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Posted by on Apr 30, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Though 18 – Dependent Perception

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I’ve had this one in the topic queue for a while, but couldn’t quite figure out how to approach it here…until a few days ago.

I walked into a restaurant’s restroom just as someone was leaving. The toilet, which had just been flushed, was refilling. I’m sure most of you can call up in your head the sound of a toilet basin refilling its water supply. This one sounded different. It was far more harmonically complex than the usual peaks you hear in the bed of white/pink noise, and it created this incredible drone in the tiled room. Then the toilet stopped filling, and I realized that the additional complexity was coming from a fan vent in the ceiling. This vent noise, 8 feet above and two feet to the left of the toilet, had sounded like it was coming directly from the toilet…like it was part of that other sound.

The way we perceive sounds in our environment can be greatly dependent on the presence of other sources of stimuli. In this case, both sound were affected by the other. One was enhanced by the presence of another sound, while the other was spatially altered by the first. This phenomenon was entirely dependent on the vagaries of the way our brain processes stimuli. As soon as the toilet stopped, my perception of the vent’s source changed to match its actual location. There are other examples. Michel Chion coined the term “entrainment” for the effect that visual elements in film have in our perception of a sound’s localization.

It’s just another reminder that everything, including sound design, is about context.

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 17 – Sonic Zoom

I struggled with the idea of posting one of these today. A friend of mine, and to much of the community as well, Jory Prum passed away Friday night. Ultimately, I think it’s important to keep moving forward in life. We’re working on collecting some thoughts about Jory to post later today/tomorrow. For now, here’s something I think he would have appreciated discussing.

Filmmakers love a good close up. The tight framing of an actor, prop or movement…in the right context…can really lend weight to a moment in the narrative. It’s a clear sign to the audience that “this” is important, “this” is something you have to pay attention to. There are two ways this is achieved in the crafting of a visual piece: the hard cut, and the zoom.

We have the same tools available to us in the auditory realm. If we want to highlight a particular sound element, we can strip the others away. If we want the hard cut, we simply cut the sounds out. To replicate a zoom, we can strip those surrounding elements away more slowly…deliberately…to draw the audience in to the experience of that one element.

What would really be interesting though, would be to explore the ways in which we might also replicate the “Dolly/Zoom” effect.

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Posted by on Apr 17, 2016 | 2 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 16 – Pushing for Physical Representation

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I’ve talked about how sound is a physical event. This week, I was scanning through a little notebook I’ve kept of these types of ideas over the past 5-7 years, and I came across another little idea that sparked a thought for this week’s post.

“Sound has mass.”

Sound requires a medium to travel through. Most of the time, that’s air…though it can obviously be water, metal pipes, etc. While sound is in these mediums, it has mass…sort of. The feel of that kick drum when piped through a concert’s sound system is a great example. You feel that pressure wave hit you, rattle your chest. Air has mass, and it moves you. Sound is what moves the air. This isn’t really what I wanted to focus on this week. It’s just a necessary tangent for me.

The question that was bouncing around in my head this week, is how can we represent that physicality of sound in a film or game? There’s the clichéd bleeding ears shot, and there’s also this idea of “contact hearing” that I posted about only a few weeks ago. Those are two, and I’m sure there are plenty of others. The realization came that it’s necessary to have appropriate imagery to support the representation of a sound’s physical nature. This means buy in from the director.

Is there a moment in your project where the story could be bolstered by the display of the physical effects of sound? Have you spoken to your director or game designer about how it could, and what sort of visual would be needed to convey it?

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Posted by on Apr 12, 2016 | 1 comment

Jack’s Home NAS Odyssey 2016

Photo by: Moyan Brenn

Photo by: Moyan Brenn

 

A few months ago I read the article Backup and Archive Solutions for Musicians and it got me thinking of how I could potentially use local network storage to hold my projects and libraries in one location instead of spreading it out among my Mac, PC, and Mac Laptop. This turned into a rather large but fun distraction for a few weekends and then a pretty big distraction when I started building it.

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Posted by on Apr 10, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 15 – Fore | Mid | Back

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I’m continuing the “visual vs. sound analogs” stream this week. I feel confident in expecting that everyone visiting this site is familiar with the concepts of Foreground, Mid-ground, and Background in visual media. That planar approach is also probably how most people think about fore, mid and background when it comes to sound. That planar approach, however, is an oversimplification of the complexities that exist in the way we hear. In cinema (and increasingly, games) the side and rears (sometimes overhead in Atmos and Auro-3d) are all background…even a sound 2 ft. directly in front of us can be background.

Foreground in listening is intimately tied to where our attention is, so vision…or, specifically, where we’re looking…helps determine what is a foreground sound. If you’re watching someone deliver dialog in a film, that’s likely where your attention is. That’s your foreground. If you’re focused on a car approach in the same film, it’s a foreground sound until it passes from view and that sound is panned off screen. Your eyes turn to a different portion of the frame and all of your attention (hearing included) focuses there. That’s your new foreground sound. The car sound, despite your previous attention, is now a background sound.

“But wait!” I hear you saying. “What about sounds from off-screen that are meant to draw your attention?” This is what I think of as mid-ground sound. Anything that steps out of the background and has an effect on the focus of your attention is a mid-ground sound; likely, it will quickly become Foreground. Imagine a silent character on screen, listening to an off screen event. Your attention is focused on this person. You hear the event happening off screen, but your focus is on that character. You’re watching them react, listening for little movements, breaths or sounds that help you interpret what that character is thinking. The character is still the foreground, and the off-screen sound is mid-ground. If it is able to affect the foreground, it is mid-ground.

Anything else is background.

Dialog is where things get tricky. We have a hard time not paying attention to dialog. It’s nearly impossible to hold dialog in the mid-ground…regardless of whether we can see its source or not. A quick loop group line punching through to accentuate a moment can be mid-ground. The longer it lasts though, the closer it gets to foreground. This forces us to quickly push dialog to either the foreground or the background. To keep it in the background usually involves some type of obscuring. That’s part of why loop group lines are usually delivered AS a group. With a bunch of people talking over each other, it’s hard to focus on any one voice. A few things will poke through and become mid-ground to help you grasp the tone, but most of it will be a wash…background.

Changing the way you think about foreground, mid-ground and background will have an impact on the way you design sounds to fit into those spaces.

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Posted by on Apr 3, 2016 | 5 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 14 – Sound’s Golden Mean?

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

This week, I have a question. While I may occasionally ponder the idea, I’ve never devoted a significant portion of brain power to it for a substantial period of time. That might sound lazy on my part, but it’s actually a hard question and I always have higher priority items on my plate.

…and now I’m just creating excuses. ;)

In case you didn’t notice it in the past (or haven’t been visiting the site as long as some other people have), you may have missed the fact that I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to psycoacoustics. Many of the Gestalt principles or “rules of organization” that describe how we perceive visual stimulus have direct corollaries with the way we perceive sound. There’s one that’s difficult to translate though, because there’s such a stark difference in the way we perceive space through our eyes and ears…the Golden Ratio (sometimes referred to as the Golden Mean).

So what say you sound design community? How do you think the Golden Ratio can be related to sound, or can it not?

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Posted by on Mar 27, 2016 | 2 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 13 – Contact Hearing

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

In a previous post, I posited that perhaps hearing is a specialized function of touch. An experience I had on my recent vacation made me think of this idea again in a different light…hearing through touch.

I was on a boat traveling between islands, and I had ear plugs in (the engine was pretty loud). I reached down to press against the hard seat, and noticed a bump in my perception of the low end of the spectrum. I took my hand away, the bump left. I stood up from the seat briefly, but didn’t notice any significant change in the spectrum. Sat back down, and placed my hand on the seat again. That boost in the low end was very pronounced. I don’t know why contact with my hand had such a dramatic impact over the fact that I was sitting on the seat…maybe because the vibrations in my hand/arm had less muscle and fat to attenuate them when traveling through the skeletal structure to reach my head? Regardless, I heard the engine differently when I place my hand on a surface that was vibrating in sympathy with it.

That’s an interesting angle from which to explore subjectivity of perspective in a story. Not something that can be used in just any circumstance, but it’s one more tool in the bag for putting the viewer in the mind/space of a character.

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Posted by on Mar 20, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 12 – Documenting Vs. Experiencing

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I just got back from a two week vacation to the Philippines, and a lot of my more sound oriented friends asked me questions that were all variations on, “How much did you record?” The answer is just over a minute of audio.

It seems like a crime to go someplace so different from my everyday experience and not sonically document it in more detail. I’ve noticed one of my personality traits over the years though. If the purpose of my activity is not to be out collecting sounds (i.e. on vacation with my wife), I’m FAR more selective about pulling out my recorder. If I’m going to record a sound in said situation, it better be something I can unequivocally use without fuss in the future. If there’s music playing somewhere in the background…not recording. If HVAC hum is going to be present in an otherwise beautiful nature soundscape…not recording. The list goes on.

I choose to follow this philosophy because listening to record and listening just for the experience are two very different things. If I’m trying to record a sound, I’m not likely to notice how the leaves on a bush behind me are reflecting only the high frequency components of a power washer, or the unique way the different components of a helicopter modulate as it crosses the sky…seeming to break the normal laws of Doppler phenomenon. Being aware of unique occurrences of sound interactions in the environment gives me new ideas for mixing and sound design that I can use in the future.

That’s something I can’t always get while concentrating in an attempt to record a bird call in the tropics, using only a Sony M10, while the bungalow next to me blasts the AC and music echoes down from the nearby outdoor cafe.

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Posted by on Mar 13, 2016 | 6 comments

Sunday Sound Though 11 – Natural Spectrum Awareness

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I’ll be honest, I lied to you last week.

…well, sort of. Talking about spectrum and perception was really all a big set up for this week’s thought.

In his book, The Great Animal Orchestra, Bernie Krause discusses the idea of Biophony; that each sound generating organism evolved in such a way that it’s voice fit into it’s surrounding soundscape so as to not compete with other organisms. If a bird doesn’t have to compete with an insect or a deer’s vocalizations, or even wind for that matter, it doesn’t have to struggle to be heard by its peers. As a result of this, natural soundscapes tend to fill the spectrum of sound. They aren’t isolated into bands. As I discussed last week, the wider the spectral content, the fuller and louder a sound seems.

This has made me wonder about how our environment affected us as we evolved within it. Perhaps this activation of more critical bands was a selective element in our evolution. There are cases of animals becoming quiet when predators are present, which would decrease the spectral content of our environment. If a human’s surroundings didn’t sound as “full” as they usually might, wouldn’t that be a clue that something is out of the ordinary? Would that help an early human survive the rigors of life in the wild? Would that also explain why we are so sensitive changes to the spectral content of sound?

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Posted by on Mar 6, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 10 – Spectral Loudness

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…though this week’s is a physiological than philosophical

This week’s thought isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s something that gets brought up randomly throughout the community. It’s recurrent for a good reason though…it’s the idea that you can make something seem louder by expanding the spectral content without actually increasing the volume. A wider spectral pattern activates more of the inner ear’s “critical bands.” The more bands that are activated, the louder something seems…even if the dB-SPL measurement stays the same.

Then there’s the distortion/clipping side of the coin. It makes use of this very effect to increase the perceived loudness. Distortion adds harmonics, increasing the activation of critical bands in the inner ear, but remember that it does this by changing the waveform…giving it more time in the “crest/trough zone” per cycle. It changes the RMS measurement. Depending on how it changes the wave form crest/trough, it can also increase the empirical, not just the perceived, loudness level.

Thanks for indulging me while I reminded myself of this…awareness of the spectrum is important in sound design.

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