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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 9, 2016 | 0 comments

Media Sound Hamburg – Including Master Class with Randy Thom

From July 8th through July 17th, Internationale Film Fernseh und Musik Akademie will be hosting Media Sound Hamburg; its 6th International summer school for film music, game music and sound design. The event will be taking place at Elsa-Braendstroem-Haus in Hamburg-Blankenese, Germany. Additionally, Randy Thom will be presenting a separate Master Class July 8th through 10th focusing on sound design.

A flat-rate ticket for the full event (excluding Mr. Thom’s master class) are 1.800 €, the “Forums” only ticket is 150 €, and tickets for Randy Thom’s master class are 4.000 €.

For more information, visit the Media Sound Hamburg website.

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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 2, 2016 | 0 comments

What is Sound “Research”?

This is a guest contribution by Karen Collins. Karen is the Canada Research Chair in Interactive Audio at the Games Institute, University of Waterloo, Canada, and the director of Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound. She’s been researching game audio for the past fifteen years, and in the process, published four books and nearly 100 research papers on sound. As Albert Einstein said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Karen proudly admits she has no idea what she is doing. @GameSoundDoc


Don’t we already know what sound is? What do we need research for? I’m often met by surprise or confusion when I tell people I do research in sound. It may help to explain a few research projects that I’ve worked on in recent years to share the types of research that can be done in sound. These were for the most part done in a university setting, although some of the projects received some funding or support from private partners (e.g. Google, Microsoft)—I’ll talk about the academic-industry research crossover below.

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