Soundscape v1

So as first assignment for the class Immersive listening in VR was to create a soundscape, which meant tell a story or create an experience with sound. More than the story though, the aim of the assignment was to learn how to create a sense of space in stereo. Which meant learning how to use sound effects like reverb, delay, compression, equalizer, pitch shift, time stretch etc. This was very interesting because I had never worked with any of this. I can’t say I still know exactly what each of these mean, but here is what I was able to gather:

1. First of all

The things that you have to think while designing sound is insane. I hate it that we were not taught about sound waves in physics by actually making us play with it. The concept of frequency, octaves, resonance etc have very practical applications in sound design. It is really fascinating to think about all how sound waves are really these physical things that interact with the environment in which music is created and listened to.

2. Wet/Dry recording

A sound without any effect from the environment is called dry. Anything that the environment adds to the sound is the wet part.

3. Reverb

This effect is what mainly helps you create a sense of space. I used ReaperĀ software to edit sound, there are two kinds of reverbs that were available to me, convolutional reverb and digital reverb. I don’t exactly understand the difference between the two but I chose to go with digital reverb because it looked simpler. Here are the options that you get with digital reverb in Reaper:

We have controls like how much wet/dry we want the sound to be. Dry as said earlier is the original sound and Wet part is the environment’s response to that sound. The environment itself is set on the right with things like room size, dampening etc. Dampening is interesting, it refers to what kind of wall are there in the room. If there are hard walls (like hard wood or metal), the sound will reflect more, whereas if the walls have soft board the sound will get absorbed in the walls and reflect less. An interesting fact here, there are two concepts to this, reflection and diffusion. How much sound gets reflected depends on what the wall is made of, diffusion depends on whether the surface is smooth or not. All the recording studios deliberately keep the wall behind the console rugged (by putting a bookshelf or artifacts) to diffuse the sound. This helps in avoiding situation where a particular low frequency sound might keep on bouncing off the walls. Anyway, that was dampening, Lowpass allows lower frequencies to pass which means that it clips the higher frequencies beyond the value specified. Same goes for highpass. This is important to remove any unwanted low or high frequencies from our sound.

4. Equalizer

This is very interesting. Here is how the equalizer effect looks in Reaper:

There are many things happening there but the most important thing to keep in mind is that the graph basically represents the gain or the volume of different frequencies. So it is great to single our some sounds from the rest in a recording. Right now I have four bands, or as I understand four key points. I don’t fully understand the “type” parameter but the first one is Low Shelf, the last is High Shelf and middle ones are what is called Band.

4. Compression

Compression is a little confusing, but essentially the idea is to make certain sounds, like the vocalist’s voice, sound louder than other sounds. The way this happens is that it clips off the frequencies higher and lower than certain range, hence compressing the sound. And then you can decide the output gain of the compressed audio. The reason why it works is because you have reduced the dynamic range of the sound which makes it more noticeable than the surrounding sound. Anyway I don’t understand it completely. Here are the options that Reaper gives:

All right, back to the assignment now. I wanted to use this limited knowledge to create a short story. I chose to go simple on the story part and try to explore different kinds of spaces. So I decided to create a story of a person walking towards an elevator where another person is standing, playing a harmonica, both of them take the elevator ride together and part ways, the first person then gets into his car and starts playing the same tune. This involves working with a room, an elevator, a lobby, an outdoors and a car. Here is the audio (its terrible):


So hopefully you saw some changes in the environments as the audio progresses. I had a lot of fun making it, will make many more.

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