The Color of Sound
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The Color of Sound
Did You Know?
Tech Notes
Telly Award Winner!
Recent Projects
In Production
"Within You Without You," The Beatles

The Color of Sound

How would you describe a sound to someone without using descriptors that are unique to sound, like: loud, bassy, shrill, whining, atonal, or noisy?

Not a problem, because we most often describe a sonic experience with words related to our other senses:  sharp, warm, angular, raspy, piercing, even, warbling, soft, smooth, or flat.

What about blue?  I think of that as more of a style of music or mood instead of a type of sound.  Why don't we use more colors to describe what we hear?  Probably because a "yellow" sound could be cowardly.  A "green" sound may be eco-friendly.  A "purple" sound is probably regal.  A "brown" sound - well, we'll leave that one alone.

What if we could see sound? Aside from graphical representations of sound like waveforms and meters, we can't just look at an orchestra and see sounds flying out of the trombones.  I wish we could watch the beautiful tones flow from Itzhak Perlman's Stradivarius.

But we can - sort of.  As reported by NPR, we can see certain sounds using a technique invented in the mid-19th century.  Click on the link above to read about and watch a short video describing this process to get a clearer picture.  To simplify, scientists watch the disturbance of heat waves by sound.  Ever look down a highway on a hot summer day and see the heat creating wavy images?  Scientists have used this phenomenon to "see" sneezes and aircraft wing turbulence.  But Michael Hargather at New Mexico Tech uses it to study explosives.  

So what's next?  I would love be able to put on some goggles and see sounds and where they're coming from.  Loud sounds would be bright.  Bass would be blue, treble would be white, and green, red, and yellow would fill in the gaps.  Imagine seeing green waves and ripples emanating from the violas, bubbles of blue from the tuba, and distinct columns of yellow and white from the violins.  It would be like Peter Max was the conductor. With technology advancing at such a rapid rate, this may not be so far-fetched in our lifetimes.  Color me crazy.



Did You Know?

  • "White noise" in sound engineering describes randomly generating all the sounds in the frequency spectrum.  SInce the sounds aren't generated at the same time, they are measured over a period of time.  Each sound is at a consistent level.
  • White noise sounds similar to a radio that is tuned to no station.
  • White noise is often used in large offices to mask sounds from workers, computers, and other office machinery.  People also use white noise generators to aid in sleeping.
  • "Pink noise" is similar to white noise, but decreases in intensity each ascending octave.
  • Pink noise is primarily used to measure the output of an audio device.
  • Sound engineers play pink noise over monitor systems to check frequency response and level of speakers.  If measurements show that a speaker produces some frequencies differently than the pink noise (more bass for example), then it is considered to have a "colored" response.  Pro audio speaker manufacturers strive for a "flat" response from their products.  This way an engineer isn't fooled into compensating for the difference while mixing.
  • Live sound engineers use pink noise to reduce feedback and get maximum performance from speakers.
  • Other types of noise used in analysis are violet, brown(ian), gray, blue.  Other informal names for sound used in measurement are red, green, black, noisy black, and noisy white.

Tech Notes

Reducing feedback in a live sound situation is very tricky, especially if good sound performance is desired.  The "squeal" you hear when a microphone is turned on is from a buildup of a certain frequency.  It's usually the point at which the microphone and speaker are the most efficient.  If one points a microphone at the same speaker that is amplifying it, then serious feedback occurs.  Most speakers are placed in front of or beside performers so there is no direct bleed back into the microphone. If speakers are placed behind the performers (think The Who), then eliminating feedback is a bigger chore.

How do you eliminate feedback?  Let's use the simplest set-up as an example: one microphone and one speaker.  A graphic equalizer (GEQ), a device that increases or reduces frequency by octaves, is inserted after the microphone channel and  just before the amplifier.  The engineer slowly raises the amplifier level until the first inkling of feedback.  Using the GEQ, the engineer locates the offending octave, ex: 630 Hz, by actually increasing that frequency creating more feedback.  That octave is then reduced until feedback goes away.  

Next, then amplifier is turned up a little more until the next inkling of feedback occurs, usually at another frequency, which is then reduced.  These steps are repeated over and over until the amplifier is at a suitable level without feedback.  Of course computer technology has simplified this process greatly with devices that rapidly reduce feedback "on-the-fly."  And with software, engineers for permanent PA systems in large venues can even predict where feedback will occur before installation.  They can then program in filtering or make changes to the architecture, equipment, or speaker placement. 

Neil Kesterson

A Silver Telly Winner!

Our self-produced documentary, "The Beat of a Different Drummer: The Story of America's Last All-Female Military Band," is a recipient of a Silver Telly Award.

The Telly Awards was founded in 1979 and is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and online commercials, video and films. Winners represent the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators, and corporate video departments in the world.

A prestigious judging panel of over 500 accomplished industry professionals, each a past winner of a Silver Telly and a member of The Silver Telly Council, judged the competition, upholding the historical standard of excellence that Telly represents. The Silver Council evaluated entries to recognize distinction in creative work – entries do not compete against each other – rather entries are judged against a high standard of merit. Less than 10% of entries are chosen as Winners of the Silver Telly, our highest honor.

“The Beat of a Different Drummer” is the story of America’s last all-female military band - the 14th Army Women’s Army Corp Band. The other military branches fielded all-female bands, but the WAC Band survived longer than any. Through four decades, the WAC Band offered a woman the rare chance to have a career as a professional musician.

The standards were very high for WAC Band members. They were not only elite musicians, they were representatives of the United States Army. Their audiences were diverse - they marched out recruits for morning drills; they performed for enthusiastic audiences in small town America; and they played for presidents.

The struggle for equal rights has been a familiar burden for women throughout history. But these women chose to follow their own dreams. They marched down a road that would usher in a new era for women in America. They marched to the beat of a different drummer.

To learn more about the documentary, click here.

To learn more about the Telly Awards, click here.

Recent Projects

  • ADR for "Clementine," a pilot for ABC-TV with Mia Kirschner (Film 49 Productions, Toronto, ON)
  • Voice-over for the upcoming KET documentary "Bringing a Smile: A Crusade for Children" (StudioLink, Lexington, KY)
  • Keeneland "Derby Simulcast" radio (Cornett, Lexington, KY)
  • Political spots for "Elizabeth Jensen for Congress" and "Anthany Beatty for Mayor"
  • Continuing sales training modules for Lexmark International (Lexmark, Lexington, KY)
  • "Midlantic two-year-olds sale" Fasig-Tipton (Trapp Communications, Lexington, KY)
  • Location audio for Tempur-Sealy internal videos (Bullhorn Creative, Lexington, KY)
  • Voice-over for continuing education learning module (CE Concepts, Lexington, KY)
  • Audio post-production for Angels on Stage (The Distillery, Santa Cruz, CA) Watch here.

In Production

  • "Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West," a 2-hour documentary that traces Daniel Boone's life and his enduring impact on America's westward migration.  Find out more here.   (Witnessing History, Lexington, KY)
Copyright © 2014 Dynamix Productions, Inc., All rights reserved.

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