Soundscape and Space
In terms of soundscape, space and sound both carry each other; without a space/sound interaction sound loses most of its meaning. An example is the use of space in music that we listen to every day. Using artificial reverberation, recording techniques and a few other tricks music producers create their own virtual spaces in which to locate their sounds and instruments; without such localisation, music sounds flat and lifeless.
Music and Space
By the same token, adding music to a different space completely changes the perceived meaning of the music (and, of course this works the other way around too). Imagine a folk musician playing some delicate guitar and singing a song just as delicate. In your mind, place the entire song close to the listener i.e. without much echo. I can imagine how personal that sounds, as if the musician is telling you about something meant for your ears only. On the reverse, place the entire song in a large reverberant space. Your brain will sense the cues and your minds eye might picture the musician alone in a giant, empty warehouse or cathedral. This gives a whole new angle to the message the musician is conveying: maybe it sounds more lonely now, or maybe it now sounds like somebody connecting to their god rather than with the listener. Of course, the information present in the lyrics could change these two soundscapes into a plethora of different experiences but this is beyond the scope of this post. However, this does show another very interesting variable, the way our episodic memories (or event experiences) interact with our senses.
What’s in a space?
Soundscape isn’t as simple as small and large spaces though; the objects within each space also make sound behave differently and we can perceive these minute changes. A forest sounds different to a city and a cave sounds different to a music venue and each of these scenes makes us feel differently, even if there is no memory to trigger an association. As you can see, these scenarios are very physical and this takes the ideas out of the realms of recorded music. Live sound for any event could take advantage of the thoughts and feelings that space-associated sounds conjure up. Adding artificial reverberation to sounds might go some way to creating a set of feelings but to truly immerse the listener in an atmosphere, they need to sense it in a natural way. Maybe it isn’t possible to create an entire event in a forest, in a cave or on a city street but using the same materials and shapes within a space will give an exciting approximation.
But why is thinking of soundscape in terms of space useful? Well, I’ve talked about the use of sound in creating emotional responses many times now. People connect to things through their emotions and it is the job of anyone trying to convince people to like their service or product to create a strong, positive emotional connection.
Understanding the complex emotional responses that different spaces give may not seem so easy but after a little thought it’s all quite straightforward. In terms of conveying a product or service, it’s just a case of deciding what spaces you want to associate with. Is your space powerful, calming, exciting, mystical? Related spaces could be a civil auditorium; a forest or beach; a sports arena; a church or temple. What does each of these spaces contain? Auditoriums are shaped in such a way as to bring power to the main speaker; forests soften sound by bouncing it around complex, curvy shapes; the open space of a beach allows sound to lose power without it bouncing around; a sports arena is functional and contains hard angular surfaces; churches are designed to add power to music with sound being bounced around hard, soft-angled surfaces. And of course, there are obvious sound sources unique to each of these spaces.
Thinking about the shapes and materials that make up a space will help towards creating such effects and of course, in this age of experiential marketing, it is very common to theme spaces to a specific ideal. However, the difference will be that instead of using cardboard cut-outs etc, which look cheap anyway, using wood or other relevant materials will add to the auditory experience as well as the visual.
Fill in the gaps
Once you have the look and physical feel of a space, it is time to fill that space with the necessary soundscape audio. Having two speakers blaring sound from the front can be a usual audio setup, but this creates an imbalance of sound throughout the space that isn’t natural – too loud at the front and too quiet at the back. Use a larger number of smaller, less powerful speakers to evenly distribute sound without it becoming overpowering. Use a soundscape artist to fill in the space. Using principles of sound design, composing and technology they’ll be able to create the atmosphere you crave. Using an in-depth knowledge of how sounds work together and behaves the various elements of your soundscape can be brought together to create a totally immersive atmosphere that will affect people emotionally.