Sound Effects and the Morphing Façade: Emotion in Sound of Projection Mapping

R. Pastó Cortina 2016 PhD (Music Humanities and Media), Huddersfield University, UK.

Sound Effects and the Morphing Façade: Emotion in Sound of Projection Mapping

 

Literature about projection mapping as a multimedia art form is scarce and, usually, it only addresses the visual effects or discuss the technology with which to achieve the projection mapping itself. Writings about the role of the sound design in projection mappings, as far as I can confirm through my academic research, are arguably non-existent.

Drawing on research in sound (music, sfx, ambient, foley, voice) for film, animation and video game, this chapter will analyse how sound works in projection mapping and it will provide an introduction to the literature of sound in projection mappings. I will use the three projection mappings: Bilbao, Tricenari Mas Guinardó and Voluntariat for which I have worked as a sound designer and music composer as my case study and will try to explain how the sound effects play a crucial role in eliciting emotions in projection mapping.

Let’s start by defining projection mapping.

 

-What is a Projection Mapping-

Projection mapping, also known as video mapping, architectural mapping or spatial augmented reality, is widely defined as a projection technology that allows to convert -usually- irregular shaped objects, either big or small, solid or liquid, in to a projection surface. This is achieved by using a specific software that creates an exact correspondence between the surface and the images in the projection. This technique makes possible to add additional dimensions on to the projected surface and to create optical illusions and a sense of motion to previously static objects. Rossella Catanese explains: “Combined with audio equipment, you can “tell a story” or let the audience live … a synaesthetic experience (today it would rather use the definition of an “emotional” experience)” (Catanese. 2013. p 165).

Literature about projection mapping as a multimedia art form, as already mentioned, is scarce. Writings only address the visual effects and analyse projection mapping only from the “subjectivity” of the graphic designer or the animator. Other writings discuss the technology with which to achieve the projection mapping itself. Rossella Catanese writes: “…videomapping is one of the most ephemeral contemporary art forms; for this reason we have additional problems for documentation and archiving. Like other events with a strong performative character, theatrical or video installations, the memory of the event is delegated to video recordings of the occurred screening, leading to a gap between actual public use of the event and its recording” (Catanese. 2013. p 168).

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-Brief history-

Projection onto a non-flat surface finds its known origin in the 1969 opening of the Haunted Mansion ride in Disneyland where a film was projected on five individual busts singing ‘Grim Grinning Ghosts’ and on the disembodied head of Madame Leota. In 1980 media artist Michael Naimark, a precursor of today’s projection mapping, presented his immersive film installation “Displacements”. Naimark projected a film in a white-painted living room to create the effect that a couple of performers were interacting with the objects of the room (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMDr_CFFgWE). In 1998 projection mapping was studied academically for the first time by researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who worked on the project “Office of the Future.

From the mid-late 2000s projection mapping started to become more popular as it thrived in the consciousness of artists and then it found a commercial route in advertising. It has been gaining popularity ever since and nowadays projection mappings are created for different purposes. It can be experienced as part of a show, in a concert, in a corporate event, be used as a branding strategy or with the intention of a narrative audio-vision spectacle itself. The latter finds buildings’ façades as a common surface on which to be projected and it has become a standard practice to use a façade to project a 3D architectural mapping for an audience.

 

-Framework to analyse music and sound design in projection mappings and why it is important to analyse it-

Writings about the role of the sound design in projection mapping, are arguably non-existent as far as I can confirm through my academic research, and references to music and sound design in projection mapping go only as far as to say that “[w]ith sound design, the aim is to supplement audio elements for supporting visual show.” (Ekim. 2011. p.11), or “[c]ombined with audio equipment, you can tell a story” (Catanese. 2013. p. 165). However, narrative projection mapping as an audio-visual art form contains and shares, I would argue, many particularities seen in film, TV and video games: above all, the audio-visual contract (Chion 1994) or, a marriage between sound and image, where the sound aids the film or the projection narrative at many different levels by providing continuity, mood, sense of locale, time of day and very importantly, the emotional nuances and states of each moment.

There is a substantial amount of research in sound in the context film, and authors such as Chion, 1994; Altman, 1992; Gorbman 1987; Cooke, 2008; Kalinak, 1992; Karlin, Wright, 2004; Brown, 1994; Cohen 2001; Whittington 2007 or Prendergast 1992, amongst others, investigate the impact sound-on-film makes on our intellect and emotions, in terms of perception and meaning. Authors from a cognitivist perspective such as Cohen (2001), have provided theoretical and cognitive frameworks to describe how we process and associate music (non-diegetic) with image in our brain. Cohen explains how, the viewer extracts the emotional information from the non-diegetic source to match the visual stimulus through what is referred as associationist congruence. The Congruence-Associationist framework “represents the two primary ways in which the brain operates” (Cohen. 2001. p.258) and how the auditory stimulus and the visual stimulus interact together. Sound and music in the context of film is also studied in terms of semiotics by authors such as Tagg 2012; Sonnenschien 2011 or Fluekiger 2009; amongst others, who provide writings on the meaning of music and sound in relation to the visual stimulus.

As it happens in video games, a large number of projection mappings hope to provide an immersive experience for the audience. Both, sound and image, participate in the achievement of such experience. Together, the visuals of a metamorphic building’s façade (a public space well-known to the spectators, which transforms itself and offers a different ‘reality’ even if ephemerally) and the emotions that the sounds generate, they drag the spectators in to the semi-virtual environment in which the experience takes part and facilitate the audience in to a suspension of disbelief to connect with the narrative. Stefania Serafin and Giovanni Serafin analyse ambient sounds (i.e. wind, street noise) and sound events (i.e. doors, footsteps) to understand the presence of sound design in virtual reality and, borrowing sound design concepts from the entertainment industry, they write: “In movies, sound effects exaggerate reality to create an immersive experience. Virtual environments are created to immerse users in order that they may experience a so-called suspension of disbelief”. They conclude that “[i]t is likely that also in virtual reality enhanced sound events will increase the sense of immersion” (Serafin, Serafin. 2004).

However, projection mapping enjoys some qualities as an audio-visual art form that vary from that of film or video games. These dissimilarities, in my opinion, are what make its sound so necessary to analyse. The experience of projection mapping differs from that of traditional film in that (A) “[u]nlike simple projection on a screen, the videomapper interacts with the display surface, offering it a new reading” (Catanese. 2013), and (B) the audience is placed within a known space that is transformed to a semi-virtual environment. As mentioned above, I would argue that these differences make the analysis of sound in projection mapping necessary as, in my view and as I will try to explain, sound effects play a crucial role in the emotional and cognitive perception of the interaction with the display surface, and they provide an emotional depth that enhance the perception of movement of the metamorphic façade, thus, contributing to the immersive experience and the ‘realism’ of the visual phenomenon.

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-Emotion in Sound of Projection Mapping-

In contrast to the traditional screen, which is “a pretty cold proposition” without music, as Cohen (2001) quotes from Aaron Copland (1941), I would argue that projection on a building’s façade is a very ‘warm’ proposition. Why? Because the projection surface convincingly appears to be the auditory object itself -the sound source- and the canvas that contains an interaction of “sound object(s)” (Scheaffer. 1966).

Sound effects in projection mappings are responsible for the tangible perception of the movement of the façade, as sound is related to movement. This requires precise synchronisation between the auditory stimulus and the visual stimulus. This precise synchronisation endows the sound with the power to deliver great emotional weight by means of added value (Chion. 1994), and helps providing ‘realism’ thanks to the synchresis (Chion. 1994). The phenomenon of synchresis, described by Chion as the “irresistible weld produced between a particular auditory phenomenon and visual phenomenon when they occur at the same time” (p. 63), is extremely important in projection mapping, I would argue, as, as it happens in animation, sound in projection mapping needs to be created, as there is no live set (Beauchamp. p xx.), and synchresis is what allows the audience to believe that the façade has become the auditory object itself!

The following sequence from the projection mapping Tricentenari Mas Guinardó (from 01:20 to 02:03) can exemplify the concept of synchresis https://youtu.be/S4Nmhb3NL-I?t=1m17s. The phenomenon of synchresis provides the sequence with a sense of ‘realism’, and contributes towards a perception of ‘truth’ as the audience can hear that the sound of stone blocks and bricks come from the visual phenomena that we see on the façade.

The ‘realism’ -in terms of sound- in projection mapping, I would argue, is linked to that of film in terms of “cinematic expectation” (Whittington. 2007. p 149). All the more when most of the projection mapping seem to belong to a genre of fantasy, sci-fi or even horror, where “codes of ‘realism’ are in fact created and passed along from production to production” (Whittington. 2007. p 149). Certainly the construction of the wall of the medieval city of Barcelona that we see on the sequence has a fantasy genre attached to it. The audio-mix in the sequence allows the audience to hear simultaneously the contrast between the clean close mic recording of the small bricks and the movement of the big stone blocks. This creates a sense of artificiality of the sound field, deliberately constructed to control and guide the audience attention and, thus, contributing to the cinematic expectation.

Technology has contributed in to the development of the sound effects and its aesthetics in current forms of media. Barbara Flueckiger refers to it as the “autonomous sound object” and explains how “the new creative freedom, combined with new flexible and highly expensive technologies, have made possible the intensive detailed work on sound which is characteristic of the autonomous sound object of contemporary film”. This autonomous sound objects have an influence on the perception of the visual phenomena through what Chion refers to as the materializing sound indices (Chion. p. 114) or M.S.I. The autonomous sound objects are capable of engaging the diegetic reality thanks to its “extreme artificiality” which “is in itself so coherent as to be immediately acceptable as natural” (Flueckiger. 2009. p. 156). I hope to provide with the 33 seconds TEST of the same sequence in projection mapping Tricentenari Mas Guinardó https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN03-hM0psk a good example of the “artificiality” of the sound object (sound of friction between rocks, sound of small bricks or revolving stone blocks in the sequence provided) and its relation with the sonic point of view. The artificiality is achieved by the manipulation and creation of the detailed sound object and the amount of materialized sound indices on the rendered sound, which aims to affect the perception of the visual phenomena and to elicit emotions via a reflexive response which guides the perception of sonic point of view. The sound emphasises on the mass of the different bricks, thus, focusing more on the effect (the impact of the stone blocks and bricks on the wall) and less on the cause. Tuuri et al state that “reflexive responses represent clearly an important way by which meanings and emotions can be evoked by sound”. (Tuuri, Mustonen, Pirhonen. 2007. p. 15). My idea behind the creation of the sound design for the city walls was to not only enhance the fantastical reality of a wall moving by itself, and the manipulation of the sound of the stones to the extent of being fetishized (a concept I have borrowed from Whittington), but to create an anthropomorphic illusion through sound, and to give an organic life to an inanimate wall, thus, imbuing it with an emotional quality. This can be heard from 00:13 when the movement of the blocks purposely adopt a quality of a roar.

We owe to the phenomenon of synchresis the possibility to re-associate the “sound object” with the sound source and, without it, sound effects would not be able to provide the depth in meaning an emotion that can be associated with different sound objects. Re-association, Walter Murch writes, “is the fundamental stone upon which the rest of the edifice of film sound is built, and without which it would collapse” (in foreword. Chion 1994. p. XIX). The projection mapping Bilbao contains a sequence which perfectly illustrates the process of re-association. From 02:50 to 03:05 a thick forest grows rapidly on a green hill https://youtu.be/uws5PDic49I?t=2m49s. We hear a low rumble of young trees protruding from the ground followed by cracking noise of wood as the trees grow and finally the sound of leafs from the trees.  I hoped to create a sound montage that conveyed effectively the ‘birth’ of the forest we see on the building façade. However it was employing sounds of “destruction” that I achieved the “construction” of the forest, as for it I used and manipulated recordings of landslide, broken wood (for the growing trees) and the crackling of fire (as the sound of the leafs). I also employed this sound re-association, although further manipulated, in the projection mapping Voluntariat as it can be heard from 01:27 to 01:46 https://youtu.be/I6aFrqu1YtE?t=1m26s.

In the book Audio-Vision, Michel Chion explores the difference between rendering and reproduction, and affirms that: “The film spectator recognizes sounds to be truthful, effective, and “fitting not so much if -they reproduce what would be heard in the same situation in reality, but if they render (convey, express) the feelings associated with the situation”. (Chion. 1994. p. 109). The notion of rendering gives way to the metaphoric use of sound and how the perception of sounds can arouse emotions and alter the mood of a visual stimulus. Using again the Tricentenari Mas Guinardó, the audience can see how the façade turns in to a scary wooden war ship at 05:41 https://youtu.be/S4Nmhb3NL-I?t=5m40s. At 05:57. Once the ship is built, its wooden windows slide open and canons appear from inside the ship. However the sound of the windows conveys a metallic grind generated by the heavy weight of a metal object against a surface, thus, it carries information about the physical qualities, such as the mass of the object which is not apparent in the visuals. In addition, the sound of scratching metal, almost like a scream, can be easily associated with horror genre by means of inter-textuality. The sound of the windows contain an Added Value, “an expressive and informative value with which a sound enriches a given image” (Chion. 1994. p. 5) that helps the audience perceive that something is about to happen, and that it enhances its semiotic meaning; namely a sign that heralds the imminence of a bad forthcoming.

On to another level, the anticipation that the sound design provides, it is heightened by the unification of the music and sound effects. The music cue, during the war ship sequence, it’s built upon metallic sounding synths and a religious choir. The synths provide ambient and, although their ambiguous place in the diegesis, are connected with the metallic sound of the sliding doors and contribute as an element in the creation of horror. The other element in the music is a soft religious choir which, in the sequence, announces death. It provides an emotional depth to the narrative and binds the sequences together when the choir accompanies the images again after the war at 08:25 https://youtu.be/7B5YFMaV-Iw?t=8m24s showing dead bodies and the aftermath of the bombing.

It is, I would argue, the “nature” of architectural mapping and the “warm” proposition of the façade what allows with no other limit than that given by the director, a unification between music and sound effects to create a “sonic continuum” (K.J.Donnelly in Buckland. W. 2009. p. 104). Donnelly explains how the technology and the use of electronic sounds has allowed a fusion between music and sound effects, a trend that can be seen in recent films, and how “this has led to an aesthetic rather than a representational conception of sound in the cinema” (p. 107). This holistic (to use Donnelly’s term) approach to the sound design it is something that I have increasingly developed during the last three years, both because of the aesthetic interest and because of the “music-sound-design” that I am required to create for a number of production libraries. In the projection mapping Voluntariat https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6aFrqu1YtE I have been able (within the limitations given by the client and the director) to purposely use this approach, and to create a sonic continuum of an entwining sound track of music and sound effects. The first example comes at 00:30, where the sounds of synths in the music track also play as the sound effect for the folding façade. At the end of the sequence, a loud drum hit marks the end of the folding process   which functions both, as a sound effect representing the bang of the collapsed façade, and also as a musical hit point demarking the end of a sequence and the beginning of a new one. At 00:37 the synths start a riser effect which, again, exist simultaneously as a sound effect and as a soundtrack. The sound of the riser is used as the sound effect for the zoom out of the planet earth, and it also works musically as a way to glue the end of a sequence with the start of a new one. In the sequence starting at 01:15, the sound of the shakers contribute both in the music score [non-diegetic] and as a sound effect [diegetic] for the seeding. More obviously, from 04:49 the sound effects and the music function as one unit, completely fused together. The sound effects provide a musically rhythmic ambience of city sounds within the diegesis while a bass line keeps a groove in the non-diegetic orbit, until at 05:04 where music and sound effects conjoin to be part of the diegesis.

Bilbao is a projection mapping that, in a sonic level, depends heavily on the construction of ambiences or geographic spaces. As I have previously mentioned, narrative projection mapping, arguably because its interaction with the surface, gravitates towards the fantasy and science fiction genre narrative, or even horror, hence, the sonic link between those film genres and narrative projection mapping is, in my opinion, reasonably evident. “Science fiction is ultimately about constructed spaces; therefore, sound ambiences are crucial in supporting and commenting on spatial geography” (Whittington. 2007. p. 153), and at the same time, “general “ambiences” function to immerse the audience in the film more effectively in sonic terms than might be available as a visual effect” (Buckland. W. 2009. p. 118). Just to finish with another example in relation to the unification of music and sound effects as a sonic continuum to create ambiences, and the ambiguity of the diegetic and non-diegetic spheres in which sound can exist, I would like to draw attention to a couple of sequences in Bilbao. From 01:11 to 02:18 https://youtu.be/uws5PDic49I?t=1m9s drones from electronic instruments together with the sound of bubbles and running water create the underwater ambience sequence. The sounds of running water and bubbles are clearly understood in the given context and provide a direct relation with the visual stimulus. The drones illustrate the sense of an uninterrupted vastness and emptiness of the ocean depths. From 04:55 to 05:15, the time travel sequence is also composed in conjoin of musical synths and sounds of clocks, functioning in a similar way as it does in the underwater sequence. To understand how these music elements work and how they can exist as part of the ambience, Annabel Cohen uses the Congruance-Associationist Framework for understanding film music communication and the paradoxical role of background music and explains that music adds consistent affective information with the narrative and inconsistent acoustical aspects with the narrative; “Somehow, the brain attends to this affective meaning, while ignoring or attenuating its acoustical source” (Cohen in Buhler, Flinn, Neumeyer. 2000. pp. 373–374). Fortune seems a recurring forfeit; Walter Murch also makes use of it when he writes about re-association: “It might have been otherwise—the human mind could have demanded absolute obedience to “the truth”—but for a range of practical and aesthetic reasons we are lucky that it didn’t…”. However it is, by chance or luck, sound evokes emotions and conveys meaning. Sound designers can use these qualities to enhance the experience of audio-visuals.

 

-Conclusion and future research-

Projection mapping offer the sound designer, with the aid of new technologies, an opportunity to create sound effects and to use them in a very creative way in order to enhance the fantastical ‘reality’ that appears on the metamorphic façade. By manipulating the psychology of the sonic perception, sound can permeate the visual stimuli with an emotional depth and to facilitate the audience in to an immersive experience. Movement or friction between bodies generates sound (at least in our earthy reality), and architectural projection mapping contains both as its main way of visual expression. With its “warm” proposition as a screen or display surface, it provides an almost perfect canvas for the sound objects to lure the audience’s casual listening (Chion 1994) in to a new, even if ephemeral, reality.

Other aspects to be analysed in relation to sound in projection mapping could look at how the “polluted” environmental outdoor sounds, in which the projection might take place, alter, if at all, the cognitive and emotional experience, as they would inevitably “interact” with the projection mapping. Also, and from a technical point of view, projection mappings, at least in my professional experience with the outdoors projections, are only equipped with stereo sound. Although the majority of sounds happen within the confines of the façade, the possibilities of displacing the sound in a sound surround system are negated, and one could examine how this limits the immersion experience and the perception.

 

 

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