Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Living in a visual world...

Indisputably, our culture is visual. And given that context, I think sound people are a peculiar bunch. Out of sight, at once subservient and imperative.

Strange, don't you think?

It starts from the earliest ages. We are obsessed with teaching sight before sound, utterly rapt with Susie knowing her colors and Johnny identifying his ABC’s before all the other kids. We use these paradigms as tools to measure acceptance and worse, status. Without so much as a second thought, we fill our infant’s, toddler’s, and pre-schooler’s lives with the notion that what they see is more important than what they hear.

Don't believe me? Name someone you know whose parents gave them one, let alone many, lessons in frequency, period, or wavelength before kindergarten? And why is it that sunglasses are afforded prime retail positioning in stores and malls while ear plugs and hearing protection are relegated to a small shelf space next to hemorrhoid creme? And save for those children who go on to study music, try to find instances in the lives of growing adolescents where pitch and amplitude are as important as line and shape.

Or, is it that we intuite sound and have to learn sight?

I'm currently researching sound design textbooks for the upcoming academic year at Flashpoint, and just today came across this terrific passage in Robin Beauchamps's Designing Sound for Animation: "Eavesdrop on a child playing with toys, the kind that are powered more by imagination than batteries. Notice the detail with which children sonify their play. They produce vocal sound effects that vividly portray the object[s] in hand. A diverse cast, uniquely voiced, interacts seamlessly to produce dialogue that provides us with essential narrative elements. From time to time an occasional melody is performed to underscore the action. Listen closely and you will hear volume and pitch changes that reflect an innate understanding of physics and acoustics."

At Flashpoint Academy, the Recording Arts Program will strive to "sonify our play." We will spend a great deal of time analyzing our aural landscape, identifying the components from which it is made, and above all, recording it. Literally and figuratively.

Just as I am a teacher who never stops learning, sound engineers should never stop recording. Ever.

Of course, I partially refer to "recording" in the sense of listening. I am always hearing my world in terms of how I can use it in my next sound design project. From the din of traffic as I cross the street, to the crinkle of aluminum foil as I prepare roasted potatoes for the grill, to the hiss of air as I fill a bicycle tire, I "record" it all.

I hope you can too.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Aural soundscape...

My mind's ear is most alive when I view an image. All the better if the image is moving in succession with other images. I instinctively, and perhaps imperceptibly, lean in, carving out an aural space on the canvas of my visual impression, to support what I see, filling it with the sound of subtlety and nuance. Almost simultaneously, I want to share it, to nudge someone into the same space, so that they can hear what I hear while seeing what I'm seeing.

It's a brisk, early April morning somewhere in the rural midwest. The sun is still oblique and the earth as black as midnight, freshly tilled for the first time since the harvest, is covered with rising steam that drifts along and above the ground.

I write this to describe a scene. The image is clear because it is spelled out, but there is no reference to sound. Did you fill it in without even thinking about it? Did you hear the light wind, barely moving the steam along, as if in slow motion? Or the din of the country, with birds in the foreground; their crisp songs that seem to reverberate across the rolling expanse? Did you hear the tractor nearly two miles off, the simple sound of distant machinary attending to the business of cutting the earth?

How about an abstract?

Swirling lines of different color within intermingling media, rising and falling, full of edge and rough angle, lifting off the canvas with a piercing quality that deceives then landing deep and with considerable pain.

What do you hear?