designing immersive realities with believable soundscapes
what would a truly believable space sound like?
how does sonic architecture feel?
inquire with your ears!
an aural picture is worth a thousand words.
sound can be just as powerful as visual images when it comes to creating an immersive experience.
the more immersive sounds are, the greater their power to evoke specific emotions. and emotions are the currency of a storyteller!
“credible sonic spaces” is all about creating believable sonic environments using immersive soundscapes and tasteful sound design. it takes into account how sound physically behaves and how we perceive the space it interacts with.
alternate realities, evoked by practical soundscape design
spatial soundscape composition is the art of creating three-dimensional sonic landscapes. by carefully selecting, editing, and placing sounds into a real or virtual environment, a truly convincing soundscape creates a deep sense of immersion and presence – assuming the listener is willing to expose him- or herself to whatever alternate reality the journey goes …
storytelling with sound can be an immersive experience that takes the listener on an auditory adventure. by using sounds to create a scene or setting, the storyteller can transport the listener to another time and place. sound can also be used to create suspense, build tension, and heighten emotion. when used skillfully, sound can be a powerful tool for bringing stories to life. whether it’s the crackle of a campfire, the howl of a wolf – … or the sound of footsteps in the dark, audio can help create an immersive reality that engages the listener’s imagination.
even if we’re not aiming for telling a story, sound affects the mood of people nonetheless. there always is sound, never is there none. at the lowest hearing threshold, there lurks the faintest tinnitus … – and what mood does that leave you with?;)
so if we have the power to design our sonic environments (or the environment we surround our visitors and audiences with), why not crafting that with care?
sonic enrichment of physical locations
at first glance, the idea of using sound to enhance architecture may seem far-fetched.
however, rooms are encapsulated usually, out of earshot from natural sounds outside the multi-paned windows (and even there, technical noise may dominate).
if being in there alone, the artificial silence of a modern building can become unbearable.
we wiped out all the aural colors, hence our ears and minds fall dry.
to not leave this sonic canvas empty, we already know how to work around that void: we turn on the sound emitter, running one song after another.
what should i say, often that is more than fine. and if we feel like dancing or singing – crank it up!
yet that ain’t the case at times. at work …; at the departure lounge …
letting nature back in
now, what if we just let nature back in?
usually, we’d become more relaxed.
so let the wind you hear clean up your thoughts – and meditate!
or just go ahead and work your brain out:
sonically filling the room with a natural ambience can improve our attention span, mood, creativity, and cognitive function.
so, sonic enrichment of architecture is definitely something to consider if we’re looking for ways to improve our overall health and well-being.
by carefully considering the plausibility and realism of the sounds these sonic spaces are woven from, we can create environments that feel absolutely lifelike.
you can think of dripping water, falling leaves, crackling fires – and god knows all the animals …
next, let’s throw an ear at three real-world-examples:
instance one: the city hall
the first installation enriches a town hall. unfavorably, this is located directly on a main road – and the floors also have poor acoustics in terms of reverberance.
because of the latter, only large rooms as well make sense to be simulated in here, since we’ll never get rid of these sound reflections without treating the room’s surfaces themselves with absorbing materials.
in other words: within such reverberant locations we are stipulated to only think of emulating spaces with similar acoustics.
a dry signal coming out of a speaker will naturally blend with all the other sounds in here – but never will stay dry for long;)
(in contrast, small rooms – respectively such with short reverberation times – always confer greater freedom of choice, since dry signals stay more or less dry, whilst even the largest space can be emulated within the dryest room on earth through wettening the signal with desired room qualities before its emission.)
back to the council hall: which kind of environment could soundwise match this room’s physical characteristics?
but what does a cave sound like?
might people working or waiting here appreciate the snoring sound of a sleeping bear?
or the distant indications of orcs preparing in the deeps?
the chirps and trills of a bat colony?
then rather the splashing of a rivulet. only that we could engage a room fountain for that one …
ok, no cave.
forest would have quite similar acoustics. not the same, but sufficient to convince those with eyes closed.
mixed deciduous forest, perhaps; the birds’ songs synchronized to the time of day; a tender breeze is jumping through the treetops every now and then … – uugh, and then, of course, this delivery truck! and the bus! and all the heavy vibes reminding us of being in this city with all these other busy primates, fallen like a daydream off the trees …
we could turn the breeze to storm!! the raging air could crack the wood, knocking down one tree for each passing bus; and with a reasonable sound system … – dear, could we win this loudness war!!!
not the best strategy to cope with high stress levels, clearly.
ok, no forest.
so, here finally is what we decided on, to make something relaxing out of this situation without falling back to just using soothing esoteric music:
because comparable frequency ranges are covered, the variety chosen here with partially deep whale calls and subtle ocean noise is able to mask the traffic nicely.
while still being perceived, our brain reinterprets most outside sounds as part of the underwater soundscape – such as swooshes produced by surf, the splashes of fins, or the blowing of whales.
and all of that at only a slightly higher overall volume.
thematically, this certainly would be more appropriate for a marine museum – but with a few pictures on the walls and the proper lighting, and perhaps an aquarium to show, you can create a consistent marine ambience even in an official building.
better than gray, anyway 😉
instance two: the museum
second, a museum hall is facing the inner courtyard. therefore, it was quiet enough to weave in detailed soundscapes of a wide dynamic range, where even soft sounds come into their own. at times, however, it’s so well frequented, that we can no more dub this hall a place of silence.
luckily, one can play different soundscapes at the same location, depending on the need or situation. the ambiences to be played back can be chosen manually, or with the help of a computer and sensor technology, making them interactive.
so it is possible to play quiet scenes that draw finest details during calm periods – and during busy times you show a battle scene, an ancient cattle drive, or as in this example: a phoenician market scene:
the sounds of the visitors do not disturb. instead, they merge with the ancient hustle from the loudspeakers.
in cases like museums or similar exhibitions, it is obvious why audible supplements can be useful. they add another level of experience to the dedicated theme. one feels transported to a certain time, in a certain place – which may lead to an expanded understanding.
by the way, the ancient market scene from above can be experienced here binaurally, quite without any modern contemporaries or interior acoustics.
instance three: the natural reserve’s visitor center
the third example is the hardest to demonstrate while not being on-site. let’s try:
with realistic soundscapes, we can recreate any room or scenario we may think of.
we may prepare a physical location to be a representation of another existing or virtual space.
and we can scale it up or down as needed.
in extreme scenarios, we can encounter the microcosm or macrocosm within an ordinary mesocosmic space.
the following example is not quite as crazy, rather decent. the principle should still become clear if you pay attention to the echo of the deer (this requires a stereo setup, preferably headphones).
the microphone – and thus your, the listeners, position – is on the first floor, which is the bottom of a small canyon, while the male red deer roars from the upper right.
on the left is a wall representing the rock from which the deers echo is reflected back. right there is a loudspeaker installed, through which the content, initially coming from other directions, is output with the appropriate time offset (and some other adjusted parameters). this allows for creating the desired, realistic spatial impression at the listening position.
in a physical audio installation environment, creating credible immersive soundscapes also requires the thoughtful deployment of loudspeakers, in addition to mixing the sounds for this particular room and speaker constellation.
plausible recreation of virtual space
as you know now, “credible sonic spaces” (css) is all about creating believable sonic spaces. this involves understanding how sound propagation works and how we perceive the space around us. by taking into account factors such as reverberation, diffraction, and reflection, we can create soundscapes that are truly immersive and thus allow for more effective storytelling. we can create sounds that move around realistically, giving the listener a sense of spatiality.
next time you find yourself lost in thought, close your eyes and plunge into the sonic landscape!
for getting spatial information transferred to your internal sound processing system, binaural audio requires you to wear headphones.
by careful sound design, we can create augmented or virtual environments that feel authentic and convincing. whether it’s a bustling city, a quiet forest, or whatever alternate reality one might imagine, with css we use indispensable means to transport the listener to another place entirely.
as an example of that, throw your brain into “sonic layers at the canvas” ((coming soon)), where i at “once we slept” augment the fantastic work of visual artists by their acoustic dimension, as i imagine it would and could sound like. they all are mixed and rendered as 100 percent binaural soundscapes, making them ideal and best suited for consumption through headphones.
most of these works not only show a soundscape, but also do they feature a certain situation taking place at the very moment.
“sonic layers at the canvas” layer the work of visual artists with binaural soundscapes, making these images a multi-sensory experience.
within the virtual realm: soundscapes for the metaverse
just like these enriched visuals, many (not to speak: most) applications come without being attached to a tangible space at all. they are site-independent, being virtual in a traditional manner, as they exclusively exist in the digital realm.
video games, films, and radio plays come to mind quickly.
these are known as story-driven art forms, which we already touched on above.
another emerging use case however comes with the rise of metaverses.
soundscapes for virtual real estate
in virtual worlds like “the sandbox”, “decentraland”, or “cryptovoxels”, dedicated vr sound design is necessary to help users making them feel as if they are outright there.
say, you are the lucky owner of a virtual parcel, a piece of real estate in any kind of metaverse. you paid a good bunch of real bucks.
and now, what does that plot of land sound like? shouldn’t there be more to it than a piece of out-of-the-box music? shouldn’t we make wise use of the aural realm around us, making this virtual property really rare and unique, giving fellow prospects just another reason to visit your premises and feeling like having arrived at one of the scarce consistent places, where they get gravitated to spend time … – easefully, unwinding, wondering, aroused …
the right sound design can make all the difference in making a virtual space feel believable and atmospheric. in addition to ambient sounds, like the hum of a fan or the sound of rain, adding character-specific audio can help to bring life to avatars and NPCs. footsteps, laughter, and other vocalizations can help add a sense of presence, making the virtual world feel more alive. and for those who are selling virtual real estate, investing in quality sound design can be a great way to make properties more appealing to potential buyers.
whether it’s a beachfront property with the sound of waves crashing against the shore or a mountaintop retreat with the sound of wind howling through the trees, careful attention to sound can help turn a virtual space into an utterly compelling destination.
the air is filled with solid sound, it just feels like reality.
when used effectively, sound can transport us to different places, provoke strong emotions, and even help us to understand the thoughts and motivations of other characters. of course, designing effective soundscapes is a complex undertaking, requiring a careful balance of artistry and technology. but the rewards are well worth the effort, as anyone who has been transported to another world by a well-crafted audio experience can attest.
whether we are talking about real environments or virtual realities, the goal of these soundscapes is to feel right and plausible.
how to tastefully* design and make use of suitable sound effects that add detail and interest to your sonic space and the objects populating it, is part of another post, approaching from the future. i need to have a forest bath now by myself, since my fingers get wound soon from typing and my brain from tying thoughts …
* if you want kitsch, go somewhere else, i can’t serve you with that.
otherwise, feel free to follow me on one of the channels listed below – or get in touch with me directly.
thanks for reading, hope you could take away something beneficial for your existence ahead …