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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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1.3 What listeners hear

While sound designers can guide listeners by providing clues about what they should be attending to (Kerins 2010; Sonnenschein 2001), there has been relatively little work on directly comparing listener and sound designer experiences. There has, however, been much work distinguishing between musicians’ and less experienced listeners’ experiences in the field of psychoacoustics (Bharucha, Curits and Paroo 2006; Marie, Kujala and Besson 2012; P. M. Paul 2009). Listening tests have been conducted within product design for the last 50 years or more and involve experienced (trained) listeners (Engelen 1998; Frank, Sontacchi and Höldrich 2010; Soderholm 1998).

Rumsey (Rumsey 1998) tells us that there are high levels of agreement when participants are experts, whereas non-experts’ responses are likely to vary more. Bech (Bech 1992) suggests that increasing the number of participants can improve the level of confidence in the findings. Yang and Kang (Yang and Kang 2005) highlight the differences between measurements and evaluations and how much they can vary, especially when it comes to different types of sound sources and levels of pleasantness. Listener testing is limited to products such as audio reproduction equipment and vacuum cleaners and has not migrated into mainstream media, and only partially into computing (Bech and Zacharov 2006). Tardieu, Susine, Poisson, Kawakami and McAdamas (Tardieu et al. 2009) found that laboratory tests of sound signals (earcons) do not fully correspond with tests conducted under real world conditions.

In a previous study, the authors attempted to establish whether listeners have the same listening experience as the person who designed the sound (McGregor and Turner 2012). Surprisingly, there was little evidence as to whether what is designed to be heard is what is actually heard. A repertory grid technique was adopted using listener and designer generated constructs. One designer and 20 listeners rated 25 elements using the same attributes (descriptors) used in this study, within a surround sound recording created by a soundscape generative system. The listeners’ modal response was compared to the designer’s. The results suggested that it is perfectly feasible to compare designers’ and listeners’ experiences and to establish points of agreement and disagreement. The authors demonstrated an ontology of sound based on user experience rather than a designer’s training, with an approach based upon long-term experiences and listeners’ conceptualisation of sound.