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Personal question time - which will actually seriously help me with a project.

Can you describe in as much detail as is relevant what is, to you, a beautiful calming space. For me, it's the middle of a forest during a gentle rain. But without the flying bugs.

Thanks :-). I need a lot of beautiful environments, but obviously I'm limited by my own experiences and notions of beauty for coming up with them.

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There's beauty in the soft rhythmic patterns of streams and creeks. Those natural organic textures are not only nonabrasive but familiar and relaxing.

Then again it could be a matter of perception. Perhaps one who lives in a big city relates better to the layered sounds of traffic, subway trains, and chatter. That familiarity might be relaxing to them.

I would consider softer toned sounds to more beautiful than harsh, abrasive ones, but then again loud cacophonous noise gives me a headache.

I think there's an inherent problem when we begin to apply human language to aural perception, because language is based on symbols that may or may not accurately transfer to experiential reality... I know i know, its our job as sound designers to cross that bridge and transformer ideas into sounds... I always find these topics interesting.

some beautiful ambiences:

  1. wind rustling the leaves of trees
  2. waves crashing on a beach
  3. kids laughing and playing
  4. flowing water down a stream or creek
  5. a coyote howling in the distance
  6. a heard of horses running in the distance
  7. the roar of a big block V8 speeding past you.
  8. fog horns going off in the distance

Good luck with your project, let us know how it turns out!

  • @zenandtheart That's wonderful, thank you very much for your time. Interesting what you're saying about perception, and it's what makes this challenging for me. However, there's a really interesting Ted talk here on an evolved sense of beauty. Check it out: ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty.html There are definitely patterns I see when I ask people this. Soft wind. Natural rhythmis. Water. – ragamesound Dec 2 '10 at 20:00
  • No problem, my pleasure. This reminds me of an idea that is brought up again and again in the book, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_Maintenance) where the topic of quality is discussed. No one can quite pin point what it is that makes something quality but it none the less is observable and real. I think this applies to the ted talk and your sound design problem. – zenandtheart Dec 2 '10 at 22:18
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A beautiful ambiance for me is relative to what I am recording where it is urban or rural, interior or exterior. I love the sound of city markets, the cacophony of languages, the rhythm of the voices. I love a busy street in high traffic with all the hooting, roaring of engines, the sounds bouncing off of the buildings.

Libraries are amazing because of the quiet despite the presence of people.

The sound of night in the country after a rain storm is terrific. All the insects and toads, frogs etc reemerging from their protective spaces and coming alive. It is like life has been breathed back into the night again. The dead of winter, that crisp stillness with the wind cutting through the landscape sounds so haunting and lost.

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Some that come to mind:

  • Dawn chorus - I love the different musical characteristics of birdsong.
  • A stream trickling slowly.
  • Wind blowing tall grass - generally Foleyed for film.
  • Gentle waves on a sandy beach - I particularly like the bubbly sound when the water disappears into the sand.
  • Crickets, cicadas and insect chorus.
  • Bumble bee buzzing around (reminds me of summer ambiance).
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I find that the sound of water seems to be working magic on me.

  • waves hitting a sandy beach
  • water falling from the tap to a bathtub

What I love about it so much; the fact that it's very chaotic. All the random bubbly noises create a world of their own. Yet, at the same time it's very soft and hypnotic. All you have to do is close your eyes and drift away.

Another thing that I would have to count in would be the sound of the cicadas in my girlfriends town - Columbia, SC. Millions of them giving an amazing gig. It feels like a nice droning sound.

That made me wonder - Is it the sound itself that is relaxing? Or the reminder of how you felt when you heard the sound for the first time/most often? Maybe our brain is used to feel in a certain way when hearing a certain sound? For example; people that are scared of the dentist and hear the buzzing sound of the dentist drill feel very uncomfortable and possibly scared as soon as they hear it. For me the buzzing of that drill is quite relaxing, it is the smell of a dentist office that makes me feel uncomfortable.

That could be a possible explanation to the question; Why are different people relaxed by different sounds?

Bit off-topic! Still a good beer-convo! ;)

  • I think the sound of the dentist's drill is unnerving to most people because it signals impending pain. It has a contextual meaning. But a lot of these sounds don't have contextual meaning in most of our busy lives. But there's still this universal appreciation of water. Water is good. Thanks :-) – ragamesound Dec 2 '10 at 20:05
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All of these are good answers. But all of them specify certain sounds or environments.

On a psyhcoacoustic level a beautiful calming space most closely resembles a uniform level across all frequencies. I don't mean a 'flat' level but one that is often found in natural settings. This is why a lot of people associate wind, forest, babbling brooks, birds, etc. as pleasing ambiences.

In exterior city environments I have found that calming spaces can be found on rooftops of ten to twelve floors or more. With the sounds of the city, cars, sirens, low rumble of machinery, people moving around so distant it all blends and creates a wonderfully even and calming sense of the space.

If you are interested in learning more about the study of psychoacoustics you can check out:

The Tuning of the World (The Soundscape) by R. Murray Schafer (1977)

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The sound of massive double overheads crashing into the beach - a symphony of nature's power - juxtaposed to your sitting in a chair, without a worry in the world, sipping on a beer as the light warm wind blows by. Sort of like nature's own contrapuntal sound track.

A good low frequency rumble in an otherwise quiet environment, such as a late night flight where most people in the airplane are asleep. So serene, despite the 200 people around you. Then again, I just find the inside of an airplane in general quiet soothing because of it's unique acoustics.

Sitting on the bow of a sailboat while sailing in a beam reach. The combination of the hull crashing through the waves and the wind whipping through the sails (and NOT LUFFING of course!!!) is probably the most soothing sound I can think of.

The clinks, clanks, and whirrs of a nice steam room are a wonderfully relaxing sound.

The sound of my 6.0L V8 as I shift down into 3rd to jump on the highway (music turned off of course! My car makes it's own music! )

The whirring of a nice, big server room, listening to all the computers do way more than you could ever imagine.

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The soft cacophony of people practicing in a music store, oblivious to each other.

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Take an H2 Handy Zoom recorder and put it on 4 channel recording so that both the back and front mics are live. Then take that sucker to a local museum on a busy evening (I went to the Chicago Museum of Art) and hit record. Make sure you walk quietly and often. You don't want to record entire conversations, just snippets. The sound of the audio captured from the front and rear makes for quite the immersive listening experience.

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