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177 Chapter 6. Working with Sound

In this chapter, you’ll learn…

When you create a document in Nisus Writer, there are several ways of outputting it. The usual way is by printing, but you may also choose to simply view it on the screen (for example, if you’re keeping your diary or class notes in Nisus Writer), or you might mail your document electronically. But there is another kind of output available—sound—and it is one of Nisus Writer’s best-kept secrets. In this chapter, you’ll learn how easy and useful it can be to add sound to your document-processing toolkit.

178 The Sound Bar

The starting point for Nisus Writer’s sound features is the Sound Bar (Figure 6.1). You can display the Sound Bar by clicking the Display Sound Bar button on the Vertical Button Bar or by choosing Sound Bar from the Display submenu of the Tools menu. When the Sound Bar is visible, the Sound menu appears on your main menu bar (Figure 6.2). Together, the Sound Bar and the Sound menu give you access to all of Nisus Writer’s audio controls. We’ll discuss each of these, but I’ll point out an important one right now: the Volume control. This slider adjusts the volume of both recorded 179 sounds and text-to-speech. It is identical in function to the Volumes control in your Sound Control Panel (not to be confused with your Alert Sounds control). If you change your system sound volume, Nisus Writer’s Volume control will change to match it, and vice-versa. Before you use the sound features, make sure this control is set high enough, and that the Mute checkbox is not checked in your Sound Control Panel.

Figure 6.1.The Sound Bar.

Figure 6.2.The Sound menu.


Nisus Writer includes its own text-to-speech engine, licensed from Berkeley Speech Technologies Inc. This means that Nisus Writer can read your text to you even if you don’t have Apple’s PlainTalk text-to-speech software installed. We’ll compare the two methods in a moment. But first let’s look at the basics of using text-to-speech.

Listening to Your Text

Using text-to-speech is easy. Simply select the text you want to hear and click the Speak button on the Sound Bar. Nisus Writer will read the text aloud. While text is being read, the cursor will change to moving lips () and the text-to-speech icon () will blink on your menu bar, alternating with the Apple menu icon. If you wish to stop the speaking before it is finished, simply click the Stop button on the Sound Bar or press Command-period. (You can also click the Pause button to stop the speaking, but you can’t un-pause it and pick up where you left off; Pause is equivalent to Stop for text-to-speech.) Nisus Writer plays sounds asynchronously, which means that you can do other activities (like scrolling or playing a QuickTime move) while a sound plays. However, you can’t edit your document while listening to it. If you make any changes to your document or open a new file, the speech will stop.

Nisus Writer can only speak a contiguous selection of text on the text layer. If you have a noncontiguous selection and click Speak, only the last block of selected text will be spoken. Similarly, if you have a vertical selection, only the bottom line of the selection will be spoken. Text on the graphics layer cannot be spoken at all.

180 Other Voices

Nisus Writer’s default text-to-speech voice uses American English pronunciation. However, if you have text written in French, German, Italian, or Spanish (or Japanese, if you purchase the Japanese CD-ROM version of Nisus Writer), Nisus Writer can still speak it back to you with the proper pronunciation. To use a different language, select the voice you want from the Speech Voices submenu of the Sound menu (Figure 6.3). If the Info Bar is visible, a small flag will appear above your Volume control to indicate which language is currently active (refer to Figure 6.1). Once you’ve chosen a voice, select the text you want to hear and click Speak. Nisus Writer does not translate—it only pronounces what is selected according to the conventions of the language chosen. In addition, Nisus Writer can’t tell which language your text is in—the language must always be set manually. So if you have, say, a French sentence embedded in an English document, the pronunciation won’t switch automatically as the text is spoken. (It can, however, be fun to read text in one language with another language’s pronunciation!)

Figure 6.3. The Speech Voices menu.

Although Nisus Writer’s speech engine doesn’t require PlainTalk, if you have it installed on your computer, you can use your existing Apple text-to-speech voices. They will appear on the Speech Voices submenu of the Sound menu 181 below the five built-in language voices (Figure 6.4) and are selected in the same way. In general, PlainTalk voices provide better speech quality than Nisus Writer’s built-in voices. However, there are some reasons you might prefer Nisus Writer’s voices. The first is that Nisus Writer’s pronunciation and inflection are often better than PlainTalk’s. A second problem with the PlainTalk voices is that the improved sound quality comes at a cost: it takes a lot of system RAM to process the voices—in addition to what Nisus Writer itself needs. Finally, be aware that you cannot combine a PlainTalk voice with one of Nisus Writer’s non-English pronunciations (which is too bad, because I can think of several good uses for having Nisus Writer sing or whisper in French!).

Figure 6.4. The Speech Voices menu with PlainTalk voices installed.

One last note about text-to-speech. Remember that when your Sound Bar is active, you’re still on the text layer; you just have sound controls visible instead of formatting controls. There’s nothing to keep you from editing your text 182 while the Sound Bar is active (as long as text isn’t being spoken at the moment). Likewise, while the Text Bar is active, you can use text-to-speech if you have defined a Keyboard Shortcut for the Speak control (see Chapter 9).

Why Text-to-Speech?

“Fine,” you say. “This is all very high-tech and impressive-sounding, but what’s the point? Why would I want to hear my text when I can just read it on the screen?” I, too, asked this question at first, but I’ve found some very practical uses for text-to-speech. Here are my favorites:

The enclosed CD-ROM contains macros that will read your document to you, one word or one sentence at a time—highlighting each block of text as it is spoken.

These are just a few of the ways text-to-speech can be put to good use. More examples are found in the sections on multimedia documents (Chapter 14) and instructional materials (Chapter 17).

Recording Sound

In addition to Nisus Writer’s synthesized text-to-speech capability, you have the ability to put recordings of your own voice (or any other sound) in your document. To do this, you’ll need to have a microphone connected to your Mac. Most new Macs include a microphone input, and many even have microphones built-in. If you have a microphone input but no microphone, you can purchase one from your Apple dealer for about $20. (Be sure to check your manual to see which type is appropriate for your Macintosh model.) For older Macs without sound input support, a product called MacRecorder will allow you to add a microphone via a serial port.

184 Sound Annotations

The simplest type of recording you can do in Nisus Writer is called a sound annotation—an audio sticky note, if you will. A sound annotation can either stand alone in your document or be “attached” to text or character graphics on the text layer. To record a “stand-alone” sound annotation, make sure you have no text selected and that Record Annotation is checked on the Sound menu, then click Record. As you speak into the microphone, you will notice that the cursor changes to an ear () and the microphone icon () blinks on your menu bar, alternating with the Apple Menu icon. When you’re finished, click Stop. A sound annotation icon () will appear just to the right of your insertion point, and the name sound 1 will appear in your Sound Name box. To play back your sound, you can do any one of the following things:

The first two methods use the Play button and therefore can only be used when the Sound Bar is visible (unless you have assigned a keyboard shortcut to Play). The third and fourth methods are normally available only when the Sound Bar is visible, but if you choose Click Playback from the Sound menu, they can be used even when the Sound Bar is not showing. The last method is always available (except, of course, when you are on the graphics layer).

185 Naming Sounds

As you continue to record sounds, they’ll be named sound 2 , sound 3 , and so on; these names will appear in the Sound Name pop-down menu. To rename a sound, choose the sound from the Sound Name pop-down menu, select the name in the Sound Name box, type in a new name, and press Return or Enter. To remove a stand-alone sound annotation, simply delete the sound annotation icon just as you would any character graphic.

Attached Annotations

In addition to stand-alone sound annotations, you can have annotations that are “attached” to text. To create an attached annotation, select some text (which can be as little as a single character or as much as your entire document) and/or character graphic(s) before clicking Record. Sounds recorded in this fashion will appear in the Sound Name menu as usual, but no sound annotation icon will appear. To play back an attached sound annotation, do any of the following:

An important thing to keep in mind when attaching sound to text is that it is perfectly OK for sounds to overlap. You can attach 10 different sounds to the same word, if you like. The Sound Name menu will display a check mark beside each sound that is attached to the currently selected region of text. 186 You can pick out any individual sound simply by choosing it from the menu.

How Sounds are Stored

Each sound you record is stored in a separate file on your hard disk, rather than as part of your document. The sound files get their names from the sound names in your Sound Name pop-down menu. If your document’s name is “Blue Meanies,” there will be a folder in the same location named “Blue Meanies Snds” that holds your sound files. (If you have not yet named and saved your document, sounds are stored in a folder inside your Nisus Writer folder called Nisus Writer Temporary Sounds.) If you delete a sound from your document, the associated sound file will not be deleted from your hard drive; you must manually drag it to the Trash.

For the curious: Nisus Writer sounds are stored in AIFF (Apple Interchange File Format) files. This means that they can be opened and played or edited in any application that supports the AIFF format. They are not stand-alone “snd” sounds like the Finder uses, even though the folder name “<document> Snds” may lead you to suspect they are. If you double-click a Nisus Writer sound file in the Finder, it will launch Nisus Writer and play the sound, but it will not open the associated document.

If you move your document to another location on your hard drive (or to another volume), you must move the “Snds” folder along with it, or your sounds will not be available when the document is opened from the new location.

Auto-Highlighting Recordings

Recording sound annotations is handy, but Nisus Writer’s capabilities go even further. You can automatically attach sounds to a series of characters, words, sentences, or paragraphs in such a way that as the sounds play back, the selected portions of text will be highlighted automatically. For example, if you record a range of text “by word,” then select it and click Play, each word will highlight, one after the other, as the sounds associated with each are played in sequence.

To create an auto-highlighting recording, first decide what units of text you want to separate your recording into and choose the appropriate option from the Sound menu—Record by Character, Record by Word, Record by Sentence, or Record by Paragraph. Place your insertion point to the left of the first segment of text to which you want to attach a recording. Click Record to highlight the first segment and begin recording. When you’ve finished with the first segment, click Stop. The next segment will automatically highlight, and you can repeat the process as many times as necessary. If clicking Record and 187 Stop repeatedly seems like a lot of bother, never fear—there are two additional levels of automation you can use. If you choose By Command Key from the Recording Cue submenu of the Sound menu, your Command key will act like a “press-to-speak” recording control. Position your insertion point as before and click Record. This time, however, notice that your Pause button is depressed. Recording does not begin until you press and hold the Command key (causing the Pause button to be released). When you release the Command key, the Pause button is depressed again and the next segment is highlighted automatically. When you’ve finished recording, simply click Stop. For even more automation, choose By Voice from the Recording Cue submenu. Now when you click Record, Nisus Writer will pause until you start speaking and pause again (highlighting the next segment) when you stop. The level of sound needed to activate and deactivate voice-cued recording can be set in the Recording Options dialog box (see below).

Sound Menu Options

We’ve already seen some of the options on the Sound menu, like the Speech Voices submenu, the Record by… options, and the Recording Cue submenu. The remaining commands offer additional control over the way sound is recorded, played, and stored in your document.

First is the Sound Catalog. If you choose Show Sound Catalog, a window appears (Figure 6.5) that is in many ways like the main Catalog we’ll discuss in Chapter 8. It lists all the sounds in your document, just as your Sound Name pop-down menu does. However, the Sound Catalog also gives you the ability to group or delete sounds (even sounds attached to text). At the top of the window is the Sound Groups pop-down menu, which is identical to the one on your Sound Bar. Below that is a list of the sounds in your document. If you select a sound name and click Play (or double-click the sound name), Nisus Writer will highlight the text associated with that sound in your document and play it. If you click Jump To, Nisus Writer will take you to the location of the sound in your document without playing it. If 188 you hold down the Command key, Jump To becomes Jump Next, which will take you to the next sound in the list (clicking Jump Next repeatedly will cycle through all the sounds in your Sound Catalog). And clicking Delete removes the selected sound from your document (but not from your hard disk—you must still drag the sound file to the Trash manually). Note that using the Sound Catalog’s Delete button is the only way to delete sounds that are attached to text without deleting the text as well.

Figure 6.5. The Sound Catalog.

Although the Sound Catalog looks similar to your main (file) Catalog, there are some important differences. For one thing, you have access only to the sounds your current document uses and not to any other files. You can’t change the font, size, or style used to display sound names. And the Group, Delete, and Jump To buttons have no Command-key equivalents as do the buttons in most other dialog boxes.

Grouping Sounds

The most important control in the Sound Catalog, though, is the Group button. All sounds in your document appear in a “Document Sounds” group, but additional groups can be added at any time for easier organization of your sounds. Clicking Group displays the Sound Group dialog box (Figure 6.6). To add a new sound group, type in a name for the group and click Group. This name will then appear in the Sound Group pop-down menus on your Sound Bar and in the Sound Catalog. To add sounds to a group, first select one or more sounds in the Sound Catalog. (Command-click to select multiple noncontiguous sounds.) Click the Sound Catalog’s Group button, then in the Sound Group dialog box, choose the group you wish to place them in from the pop-up menu. Finally, click the Sound Group dialog box’s Group button.


Figure 6.6. The Sound Group dialog box.

It would be nice if you could select some sounds in the Sound Catalog and place them into a new group just by clicking the Group button. No such luck—you can’t group sounds and create a group name at the same time. You must first create the new group, then go back to your Sound Catalog, select some sounds, click Group again, choose the group you’ve just created from the pop-down menu, and click the Group button again. This awkward procedure is a disappointing departure from Nisus Writer’s typically intuitive interface design.

Once you’ve created a new sound group, its name will appear in the pop-down menu both in the Sound Catalog and on your Sound Bar. If you choose a group from one of those menus, only the sounds in that group will appear in the Sound Catalog’s sound list or in the Document Sounds pop-up menu. You can rename a sound group in one of two ways. The first is to click Group in the Sound Catalog, select the group you want to change from the pop-down menu in the Sound Group dialog box, type in a new name, and click Rename. The second to is choose the group you want to change from the Sound Groups pop-up menu on your Sound Bar, highlight the name, type in a new name, and press Return or Enter. You can even rename the “Document Sounds” group, but it will always contain a complete list of the sounds in your document.

Sound groups make it easier to keep track of sounds when you have a lot of them in your document. The only sounds that can be played at a given time are those that belong to the currently selected sound group—so you can control which sounds will be used depending on what your needs are. Sound groups can also be handy if several people are attaching voice comments to a file. Each person’s comments 190 can be placed in a different group so that only one set of comments at a time will show up in the Sound Name menu. In fact, several people could attach recordings to exactly the same piece of text, but as long as the recordings are in different groups, you have an easy mechanism for playing only the ones you want at any given time.

Playback Options

The next set of options on the Sound menu concerns playback method. If you select a range of text that includes multiple attached sounds, each sound in the selection will appear with a check mark next to it on the Document Sounds menu. Sequential Playback determines how these are treated when you click Play. If it is unchecked, then only the first sound (or the one currently selected in the menu) will play. If it is checked, then as soon as one has played, the text associated with the next sound will be highlighted. (This setting has no effect on playing sounds by clicking and/or dragging.) The command Automatic Pause Playback is intended to give you a further option. When this is checked, playback is supposed to pause after each segment of a recording by character, word, sentence, or paragraph; when unchecked, the sounds are supposed to play in sequence without interruption. However, I have been unable to achieve any change in behavior by changing this setting, and I suspect that it was never properly implemented.

Normally, to play back a sound when the Sound Bar is not displayed, you must hold down the Command key and click on some portion of the highlighted text with sound attached. When Click Playback is checked, you can play a recorded sound simply by clicking once (for sound recorded by character), twice (for sound recorded by word), three times (for sound recorded by sentence), or four times (for sound recorded by paragraph), even if the Sound Bar is not visible.

Finally, the Practice Recording allows you to record as many “practice” attempts at a sound as you like without creating lots of new sounds in your document. With Practice Recording checked, every sound you record will be named Practice… and will replace the previous practice sound. 191 When you have a recording you’re satisfied with, simply rename the practice sound and it will not be overwritten the next time you make a recording.

Recording Options

Choosing Recording Options displays the dialog box shown in Figure 6.7.

Figure 6.7. The Recording Options dialog box.

Quality and Compression both affect sound quality, but in different ways. In general, compression is the more important setting. A compression setting of None with a quality setting of Good is sufficient for most voice recording, and will usually sound much better than a Compression setting of 6:1 and a quality setting of Best. But remember, your results will vary with the type of sound you’re recording and the type of Mac you’re using.

If you’re using Nisus Writer on a Power Mac, you must choose a compression setting of None. Other settings create unacceptable levels of distortion.

Sound quality can be a problem if you’re using the built-in microphone on a PowerBook, because it will inevitably pick up the sound of your hard drive spinning. If your PowerBook (or dock, if you have a Duo) has an audio input port, consider using an external microphone instead. Normally you can’t spin down your hard drive while recording, because Nisus Writer records directly to disk. However, if you have enough RAM to create a large RAM disk, you can put both the Nisus Writer application and the document you’re editing on the RAM disk, spin down your hard drive, and then record “direct to silicon.” (Be aware, however, that with some configurations, your system may try to access your hard drive anyway—for foolproof results, you may need to boot from your RAM disk before attempting this.)

Why Sound Recording?

“Fine,” you say. “This is all very high-tech and impressive-sounding, but what’s the point? (And is there an echo in here or is it just my computer talking to me?) Why would I ever want to include sound recordings in my document?” I suspect that the reason sound features are so little used is 193 that most of us still think of a word processor as merely a way of getting words onto paper. But if you think of Nisus Writer more generally as a tool for processing information, all kinds of possibilities arise. Here’s a list of 10 great applications for sound recordings.

You can’t “officially” import sounds into Nisus Writer, but unofficially you can do it with a bit of effort. First, record a sound in Nisus Writer of roughly the same duration as the sound you want to import. Take note of its sound number, or give it a unique name. Then, make sure the sound you want to import is in AIFF format (if it isn’t, you may need to find a sound conversion utility). Rename the sound exactly as the original sound was named, and drag the file into your “<document> Snds” folder, replacing the old one with the same name.

If you record sounds in your document and then mail it using PowerTalk, the recipient will not be able to play the sounds when reading the document from the In Tray, because Nisus Writer will not have access to the document’s “Snds” folder. For best results, send both the folder and a copy of the original file as enclosures to your message. The recipient can then copy them to another location on the hard drive before opening the document.


Using sound in a word processor takes some getting used to. But it can add convenience to your work, put some pizazz in your presentations, and open up new teaching and learning possibilities. We’ll revisit Nisus Writer’s sound features in Chapter 14 when we discuss multimedia documents. But having taken this brief hiatus from text to talk about graphics and sound, it’s time to return to the land of the conventional. In Chapter 7, we’ll talk about printing your document, then in Chapter 8 we’ll discuss managing and mailing your files.

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1999 by Joe Kissell

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