Sound Design: Using Audio as a Creative Tool

Museums and the Web 2000

In April of 2000, I delivered a workshop presentation on Sound Design: Using Audio as a Creative Tool at the annual gathering of museum web designers, Museums and the Web, held in Minneapolis. Below is a brief outline; it is also available online in the original Powerpoint presentation which includes extensive lecture notes and links to a variety of sonified web sites. [See explanatory usage notes at bottom of this page.]

The presentation offers a review of good (and bad) sound design, proposes ground rules for designing with sound, briefly covers currently available tools, and offers a consideration of the future potential of web audio. It includes discussion of educational applications, the field of sonification, and explores communicating with sound--including a review of how sound is used as a manipulative tool in film.

Workshop Description (from conference program)

Sound--one of the most underutilized creative web design tools--can differentiate your site, aid in the presentation and navigation of information, and work with other design elements to create new experiences online. Audio offers another means of exploring and understanding the complex world we live in. Current research in the relatively new field of "sonification," in fact, examines ways in which sound can be used as another means of "visualization."

Meanwhile, at a more pragmatic level, the current revolution in how music is being marketed and delivered online means that the audio design tools are out there (and waiting to be used). Popular browser programs now feature sophisticated built-in sound support; plug-ins such as RealPlayer and Shockwave and players like RealAudio and Beatnik deliver high quality web sound. Bandwidth constraints are increasingly less relevant as high speed and cable modems allow faster web access.

This workshop is NOT about the "how to"--it's about the "why" of audio enhancement. It's not about MIDI versus streaming audio, or which plug-ins and players are cool. It's about why you would want to even bother with audio on a web page in the first place. What does audio have to offer the web community? Can it open new channels for learning--or make information accessible in a new way? In what ways are museums already using it--and how might it be used to even greater effect? You'll learn more about the current state of technology (with appropriate references to the "how-to"), see some sites that offer interesting new uses of audio, and have a chance to share your thoughts on creatively using sound as content.

[Key slide index]
Life is rarely silent
Why use sound?
What sound does
Web sound--still in its infancy
Sound as an immersion tool
Sonification [the use of nonspeech audio to convey information]
Educational applications
What makes “good” sound design?
Sites that demand sound
The next level
Do you need audio?
Sound and simultaneity
Using sound
Ground rule 1: consider the user
Web audio
We need a standard
Real-time interactions
Rich Music Format (RMF): Beatnik (with examples)
Sound’s talents
Sound conveys meaning
What do sound effects do?
Role of sound in film
Robert Bresson’s notes on sound
Communicating with sound
Internet is inherently multimedia
Next 18 months

Powerpoint presentation; HTML format with lecture notes below each slide)

  • Use "back" and "forward" icon buttons (located to right of slide) to click through slides; you may also click "i" to access the index page and "A" for a text-only version
  • Links to web sites are active--but may not work consistently on all browsers. (I've added the actual URLs in text so that you may choose to access them through an alternate route.)
  • Please note you may need to go in to a second level to see the element described, since several of these are FLASH sites that require you to enter through a portal.
  • The first demo from Network Music can sometimes prove difficult to load, as can Sonicopia; both are well worth the trouble.
  • Use "back" button to move from on-line site back to presentation slide: for demo of Coke and Network Music (which don't want you to leave their site once you've arrived!) you'll need to manually go back TWO levels to the appropriate slide.
  • Graphic version too slow for you? Look at the TEXT-ONLY VERSION (live links from slide text seem to work ok, but be aware there are some additional bugs I haven't yet worked out with the live links in the notes section beneath each slide).

    My apologies for poor visual quality: I will NEVER again do a presentation of on-line materials in Powerpoint--it would have been easier for MANY reasons to do it in straight HTML from the get-go!


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