Even though we’re still a few months, and a telephony server with a PCI slot, short of our first deployment, the Freedom Fone creative team has been hitting Harare’s arts scene.

In an effort to train our ears and give our digital audio editing fingers a work out, we’ve been recording some audio at a few public events.

A few lessons we’ve learnt along the way:

1. If you’re at a public event with a sound system, make friends with the sound engineer

At a discussion evening at Harare’s Book Cafe on 21 August, we were able to get right up next to the sound table, allowing us a heads up when the sound levels changed – so we could adjust our own recording equipment. This also meant that our microphone was positioned right near the speakers and thus avoided much of the ambient sound that would otherwise have compromised our sound quality. The Book Cafe, as the name suggests, is a venue where participants sit at their tables and listen to a presentation over a few drinks with their friends. Whilst our recording still picked up audience sounds like laughter and applause, there’s much less of the table bumping, chair scraping, glass clinking background noise that we might have had otherwise.

You can listen to Ezra Chitando, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, discuss the importance of sensitivity and empathy in leadership or read our write-up from the evening.

2. If the band next door is louder than the poet in front of you, your audio recorder will pick up the band over the poet

At a different event, we went to listen to the “Real Heroes” – a mixed performance of music, spoken word, and poetry from a variety of Zimbabwean artists. You can listen to some of our sound clips from the event.

Whilst the poets had a microphone and a sound system so did the band playing at the venue next door. Unfortunately they play right through some of the meaningful pauses in the performance poetry. When you’re there in person, your mind can block out the one sound and focus on the other. But when all you know of the event is what you’re hearing on the recording, it’s hard to separate the music from the performers, as you can hear in this clip.

3. Saturday afternoon pub gigs are great for a fun time – but you’ll get poor quality audio

Part of the fun of the Magamba! Real Heroes event that we went to is that it was on a Saturday afternoon. There weren’t very many people there when it first started, but as the event progressed, the crowd grew – and so did the background noise. A pub full of slightly inebriated friends of the performers gives a great vibe. But there is constant background noise – chatter, laughter, discussion, glasses, chairs, and so forth. One of Zimbabwe’s greatest poets, Julius Chingono, performed a four poem set towards the end of the afternoon. You can listen to him read The First Woman – but it’s a frustrating listen given the background noise levels. You might also want to read
some of Chingono’s poems.

All in all we’re pleased with our experimenting so far. The next challenge will be getting a better sense of how higher quality audio converts into the 8,000 Hz sample rate files we’ll be uploading to our telephony system.

We’d love to hear more about others’ experience with audio files – particularly in recording at public events, on the street, or other non-studio conditions. What are some other top tips you’d like to share?

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