I’ve actually spent some time this month thinking about terminology and lingo since it was the monthly theme. And in that odd phenomenon that is synchronicity, it seemed to follow me around. When I was thinking about terminology and lingo I was drawn to the unique language we have as sound professionals and the barriers we often face when trying to communicate with non-audio people about feedback directly tied to audio. But what about terminology that’s more inwardly facing? A look through my sound library sees what I call whooshes, that is the sound of an object passing through the air, referred to with a variety of descriptors: “whoosh,” “woosh,” “swish,” etc.
Then, recently, the following dialogue happened between Andy Martin and James Nixon on the Field Recording Slack Channel where we were planning a group “whoosh” library:
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#16989D” class=”” size=”15″]
I think a spin & roll session could be a whole other day. Like @dannthr said, whooshes can be a whole day (or week), especially if it includes swishes, swooshes, twirls, and whirls.
Twirling & whirling are where some of the really crazy sounds come from. Whooshes and swooshes will require the amount of space. Swishes are easiest to do on one’s own, so maybe that doesn’t need to be included.
please define all of the above terms
Swish: small quick air rushes, generally from a small item in your hand, e.g. A hairbrush
Swoosh: long swooping movements with a long air rush, e.g. A ribbon or flame ball on the end of a stick
Twirl: rapid spinning, e.g. a bull roarer
Whirl: similar to twirl, but at a longer length with a larger object. An important note is to use a prop that will spin at the end of a line
Whoosh: a large rush of air with a defined in-and-out Doppler effect, like a flame-by, basically a giant swish
Important defining characteristics are in the air rush and the Doppler effect
Swooshes are characterized by long steady rushes, without a prominent Doppler. Swishes are too fast to have a pronounced Doppler, but if the have a very smooth rush and more resonance they will produced a well-defined zip.
Whooshes and swishes will have the most defined off-axis filtering when recorded with a cardioid mic. Swooshes tend to record better either with an Omni pattern or at a larger distance from a cardioid so that they don’t get filtered heavily off-axis
Twirls are often characterized by heavy beating produced by the spinning object on the bed of a line (again, think bull roarer), whereas whirling does not necessarily require that beating.
Keep in mind that there are all my own definitions, and that they can easily combine with one another, i.e. You can record twirling and whirling whooshes and swooshes.
One last definition:
Rush: the turbulent air produced in the wake of a moving object. A thin metal rod has a very thin, “thwip-y” rush. A hairbrush may have a thick, windy rush.
I based them loosely off of the old Sound Ideas categories, but adapted for my own purposes.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with them, but they help me understand and search for something I have in my library. [/perfectpullquote]
This has completely resonated with me because, while I may not agree with the exact definitions or perhaps find demarcating the sound of an object cutting through the air into so many unique categories a bit more detailed (or perhaps confusing) than I personally need, it also illustrates a very important part of our own terminology we use. Namely that we can essentially make words mean anything, and when crafting descriptions for sound, if we have well defined descriptions and terms, we can make ourselves better understood by our peers who can relate to similar terms.
As I was reading this thread initially the overwhelming number of synonyms for “whoosh” completely turned me off. Why not just call them all “whoosh” and provide proper descriptions for them in the metadata? But after reading the thoughtful descriptions of each term I began to see the value of having sounds in a library where everything that can broadly be defined as a whoosh is more granularly defined.
If given a whoosh library along with those definitions above, I would have a much greater sense of what each of those sounds is just by the description, rather than having to pour through the entire library auditioning each sample. Which brings me to another point of the dialogue above: it works, whether or not I agree with the definitions, because the descriptions of each term are very clearly laid out. There are limitations techniques revealed in the terms themselves which makes digging through a library (provided you understand those terms’ meanings in this context) exceptionally easier and more intuitive.
And therein lies the crux as well: while this is a great example of someone using their own definitions to help drive a group of people into creating a unified set of sounds for a library, it also demonstrates that it can be exceptionally difficult to do this on a global scale. If each person who created a library had their own definitions for various terms whether is whoosh, swish, rush, and thwip or crunch, crush, break, snap, and mangle without a unified dictionary of these terms and where and how to use them “properly,” we could be left with a completely unique set of descriptors for every library we own.
Furthermore, without the set of definitions above, we are each prone to making our own meaning of the terms described. And someone’s “swish” may be drastically different than another persons.
I don’t have a solution. Something like a governing body of sound designers to provide definitions for various sounds errs a bit too far on the side of totalitarian library design. But I’m wondering if there is a solution that can embrace the democracy of so many great brains and talented field recordists while circling around a common set of language descriptors.
Thanks to Andy Martin and James Nixon for letting me republish their chat log :-).