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:
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 :-).