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Posted by on Apr 3, 2016 | 5 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 14 – Sound’s Golden Mean?

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…

This week, I have a question. While I may occasionally ponder the idea, I’ve never devoted a significant portion of brain power to it for a substantial period of time. That might sound lazy on my part, but it’s actually a hard question and I always have higher priority items on my plate.

…and now I’m just creating excuses. ;)

In case you didn’t notice it in the past (or haven’t been visiting the site as long as some other people have), you may have missed the fact that I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to psycoacoustics. Many of the Gestalt principles or “rules of organization” that describe how we perceive visual stimulus have direct corollaries with the way we perceive sound. There’s one that’s difficult to translate though, because there’s such a stark difference in the way we perceive space through our eyes and ears…the Golden Ratio (sometimes referred to as the Golden Mean).

So what say you sound design community? How do you think the Golden Ratio can be related to sound, or can it not?

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Posted by on Mar 27, 2016 | 2 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 13 – Contact Hearing

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…

In a previous post, I posited that perhaps hearing is a specialized function of touch. An experience I had on my recent vacation made me think of this idea again in a different light…hearing through touch.

I was on a boat traveling between islands, and I had ear plugs in (the engine was pretty loud). I reached down to press against the hard seat, and noticed a bump in my perception of the low end of the spectrum. I took my hand away, the bump left. I stood up from the seat briefly, but didn’t notice any significant change in the spectrum. Sat back down, and placed my hand on the seat again. That boost in the low end was very pronounced. I don’t know why contact with my hand had such a dramatic impact over the fact that I was sitting on the seat…maybe because the vibrations in my hand/arm had less muscle and fat to attenuate them when traveling through the skeletal structure to reach my head? Regardless, I heard the engine differently when I place my hand on a surface that was vibrating in sympathy with it.

That’s an interesting angle from which to explore subjectivity of perspective in a story. Not something that can be used in just any circumstance, but it’s one more tool in the bag for putting the viewer in the mind/space of a character.

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Posted by on Mar 20, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 12 – Documenting Vs. Experiencing

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 just got back from a two week vacation to the Philippines, and a lot of my more sound oriented friends asked me questions that were all variations on, “How much did you record?” The answer is just over a minute of audio.

It seems like a crime to go someplace so different from my everyday experience and not sonically document it in more detail. I’ve noticed one of my personality traits over the years though. If the purpose of my activity is not to be out collecting sounds (i.e. on vacation with my wife), I’m FAR more selective about pulling out my recorder. If I’m going to record a sound in said situation, it better be something I can unequivocally use without fuss in the future. If there’s music playing somewhere in the background…not recording. If HVAC hum is going to be present in an otherwise beautiful nature soundscape…not recording. The list goes on.

I choose to follow this philosophy because listening to record and listening just for the experience are two very different things. If I’m trying to record a sound, I’m not likely to notice how the leaves on a bush behind me are reflecting only the high frequency components of a power washer, or the unique way the different components of a helicopter modulate as it crosses the sky…seeming to break the normal laws of Doppler phenomenon. Being aware of unique occurrences of sound interactions in the environment gives me new ideas for mixing and sound design that I can use in the future.

That’s something I can’t always get while concentrating in an attempt to record a bird call in the tropics, using only a Sony M10, while the bungalow next to me blasts the AC and music echoes down from the nearby outdoor cafe.

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Posted by on Mar 13, 2016 | 6 comments

Sunday Sound Though 11 – Natural Spectrum Awareness

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’ll be honest, I lied to you last week.

…well, sort of. Talking about spectrum and perception was really all a big set up for this week’s thought.

In his book, The Great Animal Orchestra, Bernie Krause discusses the idea of Biophony; that each sound generating organism evolved in such a way that it’s voice fit into it’s surrounding soundscape so as to not compete with other organisms. If a bird doesn’t have to compete with an insect or a deer’s vocalizations, or even wind for that matter, it doesn’t have to struggle to be heard by its peers. As a result of this, natural soundscapes tend to fill the spectrum of sound. They aren’t isolated into bands. As I discussed last week, the wider the spectral content, the fuller and louder a sound seems.

This has made me wonder about how our environment affected us as we evolved within it. Perhaps this activation of more critical bands was a selective element in our evolution. There are cases of animals becoming quiet when predators are present, which would decrease the spectral content of our environment. If a human’s surroundings didn’t sound as “full” as they usually might, wouldn’t that be a clue that something is out of the ordinary? Would that help an early human survive the rigors of life in the wild? Would that also explain why we are so sensitive changes to the spectral content of sound?

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Posted by on Mar 6, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 10 – Spectral Loudness

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…though this week’s is a physiological than philosophical

This week’s thought isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s something that gets brought up randomly throughout the community. It’s recurrent for a good reason though…it’s the idea that you can make something seem louder by expanding the spectral content without actually increasing the volume. A wider spectral pattern activates more of the inner ear’s “critical bands.” The more bands that are activated, the louder something seems…even if the dB-SPL measurement stays the same.

Then there’s the distortion/clipping side of the coin. It makes use of this very effect to increase the perceived loudness. Distortion adds harmonics, increasing the activation of critical bands in the inner ear, but remember that it does this by changing the waveform…giving it more time in the “crest/trough zone” per cycle. It changes the RMS measurement. Depending on how it changes the wave form crest/trough, it can also increase the empirical, not just the perceived, loudness level.

Thanks for indulging me while I reminded myself of this…awareness of the spectrum is important in sound design.

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