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  • Writer's pictureWikus van der Walt

The Future of Sound

There is this question of what is the future of sound that I thought about 15 years ago. Or what will the future sound like? What is the future of sound, both from a production perspective, or a creation aspect, to a consumer-based version? Now with the advent of digital sound in the mid-2000s, it was clear to me that the future of sound would be far brighter, for more exciting, around 2005/6. So, in other words, in the middle of 2000s, the internet was still just sort of warming up. It was still on dial-up, for example, Google Maps took three and a half hours to download. I was only 10MB large! And those days it was a call as well to go on the internet, you had a call for three and a half-hour call to download Google Maps, which you can now open immediately on your phone and see anywhere nearly instantly.

The idea was that you could create any type of sound, not only with synthesis, or DSP, but the idea that all of these methods combined could create new sound languages software, for example, something like Max MSP, or Reaktor, for example. These indicating towards a very bright future of sound at both in a musical and a sort of broader sound perspective. So, my question 15 years ago is, what is the future of sound? And I love that question. Because it's broader than just what is the sound of music? Or hat is the overall aesthetic sound design in general. The idea is that we will have this great, incredible future. Now I always find it strange that in urban environments that were not more than and especially in the sort of, from sort of governmental and broader society to control noise pollution, which is so prevalent in urban environments. That this got me thinking about how the soundscape of any given urban environment would be in the future. Mentioning the internet was sort of waking up during these times, so the world still had a strong analogue sense. One thing that wasn't common yet was these mobile devices called smart phones, of course, we had cell phones, but you could play Snakes and Ladders on it and call and SMS someone.

The idea that these little devices would, in other words, create a very noisy inside world where before inside was a relatively quiet world. Now, in the last 10 plus years, since the launch of the iPhone and everything that followed, the age of the “smart device”, as well as “social media age”, the noise has become a sort of inwardly, in which we are sort of stuck now. As mastering engineer, Mike Bozzi said, we all have become headphone listeners now, in one of his mastering workshops. And so, the idea that we could perhaps control the outside world or can improve the soundscape of the greater ecological sphere, for humans and for nature itself was a very fanciful idea on my part. And so now not only do we have this noisy outside world, but we also have this noisy inner world. It's not that apps for example, are very noisy per se, as many iOS apps or apps in general. In fact, many apps don't make particularly good use sound or take advantage that is possible. I find it interesting in my own case that I put my sound or for Android devices completely off. But on iOS devices, I leave them on, so something in their language that these two tech giants use is in a way different. And I find the Android version extremely annoying and irritating. It the iOS version or equivalent is not as irritable.

The idea then, now 15 years ago, was what would be the future of sound? And I thought, what would we music sound like, for example, what would be the thing I must say, you know, 15 years later, it's been, in some regards quite a bit of a letdown. And it's not because of merely artistic or market for marketplace forces in the contention that has shaped the development, but the general landscape of sound (and music) is not what I would have imagined. What would that brightened future sound like, is then what my future question is, which of course is the same, as my original question was, what would either 10 or 20 years sound like from now? So now, it's 15 years later? And that's in right in between those? So my question is, what would 2036 sound like? So that would mean that I would double my career length. How would that change over time, because I think 15 years back, of course, technology has changed greatly. But, the use of sound and music, and the sound in general, if I, for example, think about games, and game sound. It is still a bit shocking that people peak normalize file and then you feed it into the game engine, it's very strange and sound generally has so many dynamic issues. Yet from a technological angle, the development has been fantastic, I would say it's pretty much on what I could have imagined it to be 15 years ago.

I'm thinking as our world becomes more digital and sort of default device-centric, are sort of internal lives or being funneled through these devices and thinking how to sound play a role in that, because they're in social context in the social sites. It is not that sound is well thought through at all, is generally driven by media such as video, but the platform's themselves are generally dead quiet. Yet these platforms make a lot of noise on more than one level. My thinking is, in a sort of broader ecological sense both musically, soundscape sound design, and sound art wise, how will sound change? And how will the society in large interact with sound? It's such a strange medium. in many regards. When it's done well, it seems so obvious.

But most cases to this day even in adverts, people do funny things where they think using this one type of music which is a fad is going to turn into sales. And it's very hearsay sort of based upon whatever anyone else is doing should work for the next project as well. This can even be seen at this year’s CES show, where the sound/music is used in strange ways, here an example of Microsoft’s partnering with AMD, with a rather peculiar, fad-driven, musical choice, click the link on the right for the video to open on the correct time:

Here is the full keynote:

I find this is very, a very strange way to do it because I think a more holistic approach makes more sense, contrast it to this Verizon keynote’s introductory video, which has these principles in mind:

In the graphic design world, some authors call for so neuro design thinking, where we can incorporate aesthetics on a biological level? Questions such as is universal? If there is any earthly sense of geographical sense? How can you apply your principles that will work for a given range? Of course, people do things that are the quasi manner but it sort of hit and miss with many things quickly slapped on which is highly ineffective, won't be tested, and have no real way of improving the overall experience for the audience. If it for a short film, or an advert, or even films themselves. Films, for example, commonly fall in this trap. And you think, how could this be, and of course, it is through the use of song, because many films make use of songs for the commercialization, or as they call it, vertical integration of artists into the has a connection to the same publishing house or media conglomerate, and many times it doesn't fit the overall aesthetic, and narrative in any way or form. Even though the art form has developed over the last few decades, keeping its global reach in mind, many specific problems arise simply because of commercialization on one level or another.


What is the future of sound, and the idea from where it all comes from Native Instruments because they said, The Future of Sound, but then put it that way, they said, that they are the future of sound. And to some degree in the music industry, that has been largely true. Not the only major player of course, but from a sound generation creation aspect a significant driver of the tech and aesthetics behind the music that has been made over the last 15 years. Kontakt, for example, has been the mainstay for so many libraries. So in a sense, they are the future of sound. Will they have a rival, one can see a shift now with several sampling companies moving to create a new custom sampler for their products instead of relying on NI. So there's sort of some divergence, but you know, there's still a lot of traction in there with large and indie developers. In summary, let's hope for the next 15 years to be built in the previous years. Not necessarily from a technological aspect, but mostly from a sort of application slash aesthetical perspectives. This is where the range that is so problematic, that you get lots of people who don't really understand the language of sound and the language of narrative. It's a sort of a mixed bag, crush it, throw it on, and off we go. A quick turning machine. Here's to the next 15, and may it be brighter aesthetically.

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