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Week 1: Principles of Sound

Sound, perception & emotion.

In our previous subject of Media Cultures, we have talked about how sound can be used to change and manipulate how we feel, and even how we perceive certain things.

In Digital Media Technologies, we extended that further and was introduced to a phenomenon known as the 'misattribution of emotion'. Basically, the music/sound makes you feel a certain way, and you link that emotion to whatever is playing on-screen. However, the narrative can often be different that what is perceived and that is where the misattribution lies.

For example, the music video for the song Happy by Pharrell Williams sound very different with and without music. Take a look:

As you can see, the version without music seems more dull and the people in it seem more strange. That's because when we hear the strong rhythmic beat and joyous melody, we (mis)attribute that upbeatness to the dancing people onscreen. When the music is taken out, the people dancing suddenly seems misguided, strangely dancing to the beat of their own drum.

The fast and loud music puts this sound into the "high arousal" and "positive" spectrum in this 'circumplex model of emotion', devised by James Russell:

Circumplex of Emotion (Russell, James 1980)

High arousal can be positive or negative, and in this case, it's mostly positive, unless the individual audience has a distaste in upbeat pop music. Arousal is a spectrum on the circumplex, and no matter the emotion, the same physical effects may be observed; i.e. fast heartbeat from fast music. This circumplex of emotion can also be applied to different medium, such as film and design.

For example, a high arousal scene in an action film can be filled with jump cuts, changing perspectives and angles, motion and more. The audience will have the same physical influences such as increased adrenaline, faster heart rates etc, but the emotion can be different. For example, a horror movie will generally trigger high negative effects unless they enjoy horror movies.

We were given different topics on presentations that we will be giving in class, and I chose the topic of "Sound in linear vs non- linear experiences"; for example, how music works in film VS video games or websites. Immediately I thought of the main similarities and differences of the two. In both movies and games, the use of sound is to create an immersion, to make the audience feel as if the scene is happening and it is real. The difference however, is that sound in movies is intentionally created by the director, a clear sense of narrative timed exactly when, what, how and why. In games, the sound is responsive. Players have the freedom to interact with the world around them, to change the angle and stray off from the main narrative.




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