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Posted by on Dec 24, 2014 | 1 comment

Our Favorite Sounds of 2014

 

Photo by Hunter Desportes

Photo by Hunter Desportes

 

The year 2014 has been one of many great articles, interviews, and discussions here at Designing Sound and we want to thank all of our readers for their attention, suggestions, contributions, and overwhelming support. There have been so many great films, shows, games and events this year that we thought we would share some of our favorites for you to go back and check in case you missed them!

This post is full of links and Youtube videos, so please be patient on the loading. I assure you it is worth it!

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2014 | 5 comments

Time And Psychoacoustics

When designing audio we are often thinking of time across a large variety of units: samples, milliseconds, frames, minutes, hours and more. This article is inspired by a conversation I had with Andy Farnell about a year ago at a pub in Edinburgh, right before a sound design symposium, where we discussed about time and the role it plays when it comes to designing audio.

Like most other audio designers out there, I started twiddling the knobs and sliders well before I had an understanding of the underlying DSP. It was eye-opening experience to realise that almost every single DSP effect is related to time. So let’s start looking at a few common DSP tools used in everyday sound design and analyse how time and the precedence effect plays a role, starting from hundreds of milliseconds all the way down to a single sample.

Precedence Effect

The precedence effect is a psychoacoustic effect that sheds light on how we localise and perceive sounds. It has helped us understand how binaural audio works, how we localise sounds in space and also understand reverberation and early reflections. From Wikipedia:

The precedence effect or law of the first wavefront is a binaural psychoacoustic effect. When a sound is followed by another sound separated by a sufficiently short time delay (below the listener’s echo threshold), listeners perceive a single fused auditory image; its  spatial location is dominated by the location of the first-arriving sound (the first wave front). The lagging sound also affects the perceived location. However, its effect is suppressed by the first-arriving sound.

You might be familiar with this effect if you’ve done any sort of music production or mixing. Quite often a sound is hard panned to one of the two stereo speakers and a delayed copy (10-30ms) of the sound is hard panned to the other speaker. Our ears and brain don’t perceive two distinct sounds, but rather an ambient/wide-stereo sound. It is a cool technique for creating a pseudo-stereo effect from a mono audio source.

The first 30 seconds in the video below shows an example of the precedence effect in action. The delayed signal smears the original signal with phasing artefacts after which it seems to split from the original signal and become a distinct sound of its own.

Echos And Reverb

Echos are distinct delays. Reverberation is made up of early reflections which are delayed sounds that arrive first at the listener  (right after the direct sound) followed by a tail that consists of many such delays diffused into a dense cluster. Artificial reverbs are quite often approximated using networks of delays that feedback into each other (convolution reverbs behave a differently).

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Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 | 0 comments

“Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices” – The McGurk Effect

Want to see something that’ll mess with your head?

YouTube Preview Image

Now, you may not have noticed anything all that strange watching the video, but mute the sound and watch it again. After that, close your eyes and listen to just the audio. Notice anything strange now? You’ve just witnessed one of the more interesting perceptual illusions, the McGurk effect.

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Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 | 0 comments

Psychology of 10 Years of Sound in World of Warcraft

Blindfolded character seemed appropriate.

   For this month’s topic of “Psychoacoustics” I thought I’d stretch the definition a bit and finally write an article I have wanted to for a while now, and discuss the sound design of World of Warcraft. Specifically the unscientific observations of someone (me) who has regularly experienced these sounds for fully 1/3 of their life. What I would like to discuss are my own assumptions and observations about what and how they work in a constantly evolving MMO as someone who has played this game extensively. I feel I am in a semi-unique position in having played such a long-running game, while during most of that time having some amount of sound education, and I also write articles for this here site on the interwebs. This article should be viewed in an opinion or editorial context rather than a scientific or academic context.

 

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 | 5 comments

What’s The Deal With Procedural Game Audio?

Guest contribution by Martin Roth

We’ve all heard of the promises of procedural game audio. A veritable Valhalla where sounds are created out of thin air, driven by the game engine, eliminating the need for huge sample libraries and tedious recording. Sounds great! So why aren’t we hearing more of it in games today? We’ve all experienced Rockstar’s work in GTA 5; those bicycles sure do sound great! Some indy games such as Fract or Pugs luv Beats have dabbled. But it seems that if procedural audio were all that it promised, it would be much more common. What’s the deal?

The hard truth is that while the idea is great in theory, no one knows what they’re doing in practice. The field is lacking in design principles, tools, and technical performance. This is especially true considering the end-to-end workflow. On one end, high-level tools are needed to give designers the flexibility to explore sound and its interactions. On the other, low-level tools are needed to make those creations available where they’re needed, be that on the desktop, mobile, console, embedded systems, web, or anywhere else. The end-to-end workflow is key to the adoption of procedural audio.

For the purposes of this article the terms proceduralgenerative, and interactive as they relate to sound and composition will be used interchangeably. Their distinction is important, but we’ll leave that for another article.

Scarce Design Resources

The field suffers from a lack of resources to learn how to make procedural audio, including standards for judging its merits. Undoubtedly the best learning resource is Andy Farnell’s book Designing Sound. The presentation focuses on design from first principles, but may leave those without a technical background struggling to understand the reasoning (but don’t let that stop you from reading it!). The book is written for clarity, not for absolute performance or maximum sound quality. Resources are otherwise scattered, usually compensated for by personal interest or continued education specifically on the topic.

Tools, Well Almost

Undoubtedly there many excellent tools available to design sounds, especially musical ones. A near fifty year history of electronic music has created a wealth of knowledge, best-practices, and interfaces for exploring sound. But here the end-to-end argument is critical. Unless the designer can run the sounds on the target platform, the tools are not helpful except as a part of the creative process.

In order to satisfy this requirement, the available tools are generally limited to any number of audio programming languages (or even general purpose programming languages). There include Pure DataMax/MSPSuperColliderCsoundChuck, C/C++, the list goes on. Many of these have robust and knowledgable communities supporting them. All of these tools allow the user to “do stuff” with sound, but how well they meet the needs of sound designers is debatable. Many would say that the learning curve is far too steep. The target audience for these tools has typically been those more interested in experimental work.

This leaves us in the difficult situation where the ideal solution is fragmented between tools that satisfy the high-level design requirements and those that satisfy the low-level technical requirements.

Low-Level Really Is Low

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Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 | 1 comment

The Making Of Thunderstorm 3 SFX Library Part 2

Guest Contribution by Frank Bry

Check out part 1 of The Making of Thunderstorm 3 SFX here.

In this second and final article I will discuss microphone patterns, recording device pre amp settings, editing and the final mastering phase of this collection. Before I dive into all the technical mumbo jumbo I want to express that when I’m setting up and actually recording thunder and lightning I get quite excited. There must be something in the air, alien mind control beams or just the anticipation of getting the “ultimate” thunder clap or lightning strike. It’s very hard work and involves exercise, listening, tracking the storms and watching the skies. I feel like a kid in a candy shop and I feel the recording is the easy part. So, now we begin. Part 2: The Real Work Begins.

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Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 | 0 comments

Synthesis Tips for the Non-Synthesist

Massive_Screenshot

Guest Contribution from Steven Smith

Introduction

In some ways it seems quite strange to find myself authoring a post on synthesis that has as its main topic: “Not everyone needs to be a synthesist”. But from another angle of practicality, it makes a great deal of sense. Many of us already have found ourselves naturally diving into certain areas of synthesis from within the field and somewhat skating around others.  So…  If you are not a synthesis geek, this article is for you. 

‘Why would it be helpful to explore this area?’ you may be wondering. Even though today’s virtual instruments commonly ship with hundreds or even thousands of presets, many users will still find themselves passing over sounds that are not quite right. Yet with some fundamental knowledge and strategies I feel most non-synthesist could quickly address some of these sound’s shortcomings and reshape them close enough to quickly put them in service.

This is precisely my goal. I hope to address some fundamental strategies and principles relating to synthesis and synthesizers in order to facilitate what I like to think of as quick fixes. Even though these strategies will not work 100% of the time, you should find them coming to the rescue quite often. 

From the onset it will be my intention to populate this article with images from multiple synths. This is a small attempt to expose you to as many different views as possible. Given that each synth designer has its own GUI strategies (in addition to its own sound design strategies), I hope this will further help the usefulness of the material presented.

There is also a body of knowledge that we must have to enable us to find sounds, change them, and then Save these changes. Let’s jump in…

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Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 | 0 comments

Sonic Architecture

Expo 1958 paviljoen van Philips

The Philips Pavilion, based on hyperbolic paraboloids originally used in Metastaseis musical piece by Iannis Xenakis

“Sound is a spatial event, a material phenomenon and an auditive experience rolled into one. It can be described using the vectors of distance, direction and location. Within architecture, every built space can modify, position, reflect or reverberate the sounds that occur there. Sound embraces and transcends the spaces in which it occurs, opening up a consummate context for the listener: the acoustic source and its surroundings unite into a unique auditory experience.”

OASE

The spatial metaphor

Over the years, the relationship and analogy between music/sound art/sound design and architecture has been explored in several aspects. In the same way architecture works over the solid materials, visual spaces, geometry, abstract realities or social contexts, it does over the aural realities, the sonic dimension. When it comes to space, sound can be valued in an architectural process, just as architecture is also sonic.

Although when it comes to music, there has been a discussion on the validity of the analogy between the musical space and that of architecture, and there’s also some way of relating both concepts in the role of sound design, since it doesn’t rely in a fixed language as some music is, and it’s always open to the contexts in which it evolves or in which it is developed, such as a film. Space in terms of sound design is immensely important, both in terms of the visual/outer spaces projected in a particular audiovisual medium, but also in the inner, abstract or invisible faculties of a piece like a film or a videogame, thus introducing the possibility of creating architecture with aural elements in the same way the visual aspect creates its own spaces and objects.

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Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 | 5 comments

Sound Design Inspiration from Outer Space

YouTube Preview Image

A few months ago I came across a Twitter post made by Stephan Schütze (a recent Designing Sound contributor) that continues to resonate with me (no pun intended) and I wanted to share it with anyone in the sound design community that has yet to hear these sounds.

As a side note, Stephan’s tweet was unrelated to his Designing Sound contribution (which can be found here) that he wrote for our monthly theme dedicated to Vehicles.

The original Twitter post was for an article entitled:

NASA Probes Record Sounds In Space – And It’s Terrifying.

I was immediately enthralled as soon as I heard the sounds. Opposed to my previous beliefs, outer space actually does produce sound, and the sounds are quite remarkable.

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Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 | 0 comments

Article With Neil Benezra In CineMontage

If you made it to the Designing Sound mixer we held during the AES conference in New York last year, you may have met Neil Benezra. Neil is a Brooklyn based sound designer and mixer, and he’s just shown up on the cover of the latest issue of CineMontage (the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild Journal). We’re always happy to see members of our community being recognized. Why not go give it a read? ;)

Congrats Neil!

CineMontage_Neil

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