Steim 2010

From a research diary |  Steim, Amsterdam  | Sept-Oct 2010

Creating Surround Sound Narratives // Part.1

SO Ive been thinking of what is it in sound that gives a sense of a narrative, a story with the intention of creating a story which uses only sound and without narration or dialogue. I stayed a week at Steim in late September considering how sound is used in film, radio plays, computer games, animation, daily life etc, to give a sense of story and understanding about what is going on. Its clear that sound is very indicative of environment and action but it also gives a sense of movement through rhythmic and timbral connotations, as heard in music in silent films and in animations.

I want to stay away from narration or dialogue based sound narratives like radio plays because the mind operates on a different level to analyze speech and translate it into meaning while sound is more immediate and emotive, especially when analysing progression of surrounding events it gets perceived on a more subconscious level than speech. I also want to stay away from sounds which are too descriptive and concréte like gunshots and footsteps kind of thing (although it could be unavoidable to a certain degree).

I initially thought of transcribing or rather, transcoring an adaptation of a book, but text, being literal, as well as cinema, adapted from literal stories, has loads of elements which cannot be transcored such as:

  • A facial expression, character description
  • A character looking somewhere
  • A change in a room’s props.
  • Immobile objects [furniture, buildings, walls, food, mountains, rocks, etc…]
  • Some kinetic objects, if they are unusual and the sound they make is unrecognizable
  • Some movement, for example someone swinging an axe, we might hear the swing but would not recognise the axe unless we hear the impact and recognise its sound. A sound might indicate the movement is happening but not give us the impression of a movement actually taking place and its consequence.
  • Light changes / shadows
  • Panoramic view

This pretty much does away with most adaptable narratives, and so what I am dealing with is sound content which borrows a similar sense of narrative that dance might have with electro-acoustic sensibility.

Creating Surround Sound Narratives // Part.2

In a sonic narrative which does not rely on narration or dialogue time can stretch or compress as in cinema, but as opposed to cinema the ear is more forgiving than the eye when it comes to loops and ‘still frame’ sounds, the description of an environment can be static but full of internal dynamic changes which do not change the overall scene and sonic location

Within this sonic ‘still frame’ its possible to add various sound elements simultaneously which enhance the emotional, associative or dramaturgical character of the ‘still frame’ expanding it in more than one dimension which in cinema we are bound to. We can only see one thing at a time on screen and you cant have a true collage of elements perceived at once to create a holistic sense.

On the other hand, literal elements such as visual description of a character, or a set on all its props, or a wide panorama can be summarized in an instant soundbyte to give the idea of what is represented. These are elements which could have a poor or banal sonic element. This is another reason why I dont see working from a literal adaptation the way to go, it could serve as an inspiration and guideline but further away from the literal source than a visual adaptation.

If theatre is the equivalent to a standard radio drama in its use of foley and dialogue, then cinema is the equivalent to narrative based acousmatic music in  sound theatres.

So what I am left with is an enormous amount of sound design in a multichannel setup, it is like being a stop-frame animator…

Creating Surround Sound Narratives // Part.3

Following the week residency at the Steim Studio, surrounded by octaphonic soundscapes of varying levels of abstraction, I reverted to a project I made for my final year show at LCC in 2004 where I mapped out an area in sound and created a audio ‘game’ environment navigatable by the listener using a joystick. This is the direction I will pursue with this project at least in framework because it divides the sound space into still soundscape clusters (these might have dynamic and durational sound elements for sub-narratives), the communication and navigation between these clusters, assisted by various catalysts, makes the story.

The creation of these sound clusters was done by collating various associative sound elements (foley, muffled text, musical tracks, soundscapes, etc…). Then I sequenced them in the space with a narrative intention as well as used them in an improvisational multichannel mash up. The latter method relies more on a collative understanding of the elements used, their exact sequence not as relevant, rather their nature, drama and interaction in space give the total impression of the sound cluster.

Far from finished, but in the right direction…

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