My Sound Culture and Sonic Practice Research Project
Just want to listen to my final sound design? Click on the
The sound of NO Silence a short audio podcast of what it sounds like to hear like me.
My skills lay with animation and generating ideas and I am taking Sound culture and sonic practice as a way to strengthen an area that I feel I am weak in. I have had some history with music, learning piano as a child, and then teaching myself guitar during my adult years. But I haven’t spent a lot of time considering how important soundscapes are to my work, and the deeper I wade into my Master’s research project the more I realise how important this will be for my Animated documentary.
My Master Research
The focus of my research is centred on my Ethnicity, Romany, my relationship with how to identify and relate to ‘Gypsiness’ and how an apparent (to me at least) negative stereotypes that surround my culture and seem to be accepted by many, including New Zealanders, affects the way that not only I relate to my ethnicity, but how other NZ Romanys relate to their Race.
I aim to use Ethnographic research to investigate how NZ Romanies self identify, and alongside my own personal reflections create a documentary that will shine a light on any issues Romany face as part of New Zealand culture, and educate the viewer to the real truth of the Romany, that we are as diverse as any other Ethnicity.
What do I do?
I make experimental animated documentaries that take the viewer on an immersive trip into life as another person. These animated documentaries aim to give a voice to those who might otherwise not have one and to give the viewer the ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ experience. For this project, I am using my personal narrative to create an audio sequence of what it is like to hear as me. This is a question I often attempt to explain to people but fail to capture the essence of what it really feels like.
This is an animated documentary I made in 2017 featuring a true story as told by my twin girls.
Why do I do it?
All stories are worthwhile and worth telling, everyone has a unique perspective and I believe we can learn something from every interaction. Only I can tell this story of how I hear the world, and I am embracing this opportunity to tell it in a way that resonates with the listener, and so they can learn something from it.
What my Sound Research Project is
While I am still forming ideas surrounding how to best present my research as a documentary, I plan to create short sequences using sound to demonstrate personal points of view. One of which would be the unique way I perceive the world, alongside interviewing my family to elicit stories.
For my sound project, I have created a sonic personal narrative about the way I perceive sound. I have taken my inspiration from the way the Podcast Ear Hustle is produced and wish to create a piece of art that demonstrates to the listener, just what it feels like to hear things the way I do.
I have created my podcast as a short narrative that includes a mix of my own personal narration, a reproduction of sounds in my home, out and about, and a recreation of listening to someone talking to me in a crowded area, with a mix of other static noises to sonically convey pulsatile tinnitus, classic tinnitus, and auditory processing disorder.
In my narrative, I have considered how I use silence. Silence is something I no longer experience, so to give the listener a true representation of what my audio perception is like I have used silence to reinforce my lack of it.
I have crafted this audio narration as if it were only going to be listened to, as if it were a podcast, however, I intend to take this audio and create an experimental animated documentary to complement it. Usually, I approach sound like an afterthought, in this, I aim to reverse the process and then analyse the results. In doing this I hope that this practice will help strengthen my own design practice for my Master’s Thesis animated documentary.
Here is a link to the podcast that has inspired the creation of my sonic practice: Ear Hustle – Chicken on the Bone. They have such a beautiful way of using sound to move the narrative forward in a way that always leaves me feeling emotionally affected.
The first draft of the script.
While I sit here at my computer trying to think about what to write there are plenty of sounds that distract me from my goal.
I am sitting in my lounge, at my desk, I can hear my computers fan directly in from to me,
[Fade in my computer hum]
And the YouTube video my husband is listening too, he must be as deaf as me because he has headphones on and I can still hear, sort of what he is listening too.
[Fade in quiet sounds of Sean’s headphones, barely audible talking]
Behind me, I hear the hum of the server cabinet, because what house is complete without a home server?
[Fade in the sound of the server humming]
We have two, another one sits on the coffee table and makes this irritating clicking sound, similar to the way my old fish tanks filter bubbled.
[Fade in clicking on the server on the table]
I can also hear the hum of the fridge; well sort of.
[Bring in a fridge hum on the left]
I say sort of because louder and more annoying than any of these sounds are the ones emanating from my own head. The sounds that eclipse much of what other people hear.
[Fade in tinnitus in the right]
These are sounds that are only for me.
First, and loudest, most persistent to make its presence known is the classic tinnitus of your imagination, directly related to hearing loss; triggered by
an ear infection a few years back. Its sound vibrates in my head louder than any of the other ambient sounds in my home.
[Fade in whoosh from left]
Hear that whoosh? Yes, so do I. That’s the sound of my heart pumping blood around my body.
Yes, it is good that my heart is doing that. But not so much fun to hear every. Single. Waking. Hour of the day.
It’s been like this for the last ten years.
I finally got a ‘diagnosis’ a few months ago; I have a tiny little tear in the vein that runs up behind my jaw to my ear.
The Doctors can’t say what caused it, but I have had a lot of head and neck trauma on that side in the past, so I can loosely point my finger at that.
This whoosh is loud enough to eclipse almost every other word spoken to me and is often much louder in the morning. Which spells disaster for my children trying to ask questions, or maybe a small blessing when I can’t hear what they are whining to me.
And as if this doesn’t make it hard enough to follow a conversation, I also have an auditory processing disorder, which means while sometimes I can hear you talking just fine, some other times my brain takes those words and scrambles them like eggs.
I’ve said what? Huh? Can you repeat that? So many times in the past, I took to telling people I had a hearing impairment long before I did.
This processing disorder also makes it hard to pick out one voice from the cacophony of surrounding sounds. So if you are talking to me in a crowded room,
[Fade in someone having a conversation with me, bring other ambient noises up to match the sound of the person talking to me]
And I appear to blindly stare at you smiling, and nodding like I’ve lost my mind I could very well have lost my ability to follow conversations because all sounds are perceived the same in my brain, and the loudest and most demanding are the sounds that only I can hear.
[Make all sounds mingle, until it merges to static]
I can, however, catch a small reprieve, from the whoosh at least.
If I press on the carotid artery, I can at least silence the sound of my heartbeat.
[Silence apart from right tinnitus]
And this works just fine until I start to feel like I am suffocating, so I release my neck, and it all comes flooding back.
[Bring back all sounds]
[Keep all the sounds going and end.]
The sound of NO silence
Can you hear that? Annoying, isn’t it. Luckily for you, I can turn it down. But not so for me. I live with this sound inside my head
Every … waking … hour of the day.
It’s been 10 years since I heard the true sound of silence. 10 years of the whoosh in my left year, and the hiss in my right. They are my constant companions. Tinnitus can be described as the perception of sound in the absence of noise.
I’ve lost hearing in my right ear, so I live with the ghosts of those lost frequencies. The whoosh that echoes with the blood pulsing around my body occlude every other spoken word. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, I also have an auditory processing disorder.
This means that even if I do hear you, my brain scrambles the message. I’ve said huh, and what did you say? More times than I can count, to the point it was just easier to say I was deaf, long before I actually was. So, if you find yourself talking to me in a crowded room, and I am sitting across from you, smiling and nodding like a crazy person, it’s most likely because I am struggling to follow the conversation. It’s hard for me to pick out your words over the cacophony of other sounds. My brain doesn’t register your sounds as more important than the other people or the ambient music, or the air-conditioning. Sometimes, it all gets too much.
So I can grab a short reprieve. From the vascular tinnitus at least. If I press my fingers against my jugular I find a small measure of peace. At least until the pressure starts to build up, and I start to feel like I am suffocating.
So I let go.
And it all comes rushing back.
To read about the papers that have informed my practice, follow this link: Reflective Readings
Kal at uni: I recorded myself and Kal at the sound recording booth at Uni, however, I decided to rerecord my narrative as I changed my mind about the narration.
Me at home: I re-recorded my narration at home because I was not happy with the way I announced words, and what I said in the first attempt. This is my desk set up. The only issue is having to deal with all the background noise.
Editing the raw audio file I made at home. I had to remove the sound of all the computers in the background. I did this with Audition.
I used a number of samples in my project. I sourced them from the Mixcraft library and the BBC sound effects that I have for use with my animation projects.
I added plugs in such as reverb and delay to the certain samples to create the feeling of sounds being played inside a room.
I made good use of the MIDI music system inside Mix Craft and created a variety of different music for my sound composition to create the following soundscapes: Violin ambient music and tinnitus sounds, Cello Ambient music, Concert Choir Ambient Music, Acoustic Piano Ambient Music, Heart Beat Pulsatile Tinnitus, Blues Harp Pulsatile Tinnitus Whoosh, Stadium Heavy Metal Kit Pulsatile Tinnitus Whoosh.
Music Score for the Cello ambient music
Arrangement and Structure
As demonstrated above although I had a clear idea of how I wanted the narrative to sound I experimented with the structure. I have to admit to going with my gut a lot, but I am really happy with the final result.
This is the sound clip I made to recreate the sound of the two different tinnitus’s I hear. When my husband listened he complained that the tone in the right was too loud and could I please turn it down. Yeah, no, wish I could turn the sound down in my head!
These are the progress roughs of my audio podcast.
I used a number of different plugins in this project. I used Reverb, Delay, Compressor, Equalizer, and Normalise to recreate the ambience of hearing sounds inside a room, to create the sounds of the different tinnitus inside my head, and to create an echo to demonstrate a sensory overload.
This is a screenshot of the final edit.
And the Final Audio Arrangement.
I have to end this by saying I am quite proud of the end result. I have created a piece of audio that manages to capture quite beautifully what it sounds like to hear as I do. It was great to be able to express to my own family the struggles I face trying to hear them, and I believe that they have all come away with new understanding. My brother who also has auditory processing disorder (among other neuro-differences) was amazed at how well I was able to recreate this and he intends on getting his case manager at work bridge to listen so that they can better able find him employment.
I have learned so much over the last six weeks. I went from basic knowledge of how to add sound to a project, to feeling semi-equipped to create further audio art. I have become more comfortable using Mixcraft to create my soundscapes and am planning my next audio podcast in the near future. Tips such as using plugins to create the sense of space that the audio is emanating from have made the world of difference for the final piece.
I am looking forward to my next step for The sound of NO silence and creating and creating the animated sequence that will accompany it.