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Stevie C’s Blog.

What I’ve been up to…

Roadie: lighting tech, stage crew, spot-op, sound engineer, DJ.

Sound Design & Sonic Arts

September - November 2011

Let there be sound. This blog was created to archive my thoughts, musings, findings, rants and such during the process of conducting my honours year college projects and my life beyond…. Anecdotes, moaning and comma splicing ahead.

The initial week has been scary. Our year has been tasked with organising a sonic arts exhibition. Should be simple really: find a venue, setup the exhibition, get people through the door, they have a good time, they tell all their mates to come down, get said people to fill out questionnaire, derig, collate data, report findings back to blog and lecturer, goto pub. Right? Easier said than done. First problem: I need an idea.

I (and the rest of our group) require an exhibition space complete with audience. Having been informed that it’s in our best interests to find a viewing space outside college grounds, we set about contacting galleries. We quickly found that even the smaller galleries had a waiting time of several months to several years. Several of the venues we scoped out had very interesting reverbs and other sonic properties; which almost seems a worthwhile project in itself: touring spaces and capturing acoustic properties, with the possibility of importing them into a DAW for later use.

Good news: I have a concept. A reasonably workable and multifaceted concept. It’s going to be some type of demonstration involving Binaural virtual 3D soundscape simulation type thing. The main idea revolves around capturing and reproducing several realistic (binaural) soundscapes - the obvious problem being how to easily allow an audience to experience the auditory phenomenon in an interactive manner. Looks like my coding skills are going to be useful.

I coded a graphical user interface with several command buttons; each of which plays back a different sound (i.e. a Binaural recording). In hindsight, I could have used JavaScript and HTML, but elected to go with Windows Desktop and Microsoft Basic, as that’s what I was familiar with at the time. However, what this does not permit is the reproduction of live audio into the captured audio (to allow the listener to insert themselves into my world/ears; possibly not the best place to be anyway).

Sonic Arts software screen grab

I referred to this unit as Sonic Arts, even though I’m doing a BSc, not a BA as my adviser occasionally reminded me. I honestly enjoyed going out into various locations and performing my binaural recordings (with in-ear microphones and an H2 Recorder). It opened up my ears so to speak. Forgive me if I’m mis-quoting, but I believe David Huron wrote “Sound is all around”. While our brains filter out everyday sounds (the Aspie brain does not, but that’s something else entirely), the binaural recording process brings the unnoticed audio kicking and screaming into the forefront of human conscience.

I have been sat on the bus, in a pub or in a shopping mall and just thought to myself: “This would be binaural gold, if only I had my recorder with me for this helicopter/outside gig/percussion recital/bar room brawl/drugs bust complete with ten police cars and dog squads all around the street…” I hope the audience find the binaural audio as engaging to listen to as I did to produce.

The feedback has been positive, and criticism has been constructive. If you came on down to the North Inch campus to see our work, a very big thank-you to you. If you didn’t then why not? While everyone agreed that the sounds were very realistic, there were a few who commented on the sourcing of the audio materials. In hindsight, perhaps there could have been a larger array of source sounds - given a bigger time frame to capture them in. One comment in particular was that there could have been a slight variation, i.e. several cafes in addition to the pubs, different types of music in different venues, and shopping malls in addition to the kiosks - you get the idea. All these will be coming in version 2.0.

Something else I considered for version 2.0 - as well as the virtual pub crawl - was the Aspie Simulator, which allows NTs to experience what sensory overload feels like. I believe the NAS has already produced something along those lines.

Free Sample

You can download my binaural audio sampler (for 32-bit Windows desktop) complete with binaural Wave-audio samples: Click Here to download my binaural player.zip [64 Megabytes]. Unzip/expand the folder to your hard drive then double click “Supersonic.exe” to launch.
NOTE: This only works with headphones, not speakers.

Note: If you do not use Windows, you can still listen to the binaural wave audio files on your computer, provided you use headphones.

Sources: Audio-vision: Sound on Screen by M Chion, Spatial Audio by F Rumsey & Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation by D Huron. I believe there’s also a Derren Brown video on YouTube featuring a man who can “see” by clicking his tongue to create sound impulses that reflect on obstacles in his path, if you care to look for it.

Pub time…