeps building until the Build a Playlist menu is exited.

After a playlist is completed, it can be played right away, or it can be stored on disk to be loaded and played later.

When sounds are playing, AUI doesn't just play one to the end and then start the next one. They "cross fade" — as one approaches the end, it starts to fade out, and the next cut is started.

Also, when a playlist is playing, the mouse goes into a special mode. A left click will pause a running sound or start a paused one. A left double click will skip the rest of a cut and go to the next. An erase will exit the playlist. And the scroll wheel becomes a volume control. The volume control gets special mention because I spent so much effort on it (and because the fades are "so sweet", in the words of an old timer audio engineer who heard it).

The volume control in most computer sound programs doesn't match the way the ear perceives volume. This one does. It matches the characteristics of the audio faders that have been used in movie and recording and broadcast mixers since at least the 1930s. Professional audio equipment mixers still use that taper today.

A minor note: Sounds are never just cut off. They fade out over fifty thousandths of a second or so. Sounds nicer that way.

In addition to "Build a Playlist", there are other choices in the Recordings activity menu:

Rip Tracks from a CD
AUI doesn't know how to do this yet. iTunes is still the way the tracks on a CD are copied into the computer, and iTunes takes either a sighted user or a whole lot of patience and a good screen reader (OS X Leopard has a very nice one).
 
Build playlist
This is what Brett just demonstrated.
 
Build Radio Program
A Radio Program is the same thing as a playlist except that it was optimized for a radio production class being taught in summer school. The biggest different is that the playlist mouse commands require the right button be held down as an interlock to prevent accidents.
 
If I'm listening to music and I bump the mouse by mistake, it's no big deal if I accidentally pause the sound. If the sound is being broadcast, it's a major oopsie.
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Random Tracks
This just plays all the music cuts available in random order — like an iPod Shuffle.
 
Random Track Sampler
This is the same as Random Tracks, but it plays just the first 20 seconds of the song.
 
Random Sound Effects
And this one plays all the sound effects, in random order. This piece of the Recordings activity doesn't work if the soundClips file isn't installed.
 
Record the Microphone
This will allow a user to record from a microphone (or anything plugged into the computer's sound input, actually). It's not here yet, and notice how the Narrator needs a little help with pronunciation with these last two items. This capability is used quite a bit in AUI, but not here yet.
 
Record the Narrator
This will allow the user to feed some text to the Narrator and capture the speech in a sound file. Like recording the microphone, it doesn't exist yet.

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