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A script to generate thumbnails for audio files, derived from the method used on (amplitude envelope with color representing spectral centroid)


Screenshot of thumbnails in Nautilus


  • NumPy
  • PIL (Python Imaging Library)
  • scikits "audiolab" (use setuptools' easy_install, for instance)
    • dependency: libsndfile


Then to set this as your thumbnailer, run gconf-editor, go to /desktop/gnome/thumbnailers/, and, for each file format you want to be thumbnailed, edit the command key and change the line to something like this:

/[path to]/ -w %s %i -a %o

(In Ubuntu, it defaults to /usr/bin/totem-video-thumbnailer -s %s %u %o, which, as far as I know, does nothing.)

Then check the "enable" checkbox, and when you refresh a folder with audio files in it, it should show the thumbnails.

Error messages for Gnome thumbnailers end up in the file ~/.xsession-errors, intuitively enough. >:(

You can create new entries with commands like this:

gconftool-2 --type=bool --set "/desktop/gnome/thumbnailers/audio@x-aiff/enable" "true"

I don't know how else to add a new filetype. Then just edit it in gconf-editor to match the other filetypes.


  • On short files it fails - "step argument must not be zero"
  • Fails on GSM WAV - can't seek
  • Locks up the CPU on 32-bit float - audiolab reads it incorrectly? - implement a better timeout?
  • libsndfile doesn't read mp3s. Convert them first?
  • Should it plot both channels of a stereo file? Should it mix them? Should it show 4-channel files as 4 skinnier tracks in a square?
  • Discontinuity at beginning affects color. Fade in and out?
  • Blend colors like the real light spectrum so that white noise is white? Most things just end up greenish yellow. Planning to experiment with other methods anyway...
  • Put some kind of border around it like movie thumbnails to show that it's a sound file?
  • Make it faster? Rewrite from scratch instead of using Freesound's code?


As of 2010, I've switched from Ubuntu to Windows 7, so this is abandonware. I'd love to be able to see these in Windows, but writing a thumbnailer seems much more involved. Someone do it for me, plz! :/