Source Files and Notes - Bush On Cocaine
Currently the most recent RS-based article on Ken-Welch.com, the Bush On Cocaine story is an excellent example of using RS to ferret out something that is otherwise hidden.
I was surprised when someone I previously had great respect for dismissed this article as an "elementary school claim". I still have not figured out exactly what this implies. It seems to me the if the President of the United States has appeared for at least one White House function stoned on Cocaine it should be significant, despite the fact that we live in very strange times. However I finally understood the person I mention had not actually read the report or listened to the reversals, a common situation that is the bane of writers the world over.
The reversed speech in the Bush story is a good example of how reversals from a single recording can confirm each other, and supply enough information to create a good degree of confidence in the resulting interpretation. Two of the statements are complete sentences and taken together do not leave much room for alternative explanations. External events, in this case the distinct and unusual mood of the speaker, also add confidence.
The unconscious statements found by reversing the President's initial remarks are:
I'm all goofed up.
I'm on powder.
I have assigned a confidence level of 90% to my conclusion that the President was high on cocaine. What about the other ten percent? This stems from the fact that cocaine itself is not actually named, and therefore there is a possibility that some other drug might habitually be referred to as powder. Junkies invariably have a pet name for the drug they use, because the actual name carries so much negative emotional freight. If it could be shown that some other drug is commonly called "powder" by it's users, then the cocaine hypothesis would be open for debate.
RS students who want to examine the sound clip included in the report can download the MP3 file directly from the website. Right click on the link below and use your browser's "save as" command to download the file to your own machine, or drag the link to your downloader if you use a separate program for this purpose: Link to MP3 File.
This will give you the finalized version with greater fidelity than trying to re-record it while playing it off the website.
For tutorial purposes, the working file that was used to produce the MP3 clip has been uploaded to a free download service. It is a mono .wav file recorded at 44k bits per second. It is not "zipped" and occupies 4.3 megs. Click on the following link to open a new window at the download site:
GET BUSH SOURCE FILE
The picture above shows the full graphic representation of the sound in the source file. This is a screen shot from my audio editor, Sound Forge. If you are using one of the programs in the Sound Forge family, you can quickly zoom in on any segment of the file and see how the operator (me) marked specific segments, typing the words he found into the labels that appear over the segments. In the nine years I've worked with RS, I've found this feature to be the most valuable tool of all.
In fact, I was so impressed with the program when I first found it, that in late 1998 I became the first person to offer a software solution for doing reversed speech, shipping boxed versions of the program that I purchased from it's originators, Sonic Foundry, with a book describing how to adapt it's features for RS, how to find many more reversals than other methods were producing, the discovery of overlapping reversals, and so on. Unfortunately this was not a great marketing success. I think I sold about 16 copies.
As it evolved, Sound Forge developed into an exceptionally powerful professional version (big bucks) and a reasonably priced "home version" that is perfectly good for RS. The home version normally carries the word "studio" in its name. The current version (now owned by Sony) is called Sound Forge Audio Studio. Happily enough, these programs have always been offered as try-before-you-buy shareware. So you can download the program from Sony
for free. Naturally it will only work for so long and then you must purchase it if you wish to continue using it. Current versions are at least two upgrades newer than the one I use, and I'm sure they have all sorts of new bells and whistles. If you need to get the most bang for your free buck, and are only downloading for the material presented here, you might hold off on getting it until there are two tutorials here instead of just one.
If you've downloaded the .wav file, and can open it with a program that shows the Sound Forge notations, you will see that there are three basic parts to the file. A graphic of the entire file is shown at the top of this tutorial. The picture below shows the first part, which is the full forward speech from the first 29 seconds of the President's remarks.
I've marked the two areas that contain the cocaine reversals, designating them as segments 1 and 2. If you are using a different sound editor, you can still pick these out by the shape of the wave forms shown in your editor. If you are at the same "zoom" level they should look just the same as pictured above.
As you move to the right (forward in the file), you will find that the next portion of audio is the "segment one" material all by itself.
In Sound Forge, you designate beginning and end points for a particular piece of sound and mark it as a "region", which allows you to type in a description that you can see on the screen any time you open the file. You can have regions within regions, and regions that overlap each other. Here you see that I've set up an area and selected it (that's why it's pink) that contains the forward version of the segment 1 sound, and then the same sound reversed and stretched out. The region label contains my notes that indicate the reversal was stretched to 138% of it's original length. That means that when I play the stretched sound at standard speed it will come out much slower.
Time stretching allows you to slow down the sound without having the recorded voice drop in pitch. I believe this helps greatly in allowing the ear to understand speech reversals. Look at the picture above and see how the sound on the left has been pasted to the right, then flipped left-to-right to make it backwards, and finally stretched out to so it will play slower.
Time stretching formulas vary, and some are more suited for the human voice than others. If you have choices, try them all before selecting one.
On the screen, regions are shown with vertical dashed lines at their boundaries. Within the Sound Forge program you can double click between the lines and just that segment is selected, allowing you to play only that sound - all by itself. Note that I have marked the two reversals that appear here, typing the words into the region label, so that I don't have to look for them again. These are "Powder!" and "I'm all goofed up".
If you have the source file open in Sound Forge at this time, you can select either one of these by double clicking on them, and hear the reversal by pressing the space bar. Note that if you just play the whole segment as it is, it is much more difficult to pick out the reversals as they race by in the midst of other backwards sound. In fact, if you listen to more than about five seconds of ordinary backward speech, your mind will begin to deliberately tune it out because it makes no sense. Consequently, when a good reversal comes along you may not even notice it.
Just a bit further to the right, the two reversals have been copied and pasted by themselves which again allows you to hear them better:
Notice the change in sequence. In reversed sound the flow of time is also backwards so, even though your program is playing the sound from left to right, the flow of time is right to left. In the picture above you can see that I've returned the reversals to their original sequence. Experience suggests that when two or three reversals come out almost on top of each other, the actual sequence may not be relevant. Therefore, the order in which you present them to others will sometimes be a judgment call involving issues of clarity or understanding.
Finally, in the last section of the source file you will see I've done exactly the same thing with "segment 2".
In the reversed and stretched portion, I've marked the reversal, "I'm on powder" as it occurs within the backward sound. People who are hearing reversed speech for the first time often wonder if it is possible for the RS operator to insert sound for his own purposes. They don't realize that anyone who wants to can simply reverse the sound again and play it in the normal direction. When that happens, anything that had been inserted would stick out like a sore thumb.
Note that when I lifted out the "I'm on powder" reversal to use it in the website sound clip, I increased the volume of the first word about 5db. There are three words here, which are the three "bumps" in the sound form. The first word, I'm, was spoken at pretty low volume. You can see that it has been boosted so it is now just as "tall" as the word next to it. This will make it much easier to hear, particularly the first time it is played.
The information in a reversal (actual words), and the volume at which it appears, are not related. You can't change the words by changing the volume, and in fact the original volume, like the original pitch, is created by the forward speech. The reversed speech is simply stuck with whatever is coming out of the mouth at the time. In practical terms, a segment of reversed sound that contains large differences in volume (high points vs. low points), otherwise called "dynamic range" is much harder to work with because loud words tend to mask the softer words next to them. A good tip for any RS researcher is to keep an eye on the dynamic range of original material, and if it is too high simply to reduce it across the board if you have a processor or editor feature that will allow you to do so. Mostly you want to bring the peaks down, and if you can raise the level of the valleys a bit as well, then you will find the reversals much more easy to understand. Don't be afraid to do this by hand, syllable by syllable, if there is no other way to "bring out" a reversal. After all, once you can hear it properly it might turn out to be different from what you initially suspected.
That's it for now. Download the files even if you don't have Sound Forge, and have some fun with the source file. Practice locating the reversals, and adjusting the right and left boundaries until they are perfect; a very critical skill. See how you might cut and paste the sound to create an effective presentation for others who are not used to listening to RS. And by all means save that compressed MP3 file someplace where you won't lose it. Years from now you will be finding opportunities to say to someone, "Say, did you ever hear the one about Bush on drugs...?"
-- Ken Welch, Houston