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Articles    H2'ed 5/30/12

Sound spheres: A model of psychoacoustic space in audiovisual media

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Sit for 3 minutes and write down every sound you hear, associating each with a specific sound sphere. You'll probably list between ten and twenty sounds and their respective sound sphere placement. What informs you of your environment, what draws your attention, what creates a feeling or emotion?   Note in particular which sound shifts from one sphere to another. Where do you experience transitions, tension, build, climax and resolution?   How can this be used in a filmic scene to move story?  


The purpose of the assignment is to have the students experience their own sound spheres, then to apply this in a possible dramatic film scene with an evolving plot. An extra benefit that frequently derives from this exercise is the opportunity to explore related audio theory and applications, which are noted below. Here are some of the results of this assignment.


Example 1 -- School orchestra

I play violin in the school orchestra and did this exercise during one of our rehearsals.

I Think -- This seemed to happen when I imagined the notes I was going to play in the upcoming measures, kind of like rehearsing them. Also, when the conductor stopped us, I could still hear the music kind of like it was reverberating in my head, a very short term memory.

I Am -- I couldn't hear my own sounds when the orchestra was playing, but when it stopped, I noticed my own breathing. Then I hummed a part of the melody, so I guess that was also in this sphere.

I Touch -- That was really obvious when I played my violin. I'm the one controlling the bow and changing the length of the strings to create the sound. There was also the page turning and my foot tapping the beat (although I'm not supposed to do that for performance, doesn't look good to the audience).

I See -- All the other musicians I can see playing their instruments and the conductor talking and tapping his baton on the podium.

I Know -- All the other musicians I can't see behind me or hidden behind their music stands, but I know what instruments are being played by their sounds. Somebody behind me whispered something, couldn't tell the words but I know who they are.

I Don't Know -- Our practice room is pretty well insulated, but I could hear a low thump outside, very muffled, couldn't tell what it was. It didn't seem like a problem, nobody else paid attention.

NOTE: This experience highlighted the overlap between music, sound effects and dialogue in our everyday experience. Although these areas of audio are frequently separated in the production and postproduction processes of filmmaking, the application of the Sound Spheres model applies equally to all types of sounds.


Example 2 -- Police station

I'm a part-time student and have a job as an administrator in a police station.

I Think -- I'm still listening to the song in my head that was playing on the radio when I was driving to work.

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Filmmaker, musician, sound designer, author "Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema." 310 455-0750
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