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Posted by on May 30, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 22 – Descartes and 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…

Descartes is the philosopher who shared the idea, “Je pense, donc je suis.”

Cogito ergo sum…I think, therefore I am.

The idea that proof of one’s existence is verified by the simple fact of self-awareness. Taking that idea to heavy extremes can lead to the concept of Solipsism, which I’ve touched on before in relation to sound. I don’t intend to go fall into the Solipsism trap today; rather, I plan to contradict that extreme idea. Sound can serve as proof that there exists object outside of ourselves.

I talked about the physical nature of sound early on in this series. So, if sound is the result of a physical interaction and has physical effects on other objects in its environment, then the fact that an object can be a component in the creation of sound proves that the object exists in the physical realm.

Seems like pointless philosophy on the surface, but if you can apply this idea to a character’s experience of the world…maybe it will do something interesting in the story.

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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 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 1, 2016 | 0 comments

Monthly Theme: Research

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Re-search

noun
1. the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.
“This month on DesigningSound.org we’re going to be looking into the subject of research”

verb
1. investigate systematically.
“What have you been researching? Would you like to share it with the community?”

The current state of audio technology is fascinating. A single person from home on a laptop can create their own DAW, plugins, use them to make music, mix a film, and author playable media. Physical modeling allows us to recreate believable sounding instruments from pure math. We can create convincing spacial audio in 3D game engines. We clean up audio removing extraneous noises with the precision of a surgeon who leaves no scars. We can capture the acoustic properties of a space, apply it to any sound, then remove the reverb we just added as if by magic. We can even morph and change the acoustic properties of a live environment in real-time. We can control sound with the press of a key, a slide on a touch-screen or a gesture in the air. But how did we get here, and where are we going?

For this month, DesigningSound is going to be looking at the subject of research and how it applies to audio. How does one conduct audio/sound research? What landmark studies contributed to where we are today in the audio-verse. What studies are currently being carried out and where might they take us?

Please email doron [at] this site to contribute an article for this month’s topic. And as always, please feel free to go “off-topic” if there’s something else you’re burning to share with the community.

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