It was 2008 and I was in Mazen’s front room in Damascus. I was having an Arabic lesson and my head was contorted with declensions and tables of verb formula. There were roadworks happening not so far away, as was always the case in this city. A man had climbed up a lamppost and hitting the top of it with a hammer. The sound of metal on metal resonnated through the air through Mazen’s open porch doors to our cramped desk.
Tak! Tak! Tak! Tak!
Tak! Tak! Tak! Tak!
And there is came, rising from the streets of Yarmouk Refugee Camp, the entire orchestral introduction of Coolio’s – Gangster’s Paradise.
Its not unheard of for trains to play symphonies, showers to sing power ballands or the sound of two buses breaking to crescendo into acid house. Arthur Honegarr’s Pacific 123 made in 1923 in hommage to the drama of the locomotive and Oliver Sacks writes about his friend who hear Hadyn in his refrigerator hum. Does the clock go tick tock or just tick tick tick?
Sound plays tricks on you like nothing else. Because after all you always hear things inside your head.
For Door into the Dark we are using binaural microphones to create a three-dimensional world around your adventure into obscura. You won’t see where you are going, you will hear it. And what you are hearing and what you are doing are not going to match up extactamente.
The challenge is to design for the illusion but not make the entire thing collapse when you realise that the sounds do not match up with the experience. When we first chatted to Duncan Speakman about Door into the Dark he shook his head and said the footsteps – that will get you everytime. People will hear their own footsteps and from that be able to work out where they are. Note to Self – buy a lot of carpet.
How far can we push this illusion thing? Sound to a greater degree than imagery is projection rather than physiology. Sensing and perceiving are not wholey the same although we them to mean the same thing (except in Myers-Brigs) In more exact usage the word ‘sensation’ refered to the process whereby sense-organice (ears – eyes – tongue) mechanically collect raw data from the individual’s environment while the word ‘perception’ refers to the process by which the mind poects meanings onto that sense-data. Projection phenomena illustrate the apparent aparafox that even superficially physical aspects of hearing are also partly psychological.
Take this video.
In something that is now come to be known as the McGurk effect – The face and lips make movements that are correct for its original soundtract, which had consisted of the speaker repeating the sound ‘ga’ over and over again. The audio is changed and the sound that places is in fact the sound ‘ba’. As you watch the video with the participants forming the letter ‘g’ with their mouth you hear neither ‘ga’ not ‘ba’ you hear ‘da’. Only when you shut your eyes do you hear the ‘ba’ clearly.
Joe Banks writes about the EVP – Electronic Voice Phenomenon movement which believed that electronic recordings were means for the dead to communicate with the living from the beyond. It immerged in the 50s and is still around today in the era of HD audio, partly because it doens’t take a lot to get you to convince yourself you are hearing your dead relatives speak to you from between the crack and fuzz. In film you know that to a great degree you can cut off bits of words and mesh it into the ambience of the room and people will believe their heard the characters in the film finish them off themselves. Film sound designer David Sonnenschein refers to this as a ‘law of closure’. Don’t look too closely if you really want to hear whats being said. That was the advice of the head of the BBC Monitoring agency in the 30s whose team of 700 plus were tasked with listening into radio fuzz for days on end trying to pick up enemy communication.
It’s this filling in of the gaps that I am interested in.