My last blog post was all about some talks I attended on ‘Immersing your Audience’ . The talks were given by experiential marketing agencies RPM and Sense and the immersive theatre group Punchdrunk. Last week, I mentioned the general concepts that I learned so this week I thought I would talk about my thoughts on these ideas in relation to getting creative with immersive audio. These ideas could be used for any kind of experience and even song-writing to give the material a better chance of communicating your ideas or message.
The Importance of space
I mentioned that the key thread throughout all these talks was the idea of dipping your audience into a different reality based around a theme. Audio really is vital to achieving this. Sound defines any space we are in, whether we notice it or not. The way sound bounces around a space gives our brain little queues through our ears. Because the part of our brain that deals with sound has good connections with our emotion centre, these queues spark emotional responses and this is one of the reasons why spaces all make us feel different. Of course, other factors such as light and previous memories have a say in this but sound is an important piece of this puzzle.
How can this be used in staging events? Well, you could physically choose the right space to host your happening; a claustrophobic theatrical piece could utilise a series of small, enclosed rooms or an air of freedom could be created by large spaces or even the great outdoors. Artificial audio could also be used to achieve these effects. Choosing the right audio, echo/reverb and sound-wave frequency emanating from hidden speakers would all contribute to the desired atmosphere.
Tailor sound to emotional direction
Next, I talked about direction. This is vital with any aspect of a project really but is more than just choosing the right thematic sounds that fit in with it. An experience is always more than it’s theme so you are not always just pointing towards ‘burlesque’, for example. How do you want your audience to feel? Define the emotions and then tailor the work to these while using the burlesque theme. Again, use of sound frequency, echo/reverb and the right audio will all contribute.
Realism and appealing to all of the senses was mentioned next. The great thing about audio, as is seen with music, is that you can evoke emotion without the audio sounding like a real-world occurrence. Of course using realistically accurate audio will have advantages in some situations but the sound palette doesn’t stop there. Think about how a piece of classical instrumentation can make you feel, or the fact that gunshot sounds used in film are far more exciting and very different from the sound of a real gunshot. In terms of the senses, the realistic crackle of bacon cooking can evoke the idea of the smell of bacon (if the audience is familiar with it). Music can also be used to approximate the senses; sounds can be warm or cold, pungent or smooth.
Attention to Detail
The last posts mention of detail and backstory is the same with any medium. Subtlety and attention to detail will enrich any experience and also make it seem more real and natural even if your chosen atmosphere isn’t real at all. Many sounds are present in every environment and they all contribute to your experience of that environment even if you are not conscious of them. The background rumble of traffic, for example, will be a cue that you are not in the middle of a jungle but you may not consciously recognise it’s affect.
Understand the Audience.
Knowing your audience is also vital to any experience. This is probably most obvious with the use of music; different people have very rigid expectations of what they perceive good music to be. They can’t all be right can they? That very fact shows you that the definition of ‘good music’ is subjective and, ironically enough, not very useful in actually determining musical quality. Replacing the idea of good music with the phrase ‘music this group will like’ is much more helpful if you plan to use music in an event. Customer profiling will help this and to an extent a good result can be achieved using such scientific means; TV adverts show how successful this method is. The music industry has tried very hard to mystify music to make it more appealing. Releasing yourself from these shackles will make creative use of music much easier; think about the perceptions of your audience rather than providing ‘good music’.
The last idea that brings all of these threads together is simplicity. Of course, this is a relevant idea for most things – the most elegant solution is always the simplest one!
My experience has shown that audio and how it can be used in creative applications can mystify people. Whereas this post hasn’t really unlocked tools of the trade, I’m hoping it has shown that audio isn’t so scary after all: you can think about it like any other creative aspect of a project. And of course, there are always content providers like myself who are more than willing to delve deeper into the ideas behind audio use when needed. I also hope the ideas I have written about here have given you food for thought as well as giving you ideas that you can take away with you!