R. Murray Schafer at “listen” short film
“One can look at seeing but one can’t hear hearing” – Marcel Duchamp
As you may know, silence is the topic chosen for this month here at Designing Sound. One may think silence is not existent if we value it as an absolute sonic absence, but here I’m going to examine its role and possibility towards the act of listening to sound, silencing, not as that state of complete sonic deletion but as a force able of letting sound to be. Here’s not about asking “what is silence?” but just creating an invitation to be silent and just listen.
I recently came across the Frictional Games blog and have spent the last few weeks trawling through it’s archive. It provides a wealth of informaiton on game design, and in particular discussions on the point of game narrative. One particular post, 4 Layers, a narrative design approach, written by Thomas Grip, Frictional’s creative director, raised the concept of the mental model, and the impact this can have, not only on game design, but also on a players experience of a game.
Acousmonium, INA-GRM, 1980. Photo by Laszlo Ruska.
Surround (Oxford Dictionary)
- (verb) [with object] – Be all round (someone or something)
- (noun) – A thing that forms a border or edging around an object.
- (adjective) (Surrounding) – All around a particular place or thing.
Based merely on a technological approach, one might think that Surround sound is just the technique of reproducing audio signals in a particular array of speakers that distribute sound around space in order to give a three-dimensional illusion for the ears…
Surround is not visual really, is not something we can see. Surround is not just a technique of distributing sound, but the consequences of it. It’s a characteristic of sound itself, natural to the sonic phenomenon and responsible of the entire notion of the “auditory field” which is more than simply one dimension of space, but a multi-layered, multi-dimensional representation of sound.
In this article I aim to explore different experiments and perspectives toward the use of surround sound and the experiments between space and form, getting out from the image/film relationship in order to explore how sound “alone” can be enriched by the process of multichannel distribution, which has been deeply explored aesthetically, psychologically, musically, etc.
There’s been more VR content made in the past year than the last twenty combined, thanks to the emergence of the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and other such virtual reality (VR) devices. There’s lots of innovation happening on the visual front, including new methods of gameplay, narrative structure and visual design. The obvious question: what’s happening on the audio front?
There are discussions about audio for VR across the Internet but most of them are related to the technology behind binaural/3D positional audio. There also is lots of academic research related to auditory interfaces spanning the past couple of decades. A search on Google Scholar will lead to lots of good material worth reading. [This post is focussed on first person game like environments, where audio-visual realism and synchronisation is necessary]
Over the past two and a half years I have been involved with Two Big Ears where we’ve been developing 3Dception, a very very efficient real-time and easy to use binaural audio engine that works everywhere (you can head to the website to watch and download demos). During this period I’ve had the opportunity to design sound for about fourteen augmented and virtual reality projects including games, interfaces for the visually impaired and audio led tourism apps. My experience so far, especially when working with binaural audio, has shown that some of the ‘tricks’ we take for granted in non-VR applications don’t work as well. This article is a summary of a few things that I’ve learnt, as a designer, when dealing with such technologies.
This article is by no means exhaustive. My hope is that it can be expanded as more sound designers experiment in this area. I’ve also made a copy of this article on a wiki which I hope to update as I continue work in this area (it is on wiki to facilitate community contribution!). I’m also currently working on a short playable game t
Photo cc: zoomar
While Designing Sound is snuggled firmly in the warm and cozy blanket of text articles; it’s not always the most convenient way to absorb information. Whenever I am walking on a hiking trail or making a long (or even short!) drive I don’t usually listen to music unless I am out of new podcast episodes! People may be aware of the podcasts we have covered and collaborated with recently but I thought it would be cool to wrap them all up into a nice little bundle for everyone!
Here’s a roundup of the sound design podcasts that I listen to regularly:
One of the main reasons to start this site back in 2008 and also one of the things that keeps me motivated to do this is the impact that some people had in my life; curiously, people who I haven’t met in person, but I’ve deeply met with my ears.
I’m talking about those sound designers who created initial routes for all of us and started to develop a truly amazing way of working with sound, by establishing the essence of this art, not just from a technical perspective but an emotional, narrative and even spiritual one. I’m so glad to make this post about about one of those sound genius, a person that I know many of us deeply admire, Alan Splet.
He had the main faculties any sound designer needs to have, as described by Splet’s widow Ann Kroeber: “attention to detail, nuance, perseverance, ability to vastly influence the mood of a scene by the choice and placement of sounds”.
Photo by: Lu Chiganer
Last month my friend Marc Mailand was showing me around his home studio (which is super sweet). We were discussing his surround setup and mentioned needing a surround panner and how expensive they are. I noticed the PS3 controller sitting on his desk and wondered out loud: “There has got to be some sort of DIY solution using a game joystick as a surround panner”. So when it came time to think up an article for this months topic of “Surround” I thought it would be eezy peezy to round up all of the DIY surround panners out there, only to find that it is a mythical beast!
That’s a lot of bass
Let’s talk about surround sound systems for a quick second, shall we?
A modern surround sound system, in its simplest form, consists of six channels; Left, Center, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround, and the Low Frequency Effect channel. The first five channels are all fairly self-explanatory, denoting the location of the speaker itself and the channel’s location in the sound field. That last one, the LFE, is a little bit more complicated.
Broken wax cylinder containing the ‘first’ film soundtrack circa 1894-1895
In ‘broken’ month I wanted to find out a little more about what’s being done to fix (and preserve) some of the broken pieces of film history. The story of the Dickson Experimental Sound Film (link to view at the end of the article) seemed to be a good way into the subject and I am indebted to Ken Weissman, supervisor of the film preservation lab at the Library of Congress, Jerry Fabris, museum curator at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park and Paul Spehr, author and film historian, for their help putting this article together.
As April comes to an end and we wrap up our topic for the month, “broken”, I wanted to take a moment and share something that I learned when I was first starting out, and something that I find myself having to remember quite often: how to react when everything starts to break.
We depend on a lot of complex technologies in our day-to-day lives, some more intricate and convoluted than others. As sound designers, we often find ourselves using even more complicated and specialized gear and equipment, adding to the complexity. While a lot of time and effort has gone into making these technologies work perfectly, the simple fact of the matter is that things have a tendency to break, often when you need them the most. As an old friend of mine likes to say, “Murphy was an optimist!”