Surround (Oxford Dictionary)
- (verb) [with object] – Be all round (someone or something)
- (noun) – A thing that forms a border or edging around an object.
- (adjective) (Surrounding) – All around a particular place or thing.
Based merely on a technological approach, one might think that Surround sound is just the technique of reproducing audio signals in a particular array of speakers that distribute sound around space in order to give a three-dimensional illusion for the ears…
Surround is not visual really, is not something we can see. Surround is more than just a technique of distributing sound, but the consequences of it. It’s a characteristic of sound itself, natural to the sonic phenomenon and responsible of the entire notion of the “auditory field” which is more than simply one dimension of space, but a multi-layered, multi-dimensional representation of sound.
In this article I aim to explore different experiments and perspectives toward the use of surround sound and the experiments between space and form, getting out from the image-film relationship in order to explore how sound “alone” can be enriched by the process of multichannel distribution, which has been deeply explored aesthetically, psychologically, musically, etc.
Our cognitive processes may lead us to difference sounds and fragment the auditory field into “objects that are apparently in space” but sound phenomenon is actually creating the notion of sonic space itself. In other words, there’s really not sound IN surround, but a surrounding experience of sound, or even silence, since the fact of having such big amount of spatialization, also gives a big amount for silent spaces, a sonic void, even with two sources (stereo field), as found in the great Audio-Vision book, where Michel Chion talks (pg. 155) about his notion of superfield, specially meaning the space created by ambient sounds.
“Dolby stereo increases the possibility of emptiness in film sound at the same time that it enlarges the space that can be filled. It’s this capacity for emptiness and not just fullness that offers possibilities yet to be explored. Kurosawa has magnificently exploited this dimension in Dreams: sometimes the sonic universe is reduced to a single point—the sound of the rain, an echo that disappears, a simple voice.” – Michel Chion
What we call space is a notion given directly by the form of sounds. For example, reverberation can be understood as the sum of echoing faculties, resonance extending a sound object in order to be felt as if it is inside a space. But, for instance, any person who deals with reverb effects digitally or analogically (including the act of playing sounds into different acoustic environments or even the act of “worldizing”) can easily explore how the notion of space is created from an apparently dry object, which is not really taken to a visually conceived space but transformed in order to give the illusion of field.
An example that showcases that role of space when designing and defining our actual notion of space (not just sonic, or visual, or whatever, but simply space) could be a work that actually exaggerates and expands that notion of territory. That is the “Hyper-rainforest” installation by sound artist Francisco López, for which 100 hundred speakers were placed in two concentric concert halls in New York in order to create a hyperreal surround space. The composition used field recordings from world’s different rainforest, in order to experience the complexity of those places.
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Designing Sound by