My Story: Why Binaural Recording Matters for Students and Storytellers (As Told By A Student)
Today’s post comes from Hooke Audio intern and binaural enthusiast Jessica Swift. Jessica is a composer, designer and recent graduate of of University of the Arts where she focused in binaural audio and immersive audio studies. This is her story
-Anthony Mattana, Hooke Audio Founder
For today’s post, I’m going to get a little more personal than we usually are here at Hooke with the blog. As part of our Why Binaural Audio Matters series, I’m going to be giving you an inside look into how this technology gave me, a student and a storyteller, a fresh new look at life, at art, and my own personal work.
I had first heard of binaural audio in the fall of 2015, when I was a sophomore in college. A teacher of mine, JohnPaul, had substituted a class for another teacher, and told us all to bring headphones to class. When the time had come, he got us all hooked up so that we could hear this piece that he had recorded entirely in binaural audio. It was a fairly long piece that takes the listener through a journey after being in a car accident. Take a listen below. (It is 40 minutes long so take a seat and relax)
From the first moment that I heard it with my own ears, I was in complete awe and surprise. Not only was I amazed at the fact that this was happening and that I was hearing it from the point of view of this fictitious person, but I was enamored with the fact that something like this was even possible. All of these sounds for this story happening all around me in all different directions. I remember my mouth falling open and JohnPaul (probably) laughing at my expression. Nonetheless, I was completely hooked on it.
I really loved how binaural audio could make you feel like you were taking everything in from the perspective of the creator. It puts you in the space of wherever it was taken place, but also adds a subtle emotional aspect to it. When recording in binaural, you get everything–every breath, every cough, every exhale. These are all telltale signs of people and their emotions, something that was also very important to me and my development as an artist. The subtleties that lie within the actual recording give away way more than people seem to notice, but was something that I was definitely interested in. It stayed in the back of my mind, waiting for an opportunity to present itself, as I had different ideas and dreams that I would want to accomplish in the future.
As my schooling progressed, I tried to find every opportunity I could to engage binaural audio. I looked online and asked around. It was always in the back of my mind. In the spring of 2016, it was announced to us that there would be a Binaural Recording class with a limited number of seats running in the fall and we had to have taken two specific prerequisites and email JohnPaul for a spot. I emailed him right away, requesting that he save a spot for me, and in the fall I found myself with a handful of other students. We were all so excited, you could feel it in the air on the first day. We all knew that it was going to be a great semester.
Take a listen to this rehearsed opening done in binaural as a project I did for this class.
Throughout the class, with different projects and lessons, we got to explore binaural audio in different dimensions and spaces, different objects and instruments. It was definitely my favorite class at the time and over my entire experience in school. To be able to sit and hear other people’s perspectives quite literally, told in stories and songs and experiments, was an amazing way to become closer to this group of people and take a peek into their heads about what they like, how they think and feel.
(Me, JohnPaul, and the bust he created specifically for creating binaural audio named Buster. It’s quite funny, we all laugh about it.)
Because I was so obsessed with binaural audio and recording at this point, when it came time to think of an idea for my senior project, I knew that I wanted to incorporate it somehow. After bouncing around different ideas between friends, I finally had a cohesive idea. I wanted to do an art exhibit that included visual art from family and friends, as well as binaural audio. I wanted to pair pieces from different aspects to elicit emotions from the viewer and have notebooks out so that people would write comments down. I wanted it to include art, music, emotions, and be collaborative. I had all of my ideas written down and in March, I started an almost ten month journey in creating this project that would be the send-off of my schooling, called en•pathos [in feeling].
And of course, an artist isn’t anything without their friends and the support around them. I started sending out messages and texts, asking friends if they wanted to participate or would like to be part of it. Once I told them my idea, they were so excited to be part of this process and helped me in any way necessary. Whether it was by submitting art, being part of a band or song, or even listening to me ramble on about why this project was so important to me, it was endearing to know that I had surrounded myself with people who not only appreciated my outlook on art and music, but also about bringing awareness to these things as well. They had wanted to see me succeed and were willing to help in any way possible.
Through these next ten months, I worked on this project. I met with my advisor once a week to keep on track once school came back in session after the summer break and even recorded one song over break. I had a list of everything that I needed to do and deadlines for each thing so that I wasn’t scrambling for something I might have missed at the end. Having a checklist and reminders really helped me a lot, making sure that I was getting everything done and that I was on the right track. I was also balancing a full load of classes and homework, a job, and a paper for my thesis to fill all the requirements.
Friday, December 1st, 2017 was my opening night. After all the talks with teachers and faculty, the research, recording and collaboration, mixing, publishing and setting it up, everything was done. I had never worked so hard or so long on a project in my entire life, and it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever accomplished. With the help of some of my best friends, I was able to execute it exactly how I wanted it. I remember walking around the space and buzzing with nervousness and excitement. I was so incredibly happy and almost brought to tears. I had booklets with of all the information, the suggested pairings, and those who collaborated on each piece. I then had booklets laid out in front of each visual piece so that people could record their emotions and responses. It was important to me to have something where people could write their responses and have that physical evidence of “yes, this is how this made me feel”.
The overall response to my entire project was something between awe and astonishment. I had different people, teachers, higher ed admins, and family and friends alike come up to me and ask me about binaural audio and why I used it. How amazed they were that they were part of this experience even if they weren’t physically there. How it made them feel like they were transported into the space and part of the action. How it connected with them on a mental and emotional level, how everything really made them feel.
That’s why I wanted to use binaural audio and recording. I wanted the viewer to be able to feel. Between the art and the sounds, I wanted to elicit emotions from the viewer that the paired pieces would bring up. The emotional aspect of this project was a major one, and something that I accomplished successfully because of my chosen methods in utilizing binaural recording. That was why it was so important to me, and still is.
My project was a complete and utter success. When it closed, I took a moment for myself and simply walked through and experienced the exhibit as everyone had before me all by myself. I did cry, even though I knew what I would be listening to. I was sad that it was over, but I felt happy. Accomplished. Proud. Determined to make more art like this and tell more stories.
And I couldn’t have done it without binaural audio, because no matter what anyone says, #soundmatters.
Keep on listening, and keep on creating.
From a storyteller and a student,