Guest Contribution by Jeff Talman
Seong Moy, my drawing professor at City College of New York, had students lightly shade their sketchpads with hand-smeared charcoal to prepare a background for the drawing. This neutral background helped to create an illusory sense of depth in a 2-dimensional medium. The negative space of the drawing was activated by this treatment. Had there been no shading, no defined background, the objects in the drawing would not have existed anywhere, but would have been only representations, floating and free of context. The background helped to create a space in which to work.
Similarly, audio engineers know how important the background silence is in recording. In the early days of Audio CDs engineers learned that absolute silence between tracks created a void that the listener could find to be unpleasant, as if the CD was somehow unnatural because it did not exist in any space itself. The problem was compounded in that LPs had a consistent background sound. So sound on the early CDs seemed to ‘drop out’ between tracks. Soon engineers added low levels of ambient, background sound to fill these voids just as the charcoal smears did for the drawings.
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.
Sound occupies space. Actually, sound is a wave (or set of waves) that travels through a medium. So, it’s not so much that it occupies a space, but is trapped within it. Sound interacts with that space, fills it, bounces around inside it and, if it causes enough vibrations, can bleed out into adjacent spaces. The interaction between sound and the space it occupies can tell us a lot about both.
Reverberation is what we commonly call sound’s interaction with the space that houses it. Reverb tends to imply that we’re speaking about the reflections and decay time of indoor spaces, but reverb is the propagation of reflections that occurs in an enclosed space. That means it happens outdoors too; in the woods, in a canyon or city alley.
And that’s what we’re going to be focusing on this month, sound’s interaction with its host…reverb.
Next month we’ll be looking at unsung plug-in features and fun ways to abuse some of our favorite plug-ins for sound design. We are always open to guest submissions if you have an article you would like to share. Contact shaun.at.designingsound.org if you’re interested.
It’s time for another report of the Sound Design for Pros webinar series from David Sonnenschein.
The last webinar was very good. David started reviewing several of the assignments of the last webinar. Then he talked about the relations between sound and the physical/social environment in a cinematic context and also talked about several techniques and methods to analyze and give emotion/storytelling power to different elements in space and time.
Then David gave us detailed information about the sound spheres theory, which is awesome to discover new psychoacoustic and geographical characteristics of sound that can help the story. It’s a very cool method.