Thursday, October 16, 2008

Zoning Post Modern Habitats For Green Audio

Strip malls are arguably ugly.

At first, clashing branding appears to be the cause of it. Then one considers image density. The problem is not that too many voices want to sing in the chorus, but that they do not sing in harmony. Signifiers and logos simply express brand attributes like different notes in a scale. So if the urban cityscape looks cluttered, the blame lies with a less than comprehensive audio zoning policy, not with the individual aesthetics presented by various design directors.

However, marketers (producing remote media for use in a public space) are at fault if they concentrate all their efforts designing the brand and zero effort analyzing the spaces where brand assets are positioned, played or displayed. Of course, one can't spend all one's resources auditing every location, but a sampling will provide enough generalities to strengthen the possibility that one's message will get heard. If getting heard isn't important to you, than spend your money elsewhere, like on pretty stationary.

A central part of my professional activity is predicated on prescribing both sonic and image solutions to communicate brand messages. Far be it from me to advocate turning the volume down. But I do advocate intelligible communications on all platforms, and in consideration of the acoustic ecology –natural, urban or otherwise.

Beyond predicable noise assessments, is it too much to ask music designers (and their clients) to consider the environmental status of our post modern human habitats –inclusive of competing audio sources– when creating sound solutions for a given site?

In this era of 'Green' and environmentally friendly solutions, might there also be A Greening of Sound? –Perhaps a Green Sound Initiative, whereby sound producers consider the given acoustic ecology of a specific site or experience before adding their own voices to the fray?

The process and the professional who engages in this task would not be too different than a film mixer who already considers music, dialogue and sound design in the formation of a completely intelligible and entertaining composite. But instead of working against picture, our audio ecologist is working with –and one might even say 'mixing'– the environment.

Make no mistake, mixing with a Green Sound result in mind is different from our current idea of location mixing. 'Green Ears' nether seek to maximize a preferred source, nor diminish other sounds, but rather intends to form an immersive, balanced experience inclusive of all sounds (even those beyond the music designer's or engineer's technological control).

Unlike typical location mixing, Green sound sources move, and green playback environments are in constant flux. For one thing, man made habitats fade at the edges into natural ecological source sound. This creates (both problems and) opportunities to change the way source sounds interact with habitat and with each other.

We are not mixing nor positioning sound sources for a specific static venue, but treating every space human beings inhabit as a constantly moving, webbed venue (without borders), and every electronic device as an intelligent, responsive source. Therefore we require every electronic device to communicate with one another within a given range, and also to be able to listen to the environment for cues on how to behave, and then emit sound accordingly.

Most movie goers are probably familiar with THX. THX is the trade name of "a high-fidelity sound reproduction standard for movie theaters, screening rooms, home theaters, computer speakers, gaming consoles, and car audio systems".

Green Sound, as I imagine it with my inner ear, would be for environmental audio and non-entertainment locations (equipped with sound makers) –inside and outside–, what THX is to the movie experience –a high-fidelity, quality assurance protocol.

The result might yet produce a full chorus of commercial or even industrial voices; but instead of an unintelligible or annoying sonic mash, each man-made audio source conforms to a site-specific filter establishing volume, frequency and tonality relative to a given geography or ecology.

We might even investigate source placement using spatial simulation algorithms and models for particular acoustic spaces that demonstrably and capably host the broadcast of multiple overlapping sounds from varying –even moving– points of origin, and do so legibly, –such as forest or fauna regions, which can seem simultaneously active with sound and, also, relatively quiet.

And we must certainly use any other applicable technology available to us to achieve the desired Green Effect (perceptible as simultaneously active with legible sound and relatively quiet), such us Holosonics Audio Spotlight product, which focuses sound (for one example) to single position.

And just maybe the sum of it won’t sound too bad at all.

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