Thoughts on Sound

While thus far, the sonic focus has been mainly on music, the structural foundation of the piece has progressed to a point where we can consider more nuanced and detailed sound design. Embedded within the nature of audio-visual projects is the reality that sound is generally the last element to implement. Because of this I’ve struggled to compose content that feels connected with visuals, continuously creating, scrapping and recreating new material as the scenes morph and develop. Time-wise, this method has proven ineffective; using pre-existing material in new ways is an entirely reasonable option. Therefore I’ve done some research into interactive audio tips and best practices, keeping in mind our rapidly approaching deadline and my ever-growing library of sonic material.

My first discovery was this article from over 20 years ago that offers industry knowledge in “top ten rules” list form. While mainly directed towards a large-team format, many of the rules are strikingly relevant, even today:

  • There will always be limitations. Hardware limitations, space limitations, design limitations… you name it, and it will be restricted at one time or another. The only resource that’s never limited is your ability to come up with creative solutions to these problems.
  • Every drop of energy that goes into being discouraged by the limitations of a particular project is energy taken away from making a great sound design.
  • Making audio interactive is a team effort. The application must be altered by designers and programmers to support interactive audio. Team buy-in is essential because interactive audio, although very valuable to a project, is more work for everybody.
  • The likelihood of audio becoming interactive for any given product is inversely proportional to the amount of programming that’s required of individuals who are not specifically assigned to the audio team.
  • It’s far better to determine how the sound design will interact with the world before you begin creating assets. Retrofitting interactivity into audio designs, especially music, is difficult at best, and severely compromised, if not impossible, at worst.

This last point in particular is vital to bear in mind. As the aesthetics and gameplay of doubleLink continue to dramatically transform, understanding the mechanics of these functions and how they relate back to the original concept is integral to the sound design process.

On a broader, inspiration-seeking level, tips from audio pros like the list compiled here, and breath-taking design work in short films such as “Loom” are useful starting points for honing in on an overall atmosphere or mood.

The fixed nature of sound in short films, however, can be misleading when seeking inspiration for an interactive experience. They have by nature more room for dramatic dynamic range, calculated moments of silence and loudness, and the opportunity for frame-level detail.

Interactive experiences must be treated somewhat more gently, bearing in mind that the user may stop or proceed with an infinite degree of variation in speed and direction. Working in layers and building accordingly expedites this process, allowing for score-like depth of movement.

Wrapping one’s mind around these approaches, in particular for a fully abstract visual world, can be fairly daunting. The previous approach of churning out rounds of material (based on nothing more than an idea of what a scene would look and feel like) has proven unsuccessful, if not at least an enriching learning experience. Reusing this material in new ways will also prevent the time from going to waste.

One sound designer’s approach for conceptualizing with abstract visual material is to use what we as humans know about the world to situate a sound effect. He mentions Ben Burtt, who on his design for Wall-E, “likes to think about how the object making the sound would be powered, and the actual physics behind it.”

Physics, mechanics, environment, and concept are at the forefront of our minds as we delve into the most integral period for sound design. In an attempt to divide roles and interactivity sections, I’ve made a pyramid visualisation of one way to approach the sound design for our last two scenes.

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