Considering Audio

Video killed the radio star. We can’t rewind and we’ve gone too far.

Translated into artistic-speak, television killed creativity. It ripped away the ability of the end user to think and tossed it in the garbage. Television painted the entire picture via cathode ray tube onto a glass screen, requiring nothing of the viewer. Sit back, relax. Enjoy the show. You don’t even need to think – we’ll do that for you. Nowadays, that concept has become worse. Hungry? “Hey TV on my wall, where’s Greek food?” or “Alexa, massage my throat, move my jaws, and chew my food for me while you sing me a song.” There’s no need to be creative on your own when you can simply have someone else think for you. It’s easier.

Ironically a music video containing a guy singing about how video killed radio stars.

Jad Abumrad speaks about a form of “co-imagining” in which the artist has a connection with the audience. I don’t really think that’s what it should be about. To me, art is about communication (the same as Abumrad), but it’s more about getting the crap that’s in my head out. It’s not about forming a connection; rather, it’s about accurately conveying the idea that’s in my head to someone else. How they create it is up to them. You might argue that’s the same as “co-imagining”, but I’d disagree. Instead, it’s more akin to “co-perception”, in which we’re both perceiving meaning behind an idea an experiencing it subjectively. It’s hard to do that with television, but radio is a good canvas to experiment with. I provide the blueprints; you build the house.

Abumrad is of the same thought in regards to that. He refers to it more as a “dream state”, where the story is told collectively. It’s the job of the artist to set the listener up with the necessary tools to fully immerse themselves within the story. If done properly, The listener can experience their own – very unique – rendition of the artist’s idea. That’s something special to radio. Radio gives you to the brush, the paint, the canvas – but you do the painting yourself.

I create videos both for work and play. Audio is key. There are certain sounds that your audience expects to accompany specific actions or visuals. When they’re wrong, it’s overly glaring to your audience that something isn’t right. When you’ve got it right, it just flows.

For instance, here’s a clip I’m using in one of my video games:

It’s easy enough to just say the words. But I wanted to ensure the person playing the game “felt” as if the transmission was coming over a communications system, such as a radio or HUD uplink. Instead of just inserting it plain, I added in the keys at the front and back end to simulate walkie-talkie key presses. It’s that added flavor in the sound that helps communicate what I’m after, but the person playing the game can interpret it however they want. Maybe they perceive it as coming from an actual walkie-talkie. Maybe a radio. I provide the framework; they hang it up.

I’m no professional at audio manipulation, but I have become rather adept with it over the years through necessity. I’m a fan of Audacity, because it’s free and does a terrific job. You can manipulate sounds, or just create them yourself from scratch. It’s loaded with pre-canned effects that allow you to really just “have at it.” For instance, I created this sound (used in the above clip) by sampling it from a police scanner, then running a high pass filter across it:

Here’s an example of a base, 500 hertz tone with some really simple manipulation to create a indicating “ping” sound:

I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but I can see where it would fit in quite nicely on a futuristic display screen, possibly when a control was switched or when a portion of the screen was touched. Maybe even after an operation had completed.

The object of audio design isn’t much different than visual design. You need to try to convey the meaning as best you can and communicate properly with your audience. If you can do that correctly, they’ll be able to experience the message your trying to send accurately, but in their own, personalized way.

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