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The Journal of Sonic Studies
Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 6, nr. 1 (January 2014)Iain McGregor; Phil Turner; David Benyon: USING PARTICIPATORY VISUALISATION OF SOUNDSCAPES TO COMPARE DESIGNERS’ AND LISTENERS’ EXPERIENCES OF SOUND DESIGNS

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1.2 Classifying listening experiences

Before designers can present and evaluate their designs for sound events and soundscapes, they need to establish what characteristics of sounds are most important – in short, they require a vocabulary. Each researcher describes sounds from their own perspective: some focus on the spatial characteristics of sounds, others on the dynamics or the aesthetics, and others may include additional qualities such as whether a sound is a background noise. The following brief treatment of some key writers in this field offers a flavour of the resulting incertitude.

Schafer (Schafer 1977), in one of the definitive treatments of sound, was concerned with a sound’s estimated distance and its environmental factors such as reverberation. Gabrielsson and Sjogren (Gabrielsson and Sjogren 1979) identified the feeling of space and nearness associated with sound events, while Amphoux (Amphoux 1997) added orientation and reverberation. Hellström (Hellström 1998) tended this by proposing enclosure, extension, centre, distance and direction, and Mason (Mason 2002) highlighted the width, diffuseness and envelopment.

Attributes concerned with the dynamics of sound have also been highlighted: Schafer (Schafer 1977) focuses on the intensity of a sound, Gabrielsson and Sjögren (Gabrielsson and Sjögren 1979) identified loudness, Amphoux (Amphoux 1997) was concerned with scale, and Hellström (Hellström 1998) specified strong and weak dynamics.

Temporal attributes included duration (Schafer 1977), atemporality (Amphoux 1997), and rhythm (Hellström 1998). Spectral attributes related to both frequency and timbre, with Schafer (Schafer 1977) identifying the brightness or darkness and fullness or thinness of timbre. A full sound has a broader range of spectra, while a thin sound has a much narrower range. Hellström (Hellström 1998) focused on both pitch and timbre, and Mason (Mason 2002) referred to timbral frequency.

Aesthetics were considered by Gabrielsson and Sjögren (1979) and Amphoux (1997). Clarity was specified in terms of “hi-fi” or “lo-fi” environments by Schafer (1997) and as clearness and distinctness by Gabrielsson and Sjögren (1979).

This is by no means exhaustive. However, our own recent work in this area aims to simplify and clarify this diversity.