MIGS 2018: Designing the Sound of Reality in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

In 2018 I gave a presentation at the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS), about the sound of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This session was about sharing some sound design strategies to make reality sound more believable or interesting than it actually is, or in other words, to aim for ‘believability’ rather than ‘authenticity’, as was our approach in SOTR.

I decided to put this presentation into text (better late than never..!) simply for the sake of accessibility, and in an effort to share this information as widely as possible.

You can watch the full presentation here.

The following text is basically a transcript of the MIGS presentation and does not include any new information.

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SECTION 1 – INTRO

My name is Anne-Sophie Mongeau, I am a sound designer at Eidos Montreal [that was true at the time, I am currently Senior Sound Designer at Hazelight in Stockholm], and in this presentation I’m going to tell you about designing the sound of reality in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

What I mean by designing the sound of reality, is that Tomb Raider is a game environment in which the story may be fictional, but it sources its stylistic references from the real world, as opposed to other genres such as Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, where everything is made up and thought of from scratch, and where every sound is original and belonging to that made up world. In the realistic type of game, what we sound design, are sounds from the real world to start with, according to our expectations of them and how we think they should sound based on our experience of them.  In a game such as SOTR, a waterfall is a waterfall, a bird is an actual bird species that exist, a door opening is made from materials and mechanics that are known to us. When we see those visual references, we have expectations, of how they are going to sound.

These expectations are based on our real world experience of these things, but also on our experience of them through other media and other representations, and the cinematic, ‘hollywoodesque’ experience that often surrounds them. Not all of us here have seen actual jaguars, or have been through floods and earthquakes, but we all have some sort of idea of what it might, or even ‘should’ sound like.

So how do we, sound designers, meet these expectations, and walk that fine line between what it actually sounds like in reality (accuracy), and what we want it to sound like, based on ours, and the listeners’, biased expectations. WHILE also offering some originality and character – so not only staying within those expectations but surpassing them. In other words how do we contribute to the immersive, cinematic experience, as well as the storytelling, within a realistic context? 

So it’s not because the game genre is ‘realistic’ that the sound design is any less important or any easier to do. Because really, when we talk about the quality of being ‘realistic’ in games and entertainment in general, it means more being believable (or convincing), rather than being strictly authentic or accurate.

So how do we make reality more interesting than it really is? 

This can be achieved by putting into practice a few realistic sound design techniques which I will go through in a minute, as well as by identifying and taking advantage of the sound design opportunities that the game offers. A combination of those things will help reinforce a sense of place, immersion, character, uniqueness, and make the whole thing more memorable.

You will notice that a lot of my examples feature ambience sound design, because in Tomb Raider ambience has been a very important feature which provided us with many opportunities to reinforce immersion. Also I left the music playing in my examples because music also plays a role in the soundscape, but I made it deliberately lower in volume because we’re going to focus on the sound design.

SECTION 2 – GENERAL STRATEGIES

Let’s start with general techniques. These are things to keep in mind throughout the project.

These broad strategies (this is not an exhaustive list by the way, these are suggestions) can be used at different moments and in different contexts within the game. They have the specific purpose of reinforcing a sense of reality, without necessarily relying on reality (or accuracy) itself. 

These include :

  • Exaggeration
  • Evocation
  • Worldizing
  • Controlling focus

General Strategy 1 – Exaggeration

The title says it all, this strategy is about exaggerating what accuracy would want us to do, in order to compensate for the lack of sensory experience due to not actually being there. Considering that the field of vision is narrowed to the screen space, that the hearing is reduced to whatever sound system the audio is played back through, that you can’t touch or smell your environment, that your body doesn’t feel out of place, this technique’s goal is to rely on the available stimuli to deliver something that is closer to the sensory experience that should be had, by compensation.

For example, here are some screenshots of some of the stunning looking environments in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

As you can see, even the visuals kind of overcompensate by making everything look absolutely stunning all the time. Our role as sound designers is to support and even enhance those beautiful environments, and sometimes that means cheating a little bit.

I was in the Alps last summer, and I was faced with similarly stunning landscapes.

The Alps, summer 2018 (photo I took myself)

So I took a moment when I was there to listen to the soundscape around me.

And this is what I heard :

That actually sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And it feels nice as well. There is one good reason for it: because this is not actually what I heard. This is designed reality. Now this is what I actually recorded:

This, in the context of a game, would be quite disappointing, and underwhelming. This is why our Peruvian jungle sounds like this:

I’ve actually never been in the Peruvian jungle, but I like to imagine that this is what it sounds like. This is my expectation of it, at least, it’s how I want it to sound like.

This ambience has been ‘cheated’ in different ways. In this environment, every single sound source has been placed by hand, every bird, insect, tree creak and foliage rustle or rain drops. There is no stereo or quad ambiences, everything has its determined 3D place. I will talk a bit more about this later in the sound design opportunities. For now you get the idea about exaggeration. Make it sound better than what a scientific recording would sound like.

General Strategy 2 – Evocation

Next strategy, evocation.

Without digging too deep into cognitive functions, using the power of evocation is a way to build unique character by relying on associations made within one scene and the connections that exist between the different elements in it. For me it seems to have something to do with pattern recognition, somewhat like the psychology theory called recognition-by-components, but extended to the auditory senses rather than only limited to visual stimuli. 

This theory says we are able to recognize objects by separating them into geons, which are the object’s main component parts as you can see here.

But if start replacing the individual parts by geons that are somewhat to the outer limits of recognizable patterns, to the point that if I disconnect them they barely make any sense on their own, for instance if I do this :

This weird thing:

Plus this other weird thing:

Which are 2 barely recognizable objects, when put together, become something we can finally identify:

(It’s a weird mug).

As long as I keep them together, I can still identify the whole as something that makes sense.

And it’s not only a mug, but a very unique and original mug.

The whole helps us make sense of the individual parts. Sometimes that means we can take some freedom in the sounds that we use, as long as they make sense within the whole. So using certain sounds that are evocative rather than purely descriptive or scientifically accurate, allows us to offer something that has more of a unique character, and even gives us an opportunity to represent not only the visual and descriptive characteristics of a scene, but also its psychological quality and tone, its mood.

For example in the following area:

There is a large metallic structure, part of a dig site, that descends into this cavernous hole, through which Lara will go and find that it’s a bit of a horror scene. So the atmosphere we want to create here is not only one of a cave, but one of mystery, unease, apprehension. So basically it’s not only the physical characteristics that we are trying to depict through the sound design, but also the emotional ones.

I felt like this situation called for this type of evocative sound design strategy, so I used a recording a made with contact microphones of rain falling on a metallic fence. On its own, it’s not something you would hear in this context as this could not even normally be heard with naked ears. But when you put it in there with the rest, the fact that there is a metallic structure in the scene, and that metal is the main recognisable material in the recording, and because there are other metallic creaks in the soundscape, our brains just make it work by association, and it helps creating a more unique atmosphere rather that simply rely or accurately representing the space as we would hear it in reality.

Listen to the contact mic recording first so you can hear what to listen for in game:

And now watch this video example, which includes this recording in the scene:

So in summary, some abstraction can still feel realistic enough, provided that it is given the right context.

Strategy 3 – Worldizing

Most of you will be familiar with the technique of worldizing. But note that here I am talking about worldizing in the most simple possible way: simply, from the start, record the sounds you need in an environment that is as close as possible as what it is supposed to be in the game, instead of recording only ‘dry’ sound effects and trying to replicate or emulate certain conditions through effects and filters. 

For example, I used some recordings of trees creaking in which you can hear a lot of wind, birds, other things as well as a nice natural reverb, and I placed those within the jungle as positional sources, instead of placing only dry, isolated sounds and applying reverb on them, which there are as well, but using a combination can make the whole soundscape more believable.

Listen to the recording first:

And now watch how it sounds in game:

This could be applied to not only ambience but also interactive elements, for example you could have multiple recordings for various types of spaces for things like guns or anything else really.

Strategy 4 – Controlling Focus

In our experiences of the real world, our brains have this ability to focus our auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out a range of other stimuli. This is called the Cocktail Party Effect, and it happens naturally, without us consciously making that effort. 

So in a game, so much can be happening at the same time, between ambiences, Foley, music, sound effects, surrounding non important and important VO, and so on, and it’s all concentrated in that screen in front of us, on which we focus our attention. So if we don’t fake that cocktail party effect, it actually ends up sounding less realistic, too chaotic, which doesn’t reflect the way that we would process our surrounding soundscape in reality. So here the goal is the get closer to that sense of realism by cheating and intervening with technology to replicate what we normally do organically. 

This can be achieved through:

Azimuth: Make volume curves based on the field of view – which will attenuate the sounds of the sources behind you and bring into focus the ones you are looking at.

Loudness: Making some sounds deliberately louder than they should be so that we can hear them no matter the context, such as making sure you can hear objects that important to the gameplay even through noisy ambiences like thunderstorms.

Ducking: Ducking some sounds when important ones occur so that they seem louder and come through the mix more easily, as we would perceive them to do in real life.

For instance our weapons and explosions duck some of the ambience, SFX and even music so that they have more impact:

SECTION 3 – SOUND DESIGN OPPORTUNITIES

Moving to sound design opportunities, through which all of the strategies mentioned above can be used as well.

Sound design opportunities are moments favorable to feature creative, original, ‘ear-catching’ sound design which will emphasize the emotional qualities that are meant to be transmitted through a particular moment of gameplay.
Those opportunities can arguably be the same whether the game is said to be ‘realistic’ or not, but the sound design strategies that we use in the context of a ‘realistic’ game might differ. In a linear, narrative driven game such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, these opportunities are many I will go through a few examples.

Sound Design Opportunity 1: Location Reveal

Sound can contribute to emphasize the time and space where the next events are about to take place. It can also be an excellent opportunity to set an emotional tone.

While there is a lot of value in having the soundscape completely interactive and positional, on a location reveal or a vista, ambiences can be faked (scripted) to fit the screen and support the mood, then this faked ambience can disappear gradually and transition to the actual in-game interactive material. This allows more control to choose what kind of material and sentiment to present to the player during their first contact with the space and not leave it to chance.

For example, in this Vista of Paititi, you can hear birds, walla, horns blowing, a lot of liveliness in general, meant to communicate the sense of wonder Lara is feeling when discovering this hidden city for the first time, and taking in the scale of the place and its energy.

Sound Design Opportunity 2: Ambiences

I have a lot to say about ambiences.

In a similar way to location reveals, ambience design can be very useful to reinforce the emotional tone as well as the sense of place, but it is different in a way that instead of being punctual and scripted, ambiences play during long stretches of gameplay during which the narrative development stays relatively the same (the player usually remains within the same environment, exploring or traversing). So the strength of good ambiences is their contribution to a sense of immersion, reinforcing the feeling of actually being there and making the player believe in the environment.

How to achieve that can take many forms:

  1. Contrast

Emphasize the contrast between one space and another by using different types of assets. For instance even if the geographic location is not far, if the visual and emotional tones are different, the sound must also underline that change. And even if that visual tone would be the same or similar (and probably especially so), sound can really help create the feeling that you are actually in a different place than you were in the previous chapter, and help create new bearings through which the players can locate themselves more easily. In Tomb Raider, our ambience system involved placing by hand every single sound source that were part of the ambiences, there were no quads or 2D ambiences, only positional 3D emitters for every single element constituting the ambiences, this gave us a lot of control over the sense of progression through one space as well as from one space to another.

For instance, one forest can contain a few types of birds species while the other has different ones (even if all of them are said to live in that area),

Or

one forest can be more heavy on birds while the other one is on insects (maybe that says something about humidity and amount of sunlight that penetrates through the trees),

Or

one forest can feel more dense and claustrophobic by placing the sound sources much closer to the player’s path and the other more spacious and wide by placing the sound sources further away with more reverb.

To summarize this point let’s listen to some forest examples taken from the game, they are all in Peru, fairly close to each other, but they all sound quite different depending on the tone.

The first one is meant to be more hostile, dark and claustrophobic, in which Lara is vulnerable :

In this second one Lara goes from a small lush oasis to this forest laced with ruins. She believes she just found the hidden city but (spoiler alert!) she didn’t, in fact she’s about to find it just a bit after that. This space is just abandoned and feels very empty – kind of the underwhelming more realistic version of Paititi that Lara was expecting to find, which itself will contrast with the lively actual Paititi which we have seen in the reveal example earlier.

And finally I have 2 videos showing the same jungle area, but in the first one Lara is about to fight the creature that lives in this part of the forest and terrorizes the wildlife – it’s quiet and creepy. In the second one she killed the creature and the forest has come back to life, all the birds are back and there is even some additional reverb to make it feel even more lush and serene.

Before the fight:

After the fight:

The same strategies can be applied to any type of environment (hubs, puzzles, combat spaces, etc) – simply pinpoint a few elements that are meant to be specific to this place and emphasize on them.

2. Progression

Also, ambiences can greatly contribute to the storytelling and narrative development. Tomb Raider is not really an open world game, even if some hub or exploration areas let you move freely within them. The story takes you from point A to point B, never really looking back. There is rarely any possibility for backtracking, and if there is, you won’t get very far. The story and the game compel you to move forward, so it is important that the sound moves forward and evolves as well with the story and the character. One way to do that is to emphasize on a sense of progression, from the start to the end of the game, but also simply within one space, creating different moods and contrasts.

In this example, Lara goes from a village area to a jungle area, as part of the same general space, and this is where our 3D sources ambience system really helped us: you can hear the various elements of the ambience transform as she walks from one space to the next.

3. Sound design the invisible

Another way to make the most of ambiences as sound design opportunities is to give a story to the various locations, beyond what is visible on screen, and sound design the invisible. In a way you have just heard some of that in the jungle as none of the life we hear is actually seen, we place sound sources without there necessarily being a visual source. But it can go a bit further than that.

For instance, if Lara finds herself in a stone structure like a ruin of a temple which looks like it’s standing pretty still, it is still possible to use sound to reinforce the idea that this structure has been there for thousands of years and is effectively in ruins. For instance by adding some rock rumble and stress, debris falling and crumbling around the place, water drips to indicate that elements have penetrated the outer walls. Also some bats chirping indicating that nature has somewhat overgrown and overtaken the space and claimed it, so that it’s not quite welcoming for human visitors anymore. 

It is also possible to use more abstract sounds, which, according to my evocation strategy, will make sense within that greater environment.  For instance we have used eerie tones extracted from wooden whistles and flutes or instruments from that region, sounds to which our ears are not quite used to so can’t quite identify, and will blur the line between sound design and music, but will help bring more body to the ambience which might actually be quite dead if we only relied on what should be there to populate it.

In this example Lara moves from a puzzle area inside a temple in ruins, where you can hear fire as it is part of the scene, but beyond that there are some debris sounds, wood rattling in the wind, distant birds that you can hear through the whole in the roof, etc – and in the second part are after the puzzle space, it’s a lot more quiet and some abstract sounds have been placed, all positional, 3D in the scene (there is no actual music).

3. Scripted Events

Moving on to next opportunity: Punctual or interactive scripted events or sequences.

I am talking about an event or a sequence of events that is scripted to happen at some point in the narrative development. These moments are usually quite cinematic and rely on sensation/sensationalism to communicate a sense of drama and excitement to the player. 

In the same way camera movements and animations are often created custom to fit certain scripted events, sound should be designed having in mind the purpose of making that sequence stand out from the rest of the ‘systemic’ gameplay. The ways to achieve that highly depend on what the sequence actually is, so I will jump directly to an example :

Throughout this piece of traversal, Lara has to hang on to wooden cages, and ledges breaking under her so it’s full of scripted events:

And another straightforward example of a scripted destruction on Lara’s path:

4. Features and Mechanics

The specific features and mechanics present in a game kind of define the game. They are present throughout the game and constitute the most part of the gameplay experience. Examples include combat, weapons, traversal, underwater traversal, etc.

Each and everyone of these features need to have strong sound design support, reinforcing their respective nature (either aggressive, friendly, fast-pace, adventure, emotionally driven, etc).

In Tomb Raider, traversal is a really important part of the gameplay. This is a good opportunity for sound design to reinforce a sense of adrenaline, danger, vertigo, breathlessness, or even fear when needed.

In this first example, Lara is traversing underwater. Since there is less room for ambience design and moment specific sound design when she is just swimming around, the systemic swim sounds include movements for arms and legs so that as a player with just a controller in our hands we can still feel the motion and the impact or Lara’s movements in her environment.

In this Last example of my presentation, it’s actually a good example of traversal, scripted events and ambiences all in one:

SECTION 4 – CONCLUSION

In summary, in games, and in the broader context of entertainment and immersive media, scientific recordings and ‘accurate’ representations don’t always sound as good as we expect or as we want them to be, and this is where creativity comes in. So in order to deliver a unique, good sounding experience when working on this type of realistic game, the question to ask yourself is: how will you make reality sound better, more exciting, more immersive and more interesting than it really is?

Thank you!

Being in Time – Thoughts & Perspectives on Sound

“We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is being in time” 

Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time

What you are about to read derails somewhat from ideas purely sound related, but rather consists of thoughts and ideas on concepts which I find highly inspiring. These concepts have inspired many others before me, as they have been present in art and philosophy for longer than anyone can remember.

The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali, 1931

The concepts I wish to explore and share in this post are those of time, space, and no less than the universe itself, which have fostered in me some questioning and pondering, and are slowly making their way into my creative practice. 

With the help of facts established by science as well as some additional personal insight, I will deconstruct the concepts of time and its passing as we perceive them, I will show how order and chaos are the true determining factors in the arrow of time, and I will question the idea that ‘now’ even exists. I am doing so in order to reveal how fragile and biased our perception of the universe can be, as well as to demonstrate how deeply our entire beings are interlaced with Time. I believe that taking a moment to simply consider this topic and its repercussion is an enlightening and fascinating process, which I hope will leave you with some degree of curiosity and inspiration, as it did for me. 

Let’s start with taking a deeper look at the idea of the passing of time.

Time as perception

Did you know that time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level? And by time passing faster in the mountains, that means that there is actually less time at sea level. To illustrate this, I will quote Rovelli’s example, which I believe paints a good picture : 

Two friends are separated, one is going to settle at sea level, and the other up in the mountains. When they are reunited years later, the person who has stayed at sea level has actually lived less time of their life than the one in the mountain. The person in the mountain may look older because they have aged more, but they haven’t aged faster. At least not from their perspective. The person at sea level hasn’t had more youth time than the one in the mountain, that time just hasn’t passed yet for that person. When the person at sea level is the same age as the person in the mountains, then the same amount of time will have actually passed for both of them. As in both will have spent equally as much time of their lives, even though it takes longer for the person at sea level to do so. 

That’s because time is relative, affected by the laws of physics, such as gravity. There is no one absolute timeline that would dictate who of these two friends has had the longest life, or spent more time in the world. Time isn’t one constant and continuous flow across the universe.  Quite the opposite, every single point in space has its own time, because every single point in space lives in relation to every other point in space surrounding it. 

Practically, and put simply, time is affected by mass – the greater the mass, the slower the time passes around it. Perceptually, the constant passing and flow of time such as we know and perceive it, is an illusion.  

“We still don’t know how time actually works. The nature of time is perhaps the greatest remaining mystery.”

Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time

Starting from this notion, that time is all about perception, one can wonder what are the consequences of this for us as individuals, and what the passing of time actually is and means? Is it the same for me and the person sitting next to me? Is it the same for now me and past me? What about future me? If something that appears to us to be so uniform and imperturbable such as the passing of time is revealed to be malleable and fluctuating, what else might we be perceptually biased about?

“Why do we remember the past, and not the future? Do we exist in time, or does time exist in us? What does it really mean to say that time ‘passes’? What ties time to our nature as persons, to our subjectivity?”

Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time

What about time travel? If the passing of time is based on our perception of it, can one travel through time faster or slower by merely changing their perception of its passing? What if right now I recall a memory of something that happened yesterday, or a week ago, and in the space of a fraction of a second, I bring my attention right back to this moment, hasn’t time from that moment until right now just passed really really quickly? Isn’t that time travel? 

At least Orson Wells seemed to agree with me in “The Time Machine” :

“You are wrong to say that we cannot move about in Time. For instance, if I am recalling an incident very vividly I go back to the instant of its occurrence : I become absent-minded, as you say. I jump back for a moment.”

The Time Machine, Orson Wells

Time as Entropy 

Did you know that, of all basic laws of physics, there exists only one that distinguishes the past from the future? The only elementary equation that allows for a sequence of actions to run only forwards in time and not backwards, is where there is heat

Heat comes in many forms. An energy transfer causes heat. Friction causes heat. Generating thoughts in our brain causes heat. Hence our flow of thoughts only ever running forwards in time, not backwards. This irreversible process of heat in only one direction has a name : entropy

Entropy is a fascinating topic. Based on an actual law of physics, its notion branches out to creative, artistic, conceptual and romantic ideas that could seduce any mind. It’s the quality (or more accurately the measure) of chaos and disorder, it’s the natural decay and transformation of things surrounding us, it’s the appreciation of uncertainty and finality, and the recognition of a tendency for all things to degrade towards nothingness. 

You can read more about Entropy and sound in a creative sense in a previous blog post : Wabi-Sabi, Entropy and Acoustic Ecology: an approach to environmental sound art. For now, let’s stick to what this means about our perception of time

Indicated by the letter S in mathematical representations, “entropy is a measurable and calculable quantity that increases or remains the same, but never decreases, in an isolated process.”(Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time). It is the second principle of thermodynamics. Put simply, it means that “heat passes only from hot bodies to cold, never the other way around”. (Carlo Rovelli). It reads as follows : 

ΔS ≥ 0

Of all equations of fundamental physics, the above is the only one that knows any difference between past and future. Who knew it would look so simple.

In short, time is basically the most evident manifestation of entropy in our daily lives. And if entropy quantifies the natural increase of disorder – what does that say about time? 

Time, which seemed to be the one thing from our limited observation of the universe that we commonly, perhaps naively acknowledge as the one and only constant. The unshaken, unwavering continuous flow of time and its inexorable, intransigent and steady passing. The undeniable observation of the passing of time, compelling us to order our lives around it, to use it to make sense of the world around us, providing both a cruel meaning to the beginning and end of life itself, and a salvific direction to our short existences. Time, all of a sudden, under the lens of entropy, becomes the very embodiment of chaos, and disorder itself. Poetic, I think. 

To explain this in other words, this arrow of time, the idea that entropy always increases, never decreases, means that ‘things’ in the universe were always more ordered in the past, and will always be less ordered in the future. We can ask ourselves why this is the case, just as well as we can ask why the observable phenomena of the universe began in a state of lower entropy (with more order) in the first place? 

What determines the order? Who says that a minute from now things in the universe will be less ordered than they were a minute ago? According to what criteria does that become a truth? 

There are two things to consider to explain this. First, this is true only when considered from a world view biased by perspective. In order to determine which criteria defines an ordered versus a disordered world, one has to first see criteria. So one could say that we observe the passing of time only through changes in the arrangement of things, rather than in the things themselves. In other words, only if one sees patterns in how things are arranged and configured, and if one determines from those patterns some criteria to describe order and disorder, does one see the increase in entropy, and thus the passing of time. Imagine if all you would see were atoms, then all possible configurations of atoms will only ever be a whole bunch of atoms (or quarks, if we really want to get into the smallest of things), and every configuration would be unique, and present no relation to any other configuration. But if you see patterns from those atom (or quark) configurations, then those configurations begin to exist in relation to each other. And only then the future can exist in relation to the past. So once again, time seems to be about perspective.

The second thing to consider is probability. This is where we come back to the multitude of points in space, and the multitude of times existing in relation to each other, for each of these points in space. Starting from the principle that we do see patterns in how things are arranged in the universe, the idea that things are less ordered now than they were a minute ago, exists simply because statistically, the chances of all things arranging themselves in exactly the same way as they were a minute ago, as opposed to an immeasurable, infinite amount of other possible configurations is so improbable, that it is considered that things will always arrange themselves differently. Hence the arrow of time, where time can only flow in one direction. 

If you are curious about this idea that time can only flow in one direction due to probability of things arranging themselves in more or less ordered ways, I recommend you watch this short BBC video where Brian Cox explains Entropy in simple words:

***

Now we start to understand how we, as human beings, have constructed a view of the universe that only makes sense for us, as human beings, and how we are wired to perceive it through its patterns as we observe and understand them. One may then wonder what does that mean about absolutes? Can absolutes exist in a world built on perspective? 

Time as the present

If the actual passing of time is relative and a perceptual illusion, what does that mean about now? According to physics, across time and space, now means nothing. Just as the passing of time, now is defined by relative criteria, which themselves are determined by our perception. There can be no now that extends to places in the universe where time flows at a different rate. To be very specific, there can be no now that extends to any two different points in space.

But let’s say for the sake of simplicity that we, on this planet, perceive now to be a close enough approximation of the same time. We can look up to the night sky and think that we are looking at a distant star, right now, yet what we see is light that has taken many years to travel from this point in space to our eyes. Let’s say for example that we are looking at the next closest star to the Earth, after the sun of course, Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is 4.22 light years away from us, which means it takes light 4.22 years to travel from there to here. This means that when we look at Proxima Centauri now, we see a version of the star that existed four years ago. 

Now imagine we are looking at the most distant observable star from the Earth, Icarus. Icarus is located nine billion light years from Earth. That means when we look at Icarus now, we are looking at evidence of a star that existed nine billion years ago. For reference, that is about twice as long as the time that has passed since the Earth was formed. In fact, that is so long ago, that Icarus no longer exists. Icarus was a blue giant and blue giants don’t have a life cycle of nine billion years.

But even this is a simplistic explanation of how relative now can be. It goes much further.

Did you know that, on top of passing slower in proximity to mass, time also runs slower with motion? Indeed, in the same way that time runs slower at sea level than in the mountains, time runs slower when moving, than when standing still. Effectively, time is slowed down by speed. In other words, for a moving object, time contracts. 

“Not only is there no single time for different places – there is not even a single time for any particular place. A duration can be associated only with the movement of something, with a given trajectory.” 

Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time

Considering this, the idea of a now that extends from here all the way to Proxima Centauri, is completely deconstructed. In addition, you would be mistaken to believe that, since we are witnessing a ‘now’ on Proxima Centauri that is 4 years delayed, then the equivalent of now between Earth and there is 4 years into Proxima Centauri’s future. Four years into Proxima Centauri’s future may in fact be ten years on Earth, so now.. would be in the future. 

If you were to travel from Earth to Proxima Centauri, and track the time that has passed, and return after 10 of your years, it may be that twenty years have in fact passed on Earth. So now, cannot exist across space and time. So as Carlo Rovelli puts it, “The notion of ‘the present’ refers to things that are close to us, not to anything that is far away”. But how close to us? This depends on the precision with which we determine time. In other words, perspective. 

“The idea that a well-defined now exists throughout the universe is an illusion, an illegitimate extrapolation of our own experience.”

Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time

What is now?

So what do we define as now and how do we define it? This is where physics are left behind and art and philosophy come in.

Did you know there exists a giant clock (hundreds of feet tall), buried under a mountain in Texas, that is designed to keep track of the time for 10 000 years? This clock is called The Clock of the Long Now, or the 10,000-Year Clock

“The 10,000-Year Clock keeps track of five different types of time: Pendulum Time, Uncorrected Solar Time, Corrected Solar Time, Displayed Solar Time and Orrery Time”.

If nothing else, this says something about how complex it can be to track time

Brian Eno wrote an essay about an idea of The Big Here and Long Now

“”Now” is never just a moment. The Long Now is the recognition that the precise moment you’re in grows out of the past and is a seed for the future. The longer your sense of Now, the more past and future it includes.”

Brian Eno, The Big Here and Long Now

Put simply, Brian Eno confronts the ideas of a short now and a long now, exposing paradoxes that exist in the way we process and act on those ideas, how our needs and interests in the short now and the long now can be ironically conflicting. His essay is a very interesting read and I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend listening to his lecture given at the University of Edinburgh in 2017

More resources to explore about the Clock of the Long Now :

http://longnow.org/clock/

http://longnow.org/essays/time-10000-year-clock/

http://longnow.org/essays/big-here-long-now/

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So when and how does sound as an artistic medium come into all of this? Sound, of course, needs space and matter to travel through, otherwise it cannot exist. But sound is also bound to time, as the amount of time passing between the start and finish of a sound wave cycle determines its frequency. Sound can only exist in time. Without time, just as without matter, sound cannot be heard. Which makes it, in my opinion, a beautiful medium to express ideas about time. In a way, the sound of anything is the sound of time passing, the sound of entropy.

And finally how does this information inspire us to think about time and our surroundings? What does it mean for our lives and the way we live them? If a concept that seemed so immutable such as time has been deconstructed to the point where its perceived rules don’t make sense anymore, what else makes sense? What else doesn’t? What else can be deconstructed? What else may we consider absolutes which in fact aren’t?  What do we want to do about it? 

Questions become infinite in the face of such mystery. But as Carlo Rovelli puts it, “curiosity is the seed of knowledge”. Below are some examples of creators who have explored this topic through their work, in various degrees. Yet the scale of the concepts of time, perception and their ramifications is so huge, that creators and philosophers have really only scratched the surface of the questions they raise all that they can mean for us. 

Artworks exploring Perception

Olafur Eliasson‘s In Real Life Exhibition 

Esther Stocker’s work about the perception of Space 

Artworks exploring Illusion

Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Mirrored Room 

Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life 2011/2017 Yayoi Kusama born 1929 Presented by the artist, Ota Fine Arts and Victoria Miro 2015, accessioned 2019 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T15206

The Unseen (Infrared photography)

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Artworks exploring Time

Davide D’Elia‘s ‘Antivegetativa

Sequences – An Icelandic festival dedicated to time-based art

(Below : Performance by David Horwitz with Jófríður Ákadóttir. Camera: Ólöf Kristín Helgadóttir)

Arthur Ganson, “Machine with Concrete,”

And so so many more… Please use the comments below if you have any time based art projects you would like to share.

Hopefully this has inspired you as it has me. Time, Entropy & Perception will forever fascinate me and there is vastly much more to explore and be said about them. Some related topics may include memory, patterns, order & chaos, life cycle, subjectivity, and so much more.

Thank you for reading.

Awards for Shadow of the Tomb Raider!

I am happy to share that Shadow of the Tomb Raider has won some prestigious audio awards since it was released on September 14th 2018 :

  • NAVGTR Award for Use of Sound, Franchise – Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • G.A.N.G. Award for Best Interactive Score – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (music composed by La Hacienda Creative)
  • G.A.N.G. Award for Best Original Soundtrack Album – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (music composed by La Hacienda Creative)
  • G.A.N.G. Award for Best Game Audio Publication, Presentation, or Broadcast – “Soundworks Collection Video: Shadow of the Tomb Raider” – Michael Coleman, Rob Bridgett, Frédéric Arnaud, Hugo Léger, Anne-Sophie Mongeau, Brian D’Oliveira

You can watch the full Soundworks Collection video awarded Best Audio Publication, Presentation, or Broadcast by G.A.N.G. Awards here :

 

Here are some of the nominations we also had the honor of receiving :

  • G.A.N.G Awards Nomination for Audio of the Year – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2019)
  • G.A.N.G Awards Nomination for Sound Design of the Year – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2019)
  • G.A.N.G Awards Nomination for Best Cinematic Custscene Audio – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2019)
  • NAVGTR Nomination for Sound Effects – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2019)
  • NAVGTR Nomination for Original Dramatic Score, Franchise – Shadow of the Tomb Raider (music composed by La Hacienda Creative) (2019)
  • Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) nomination in Gaming: Computer Interactive Game for Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2019)
  • Golden Joystick Awards nomination in Best Audio for Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018)

How to Succeed in Sound Design For Games, Animation, and Television

 

sound_success_games_animation_television

Interview by Jennifer Walden, published on the A Sound Effect Blog – WITH ANNE-SOPHIE MONGEAU, JEFF SHIFFMAN, KATE FINAN, & PETER D. LAGO:

Please follow this link to read this article on A Sound Effect

I humbly answered some questions from A Sound Effect about pursuing a career as a sound designer for videogames. You can also find valuable advice from Jeff Shiffman and Kate Finan from Boom Box Post on animation sound design, as well as from Peter D. Lago about sound design for television.

Hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

Designing the Sound of Reality in Shadow of the Tomb Raider – MIGS 2018

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On November 13th 2018 I was giving a presentation at MIGS (Montreal International Game Summit) on the sound design in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

The presentation was titled Designing the Sound of Reality in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and focused on the sound design strategies used in the latest Tomb Raider of the Reboot Trilogy in the context of this ‘realistic’ type of game.

The description goes as follows :

The idea of realism in games can be very subjective. Even in a game world which sources its stylistic references from the real world, sound designers must sometimes bend the rules of authenticity in order to present an environment which feels realistic. Because in games, ‘realism’ bears more the meaning of being ‘believable’ and ‘immersive’ rather than simply being truthful to its reference. This presentation will dig into the management of expectation vs authenticity, realistic sound design strategies, and how these can be delivered in order to offer an immersive, cinematic experience.

My presentation is now available to watch for free online thanks to Audiokinetic!

 

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You can watch the full playlist of the MIGS audio conference below :