Since sound sounds so much different compared to through the air, through a solid, I think that this affects the way we perceive the world. Sound waves are traveling through our bones, body, and our ears on their to our recognition, not to mention, the sound waves that are partially reflected and partially absorbed by a solid. It might make a more emotionally hitting sound if you were to add in a contact mic recording on some things.

  • 1
    For an example of bone conduction in art, check the third piece down at markuskison.de. Brilliant stuff. – NoiseJockey Oct 7 '11 at 2:04

Interesting idea. If you play back a sound recorded from a solid, thereby rendering an inaudible sound audible, and it re-enters our bodies through our ears, I doubt that it'd be perceived in the same way as if we'd truly felt it through our guts, bones, hair, what have you. That's not to say that your idea isn't valid for sound design and as an effective layer, but we'd be exposing the listener's ear to something they'd normally not get through the good ol' pinnae. This sensory transposition might be effective, or not...I'd think it would be really dependent on the sound source itself, the context of its use, and the emotional message one was going for.

  • Well we are perceiving sound more realistically with a mixture of contact microphone and sound through solid combined with sound through air because the microphone's shock absorbency from the stand and shock mount most likely negate any sound through the solid. You could for example, with a sine wave sweep for an impulse response, also gather sound from a floor and wall. – ChrisSound Oct 7 '11 at 3:03

the main effect is of course that our own voices sound much more bass-y then they to anyone outside of our heads.

  • Well, in that regard, remember riding the school bus and all the bumps? Recording a bus ride with a nice ORTF or midside would gather the sound through the air and contact microphone recordings of the seat could enhance the realism – ChrisSound Oct 7 '11 at 3:53
  • 1
    But.... I think that would only happen if our skulls were to be pushed against the frame of the bus. – reon Oct 7 '11 at 9:34

Most modern sound design today are based in the way we perceive sound, not the way it actually behaves in the natural world. Bone conduction, though, almost only applies to very personal sounds like hits and such physical interaction. Other things even more influential on how we perceive sound is due to the fact of our brains subconscious ability to sort different sounds out as to not risk overloading from stimulation. Even for us lacking most of that sensorical filtering, we still choose what we wanna focus on and reacts harder on details considered more important than others.

I am very fond of contact mics in general, though my own one went belly up a while ago, but for emulating bone-structure I rather use extreme proximity from a cardioid for several reasons. For one thing, materials used as conductors rarely, if ever, follows the same characteristics as human skull-bone anyway. Second of all the entire cranium, inner ear, flesh and all, gets affected by that kinds of sounds. But most of all, a contact mic is based on piezo technology, meaning a crystalline material that makes a great addition to sound effects, but not being very fat in itself.

As with most sound design issues, this is something better mimicked than tried to be reproduced in my opinion.

  • Well I think that is the whole point, mimicking the real thing and by adding in a sound through a solid, possibly worldizing a sound with a speaker on one side of your head and mics on the other. If a microphone is an ear, then we are only hearing with 1/3 of the realistic capacity. Our body and another ear are the other 2/3's. – ChrisSound Oct 7 '11 at 3:07
  • I understands how you think, providing you did mean everything and not only personal impacts, but actually all sounds, event those originating from speakers, are received the same way through our hearing. Other than regular filtering,the body does the job for us! As a regular piezo contact mic doesn't have that response the first place, it's not easy simulating bone conduction with it anyway. Sounds that really needs closeness, like someone getting his ass kicked, needs the low end totally dry. For that reason piezos are great for hard components, having only closeness and no room! – Christian van Caine Oct 7 '11 at 3:51

I'd have to agree with NoiseJockey on this one. I don't think simply adding in a sound recorded through a contact microphone would achieve the results you're thinking of. To approach that ideal, you'd probably need to create a custom sound installation. Things like this have been attempted in cinema in the past...devices like vibrating seats, gas emitters and small speakers here and there for localized sound.

  • Well, I'm going to say that things don't sound in recordings like they do in real life regardless of the setup, though I do see why that would be an idea, it may serve some purpose in making a sound realistic. – ChrisSound Oct 7 '11 at 3:08
  • To follow up with Shaun's comment (which I also agree with), I think that recordings via conductive solids can add a lot to a mix or recording, no argument there. But you'll be recontextualizing that sound unless you choose to reproduce it in a custom way. That doesn't make it bad! Recontextualizing is what makes Ben Burtt's recordings of the real world sound like sci fi. Making the inaudible audible would, I'd argue, make a sounds expressionistic, not representative (or, in your words, realistic). And that's also not bad. Just...different! :-) – NoiseJockey Oct 7 '11 at 3:29
  • @Chris the Marker - agreed...recordings are merely representations. and two people won't ever hear exactly the same way to begin with. i simply thought you were postulating the idea of stimulating a sensation of the body's reaction to audio by using sounds recorded with a contact mic. – Shaun Farley Oct 7 '11 at 3:29
  • Well, I think maybe we subconsciously know how sound sounds like through certain solids. For example, we may subconsciously believe that we know how sound sounds like through a rock, so for example with Tim Prebble's blow hole recordings, maybe some contact mic recordings from the rocks along with a hydrophone could add some character (to already flawless recordings.) All in all, its something I will try as soon as I get my hands on some mics. – ChrisSound Oct 7 '11 at 3:36
  • Actually it's not that hard to record a sound so it sounds exactly like in real life. I've done it many times while working on classical music, but you'll need absolutely neutral equipment of highest quality, 20-20 spectrum, and a perfect mic-position to have it transparent, followed by a neutral system on natural level to listen to. It will probably not sound as live, but that's because it will not be in the same space as the recording. – Christian van Caine Oct 7 '11 at 4:09

Hmm, this is definitely a cool idea. But whilst the effect of mixing in contact-mic recordings with standard recordings would no doubt create some very interesting effects, the only practical use of this I can think of would be to add an interesting spin to POV pieces.

When recording, you'd contact-mic your own head up (or the head of the subject of the POV / main character in a piece when recording their dialogue etc)! This would mainly be used with dialogue though, I guess, as our speech always sounds different to ourselves due to the conduction our voice through our own skulls. This could then help create a difference for when in "POV mode" and when not, in a piece.

However, as already discussed by others here, I think this effect would be best created manually with effects, altering EQ, enhancing bass etc (also discussed in this thread I think..!).


I think, unless you have one of your bones in contact with a surface, the effect won't be one of "realism". Wouldn't our fleshy foot-soles do the same thing as the shock mount? Doesn't mean it won't be a cool effect though; just last night i was recording some stuff w/ a hypercardioid+contact mic. Mainly for a surreal effect, though.

Sound recordings don't sound like what we really hear because our hearing mechanism is insanely sophisticated. I'm no psychoacoustics expert, but i think a lot of that comes from our brain/ear's ability to localise and focus on specific sounds.

I also think that, while these discussions are fun, we can say "could/would/should" all day, but there's no substitute for empirical experimentation. So give it a shot and post results!

  • "Sound recordings don't sound like what we really hear because our hearing mechanism is insanely sophisticated." Great point. – ChrisSound Oct 7 '11 at 15:27

It's an interesting notion from a sound producer's perspective. Of course it makes total sense from the perspective of immersion to attempt to record or produce things as they would be really perceived, were they real. E.g. a stomping of a dinosaur ought to sound and feel like it rumbles the ground and the stomping would be felt through our feet. A sort of thinking that doesn't focus only on what's audible or what's audible and felt through existing speaker systems, but what's/should be "really" physically felt as well.

I would expect really good immersion to require some sort of acoustical design/engineering as well though. Because one ought to control the playback space too in order the make things "conduct" properly in the movie theater?

Now if you really start to think about it. Is it possible that the lack of another stimulus, e.g. the body-conducted stimulus, or a method of capturing this second stimulus directly affects the sound that's also recorded? I.e. take an example of a signal A that's heard through both of our ears and a signal B that's felt and conducted through our physical body. How do these two signals interact inside the ear and is their sum considerably different than what a typical microphone can pick? I think it's an old notion that all electronic mediums are fundamentally limited in how they represent real-world information. Although, if we want to think about electromagnetism and (mechanical) body conduction being the same, then quantum physics has rather deep answers to this.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.