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  • Chanel Summers: Unconventional Sound Design Exercises

    Chanel Summers, a pioneer in the world of game and audio design, stopped by one of our weekly WFI meetings to give her presentation, Unconventional Sound Design Exercises.  Chanel discussed several "out of the box" type experiments that will get students thinking about how to work with audio in unusual and creative ways.

    For those of you who may not know Chanel, she's a rockstar. A pioneer in the world of games and sound, Chanel paved the way by creating innovative products at early industry leading companies ranging from Mindscape, to Velocity (makers of the first networked video game) to Mattel Media, where she designed and developed everything from high-performance 3D vehicle simulations, to action/arcade platform games, to hardware peripherals. Chanel was also responsible for launching DirectMusic at Microsoft. 

    Firstly, Chanel touched on the importance of diversity. Everyone has something special and unique to contribute. By not having diversity, you are not realizing an artform’s full potential because not all voices are heard. Because of this, and her love of games and audio, Chanel actually hosts workshops all over the world for young women in order to expose them to this possible career path, as many don't even know that this is an option.  

    Chanel continued to discuss how sound can influence our perception of story. Sound will always alter the way images are perceived, not the other way around. Sound can emphasize or enhance metaphors, pacing, and mood. They can shape perception and characters, and enforce the narrative.  You can use it for juxtaposition or synchronization to the images. For example, watch your favorite scene from a movie. Got it? Now watch it again with a different piece of music. As you will probably notice, the sound alters our perception of the images, not the other way around. 

    With sound, you can constantly experiment. You can make an entire soundscape out of one sound: vocalisations, or even cardboard boxes. Use digital signal processing to stretch, cut, and alter your sounds in any way imaginable and see what you can do with it! This also encourages creativity and creative problem solving.

    You can even use your own voice, and only your voice, to create really great and convincing soundscapes. Vocalisations can be processed, blended, and mixed to make other sounds that don’t sound like vocalisations at all. Chanel showed us an example in which a student at one of her workshops made a car speeding down the highway with only their voice. Engine, revving, the squeaking of the tires- all done with only the voice. Pretty amazing huh?

    Chanel then suggested to keep your recorded and processed sounds logged in a spreadsheet, with names and a list of things they could possibly be used for. Eventually, you’ll have your own customized library to draw from.  Study and identify sounds to test if you can hear the various properties and what they can be used for. For example, does it sound metallic? Crunchy? What surface and material is this thing made of? What can that be used for?

    Thanks again to Chanel for sharing her wonderful advice and knowledge with us! You can read more about Chanel and her company, Syndicate 17, here