By: Nathan Craciun, Henry Brooks
This work celebrates the rich auditory history of digital to human interfaces. This montage of sound files spans the sound design that has been developed to connect humans to the digital – from fax machines to smartphone notifications. This work attempts to immerse the listener and make them aware of the beauty and progression of digital interface design.
Throughout the history of digital interfaces, sound designers have been tasked with creating soundscapes that would make users comfortable. Different sound effects were designed to simulate the natural world, such as clicks and tones that provide familiarity and feedback to the user. This pattern continues to this day, but with more abstraction in sound feedback, departing from traditional imitation of physical buttons and switches.
This work is a montage of the digital sounds that have appeared throughout the history of digital interfaces. A user can expect to hear many familiar sounds they have experienced through computer and smartphone usage, along with the backdrop of a Shepard Tone for historical context of technology. The arrangement of these familiar and unfamiliar sounds will create a new, interesting acousmatic experience. A user will place their head inside a hanging black cylinder, isolated from the surrounding environment to experience this digital sonic environment undisturbed. The cylinder will have a bluetooth speaker on top, and will simulate a headphone input, with the human head being like a “headphone jack” of sorts.
This work is designed to immerse the audience in the sounds they hear every day. In return, listeners will gain a greater appreciation for the work of sound designers, and realize that this often-ignored acoustic world can be a thing beauty.
We were influenced by the work of Andrew Huang, especially the video where he is utilizing the unique sonic properties of household items to create covers of popular songs. Like his idea of taking everyday items and creating something new with them, we wanted to take the everyday sounds of the digital world and make a new sonic experience. Additionally, the musical phenomenon of the Shepard Tone and octave experimentation are a foundation of our interest.
This work is a continuation of experimental sound work done more and more since the advent and proliferation of computers and sound-editing software. Many have remixed everyday sounds into new arrangements, but we wanted to take that a step further and remix the very digital sonic world itself.
We used as many sound files as were possible to obtain from the vast history of interface sound in the public domain. These were then arranged using Logic Pro X on a Mac. Some sounds were pitch-shifted to create different tones that could be arranged with other sound files to create melodious sections. Sounds were faded in and out to create a seamless transition to different sound files. As for the arrangement of a Shepard Tone, various octaves are manipulated to create a sense of “infinite ascension,” which provides the listener a feeling of never ending rise, symbolic of our technological advancements as a species over the years.
The end result of this project was to create a sonic arrangement that would engage the listener into a greater appreciation of the digital sonic world. The goal was also to create a commentary on the world we live in, a study in how ingrained humanity now is in this digital world. The feeling of immersion is important here, and we believe it was achieved. The purely digital sound effects, meant to convey comfort to the user and confidence in the actions they take on digital devices, could now instill a sense of wonder, or even fear.
We believe the result of having an immersive experience of the digital world was achieved. The listener could really feel that they were surrounded by the sounds of digital interfaces. Inside of that immersion, the listener could pick out certain sounds they were familiar with, and listen to the abstractions produced by the combination of many different, often contradictory, sounds.