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Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 | 0 comments

Forging New Territory: Audio Design Education, Non-Traditional Disciplines, & Diversity


Chanel Summers & a Huxley[2]

Guest Contribution By Chanel Summers

As a woman who has built her own career on a platform of game audio, game design and game production, I am passionate about programs that teach and empower women to follow a similar path. As there are such few women in the field of video game audio, fewer are even aware of the opportunities. I have been on a mission to try and change that – trying to introduce this field as a career option to young women and show that women can lead in this field and be highly successful — and perhaps even change the complexion of the video game industry. The reason this is so important is that for an industry or a creative medium to achieve its full potential, it must draw strength from diversity — a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, and experiences. Each person approaching opportunity from a different starting point keeps things fresh, vibrant, exciting and new.

That is why I found myself, two years ago, at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girl’s school in Bellevue, Washington, proposing a summer workshop called, “Artistic Expression in Game Audio Design”. The workshop would give young women an artistic and technical foundation in audio for interactive media and expose them to the career possibilities in video game audio. It would be based on the class that I created and teach at USC’s Interactive Media & Games Division in the School of Cinematic Arts (“Audio Expression”), taking a semester-long course and turning it into an intensive one month long workshop for Forest Ridge. Because we chose not to “adapt” the material for a younger audience, these girls would get the same material I teach to undergrads, grads, and PhD students. In fact, it would be even more intensive, as they would have class every day for four hours each day rather than once a week. By choosing not to “dumb down” the curriculum for students just because they are younger or new to the field, we showed that we respected the young women, which they in turn responded to with vigor.

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 | 0 comments

Audio Education – A view from the middle

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Clearly the fates have decreed that I should not only be involved in the writing of a new audio degree as education month comes around, but that I should also be well into my own studies, working towards a Master’s degree in Sound Design. However, in getting to this point, my own audio education has meandered along most of the routes one might take in the pursuit of a career in audio. I’ve volunteered at studios, received on the job (and in the pub) training. I’ve studied at private colleges and run my own studio. Each of these diversions had an intrinsic value and it’s unlikely I would be in the position I am now without having taken them. However, as both a lecturer and a student, I am acutely aware that there are mixed views as to the value of a formal audio education, not just from potential students, but also from employers and practitioners (i.e. this interview from a few weeks ago). So I thought it might be useful to talk a little about the nature of writing an audio degree, from the middle so to speak. (Just to note, I am based in the UK so this relates to the process’s undertaken here. I can’t speak for anywhere else.)

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Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 | 7 comments

Life Lessons and Audio Education

Photo belongs to Vancouver Film School, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

Photo belongs to Vancouver Film School, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

Guest Contribution by April Tucker

Having a degree in audio can be a double-edged sword. This was a lesson I learned after one of my earliest interviews, not long after completing my Master’s Degree (in Sound Recording). I was new to Los Angeles and interviewing for part-time tech work. It seemed to be going well until the interviewer said, “I don’t even have friends with Master’s Degrees… why would I hire someone with one?” I had just been discriminated against for having a formal education.

There’s a lot of lessons about working in entertainment (like that one) that you hear about and prepare for, but you can’t really process until you experience it yourself. Another example is being out of work. Even if you’re financially prepared, nothing can prepare you for the mental game that happens when you’re going through it the first time.

Given that our field is very experience-driven, one might ask, what’s the point of formal audio education? As someone with two audio degrees (and ten years in the field), I can confidently say that there is value in some audio education; students can practice, experiment and fail in ways that you can’t do in a job. There’s skills that can be learned faster through focused learning or practice (like technical ear training, acoustics, or electronics). My concern with audio programs is that they tend to be too focused on teaching niche vocational skills (like large format consoles and microphones), or too short for a well-rounded audio education.

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Posted by on Jan 5, 2015 | 0 comments

It Never Ends…

Photo by Matylda Czarnecka. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

Photo by Matylda Czarnecka. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

First off, happy new year to all of our readers!

We’re going to kick this year off with a slightly different topic. We’re going to take a look at education. There will be some discussion of academic programs certainly, but that’s not necessarily the sum total of this topic. I know that personally, I’ve learned far more since finishing my “formal training” than I did during it. The courses I took certainly got me started and greatly affected the way I’ve approached my career, but it’s important to realize that your education never ends. Well, maybe it does, but it shouldn’t. Folks progress to the head of our field by shutting their brain down once they’ve got a piece of paper. The really good practitioners, and this is true in any field, continue to train, experiment and challenge themselves throughout their career.

So, what do you do to step up your game?

…and that’s not a rhetorical question. If you’re not new to the site, you probably already know that we always encourage and welcome guest contributions from the community. If you’re interested in adding to this month’s discussion, contact [shaun {at} this website].

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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 7, 2014 | 6 comments

Designing Sound Discussion Group – Psychoacoustics for Sound Designers

You can watch today’s webinar here on Designing Sound, or…if you’d like to ask questions…you can join us over on Google Hangouts to participate more directly. If you’d like to ask some follow up questions, please reach out to us through our contact page, ping me on twitter or drop a comment below.

Additional media used during the presentation after the break.

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Posted by on Dec 1, 2014 | 1 comment

It’s All in Your Head…

Image from Flickr user Allan Ajifo, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

Image from Flickr user Allan Ajifo, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that all of the sounds we hear in our life are actually the result of post-processing in our brains? That what you hear might not actually be what the person next to you hears? The combination and coordination of organs that goes into the interpretation of fluctuations in atmospheric pressure is truly a marvel. We’ve given ourselves a pretty hefty challenge this month; we’re going to be focusing on Psychoacoustics. It’s not an easy subject to approach from a sound designer’s perspective, but we’re going to attempt it anyways.

…and rather than put together a separate announcement post…

This coming Sunday (December 7th), at 3:30PM U.S. Eastern, I’ll be hosting a webinar version of my AES “Psychoacoustics for Sound Designers” presentation. So, mark it on your calendars, and come to the site to watch…or go directly to our Google+ page so you can interact and ask questions during the presentation.

Next month’s featured topic will be Education. As always, we encourage contributions from the community. If you would like to contribute to this or next month’s discussions, or have something off-topic that you would like to share with the community, contact shaun {at} this website.

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Posted by on Nov 25, 2014 | 1 comment

Sound for the Documentary “Out of Nothing”

Nosferatu

photo courtesy of Chad DeRosa Photography

Guest Contribution by James Bretz

The documentary Out of Nothing is my first feature, and the first feature for our entire P-51 Pictures team. It’s more than just a story about motorcycles. It’s a human story. It follows four men who follow their passions and dreams, and it tells one of many stories that are a part of a larger community of individuals and teams involved in motorcycle land speed racing.

When looking over the footage that Director Chad DeRosa had shot over the course of two years, one word came to mind. Scope. It was Chad’s and Producer Andrew Lahmann’s goal that the film should look and feel large. We wanted Out of Nothing to be experienced as more of an action/drama narrative than an informative style of documentary

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Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Documentary Sound – A Discussion with James LeBrecht

JamesLeBrechtDesigning Sound: Would you mind giving our readers a little bit about your background and how long you’ve been working in audio post?

James LeBrecht: I’m the owner of Berkeley Sound Artists, and we’re located in the Saul Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley. We’re kind of a small company. I think the term “boutique shop” would sound little bit pretentious, but we’re kind of the right size to feel personally involved in projects. We primarily focus in sound design and mixing, and our prime emphasis is in documentaries. I started the company in 1996, thinking that maybe we’d be doing a lot of multimedia work, CD-ROMS, etc.…and we did do some of that. We did some work for a now defunct educational software company called Theatrix. But very early on Patti Tauscher, who worked with me for many years, she came to me and said, “I met this guy. He’s got a documentary, and I think we should do the sound on it.” So we wound up doing this film for Steven Olsen, and it immediately became apparent to me that…here’s a niche that people weren’t really focusing on. A lot of houses do documentary work as “fill-in” work. Some people are really kind of dedicated to it, but that’s our prime focus. Plus, being in what is known as the Fantasy building…

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