Birdsong (a.k.a. “effective audio”)

 photo LynnValley-East-Trees-07_zps891d4880.jpg

Over the long weekend, my friend David Clubine was in town with his family and they dropped in – very briefly. David had a set of freight car trucks for me and with him in town it was a great opportunity to collect those – and give him a quick look at the railway.

It’s been a year and a half since David was last here – he visited with his father, Oliver Clubine, for an operating session in January of 2013. So I had much to show him, and we had much to discuss.

One thing that sticks in my mind is comments David made about the ambient audio on my layout. I installed this system in May of last year, and it provides a very simple background soundtrack of bird songs, with the occasional insect buzz thrown in for good measure. It’s the sound one would hear while standing in a southern Ontario meadow in the summertime.
Redwing Blackbird photo RWBbird-02.jpg

Since I installed this system after David’s last visit, this was the first opportunity for him to hear the effect first-hand. I think he was impressed because he pointed out that when he first read about the system on my blog he thought it might come off as overpowering or cheesy – but that hearing it in person he realized just how effective it is.

He’s not the only one to feel that way. Everybody who has seen the layout has enjoyed the ambient audio and it does tend to simply fade out of consciousness once one is running a train. It’s there the way that bird song is there when one is outside. We filter it out of our perceptions automatically and only hear it if we’re listening for it or if something startling happens – like a blue jay screaming an alarm call.
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And yet, if we went outside on a summer’s day and the birds were not singing, we’d definitely notice that.

A similar thing is happening on the layout. If I turn off the ambient audio system, the sound-equipped locomotives start to sound out of place to me now. Adding the ambient audio has been a real winner for me. I’m so glad I took the plunge and will definitely use it on any future layouts.

Great to see you, David – come back soon!

6 thoughts on “Birdsong (a.k.a. “effective audio”)

  1. Reading this makes me want to add ambient sound to my layout. I was not following your blog when you installed it, but would like to know what you installed and how. Can you refer me to that post?


    • Hi Walt:
      Check the link called “ambient audio” in the initial post – or pick “audio” from the categories menu at the right side of the home page. That should provide all the answers. If you have any further questions, ask via the comments on one of the audio posts and I’ll be happy to answer them…

  2. What a fun post, Trevor. I’m glad you provided the links to the older posts, as I had not read those before. I wasn’t aware you had done this much work involving sound. I like what I heard on your videos.

    Many years ago I experimented with some sound effects (with limited success) and have plans to play around with it again on my present layout abuilding once I get into structure and scenery mode.

    Despite layout sound being around for many years, I feel that it’s still in it’s infancy, at least as it relates to implementation. I thought with the advent of sound decoders that layout sound in general would have really taken off. But it still seems to be a bit rare. I think you’re ahead of the proverbial curve with what you’ve accomplished thus far.


    • Thanks Jack – I’m surprised too.

      I guess it’s partly because a good ambient audio system (like the one I’m using) costs a bit of money and requires a bit of time to learn to use audio editing programs on a computer. People have to be willing to make the investment.

      In addition to the audio boards I’m using, I also have a mixing board and other audio equipment that I used for The Model Railway Show (and which I’ll use again when I relaunch the podcast at some point).

      I found that commercial ambient audio environments didn’t work for me. Many of the offerings are, frankly, hokey or just don’t fit the mood I’m trying to convey. That’s why I’d encourage anyone looking at ambient audio to buy a system that allows one to record one’s own audio files, and then learn to do that.


    • Dear Jack,

      Layout Sound, and particularly _Scale_Sound_ has been being practised actively by dedeicated Model RRers for over 2 decades now. Indeed, the earliest public reference I can find to adding “ambient sound” (not necessarily _Scale_ sound mind!) to model RR layouts was in the 1970’s Model Railroaders!.

      Ergo, it’s not a case of Ambient/Layout/Scale sound deployment being “still in it’s infancy”, but rather a screaming reticence on the part of the average modeller to crack open a FREE Audio Editing app such as Audacity, “Trust their Ears, and Have a Go”.

      May I suggest that if you are looking for info on designing and deploying ambient, layout, and/or scale sound, you check in with the “LayoutSound” yahoo group…

      Happy Modelling,
      Aim to Improve,
      Prof Klyzlr

      PS don’t wait until “Scenery and Structures” stage, start thinking about speaker positioning and mounting within the layout scene _now_. Indeed, if you can find a suitable piece of ambient “atmos” sound to play while the layout is in benchwork+track stage, the “sonic landscape” will help you get a feel for the scenery you envisage building, and in many cases modellers have reported the sound-track as being a prompter and inspiration to get the scenery happening…

  3. Dear Jack,

    BTW, a US$5 MP3 player and set of half-decent PC multimedia speakers is enough hardware to provide free-running “layout sound” for a 4-6′ wide scene. Layout sound, at least at entry levels, need not be $$$ or complex, and can still supply full-range “CD-spec” performance…

    Happy Modelling,
    Aim to Improve,
    Prof Klyzlr

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