Sound Design  


To understand the production challenges of "sound design" including the live capture of sound, its synthesis using computers, and the use of multi-track digital sound editing software.


Sound Design is:

a) the process of creating the overall sonic character of a production.

b) the process of fabricating 'special' sound effects (1)

As artists and designers, we tend to spend a lot of time talking about the visual identity of a project, but who thinks about its audible identity? Do we need to consider it at all? Art forms such as theater, film, and video games have grown to include carefully considered sounds and are clearly better off for it. By learning to include audio as an important design parameter in a video, website, gaming, or product design, we might achieve the same successful results. While a composer or sound designer’s concerns can seem esoteric to the visually oriented design world, we can engage these team members on some familiar territory when we need to work together. In composing sounds, the basic parameters of good design and process always apply. These parameters will be key in learning how to incorporate new sounds and new team members into a project.(2)

The sound artist and designer spends much of their time listening to sounds they hear around them - whether at home, on vacation, at the cinema or travelling to work. They're always listening and thinking about what kind of sounds comprise their "sonic environment." The sound designer knows how to capture these sounds by recording them. Consider creating a catalogue of the sounds around you. Washing machines can turn into spaceships, telephone rings into computer bleeps, creaking doors into huge dungeon trapdoors, whistling wind into eerie ambience for a scary moment in a film! Most sound effects come from the real world, recorded using microphones by sound designers who then make them into the 'sfx' (special effects) you you have come to expect in films, games, interactive installations, and video projects.(3)

Analog versus digital sound

Actual sound waves consist of continuous variations in air pressure. Representations of these signals can be recorded in either digital or analog formats. An analog recording is one where the original sound signal is modulated onto another physical medium or substrate such as the groove of a gramophone disc or the iron oxide surface of a magnetic tape. A physical quality in the medium (e.g., the intensity of the magnetic field or the path of a record groove) is directly related, or analogous, to the physical properties of the original sound (e.g., the amplitude, phase, etc.)

A digital recording is produced by converting the physical properties of the original sound into a sequence of discrete numbers (initially represented by a string of 0s and 1s), which can then be stored and played back for reproduction. The accuracy of the conversion process depends on the sampling rate (how often the sound is sampled and a related numerical value is created) and the sampling depth (how much information each sample contains, which can also be described as the maximum numerical size of each sampled value). However, unlike analog recording which depends critically on the long-term durability of the fidelity of the waveforms recorded on the medium, the physical medium storing digital samples is essentially immaterial in playback of the encoded information so long as the original sequence of numbers can be recovered.(4)

In the magnetic (analog) recording era, sound editors owned trucks to ship their tracks to a mixing stage, and transfers to magnetic film were measured in hundreds of thousands of feet. Once the materials arrived at the stage, a dozen recordists and mix technicians required a half an hour to load the three or four dozen tracks a predub might require. In the digital era, 250 hours of stereo sound, edited and ready to mix, can be transported on a single 160 GB hard drive. As well, this 250 hours of material can be copied in four hours or less, as opposed to the old system, which, predictably, would take 250 hours. (5) In the history of media, this is a fairly recent event that only began to take place in the early 1990s. Now digital audio workstations are the industry standard and have features sufficient for use in professional sound recordings and film production. The quality of 16-bit audio at a 48 kHz sampling rate (for example) allows hundreds of tracks to be mixed together with negligible noise. The physical manifestation of the work became computerized: sound recordings, and the decisions the editors made in assembling them, were now digitized, and could be versioned, done, undone, and archived instantly and compactly.(5)









Andrew Diey;