On Working Between the Ears (producing binaural audio recordings)

 

From time to time people ask me for advice on making binaural (or “3D” or 360-degree) audio recordings.

First — have a read through Wikipedia’s ‘wiki’ page for binaural recording

Second — it needn’t be expensive (although it certainly can be). So listed below are some of the hardware and software tools that I have first-hand experience with over the past few years. Please note: none of these companies are endorsing me or paying me for mentioning them or their products. 

Third — I will update this page as I come across other tools and strategies.

But in the meantime, if you have questions just send me an email.

Have fun!

Field Recording

Microphones

(previously) SP-TFB-2 – Sound Professionals – Low Noise In-Ear Binaural Microphones

(currently) Soundman OKM II Classic Binaural Microphones

(DIY alternative) If you have 2 identical microphones (ideally of the large capacitor type), a binaural audio experience can be created by positioning the microphones at the same vertical height but facing out in opposite directions from each other. The distance between the two microphone’s capsules should be the same as the width of the average human head. Then fill that space with materials having an equivalent material density (try a pillow or the head of a mannequin or wig display)

If the DIY approach appeals to you, Rob Cruickshank’s infinitely wise Musicworks tutorial How To Make Binaural Microphones is a must-read.

Sound Recorders

Zoom H4N

Software-based Encoding

For arranging pre-existing, non-binaural audio recordings into a binaural /3D audio format I’ve had good results from the VST implementation of the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation.

Lately, I’ve also been doing binaural audio work inside the MaxMSP programming environment through a very useful library of Higher Order Ambisonic encoders by these lovely folks:

Recording Collections

My own (growing) collection.

You can also search the Freesound collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds for binaural recordings  — just make sure that if you end up using someone’s recordings in your own work that you adhere to the Creative Commons license stipulated by the recording’s creator!!

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Sonification sketchbook: Audio Portrait — “REHEARSING SILENCE” (2018)

REHEARSING SILENCE:
Speculative prototype for a binaurally immersive medical portraiture

(9 minute audio loop)

For best results, listen on noise-cancelling headphones.

Rehearsing Silence is part audio essay, part medical portraiture, part data sonification, part prosthetic design sketch. It proposes a binaurally-encoded, audio-based approach to portraiture that frames and compresses the gradual and inevitable diminishment of auditory perception as a consequence of aging and neurologically collapsing bodies. This design sketch stems, in part, from ongoing research focused on developing instruments and tools to support multi-sensory (non-visual) data analytics, and a continuing interest in how the effects of aging and sensory impairment manifest themselves as perceptual artifacts within an artistic practice (Claude Monet painted through cataracts, Beethoven composed through tinnitus, etc.).

It also proposes an alternative approach to data sonification in which data is represented as absences, mutations, disfigurements or erasures of a previously whole or intact sonorous entity.

**PLEASE NOTE**
This audio portrait contains simulations of high frequency tinnitus tones and frequency-based hearing loss which are different in each ear. If you currently suffer from tinnitus, listening to this portrait may exacerbate your symptoms if listened to at high volume levels.**

Further Reading:

Begault, Durand R. “The Virtual Reality of 3-D Sound.” In Cyberarts, edited by Linda Jacobson, 79-87. San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1992.

Eggermont, Jos J. Tinnitus. Springer, 2012.

Gruener, Anna. “The Effect of Cataracts and Cataract Surgery on Claude Monet.” The British Journal of General Practice 65.634 (2015): 254–255. PMC. Web. 1 Feb. 2018.

Lupton, Deborah. The Quantified Self : A Sociology of Self-Tracking. Polity Press, 2016.

Marmor MF. “Ophthalmology and Art: Simulation of Monet’s Cataracts and Degas’ Retinal Disease.” Arch Ophthalmol. 2006;124(12):1764–1769. doi:10.1001/archopht. 124.12.1764

Mermikides, Alex et al. Performance and the Medical Body. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.

van Beethoven, Ludwig, and Paul Lewis. “Beethoven No. 3: Sonatas Op. 2, 7, 26, 27 ‘Moonlight’, 54, 57 ‘Appassionata’” (2005), Harmonia Mundi.

Additional field recordings by https://freesound.org/people/micndom/sounds/27340/

Related post: Sonification sketchbook: A sonification model based on variations or mutations of single sound objects?

Shh! A 24-hour sound installation for public spaces

Shh! is a sound installation for a single audio speaker in a public space. It consists of 24, 1-hour tracks running continuously in the space at an overall volume level which matches the ambient sound level of the space.

Installation gallery note:

Shh!

A good shushing (like your grandmother probably used to give you), is like an arrow shot through shared airspace. It pulls focus away from self-obsessed interior gazing and casts it out into the world, framing and punctuating the contribution each of us makes to the collective soundscape of the commons.

A good shushing can also wake you up – if only for a moment – to the struggle that each of us experiences in trying to control our surroundings and be heard above the communal din.

– RCW
(October 2010)

First presented by the Art Gallery of York University’s Audio Out exhibition series, October – December 2010.

You can listen to the ‘condensed version’ here:

In this version, all 24, 1-hour tracks have been layered together to form a single 1-hour listening experience. The contents of each track was first mapped out to form a 24-hour cycle analogous to the changing dynamics of the site’s soundscape. The individual moment-to-moment placement of sounds in time was determined using generative processes then digitally rendered and arranged as a continuous, sequential playlist.

Many elements in this work were first presented as part of (((Cocktail Party Effect))) ‘The Audio Waiters’, a guerilla performance project, produced and performed in collaboration with InterArts Matrix.

Both of these works are available for presentation in other spaces and situations.

Still(ness) Ringing

Gallery sunlight on Still(ness) Ringing
Photo by Micheline Roi

Presented at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Anglican Church, Toronto Island in 2005, this immersive listening experience considers the impact of the city soundscape on physical memory and perception from the quiet solitude and sanctuary of an island church pew. A single pair of headphones rest on a church pew, fed by a direct audio signal from binaural microphones affixed to the underside of the pew. The signal is fed to the headphones through a custom-built software program (built in MaxMSP) that simulates hearing loss, applying specially-designed filters and synthesized simulations of tinnitus to the signal. As this simulation eventually recedes, portions of the microphone’s signal are then delayed and looped, producing an experience whereby sight and sound gradually become unsynchronized.

The above audio example is a direct feed of the signal heard through the headphones.

Commissioned by New Adventures in Sound Art (Toronto)

Gallery note:

For generations, Toronto Island has been an essential means of escape from the noise and pollution of the city. The pews of St. Andrews church, and many other island locations are commonly regarded as choice locations for experiencing both a quiet relief from the city, and moments of peaceful introspection.

Still(ness) Ringing is an interactive sound installation exploring the impact of the city soundscape on physical memory and perception. Situated in a single church pew, its goal is to provide participants with a heightened contemplation of those sounds which are commonly and irrevocably etched within the ear through prolonged exposure to urban environments. As a listening experience, ‘Still(ness) Ringing’ underscores the impact of this condition on the participant’s sense of personal connection with the outside world.

©Richard Windeyer 2005