On Volume(2)

In the previous post, I described how the use of fading volume could break the suspension of disbelief of a spatial audio image, because it is physically unrealistic. Now I am going invert the argument.

Space is implicit in perceived sound. You cannot perceive a sound independently of a space. As Blauert says “Spatial hearing is a tautology”.

Schaeffer’s concept of source-cause articulated that our perceptual systems will first and foremost attempt to identify the object making the sound. The point I’d like to make is that since space is implicit in perceived sound then our ability to identify the sounding object must include an ability to ‘parse out’ the spatial information within in the sound. The sound of footsteps is still recognisable as the sound of footsteps irrespective of the hosting space.

An other way to state this is to say that we have an ability to identify the space described by sound, irrespective of what sound is inside it.

Further to that; the spatial information in sound is maintained when sound is reduced to singular audio channels. A mono recording of a choir singing in a church will still communicate the large reverberant space.

… and so when an orchestral work uses a long slow volume fade, our perceptual system will attempt to read the space implicit in the sound. If the orchestration is done right one possible spatial interpretation is that the volume fade infers sounds moving away from the listener. In other words, the impression of a movement in space is created.

I’ll go one step further and postulate that when composers fade the volume of sound, what is being inferred (the majority of the time) is a movement in space, away from the listener.

Composers are far more accustomed to the communication of spatial information at this level. Whether it be movement through volume fades, large spaces through reverberation, or even panning it is not necessary to create a virtual-reality to infer space.

But what happens if a space is inferred using these non-virtual means and a space is modelled using virtual means?

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5 Responses to On Volume(2)

  1. Jason says:

    All great stuff for the thesis 🙂

  2. Lee says:

    Etienne writes- “..Composers are far more accustomed to the communication of spatial information at this level. Whether it be movement through volume fades, large spaces through reverberation, or even panning it is not necessary to create a virtual-reality to infer space.”

    Isn’t the creation of an auditory virtual-reality implicit the moment a sound is synthesized or reproduced? Perhaps your definition of the term “virtual-reality” is more specific and higher-level than the core superficial meaning of that compound word, but I to my understanding that is always the case.

    Space may be implicit in sound, although I come to that realization though time being more obviously implicit at the most basic level, and space being an inseparable corollary of time.

    Does the auditory ringing in my ears which is a product of my nervous system imply space? I’m not certain that it does. It unambiguously implies time, as I can imagine it existing, not existing, and changing over time.

    • “Isn’t the creation of an auditory virtual-reality implicit the moment a sound is synthesized or reproduced? ”

      Loosely yes. But it is created through semiotics (references to things that we know) … not created by mimesis (copying what we think reality is). I’ve written a lot about this in my thesis … (analysing the different types of references to space that are possible in sound).

      Yes, in my thesis I don’t use the word ‘virtual reality’ I use verisimilitude … which is creating the impression that what is perceived is real.

      auditory ringing … “It unambiguously implies time, as I can imagine it existing, not existing, and changing over time.”

      OK, but only because of the imagining… would you not agree? Stop imagining/thinking about it and the ringing stays without implying any time. Ditto with space … stop thinking about it and it ceases to exist. All that exists, then, is change. Constant uninterrupted change.

      Thought has invented a concept … called it time (a very useful concept). The past does not exist, only memories exist,… the future does not exist, only future projections of it in thought exist. So time does not exist. Only the present exists (which is not time without a past or a future). In other words, time is an abstraction of thought.

      So, to live eternally, stop thinking 🙂

      Woops, we’ve strayed far from ambisonics.

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