From Audio Stories to Podcasting: Spotlight on CEU’s Audio Lab With Thomas Aichinger

Thomas Aichinger joined Central European University (CEU) in September, 2020 as Audio Education Specialist at the CEU Library, where he oversees the Audio Lab, the CEU Podcast Library and provides training in audio production.  

We spoke to Aichinger about his new role at CEU and the upcoming presentations and workshops, which he’ll be teaching, offered by the CEU Library and the Visual Studies Program: Sonic Traces and Augmented Reality Audio Stories on February 11 and the Podcasting for Academia - A Beginner’s Workshop six-session workshop beginning March 3.

The Audio Lab, a recording studio and mixing suite, is part of the new Media Hub at the CEU Library in Vienna. This expansion of the library’s media production facilities was led by Diane Geraci, Director of the CEU Library, and Jeremy Braverman, Media Hub Head and Media & Visual Education Specialist, as a resource for students, faculty, and staff to produce and edit multimedia projects.

This is an edited interview conducted on January 25, 2021.


As the Audio Education Specialist, what does your work at CEU entail?

I was hired as part of the new Media Hub in Vienna to help people with all of their audio needs, from how to improve audio quality on recordings to how to do audio post-production for documentaries or get advice on podcasting. I'm a general audio consultant.

Besides that, I teach podcasting and post-production in regularly recurring courses at the MA and BA level and I'm also a guest lecturer for classes in which students need to record interviews or learn about recording quality audio and editing. I also manage the CEU Podcast Library, where you’ll find a lot of podcasts in various genres including not just discussions and lectures, but also fictional podcasts and other audio stories.

Tell us about your background in sound.

I studied media arts in Salzburg at the University of Applied Arts and during my studies I focused on multi-channel sound installations and creating location-based multi-channel immersive experiences. After graduating, I worked in a lot of studios including one in Basel Switzerland, where we did an audio installation at the BMW Museum in Munich. I also did some music for film and worked with major Austrian recording studios doing post-production for television, cinema and orchestras recordings.

In 2010 I started my own company in Vienna, which actually has one of the highest densities of sound studios. We started out doing classical music recordings of bands and jazz, and then expanded into advertising, including campaigns for big Austrian companies. More recently, we've decided to go into the area of 3D audio for virtual reality environments.

For your upcoming presentation you’ll be featuring an audio virtual reality project. Can you describe that?

This presentation is about a location-based, six degrees of freedom (6 DoF), augmented audio reality experience. Basically you put on your headphones and you walk at the Viennese and listen to stories, which include two sound layers: one from the year 1848, and the other from the year 2084 – our dystopian version of a possible future. In order to navigate, you follow audio cues. We have a map as well but the project is intended to be navigated primarily by sound, so you can walk outside and as you hear things that interest you, move toward and discover more. For example, you may hear a chestnut vendor and as you approach, they are talking about women's roles during the European Revolution.

The project is a mixture between educational and artistic because of the sound design aspects, but mostly it's an entertainment product. You go outside and walk around and you're transported into another reality. It's very easy to control emotions via sound which is a big part of this, and we call it virtual audio reality because you still see the location with your real eyes. There's no screen. You pass the monuments and landscape and hear the stories and it's a great strategy for transporting one into another imagined epoch.

For those who haven’t visited before, what is in the CEU Audio Lab and what can users do there?

The Audio Lab is a professionally built and soundproofed space with an interconnected recording studio and mixing suite. There's a podcasting table with four microphones so you can interview up to three guests, and it has a very easy-to-use podcast mixer. The room acoustics have been taken care of so you can do voice over recordings with a high-end microphone which uses all of the standard professional software like Pro Tools.

The interpretive studio, can also be used as an interview site for filmmaking. The interior is all black with a rounded corner and professional film lighting available. You can do audio post-production for movies and documentaries. It’s a wonderful resource for people to have an audio post-production facility that is standard professional studio quality.

How do you access the Audio Lab?

Users must first do a course on how to use the equipment through the library and after that they can contact me for a scheduled slot during which they can use the facility. It’s a very professional studio to use once you have the training, which I can provide.

Can you talk about your “Podcasting for Academia” online workshop, for which you are currently taking applications?

The six-session course is open to CEU students, faculty and staff, for which no prior experience beyond basic computer skills is needed. It's for people who want to create audio stories. While the medium used is a podcast, the series is also a very generally about audio storytelling. The class will help you take your idea and consider the structure of it, the character and voice of it, and cover the elements that make for a good audio story.

We also have an aspect of the workshop focusing on how to find your audience and use that knowledge to create the audio format in a way to keep your audience interested. Our guest lecturer, Dr. Cathy Hannabach, Academic Podcasting Specialist and host of Imagine Otherwise podcast, will address podcasting for academia specifically.

Then we’ll cover basic recording and editing techniques like capturing voice in any environment, what mics to use, how to use them, and how to create an atmosphere for recording while maximizing sound quality. If the lockdown allows, we’ll also have specific training on the recording studio's podcast table and field recording equipment available for check out. We'll then cover how to edit and mix your podcast all with free software, so people can also do this at home afterwards. Participants will have several assignments exploring the techniques taught in the course, and the overall final assignment will be a podcast incorporating all of the techniques. Those who take the course will also present their projects for critiques and feedback, so it will be highly participatory.

How do you see audio story applications becoming increasingly relevant in academic projects?

I think a lot of students discover podcasting as a way to present their research and a way to engage people in discussions. Audio stories and documentary are used heavily in subjects such as history, sociology, gender studies, media and communication studies and social anthropology. Podcasts can help present, promote and more broadly disseminate research, so the form is being widely used by many departments.