Lesson 4

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Lesson 4: Creating Space

Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Perhaps there’s a bird chirping in the distance, a plane flying overhead, the sound of a clock ticking. With your eyes shut, how do you know where those sounds are originating from? Are they to your left or right; are they near or far? Your ability to make these determinations is based on physics. Sound coming from your right arrives at your right ear louder and earlier than it arrives at your left ear and your brain quickly recognizes these differences which in turn create the perception that the sound is indeed coming from your right. An object that’s far away is quieter not just in its overall volume, but also in tone because some frequencies of sound can’t pass through air as easily as others, affecting the overall quality of the sound based on its distance to you.

Audio engineers use volume and pan controls and more to re-create the idea of space when you listen to pre-recorded material played through a set of speakers. Music engineers use volume and pan controls to paint the sonic picture they want the listener to perceive. For example, is the guitarist standing on the left or right side of the stage? With audio for film and TV, there’s already an image presented on the screen, so the sound engineer uses these same controls to create an audible image that matches the visual one - it would be very distracting to see a man talking on the right side of the screen while his voice comes from the left. With video games, it’s much like audio for film and TV where there’s an image on screen; however, the major difference is that with games, there’s no way to predict exactly what that image will be, as this is dictated by how the player plays the game. This all but eliminates the ability for game audio engineers to use volume and pan controls in a conventional way. To accommodate the unpredictability of a game, audio engines such as Wwise use unique systems to allow the game itself to automatically control how the audio is mixed in real-time.