For the past few years I have been bothered about the amount of time I spend on a job — not specifically about how busy I am, but rather how much time I spend concentrating on the task that needs getting done. By default, most of us learn to constantly optimise our workflows as our experience grows. This is very important, as successful projects are judged not only on their quality but also budgets! But most of us also have the task of being creative collaborators while working long hours. Not easy.
One of the biggest problems I find with workflow optimisation is that I get stuck with techniques and ideas that have previously worked and quite often end up forcing ideas that don’t fit the context. They are often sub-conscious decisions and I need to consciously stop myself and try something new. I recently started taking ‘silent breaks’ to combat this. I’m a big fan of the pomodoro technique and use a 25 minute timer when I work. With every break (every 25 minutes) I step away from the computer and silently ponder on my work. I was surprised (and in hindsight, not so surprised) to find that it greatly improved my productivity and the quality of my work. There is something quite stimulating in taking a break, staring out of the window in silence and letting the mind wander.
But there are days when I ignore the timer because I’m too busy trying to make an idea work. I then start to optimise my workflow once again and forget about productive silences. An infinite loop.
A number of years ago I took part in a critical listening exercise where participants where given a piece of music and 3 hours to provide a critical assessment of it. The piece of music lasted just over 4 minutes so during those hours I got very familiar with it, but I didn’t really get much beyond scratching the surface of it, in terms of critical listening. The point of the exercise was to enlighten us as to the difference between ‘hearing’ and ‘critical listening’. For those 3 hours I was receptive to the music, I heard it, absorbed it, liked and disliked aspects of it, but I wasn’t able to engage a more critical mindset and turn my receptive listening into an active evaluation of the music. At that early stage in my career as an engineer I simply didn’t know how to set about the process.
Charlie Chaplin on ‘City Lights’
“Ideally, for me, the perfect sound film has zero tracks. You try to get the audience to a point, somehow, where they can imagine the sound. They hear the sound in their minds, and it really isn’t on the track at all. That’s the ideal sound, the one that exists totally in the mind, because it’s the most intimate. It deals with each person’s experience, and it’s obviously of the highest fidelity imaginable, because it’s not being translated through any kind of medium.” – Walter Murch
Silence can be sonic; sound can be silent. We’re always listening to both. When we listen to a sound, we listen to a silence. When we listen to silence, we listen to sound. The dualism behind this is just an illusion, because in reality, we only find one thing, a single coin, with two faces, but a single coin.
There’s always sound in silence, always. There’s no such thing as sound without silence. There’s no such thing as silence without sound. Both are always dependent on each other and get differentiated just because of our fantasy of reality. We could think as silence as “absence of sound” but that will not be in an absolute way because there’s no place without sound, there’s no time without sound. Silence is absence just in partial ways, depending on the wave, all the time attached to the context the absence of a particular sounds, or just the choices around the speakers can’t reproduce.
First, some confessions: I am a sound designer, I have never worked on a Broadway production, and therefore, never expected to win a Tony Award (let alone be a part of a discussion of this nature).
I may not be an “insider” of the theatre world, but the decision earlier this month to stop presenting Tony Awards for sound design (of a play and also of a musical) deems a reaction from the entire sound design community. With that in mind, please support this petition initiated by John Gromada.
Link to sign the petition: Reinstate the Tony Award Categories for Sound Design Now!.
Actress Jill Winternitz showing her support on twitter.
The first time I heard of the decision by the Tony Administration Committee was from Randy Thom’s post in Designing Sound on the 13th (two days after the announcement). The news initially confused me; it seemed like a huge “slap in the face” (as Randy Thom wrote) with very little that could possibly be gained by this action. Sure, sound design is not as glamorous as some categories, but there must be more to this decision.
Guest Contribution by Rob Bridgett
For the past 14 years I’ve been a proponent of sound as a deeply integral part of the video game development process, getting audio involved earlier, allowing it to become a part of decision making and concepting, allowing sound’s early presence, excitement and enthusiasm to influence the other disciplines involved in the collaborative sport of video game development.
Recently, you may have noticed a trend towards narrowing down the focus of what we consider to be multi-disciplinary game development, there are small team, minimal, retro, and almost inevitably towards audio-only games. At the Game Developer’s Conference Nicky Birch of Somethin’ Else’s spoke about their audio-only games (such as Papa Sangre) as did Brian Schmidt on a similar theme in 2013). These are games in which the player has little or no visual input or stimulus, but relies entirely on spatialized audio cues.
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: