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Posted by on May 22, 2016 | 1 comment

Sunday Sound Thought 21 – Visibility Problem…Still

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 trying to remember on which podcast I heard it this week [ed. I’ve been searching, but to no avail], but there was a news story about Emeka Ogboh and his reconstruction of Lagos soundscapes as art installations in which, I believe it was a curator somewhere, talked about him as if he was the only artist in the world working exclusively with sound…”without some sort of visual component.” Please understand, this is in no way a critique of Ogboh or his work. I’m happy that his art is out there and getting the attention it deserves. It was just a reminder of how overlooked sound is within the arts community. If you want a more visible example, just look at the Tony Awards brouhaha from 2014, which is still being felt today.

I can quickly pull up examples on Google from prominent news sources. I could event point to Audium in San Francisco; which, despite its success, is still a rather underground art experience. Why do I define it as successful? Well it hosts two performances a week (many of which sell out), and does so from it’s own permanent installation on Bush St. near the border of Nob Hill and The Tenderloin…a space which it has occupied since 1965!

That curator pissed me off. Yes it’s her job to find the next big thing and promote it as a way to bring patrons into galleries and museums, but it’s also her job to put that work into the context of the broader art community. This comment is demeaning in two ways. She belittled the work of all those other sound artists out there, of whom she is apparently ignorant. She also belittled the work of Ogboh by not explaining why his work is important within that broader field of sound art.

It’s easy to be important when no one else is doing it, and far more impressive when a work has genuine value in a wider community. Sound work still has a visibility issue, so Ogboh needs to be celebrated for his success and thanked for the attention it brings to our craft. Well done, sir!

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Posted by on May 15, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 20 – Pulling Focus

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…

A few weeks ago, I talked about the idea of a sonic version of the “visual zoom.” This past week, I had the realization that there’s a sonic analogue to another camera trick…pulling focus. Quite simply, it’s pulling a fuzzy picture into focus using the lens (or maybe taking it out of focus). Depending on the budget, the camera department on some projects will have a single person dedicated to “pulling focus.”

I can think of two key ways we can emulate this in sound, though there arguably are probably more.

The first is with reverb. Think of the a wide open and very reverberant space, with a single speaker blasting out a spoken announcement. Depending on you location in that space, the reflections may make it impossible to actually interpret what is being said. If you move closer to the source…giving yourself a more distinct time separation between the source and reflections…you’re likely going to have an easier time comprehending what’s being said. The sound is more in focus.

The second way is by applying atypical recording techniques with your microphones, especially with those that have a less-than-flat frequency response as you move off axis. The shift from off-axis to on can increase the clarity of the sound you’re recording. Additionally, you may be adjusting its position to the source in a way that alters the timing of the sound’s arrival at the capsule…adding doppler shift to that change spectrum! Don’t think that’s an interesting sound design technique? Someone people might disagree with you. Watch one application demonstrated here.

 

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Posted by on May 8, 2016 | 2 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 19 – Functions of Sound

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 like to regularly spend some time thinking about how I describe sound to people who aren’t so focused on sound. It gives me a chance to prep very basic ideas for collaborators in the hopes that, in the process of quickly explaining them, they will some ideas about how to use sound in their projects…or, honestly, to make them want to give me some room to explore those ideas to make their stories more dynamic. A key group I like to talk about is the functions sound can play in a narrative. I’m posting them here so other people can use them, but also to see if anyone out there in the community has ideas to add to this.

I have five key functions that I quickly explain.

  • Physical Representation – The old line, “See a dog, hear a dog.” It’s building the world around the characters and placing the characters in that world. This is a really low-level basic function.
  • Directing Attention – Sounds can draw the eye to a specific portion of the screen, or away from it. What do we want the audience to see? What do we want them to ignore. The way the visual edit is constructed has a strong effect on where the viewer’s attention goes, and sound can augment and solidify that direction.
  • Characterization – The sounds we attribute to objects and people tells us about their nature, and helps add meaning to their existence and actions.
  • Provide Perspective – Sound can help place the viewer in the moment. Are they supposed to be connecting to a specific character? Are they supposed to understand the inner workings of some device? The sounds we choose to include tell the viewer, even if it’s only at a subconscious level, what lens they’re viewing the story through. This can have a major impact on the way the story is interpreted.
  • Commentary – Sound can provide comment on the actions and events on screen. For a simple example, think of any comedic moment that uses sound to punctuate the gag (Looney Tunes anyone?). Want to provide a little wink or nudge to the audience? Sound is a great way to do this.

So what do you think? I feel this list stays just under the threshold of getting too long, and provides plenty for a collaborator to think about. Is there anything you feel that’s missing?

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Posted by on May 1, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 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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