Nemisindo, our new spin-out, launches online sound design service

We haven’t done a lot of blogging recently, but for a good reason; there’s an inverse relationship between how often we post blog entries and how busy we are trying to do something interesting. Now we’ve done it, we can talk about it, and today, we can launch it!

Procedural audio is a big area of research for us, which we have discussed in previous blog entries about aeroacoustics, whistles, swinging swords , propellers and thunder. This is sound synthesis, but with some additional requirements. Its usually intended for use in interactive content (games), so it needs to generate sound in real-time, and adapt to changing inputs. 

There are some existing efforts to offer procedural audio. However, they usually focus on a few specific sounds, which means sound designers still need sound effect libraries for most sound effects. And some efforts still involve manipulating sound samples. Which means they aren’t truly procedural. But if you can create any sound effect, then you can do away with the sample libraries (almost) entirely, and procedurally generate entire auditory worlds.

And we’ve created a company that aims to do just that. Nemisindo, named after the Zulu for “sounds/noise” offer sound design services based on their innovative procedural audio technology. They are launching a new online service, https://nemisindo.com, that allows users to create sound effects for games, film and VR without the need for vast libraries of sounds.

The following video gives a taste of the technology and the range of services they offer.

Nemisindo’s new platform provides a browser-based service with tools to create sounds from over 70 classes (engines, footsteps, explosions…) and over 700 preselected settings (diesel generator engine, motorbike, Jetsons jet…). It can be used to create almost any sound effect from scratch, and in real-time, based on intuitive controls guided by the user.

If someone wants a ‘whoosh’ sound for their game, or footsteps, gunshots, a raging fire or a gentle summer shower, they just tell the system what they’re looking for and adjust the sound while it’s being created. And unlike other technologies that simply use pre-recorded sounds, Nemisindo’s platform generates sounds that have never been recorded, a dragon roaring, for instance, light sabres swinging and space cannons firing. These sound effects can also be shaped and crafted at the point of creation by the user, breaking through limitations of sampled sounds.

Nemisindo has already caught the attention of Epic Games, with the spinout receiving an Epic MegaGrant to develop procedural audio for the Unreal game engine. 

The new service from Nemisindo launches today (18 August 2021) and can be accessed at nemisindo.com. For the first month, Nemisindo is offering a free trial period allowing registered users to download sounds for free. After the trial period ends, the system is still free to use, but sounds can be downloaded at a low individual cost or with a paid monthly subscription.

We encourage you to register and check it out.

The Nemisindo team can be reached at info@nemisindo.com .

Aural diversity

We are part of a research network that has just been funded, focused around Aural diversity.

Aural Diversity arises from the observation that everybody hears differently. The assumption that we all possess a standard, undifferentiated pair of ears underpins most listening scenarios. Its the basis of many audio technologies, and has been a basis for much of our understanding of hearing and hearing perception. But the assumption is demonstrably incorrect, and taking it too far means that we miss out on many opportunities for advances in auditory science and audio engineering. We may well ask: whose ears are standard? whose ear has primacy? The network investigates the consequences of hearing differences in areas such as: music and performance, soundscape and sound studies, hearing sciences and acoustics, hearing care and hearing technologies, audio engineering and design, creative computing and AI, and indeed any field that has hearing or listening as a major component.

The term ‘auraldiversity’ echoes ‘neurodiversity’ as a way of distinguishing between ‘normal’ hearing, defined by BS ISO 226:2003 as that of a healthy 18-25 year-old, and atypical hearing (Drever 2018, ‘Primacy of the Ear’). This affects everybody to some degree. Each individual’s ears are uniquely shaped. We have all experienced temporary changes in hearing, such as when having a cold. And everybody goes through presbyacusis (age-related hearing loss) at varying rates after the teenage years.

More specific aural divergences are the result of an array of hearing differences or impairments which affect roughly 1.1 billion people worldwide (Lancet, 2013). These include noise-related, genetic, ototoxic, traumatic, and disorder-based hearing loss, some of which may cause full or partial deafness. However, “loss” is not the only form of impairment: auditory perceptual disorders such as tinnitus, hyperacusis and misophonia involve an increased sensitivity to sound.

And its been an issue in our research too. We’ve spent years developing automatic mixing systems that produce audio content like a sound engineer would (De Man et al 2017, ‘Ten Years of Automatic Mixing’). But to do that, we usually assume that there is a ‘right way’ to mix, and of course, it really depends on the listener, the listener’s environment, and many other factors. Our recent research has focused on developing simulators that allow anyone to hear the world as it really sounds to someone with hearing loss.

AHRC is funding the network for two years, beginning July 2021. The network is led by  Andrew Hugill of the University of Leicester. The core partners are the Universities of Leicester, Salford, Nottingham, Leeds, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary University of London (the team behind this blog), and the Attenborough Arts Centre. The wider network includes many more universities and a host of organisations concerned with hearing and listening.

The network will stage five workshops, each with a different focus:

  • Hearing care and technologies. How the use of hearing technologies may affect music and everyday auditory experiences.
  • Scientific and clinical aspects. How an arts and humanities approach might complement, challenge, and enhance scientific investigation.
  • Acoustics of listening differently. How acoustic design of the built and digital environments can be improved.
  • Aural diversity in the soundscape. Includes a concert featuring new works by aurally diverse artists for an aurally diverse audience.
  • Music and performance. Use of new technologies in composition and performance.

See http://auraldiversity.org for more details.

Hearing loss simulator – MATLAB Plugin Competition Gold Award Winner

Congratulations to Angeliki Mourgela, winner of the AES Show 2020 Student Competition for developing a MATLAB plugin. The aim of the competition was for students to ‘Design a new kind of audio production VST plugin using MATLAB Software and your wits’.

Hearing loss is a global phenomenon, with almost 500 million people worldwide suffering from it, a number only increasing with an ageing population. Hearing loss can severely impact the daily life of an individual, causing both functional and emotional difficulties and affecting their overall quality of life. Research efforts towards a better understanding of its physical and perceptual characteristics, as well as the development of new and efficient methods for audio enhancement are  an essential endeavour for the future.

Angeliki developed a real-time hearing loss simulator, for use in audio production. It builds on a previous simulation, but is now real-time, low latency, and available as a stereo VST audio effect plug-in with more control and more accurate modelling of hearing loss. It offers the option of customizing threshold attenuations on each ear corresponding to the audiogram information. It also incorporates additional effects such as spectral smearing, rapid loudness growth and loss of temporal resolution on audio.

In effect, it allows anyone to hear the world as it really sounds to someone with hearing loss. And it means that audio producers can easily preview what their content would sound like to most hearing impaired listeners.

Here’s a video with Angeliki demonstrating the system.

Her plugin was also used in an episode of the BBC drama Casualty to let the audience hear the world as heard by a character with severe hearing loss.

You can download her code from the MathWorks file exchange and additional code on SoundSoftware.

Full technical details of the work and the research around it (in collaboration with myself and Dr. Trevor Agus of Queen’s University Belfast) were published in;

A. Mourgela, T. Agus and J. D. Reiss, “‘Investigation of a Real-Time Hearing Loss Simulation for Audio Production,” 149th AES Convention, 2020

Many thanks to the team from Matlab MathWorks for sponsoring and hosting the competition, and congratulations to all the other winners of the AES Student Competitions.

Research highlights for the AES Show Fall 2020

AES_FallShow2020_logo_x

#AESShow

We try to write a preview of the technical track for almost all recent Audio Engineering Society (AES) Conventions, see our entries on the 142nd, 143rd, 144th, 145th147th and 148th Conventions. Like the 148th Convention, the 149th convention, or just the AES Show, is an online event. But one challenge with these sorts of online events is that anything not on the main live stream can get overlooked. The technical papers are available on demand. So though many people can access them, perhaps more than would attend the presentation in person if possible. But they don’t have the feel of an event.

Hopefully, I can give you some idea of the exciting nature of these technical papers. And they really do present a lot of cutting edge and adventurous research. They unveil, for the first time some breakthrough technologies, and both surprising and significant advances in our understanding of audio engineering and related fields.

This time, since all the research papers are available throughout the Convention and beyond, starting Oct. 28th, I haven’t organised them by date. Instead, I’ve divided them into the regular technical papers (usually longer, with more reviewing), and the Engineering Briefs, or E-briefs. The E-briefs are typically smaller, often presenting work-in-progress, late-breaking or just unusual research. Though this time, the unusual appears in the regular papers too.

But first… listening tests. Sooner or later, almost every researcher has to do them. And a good software package will help the whole process run easier. There are two packages presented at the convention. Dale Johnson will present the next generation of a high quality one in the E-Brief ‘HULTI-GEN Version 2 – A Max-based universal listening test framework’. And Stefan Gorzynski will present the paper ‘A flexible software tool for perceptual evaluation of audio material and VR environments’.

E-Briefs

A must for audio educators is Brett Leonard’s ‘A Survey of Current Music Technology & Recording Arts Curriculum Order’. These sorts of programs are often ‘made up’ based on the experience and knowledge of the people involved. Brecht surveyed 35 institutions and analysed the results to establish a holistic framework for the structure of these degree programmes.

The idea of time-stretching as a live phenomenon might seem counterintuitive. For instance, how can you speed up a signal if its only just arriving? And if you slow it down, then surely after a while it lags far enough behind that it is no longer ‘live’. A novel solution is explored in Colin Malloy’s ‘An approach for implementing time-stretching as a live realtime audio effect

The wonderfully titled ‘A Terribly Good Speaker: Understanding the Yamaha NS-10 Phenomenon,’ is all about how and why a low quality loudspeaker with bad reviews became seen as a ‘must have’ amongst many audio professionals. It looks like this presentation will have lessons for those who study marketing, business trends and consumer psychology in almost any sector, not just audio.

Just how good are musicians at tuning their instruments? Not very good, it seems. Or at least, that was what was found out in ‘Evaluating the accuracy of musicians and sound engineers in performing a common drum tuning exercise’, presented by Rob Toulson. But before you start with your favourite drummer joke, note that the participants were all experienced musicians or sound engineers, but not exclusively drummers. So it might be that everyone is bad at drum tuning, whether they’re used to carrying drumsticks around or not.

Matt Cheshire’s ‘Snare Drum Data Set (SDDS): More snare drums than you can shake a stick at’ is worth mentioning just for the title.

Champ Darabundit will present some interesting work on ‘Generalized Digital Second Order Systems Beyond Nyquist Frequency’, showing that the basic filter designs can be tuned to do a lot more than just what is covered in the textbooks. Its interesting and good work, but I have a minor issue with it. The paper only has one reference that isn’t a general overview or tutorial. But there’s lots of good, relevant related work, out there.

I’m involved in only one paper at this convention (shame!). But its well worth checking out. Angeliki Mourgela is presenting ‘Investigation of a Real-Time Hearing Loss Simulation for Audio Production’. It builds on an initial hearing loss simulator she presented at the 147th Convention, but now its higher quality, real-time and available as a VST plugin. This means that audio producers can easily preview what their content would sound like to most listeners with hearing loss.

Masking is an important and very interesting auditory phenomenon. With the emergence of immersive sound, there’s more and more research about spatial masking. But questions come up, like whether artificially panning a source to a location will result in masking the same way as actually placing a source at that location. ‘Spatial auditory masking caused by phantom sound images’, presented by Masayuki Nishiguchi, will show how spatial auditory masking works when sources are placed at virtual locations using rendering techniques.

Technical papers

There’s a double bill presented by Hsein Pew, ‘Sonification of Spectroscopic analysis of food data using FM Synthesis’ and ‘A Sonification Algorithm for Subjective Classification of Food Samples.’ They are unusual papers, but not reallly about classifying food samples. The focus is on the sonification method, which turns data into sounds, allowing listeners to easily discriminate between data collections.

Wow. When I first saw Moorer in the list of presenting authors, I thought ‘what a great coincidence that a presenter has the same last name as one of the great legends in audio engineering. But no, it really is James Moorer. We talked about him before in our blog about the greatest JAES papers of all time. And the abstract for his talk, ‘Audio in the New Millenium – Redux‘, is better than anything I could have written about the paper. He wrote, “In the author’s Heyser lecture in 2000, technological advances from the point of view of digital audio from 1980 to 2000 were summarized then projected 20 years into the future. This paper assesses those projections and comes to the somewhat startling conclusion that entertainment (digital video, digital audio, computer games) has become the driver of technology, displacing military and business forces.”

The paper with the most authors is presented by Lutz Ehrig. And he’ll be presenting a breakthrough, the first ‘Balanced Electrostatic All-Silicon MEMS Speakers’. If you don’t know what that is, you’re not alone. But its worth finding out, because this may be tomorrow’s widespread commercial technology.

If you recorded today, but only using equipment from 1955, would it really sound like a 65 year old recording? Clive Mead will present ‘Composing, Recording and Producing with Historical Equipment and Instrument Models’ which explores just that sort of question. He and his co-authors created and used models to simulate the recording technology and instruments, available at different points in recorded music history.

Degradation effects of water immersion on earbud audio quality,’ presented by Scott Beveridge, sounds at first like it might be very minor work, dipping earbuds in water and then listening to distorted sound from them. But I know a bit about the co-authors. They’re the type to apply rigorous, hardcore science to a problem. And it has practical applications too, since its leading towards methods by which consumers can measure the quality of their earbuds.

Forensic audio is a fascinating field, though most people have only come across it in film and TV shows like CSI, where detectives identify incriminating evidence buried in a very noisy recording. In ‘Forensic Interpretation and Processing of User Generated Audio Recordings’, audio forensics expert Rob Maher looks at how user generated recordings, like when many smartphones record a shooting, can be combined, synchronised and used as evidence.

Mark Waldrep presents a somewhat controversial paper, ‘Native High-Resolution versus Red Book Standard Audio: A Perceptual Discrimination Survey’. He sent out high resolution and CD quality recordings to over 450 participants, asking them to judge which was high resolution. The overall results were little better than guessing. But there were a very large number of questionable decisions in his methodology and interpretation of results. I expect this paper will get the online audiophile community talking for quite some time.

Neural networks are all the rage in machine learning. And for good reason- for many tasks, they outperform all the other methods. There are three neural network papers presented, Tejas Manjunath’s ‘Automatic Classification of Live and Studio Audio Recordings using Convolutional Neural Networks‘, J. T. Colonel’s (who is now part of the team behind this blog) ‘Low Latency Timbre Interpolation and Warping using Autoencoding Neural Networks’ and William Mitchell’s ‘Exploring Quality and Generalizability in Parameterized Neural Audio Effects‘.

The research team here did some unpublished work that seemed to suggest that the mix had only a minimal effect on how people respond to music for untrained listeners, but this became more significant with trained sound engineers and musicians. Kelsey Taylor’s research suggests there’s a lot more to uncover here. In ‘I’m All Ears: What Do Untrained Listeners Perceive in a Raw Mix versus a Refined Mix?’, she performed structured interviews and found that untrained listeners perceive a lot of mixing aspects, but use different terms to describe it.

No loudness measure is perfect. Even the well established ones, like ITU 1770 for broadcast content, or the Glasberg Moore auditory model of loudness perception, see http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=16608 here and http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=17098, have been noted before. In ‘Using ITU-R BS.1770 to Measure the Loudness of Music versus Dialog-based Content’, Scott Norcross shows another issue with the ITU loudness measure, the difficulty in matching levels for speech and music.

Staying on the subject of loudness, Kazuma Watanabe presents ‘The Reality of The Loudness War in Japan -A Case Study on Japanese Popular Music’. This loudness war, the overuse of dynamic range compression, has resulted in lower quality recordings (and annoyingly loud TV and radio ads). It also led to measures like the ITU standard. Watanabe and co-authors measured the increased loudness over the last 30 years, and make a strong

Remember to check the AES E-Library which has all the full papers for all the presentations mentioned here, including listing all authors not just presenters. And feel free to get in touch with us. Josh Reiss (author of this blog entry), J. T. Colonel, and Angeliki Mourgela from the Audio Engineering research team within the Centre for Digital Music, will all be (virtually) there.

We want you to take part in a listening test

Hi everyone,

As you may know, we do lots of listening tests (audio evaluation experiments) to evaluate our research, or to gather data about perception and preference that we use in the systems we create.

We would like to invite you to participate in a study on the perception of sound effects.

Participation just requires a computer with audio output, a reliable internet connection and internet browser (definitely works on Chrome, should work on most other browsers). The experiment shouldn’t take more than a half hour at most. You don’t have to be an expert to take part. And I promise it will be interesting!

You can access the experiment by going to http://webprojects.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/ee08m037/WebAudioEvaluationTool/test.html?url=FXiveTest.xml

And if you’re curious, the listening test was created using the Web Audio Evaluation Tool, https://github.com/BrechtDeMan/WebAudioEvaluationTool [1,2].

Please direct any questions to joshua.reiss@qmul.ac.uk , r.selfridge@qmul.ac.uk or h.e.tez@qmul.ac.uk .

Once the experiment is finished, I’ll share the results in another blog entry.

Thanks!

[1] N. Jillings, D. Moffat, B. De Man, J. D. Reiss, R. Stables, ‘Web Audio Evaluation Tool: A framework for subjective assessment of audio,’ 2nd Web Audio Conf., Atlanta, 2016

[2] N. Jillings, B. De Man, D. Moffat and J. D. Reiss, ‘Web Audio Evaluation Tool: A Browser-Based Listening Test Environment,’ Sound and Music Computing (SMC), July 26 – Aug. 1, 2015

Audiology and audio production PhD studentship available for UK residents

BBC R&D and Queen Mary University of London’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science have an ICASE PhD studentship available for a talented researcher. It will involve researching the idea of intelligent mixing of broadcast audio content for hearing impaired audiences.

Perceptual Aspects of Broadcast Audio Mixing for Hearing Impaired Audiences

Project Description

This project will explore new approaches to audio production to address hearing loss, a growing concern with an aging population. The overall goal is to investigate, implement and validate original strategies for mixing broadcast content such that it can be delivered with improved perceptual quality for hearing impaired people.

Soundtracks for television and radio content typically have dialogue, sound effects and music mixed together with normal-hearing listeners in mind. But a hearing impairment may result in this final mix sounding muddy and cluttered. First, hearing aid strategies will be investigated, to establish their limitations and opportunities for improving upon them with object- based audio content. Then different mixing strategies will be implemented to counteract the hearing impairment. These strategies will be compared against each other in extensive listening tests, to establish preferred approaches to mixing broadcast audio content.

Requirements and details

This is a fully funded, 4 year studentship which includes tuition fees, travel and consumables allowance and a stipend covering living expenses.

Skills in signal processing, audio production and auditory models are preferred, though we encourage any interested and talented researchers to apply. A successful candidate will have an academic background in engineering, science or maths.

The student will be based in London. Time will be spent  between QMUL’s Audio Engineering team (the people behind this blog) in the Centre for Digital Music and BBC R&D South Lab, with a minimum of six months at each.

The preferred start date is January 2nd, 2019.
All potential candidates must meet UK residency requirements, e.g. normally EU citizen with long-term residence in the UK. Please check the regulations if you’re unsure.

If interested, please contact Prof. Josh Reiss at joshua.reiss@qmul.ac.uk .

Sneak preview of the research to be unveiled at the 145th Audio Engineering Society

max-audio-logo2[1]

We’ve made it a tradition on this blog to preview the technical program at the Audio Engineering Society Conventions, as we did with the 142nd, 143rd, and 144th AES Conventions. The 145th AES  convention is just around the corner, October 17 to 20 in New York. As before, the Audio Engineering research team behind this blog will be quite active at the convention.

These conventions have thousands of attendees, but aren’t so large that you get lost or overwhelmed. Away from the main exhibition hall is the Technical Program, which includes plenty of tutorials and presentations on cutting edge research.

So we’ve gathered together some information about a lot of the events that caught our eye as being unusual, exceptionally high quality involved in, attending, or just worth mentioning. And this Convention will certainly live up to the hype. Plus, its a special one, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the AES.

By the way, I don’t think I mention a single loudspeaker paper below, but the Technical Program is full of them this time. You could have a full conference just on loudspeakers from them. If you want to become an expert on loudspeaker research, this is the place to be.

Anyway, lets dive right in.

Wednesday, October 17th

We know different cultures listen to music differently, but do they listen to audio coding artifacts differently? Find out at 9:30 when Sascha Disch and co-authors present On the Influence of Cultural Differences on the Perception of Audio Coding Artifacts in Music.

ABX, AB, MUSHRA… so many choices for subjective evaluation and listening tests, so little time. Which one to use, which one gives the strongest results? Lets put them all to the test while looking at the same question. This is what was done in Investigation into the Effects of Subjective Test Interface Choice on the Validity of Results, presented at 11:30. The results are strong, and surprising. Authors include former members of the team behind this blog, Nick Jillings and Brecht de Man, myself and frequent collaborator Ryan Stables.

From 10-11:30, Steve Fenton will be presenting the poster Automatic Mixing of Multitrack Material Using Modified Loudness Models. Automatic mixing is a really hot research area, one where we’ve made quite a few contributions. And a lot of it has involved loudness models for level balancing or fader settings. Someone really should do a review of all the papers focused on that, or better yet, a meta-analysis. Dr. Fenton and co-authors also have another poster in the same session, about a Real-Time System for the Measurement of Perceived Punch. Fenton’s PhD was about perception and modelling of punchiness in audio, and I suggested to him that the thesis should have just been titled ‘Punch!’

The researchers from Harman continue their analysis of headphone preference and quality with A Survey and Analysis of Consumer and Professional Headphones Based on Their Objective and Subjective Performances at 3:30. Harman obviously have a strong interest in this, but its rigorous, high quality research, not promotion.

In the 3:00 to 4:30 poster session, Daniel Johnston presents a wonderful spatial audio application, SoundFields: A Mixed Reality Spatial Audio Game for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the quirky lo-fi singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston.

Thursday, October 18th

There’s something bizarre about the EBU R128 / ITU-R BS.1770 specification for loudness measurements. It doesn’t give the filter coefficients as a function of sample rate. So, for this and other reasons, even though the actual specification is just a few lines of code, you have to reverse engineer it if you’re doing it yourself, as was done here. At 10 am, Brecht de Man presents Evaluation of Implementations of the EBU R128 Loudness Measurement, which looks carefully at different implementations and provides full implementations in several programming languages.

Roughly one in six people in developed countries suffer some hearing impairment. If you think that seems too high, think how many wear glasses or contact lenses or had eye surgery. And given the sound exposure, I’d expect the average to be higher with music producers. But we need good data on this. Thus, Laura Sinnott’s 3 pm presentation on Risk of Sound-Induced Hearing Disorders for Audio Post Production Engineers: A Preliminary Study is particularly relevant.

Some interesting posters in the 2:45 to 4:15 session. Maree Sheehan’s Audio Portraiture –The Sound of Identity, an Indigenous Artistic Enquiry uses 3D immersive and binaural sound to create audio portraits of Maori women. Its a wonderful use of state of the art audio technologies for cultural and artistic study. Researchers from the University of Alcala in Madrid present an improved method to detect anger in speech in Precision Maximization in Anger Detection in Interactive Voice Response Systems.

Friday, October 19th

There’s plenty of interesting papers this day, but only one I’m highlighting. By coincidence, its my own presentation of work with He Peng, on Why Can You Hear a Difference between Pouring Hot and Cold Water? An Investigation of Temperature Dependence in Psychoacoustics. This was inspired by the curious phenomenon and initial investigations described in a previous blog entry.

Saturday, October 20th

Get there early on Saturday to find out about audio branding from a designer’s perspective in the 9 am Creative Approach to Audio in Corporate Brand Experiences.

Object-based audio allows broadcasters to deliver separate channels for sound effects, music and dialog, which can then be remixed on the client-side. This has high potential for delivering better sound for the hearing-impaired, as described in Lauren Ward’s Accessible Object-Based Audio Using Hierarchical Narrative Importance Metadata at 9:45. I’ve heard this demonstrated by the way, and it sounds amazing.

A big challenge with spatial audio systems is the rendering of sounds that are close to the listener. Descriptions of such systems almost always begin with ‘assume the sound source is in the far field.’ In the 10:30 to 12:00 poster session, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science present a real advance in this subject with Near-Field Compensated Higher-Order Ambisonics Using a Virtual Source Panning Method.

Rob Maher is one of the world’s leading audio forensics experts. At 1:30 in Audio Forensic Gunshot Analysis and Multilateration, he looks at how to answer the question ‘Who shot first?’ from audio recordings. As is often the case in audio forensics, I suspect this paper was motivated by real court cases.

When visual cues disagree with auditory cues, which ones do you believe? Or conversely, does low quality audio seem more realistic if strengthened by visual cues? These sorts of questions are investigated at 2 pm in the large international collaboration Influence of Visual Content on the Perceived Audio Quality in Virtual Reality. Audio Engineering Society Conventions are full of original research, but survey and review papers are certainly welcomed, especially ones like the thorough and insightful HRTF Individualization: A Survey, presented at 2:30.

Standard devices for measuring auditory brainstem response are typically designed to work only with clicks or tone bursts. A team of researchers from Gdansk developed A Device for Measuring Auditory Brainstem Responses to Audio, presented in the 2:30 to 4 pm poster session.

 

Hopefully, I can also give a wrap-up after the Convention, as we did here and here.

Do you hear what I hear? The science of everyday sounds.

I became a professor last year, which is quite a big deal here. On April 17th, I gave my Inaugural lecture, which is a talk on my subject area to the general public. I tried to make it as interesting as possible, with sound effects, videos, a live experiment and even a bit of physical comedy. Here’s the video, and below I have a (sort of) transcript.

The Start

 

What did you just hear, what’s the weather like outside? Did that sound like a powerful, wet storm with rain, wind and thunder, or did it sound fake, was something not quite right? All you had was nearly identical, simple signals from each speaker, and you only received two simple, nearly identical signals, one to each ear.  Yet somehow you were able to interpret all the rich details, know what it was and assess the quality.

Over the next hour or so, we’ll investigate the research that links deep understanding of sound and sound perception to wonderful new audio technologies. We’ll look at how market needs in the commercial world are addressed by basic scientific advances. We will explore fundamental challenges about how we interact with the auditory world around us, and see how this leads to new creative artworks and disruptive innovations.

Sound effect synthesis

But first, lets get back to the storm sounds you heard. Its an example of a sound effect, like what might be used in a film. Very few of the sounds that you hear in film or TV, and more and more frequently, in music too, are recorded live on set or on stage.

Such sounds are sometimes created by what is known as Foley, named after Jack Foley, a sound designer working in film and radio from the late 1920s all the way to the early 1960s. In its simplest form, Foley is basically banging pots and pans together and sticking a microphone next to it. It also involves building mechanical contraptions to create all sorts of sounds. Foley sound designers are true artists, but its not easy, its expensive and time consuming. And the Foley studio today looks almost exactly the same as it did 60 years ago. The biggest difference is that the photos of the Foley studios are now in colour.

foley in the pastfoley today

But most sound effects come from sample libraries. These consist of tens or hundreds of thousands of high quality recordings. But they are still someone else’s vision of the sounds you might need. They’re never quite right. So sound designers either ‘make do’ with what’s there, or expend effort trying to shape them towards some desired sound. The designer doesn’t have the opportunity to do creative sound design. Reliance on pre-recorded sounds has dictated the workflow. The industry hasn’t evolved, we’re simply adapting old ways to new problems.

In contrast, digital video effects have reached a stunning level of realism, and they don’t rely on hundreds of thousands of stock photos, like the sound designers do with sample libraries. And animation is frequently created by specifying the scene and action to some rendering engine, without designers having to manipulate every little detail.

There might be opportunities for better and more creative sound design. Instead of a sound effect as a chunk of bits played out in sequence, conceptualise the sound generating mechanism, a procedure or recipe that when implemented, produces the desired sound. One can change the procedure slightly, shaping the sound. This is the idea behind sound synthesis. No samples need be stored. Instead, realistic and desired sounds can be generated from algorithms.

This has a lot of advantages. Synthesis can produce a whole range of sounds, like walking and running at any speed on any surface, whereas a sound effect library has only a finite number of predetermined samples. Synthesized sounds can play for any amount of time, but samples are fixed duration. Synthesis can have intuitive controls, like the enthusiasm of an applauding audience. And synthesis can create unreal or imaginary sounds that never existed in nature, a roaring dragon for instance, or Jedi knights fighting with light sabres..

Give this to sound designers, and they can take control, shape sounds to what they want. Working with samples is like buying microwave meals, cheap and easy, but they taste awful and there’s no satisfaction. Synthesis on the other hand, is like a home-cooked meal, you choose the ingredients and cook it the way you wish. Maybe you aren’t a fine chef, but there’s definitely satisfaction in knowing you made it.

This represents a disruptive innovation, changing the marketplace and changing how we do things. And it matters; not just to professional sound designers, but to amateurs and to the consumers, when they’re watching a film and especially, since we’re talking about sound, when they are listening to music, which we’ll come to later in the talk.

That’s the industry need, but there is some deep research required to address it. How do you synthesise sounds? They’re complex, with lots of nuances that we don’t fully understand. A few are easy, like these-

I just played that last one to get rid of the troublemakers in the audience.

But many of those are artificial or simple mechanical sounds. And the rest?

Almost no research is done in isolation, and there’s a community of researchers devising sound synthesis methods. Many approaches are intended for electronic music, going back to the work of Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonics Workshop, or the French Musique Concrete movement. But they don’t need a high level of realism. Speech synthesis is very advanced, but tailored for speech of course, and doesn’t apply to things like the sound of a slamming door. Other methods concentrate on simulating a particular sound with incredible accuracy. They construct a physical model of the whole system that creates the sound, and the sound is an almost incidental output of simulating the system. But this is very computational and inflexible.

And this is where we are today. The researchers are doing fantastic work on new methods to create sounds, but its not addressing the needs of sound designers.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

The games community has been interested in procedural audio for quite some time. Procedural audio embodies the idea of sound as a procedure, and involves looking at lightweight interactive sound synthesis models for use in a game. Start with some basic ingredients; noise, pulses, simple tones. Stir them together with the right amount of each, bake them with filters that bring out various pitches, add some spice and you start to get something that sounds like wind, or an engine or a hand clap. That’s the procedural audio approach.

A few tools have seen commercial use, but they’re specialised and integration of new technology in a game engine is extremely difficult. Such niche tools will supplement but not replace the sample libraries.

A few years ago, my research team demonstrated a sound synthesis model for engine and motor sounds. We showed that this simple software tool could be used by a sound designer to create a diverse range of sounds, and it could match those in the BBC sound effect library, everything from a handheld electric drill to a large boat motor.

 

This is the key. Designed right, one synthesis model can create a huge, diverse range of sounds. And this approach can be extended to simulate an entire effects library using only a small number of versatile models.

That’s what you’ve been hearing. Every sound sample you’ve heard in this talk was synthesised. Artificial sounds created and shaped in real-time. And they can be controlled and rendered in the same way that computer animation is performed. Watch this example, where the synthesized propeller sounds are driven by the scene in just the same way as the animation was.

It still needs work of course. You could hear lots of little mistakes, and the models missed details. And what we’ve achieved so far doesn’t scale. We can create hundred of sounds that one might want, but not yet thousands or tens of thousands.

But we know the way forward. We have a precious resource, the sound effect libraries themselves. Vast quantities of high quality recordings, tried and tested over decades. We can feed these into machine learning systems to uncover the features associated with every type of sound effect, and then train our models to find settings that match recorded samples.

We can go further, and use this approach to learn about sound itself. What makes a rain storm sound different from a shower? Is there something in common with all sounds that startle us, or all sounds that calm us? The same approach that hands creativity back to sound designers, resulting in wonderful new sonic experiences, can also tell us so much about sound perception.

Hot versus cold

I pause, say “I’m thirsty”. I have an empty jug and pretend to pour

Pretend to throw it at the audience.

Just kidding. That’s another synthesised sound. It’s a good example of this hidden richness in sounds. You knew it was pouring because the gesture helped, and there is an interesting interplay between our visual and auditory senses. You also heard bubbles, splashes, the ring of the container that its poured into. But do you hear more?

I’m going to run a little experiment. I have two sound samples, hot water being poured and cold water being poured. I want you to guess which is which.

Listen and try it yourself at our previous blog entry on the sound of hot and cold water.

I think its fascinating that we can hear temperature. There must be some physical phenomenon affecting the sound, which we’ve learned to associate with heat. But what’s really interesting is what I found when I looked online. Lots of people have discussed this. One argument goes ‘Cold water is more viscuous or sticky, and so it gives high pitched sticky splashes.’ That makes sense. But another argument states ‘There are more bubbles in a hot liquid, and they produce high frequency sounds.’

Wait, they can’t both be right. So we analysed recordings of hot and cold water being poured, and it turns out they’re both wrong! The same tones are there in both recordings, so essentially the same pitch. But the strengths of the tones are subtly different. Some sonic aspect is always present, but its loudness is a function of temperature. We’re currently doing analysis to find out why.

And no one noticed! In all the discussion, no one bothered to do a little critical analysis or an experiment. It’s an example of a faulty assumption, that because you can come up with a solution that makes sense, it should be the right one. And it demonstrates the scientific method; nothing is known until it is tested and confirmed, repeatedly.

Intelligent Music Production

Its amazing what such subtle changes can do, how they can indicate elements that one never associates with hearing. Audio production thrives on such subtle changes and there is a rich tradition of manipulating them to great effect. Music is created not just by the composer and performers. The sound engineer mixes and edits it towards some artistic vision. But phrasing the work of a mixing engineer as an art form is a double-edged sword, we aren’t doing justice to the technical challenges. The sound engineer is after all, an engineer.

In audio production, whether for broadcast, live sound, games, film or music, one typically has many sources. They each need to be heard simultaneously, but can all be created in different ways, in different environments and with different attributes. Some may mask each other, some may be too loud or too quiet. The final mix should have all sources sound distinct yet contribute to a nice clean blend of the sounds. To achieve this is very labour intensive and requires a professional engineer. Modern audio production systems help, but they’re incredibly complex and all require manual manipulation. As technology has grown, it has become more functional but not simpler for the user.

In contrast, image and video processing has become automated. The modern digital camera comes with a wide range of intelligent features to assist the user; face, scene and motion detection, autofocus and red eye removal. Yet an audio recording or editing device has none of this. It is essentially deaf; it doesn’t listen to the incoming audio and has no knowledge of the sound scene or of its intended use. There is no autofocus for audio!

Instead, the user is forced to accept poor sound quality or do a significant amount of manual editing.

But perhaps intelligent systems could analyse all the incoming signals and determine how they should be modified and combined. This has the potential to revolutionise music production, in effect putting a robot sound engineer inside every recording device, mixing console or audio workstation. Could this be achieved? This question gets to the heart of what is art and what is science, what is the role of the music producer and why we prefer one mix over another.

But unlike replacing sound effect libraries, this is not a big data problem. Ideally, we would get lots of raw recordings and the produced content that results. Then extract features from each track and the final mix in order to establish rules for how audio should be mixed. But we don’t have the data. Its not difficult to access produced content. But the initial multitrack recordings are some of the most highly guarded copyright material. This is the content that recording companies can use over and over, to create remixes and remastered versions. Even if we had the data, we don’t know the features to use and we don’t know how to manipulate those features to create a good mix. And mixing is a skilled craft. Machine learning systems are still flawed if they don’t use expert knowledge.

There’s a myth that as long as we get enough data, we can solve almost any problem. But lots of problems can’t be tackled this way. I thought weather prediction was done by taking all today’s measurements of temperature, humidity, wind speed, pressure… Then tomorrow’s weather could be guessed by seeing what happened the day after there were similar conditions in the past. But a meteorologist told me that’s not how it works. Even with all the data we have, its not enough. So instead we have a weather model, based on how clouds interact, how pressure fronts collide, why hurricanes form, and so on. We’re always running this physical model, and just tweaking parameters and refining the model as new data comes in. This is far more accurate than relying on mining big data.

You might think this would involve traditional signal processing, established techniques to remove noise or interference in recordings. Its true that some of what the sound engineer does is correct artifacts due to issues in the recording process. And there are techniques like echo cancellation, source separation and noise reduction that can address this. But this is only a niche part of what the sound engineer does, and even then the techniques have rarely been optimised for real world applications.

There’s also multichannel signal processing, where one usually attempts to extract information regarding signals that were mixed together, like acquiring a GPS signal buried in noise. But in our case, we’re concerned with how to mix the sources together in the first place. This opens up a new field which involves creating ways to manipulate signals to achieve a desired output. We need to identify multitrack audio features, related to the relationships between musical signals, and develop audio effects where the processing on any sound is dependent on the other sounds in the mix.

And there is little understanding of how we perceive audio mixes. Almost all studies have been restricted to lab conditions; like measuring the perceived level of a tone in the presence of background noise. This tells us very little about real world cases. It doesn’t say how well one can hear lead vocals when there are guitar, bass and drums.

Finally, best practices are not understood. We don’t know what makes a good mix and why one production will sound dull while another makes you laugh and cry, even though both are on the same piece of music, performed by competent sound engineers. So we need to establish what is good production, how to translate it into rules and exploit it within algorithms. We need to step back and explore more fundamental questions, filling gaps in our understanding of production and perception. We don’t know where the rules will be found, so multiple approaches need to be taken.

The first approach is one of the earliest machine learning methods, knowledge engineering. Its so old school that its gone out of fashion. It assumes experts have already figured things out, they are experts after all. So lets look at the sound engineering literature and work with experts to formalise their approach. Capture best practices as a set of rules and processes. But this is no easy task. Most sound engineers don’t know what they did. Ask a famous producer what he or she did on a hit song and you often get an answer like ‘I turned the knob up to 11 to make it sound phat.” How do you turn that into a mathematical equation? Or worse, they say it was magic and can’t be put into words.

To give you an idea, we had a technique to prevent acoustic feedback, that high pitched squeal you sometimes hear when a singer first approaches a microphone. We thought we had captured techniques that sound engineers often use, and turned it into an algorithm. To verify this, I was talking to an experienced live sound engineer and asked when was the last time he had feedback at one of the gigs where he ran the sound. ‘Oh, that never happens for me,’ he said. That seemed strange. I knew it was a common problem. ‘Really, never ever?’ ‘No, I know what I’m doing. It doesn’t happen.’ ‘Not even once?’ ‘Hmm, maybe once but its extremely rare.’ ‘Tell me about it.’ ‘Well, it was at the show I did last night…’! See, it’s a tricky situation. The sound engineer does have invaluable knowledge, but also has to protect their reputation as being one of a select few that know the secrets of the trade.

So we’re working with domain experts, generating hypotheses and formulating theories. We’ve been systematically testing all the assumptions about best practices and supplementing them with lots of listening tests. These studies help us understand how people perceive complex sound mixtures and identify attributes necessary for a good sounding mix. And we know the data will help. So we’re also curating multitrack audio, with detailed information about how it was recorded, often with multiple mixes and evaluations of those mixes.

By combining these approaches, my team have developed intelligent systems that automate much of the audio and music production process. Prototypes analyse all incoming sounds and manipulate them in much the same way a professional operates the controls at a mixing desk.

I didn’t realise at first the importance of this research. But I remember giving a talk once at a convention in a room that had panel windows all around. The academic talks are usually half full. But this time it was packed, and I could see faces outside all pressed up against the windows. They all wanted to find out about this idea of automatic mixing. Its  a unique opportunity for academic research to have transformational impact on an entire industry. It addresses the fact that music production technologies are often not fit for purpose. Intelligent mixing systems automate the technical and mundane, allowing sound engineers to work more productively and creatively, opening up new opportunities. Audio quality could be improved, amateur musicians can create high quality mixes of their content, small venues can put on live events without needing a professional engineer, time and preparation for soundchecks could be drastically reduced, and large venues and broadcasters could significantly cut manpower costs.

Its controversial. We once entered an automatic mix in a student recording competition as a sort of Turing Test. Technically, we were cheating, because all the mixes were supposed to be made by students, but in our case it was made by an ‘artificial intelligence’ created by a student. We didn’t win of course, but afterwards I asked the judges what they thought of the mix, and then told them how it was done. The first two were surprised and curious when I told them how it was done. But the third judge offered useful comments when he thought it was a student mix. But when I told him that it was an ‘automatic mix’, he suddenly switched and said it was rubbish and he could tell all along.

Mixing is a creative process where stylistic decisions are made. Is this taking away creativity, is it taking away jobs? Will it result in music sounding more the same? Such questions come up time and time again with new technologies, going back to 19th century protests by the Luddites, textile workers who feared that time spent on their skills and craft would be wasted as machines could replace their role in industry.

These are valid concerns, but its important to see other perspectives. A tremendous amount of audio production work is technical, and audio quality would be improved by addressing these problems. As the graffiti artist Banksy said;

“All artists are willing to suffer for their work. But why are so few prepared to learn to draw?” – BaNKSY

Girl-with-a-Balloon-by-Banksy

Creativity still requires technical skills. To achieve something wonderful when mixing music, you first have to achieve something pretty good and address issues with masking, microphone placement, level balancing and so on.

The real benefit is not replacing sound engineers. Its dealing with all those situations when a talented engineer is not available; the band practicing in the garage, the small pub or restaurant venue that does not provide any support, or game audio, where dozens of incoming sounds need to be mixed and there is no miniature sound guy living inside the games console.

High resolution audio

The history of audio production is one of continual innovation. New technologies arise to make the work easier, but artists also figure out how to use that technology in new creative ways. And the artistry is not the only element music producers care about. They’re interested, some would say obsessed, with fidelity. They want the music consumed at home to be as close as possible to the experience of hearing it live. But we consume digitial audio. Sound waves are transformed into bits and then transformed back to sound when we listen. We sample sound many times a second and render each sample with so many bits. Luckily, there is a very established theory on how to do the sampling.

We only hear frequencies up to about 20 kHz. That’s a wave which repeats 20,000 times a second. There’s a famous theorem by Claude Shannon and Harry Nyquist which states that you need twice that number of samples a second to fully represent a signal up to 20 kHz, so sample at 40,000 samples a second, or 40 kHz. So the standard music format, 16 bit samples and 44.1 kHz sampling rate, should be good enough.

Inaugural shared_Page_11

But most music producers want to work with higher quality formats and audio companies make equipment for recording and playing back audio in these high resolution formats. Some people swear they hear a difference, others say it’s a myth and people are fooling themselves. What’s going on? Is the sampling theorem, which underpins all signal processing, fundamentally wrong? Have we underestimated the ability of our own ears and in which case the whole field of audiology is flawed? Or could it be that the music producers and audiophiles, many of whom are renowned for their knowledge and artistry, are deluded?

Around the time I was wondering about this, I went to a dinner party and was sat across from a PhD student. His PhD was in meta-analysis, and he explained that it was when you gather all the data from previous studies on a question and do formal statistical analysis to come up with more definitive results than the original studies. It’s a major research method in evidence-based medicine, and every few weeks a meta-analysis makes headlines because it shows the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of treatments.

So I set out to do a meta-analysis. I tried to find every study that ever looked at perception of high resolution audio, and get their data. I scoured every place they could have been published and asked everyone in the field, all around the world. One author literally found his old data tucked away in the back of a filing cabinet. Another couldn’t get permission to provide the raw data, but told me enough about it for me to write a little program that ran through all possible results until it found the details that would reproduce the summary data as well. In the end, I found 18 relevant studies and could get data from all of them except one. That was strange, since it was the most famous study. But the authors had ‘lost’ the data, and got angry with me when I asked them for details about the experiment.

The results of the meta-analysis were fascinating, and not at all what I expected. There were researchers who thought their data had or hadn’t shown an effect, but when you apply formal analysis, it’s the opposite. And a few experiments had major flaws. For instance, in one experiment many of the high resolution recordings were actually standard quality, which means there never was a difference to be perceived. In another, test subjects were given many versions of the same audio, including a direct live feed, and asked which sounds closer to live. People actually ranked the live feed as sounding least close to live, indicating they just didn’t know what to listen for.

As for the one study where the authors lost their data? Well, they had published some of it, but it basically went like this. 55 participants listened to many recordings many times and could not discriminate between high resolution and standard formats. But men discriminated more than women, older far more than younger listeners, audiophiles far more than nonexperts. Yet only 3 people ever guessed right more than 6 times out of 10. The chance of all this happening by luck if there really was no difference is less likely than winning the lottery. Its extremely unlikely even if there was a difference to be heard. Conclusion: they faked their data.

And this was the study which gave the most evidence that people couldn’t hear anything extra in high resolution recordings. In fact the studies with the most flaws were those that didn’t show an effect. Those that found an effect were generally more rigourous and took extra care in their design, set-up and analysis. This was counterintuitive. People are always looking for a new cure or a new effect. But in this case, there was a bias towards not finding a result. It seems researchers wanted to show that the claims of hearing a difference are false.

The biggest factor was training. Studies where subjects, even those experienced working with audio, just came in and were asked to state when two versions of a song were the same, rarely performed better than chance. But if they were told what to listen for, given examples, were told when they got it right or wrong, and then came back and did it under blind controlled conditions, they performed far better. All studies where participants were given training gave higher results than all studies where there was no training. So it seems we can hear a difference between standard and high resolution formats, we just don’t know what to listen for. We listen to music everyday, but we do it passively and rarely focus on recording quality. We don’t sit around listening for subtle differences in formats, but they are there and they can be perceived. To audiophiles, that’s a big deal.

In 2016 I published this meta-analysis in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, and it created a big splash. I had a lot of interviews in the press, and it was discussed on social media and internet forums. And that’s when I found out, people on the internet are crazy! I was accused of being a liar, a fraud, paid by the audio industry, writing press releases, working the system and pushing an agenda. These criticisms came from all sides, since differences were found which some didn’t think existed, but they also weren’t as strong as others wanted them to be. I was also accused of cherry-picking the studies, even though one of the goals of the paper was to avoid exactly that, which is why I included every study I could find.

But my favorite comment was when someone called me an ‘intellectually dishonest placebophile apologist’. Whoever wrote that clearly spent time and effort coming up with a convoluted insult.

It wasn’t just people online who were crazy. At an audio engineering society convention, two people were discussing the paper. One was a multi-grammy award winning mixing engineer and inventor, the other had a distinguished career as chief scientist at a major audio company.

What started as discussion escalated to heated argument, then shouting, then pushing and shoving. It was finally broken up when a famous mastering engineer intervened. I guess I should be proud of this.

I learned what most people already know, how very hard it is to change people’s minds once an opinion has been formed. And people rarely look at the source. Instead, they rely on biased opinions discussing that source. But for those interested in the issue whose minds were not already made up, I think the paper was useful.

I’m trying to figure out why we hear this difference. Its not due to problems with the high resolution audio equipment, that was checked in every study that found a difference. There’s no evidence that people have super hearing or that the sampling theorem is violated. But we need to remove all the high frequencies in a signal before we convert it to digital, even if we don’t hear them. That brings up another famous theorem, the uncertainty principle. In quantum mechanics, it tells us that we can’t resolve a particle’s position and momentum at the same time. In signal processing, it tells us that restricting a signal’s frequency content will make us less certain about its temporal aspects. When we remove those inaudible high frequencies, we smear out the signal. It’s a small effect, but this spreading the sound a tiny bit may be audible.

The End

The sounds around us shape our perception of the world. We saw that in films, games, music and virtual reality, we recreate those sounds or create unreal sounds to evoke emotions and capture the imagination. But there is a world of fascinating phenomena related to sound and perception that is not yet understood. Can we create an auditory reality without relying on recorded samples? Could a robot replace the sound engineer, should it? Investigating such questions has led to a deeper understanding of auditory perception, and has the potential to revolutionise sound design and music production.

What are the limits of human hearing? Do we make far greater use of auditory information than simple models can account for? And if so, can we feed this back for better audio production and sound design?

Inaugural shared_Page_13

To answer these questions, we need to look at the human auditory system. Sound waves are transferred to the inner ear, which contains one of the most amazing organs in the human body, the cochlea. 3,500 inner hair cells line the cochlea, and resonate in response to frequencies across the audible range. These hair cells connect to a nerve string containing 30,000 neurons which can fire 600 pulses a second. So the brainstem receives up to 18 million pulses per second. Hence the cochlea is a very high resolution frequency analyser with digital outputs. Audio engineers would pay good money for that sort of thing, and we have two of them, free, inside our heads!

The pulses carry frequency and temporal information about sounds. This is sent to the brain’s auditory cortex, where hearing sensations are stored as aural activity images. They’re compared with previous aural activity images, other sensory images and overall context to get an aural scene representing the meaning of hearing sensations. This scene is made available to other processes in the brain, including thought processes such as audio assessment. It’s all part of 100 billion brain cells with 500 trillion connections, a massively powerful machine to manage body functions, memory and thinking.

These connections can be rewired based on experiences and stimuli. We have the power to learn new ways to process sounds. The perception is up to us. Like we saw with hot and cold water sounds, with perception of sound effects and music production, with high resolution audio, we have the power to train ourselves to perceive the subtlest aspects. Nothing is stopping us from shaping and appreciating a better auditory world.

Credits

All synthesised sounds created using FXive.

Sound design by Dave Moffat.

Synthesised sounds by Thomas Vassallo, Parham Bahadoran, Adan Benito and Jake Lee

Videos by Enrique Perez Gonzalez (automatic mixing) and Rod Selfridge (animation).

Special thanks to all my current and former students and researchers, collaborators and colleagues. See the video for the full list.

And thanks to my lovely wife Sabrina and daughter Eliza.

You’re invited to my Inaugural Lecture as Professor of Audio Engineering

When writing a blog like this, there’s sometimes a thin line between information and promotion. I suppose this one is on the promotion-side, but its a big deal for me and for at least a few of you it will involve some interesting information.

Queen Mary University of London has Inaugural Lectures for all its professors. I was promoted to Professor last year and so its time for me to do mine. It will be an evening lecture at the University on April 17th, free for all and open to the public. Its quite an event, with a large crowd and a reception after the talk.

I’m going to try to tie together a lot of strands of my research (when I say ‘my’, I mean the great research done by my students, staff and collaborators). That won’t be too hard since there are some common themes throughout. But I’m also going to try to make it as fun and engaging as possible, lots of demonstrations, no dense formal PowerPoint, and a bit of theatre.

You can register online by going to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/do-you-hear-what-i-hear-the-science-of-everyday-sounds-tickets-43749224107 and it has all the information about time, location and so on.

Here’s the full details.

Do you hear what I hear? The science of everyday sounds.

The Inaugural Lecture of Professor Josh Reiss, Professor of Audio Engineering

Tue 17 April 2018, 18:30 – 19:30 BST
ArtsTwo, Queen Mary Mile End Campus
327 Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS

item178407

Details: The sounds around us shape our perception of the world. In films, games, music and virtual reality, we recreate those sounds or create unreal sounds to evoke emotions and capture the imagination. But there is a world of fascinating phenomena related to sound and perception that is not yet understood. If we can gain a deep understanding of how we perceive and respond to complex audio, we could not only interpret the produced content, but we could create new content of unprecedented quality and range.
This talk considers the possibilities opened up by such research. What are the limits of human hearing? Can we create a realistic virtual world without relying on recorded samples? If every sound in a major film or game soundtrack were computer-generated, could we reach a level of realism comparable to modern computer graphics? Could a robot replace the sound engineer? Investigating such questions leads to a deeper understanding of auditory perception, and has the potential to revolutionise sound design and music production. Research breakthroughs concerning such questions will be discussed, and cutting-edge technologies will be demonstrated.

Biography: Josh Reiss is a Professor of Audio Engineering with the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London. He has published more than 200 scientific papers (including over 50 in premier journals and 4 best paper awards), and co-authored the textbook Audio Effects: Theory, Implementation and Application. His research has been featured in dozens of original articles and interviews since 2007, including Scientific American, New Scientist, Guardian, Forbes magazine, La Presse and on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, Channel 4, Radio Deutsche Welle, LBC and ITN, among others. He is a former Governor of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), chair of their Publications Policy Committee, and co-chair of the Technical Committee on High-resolution Audio. His Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship resulted in founding the high-tech spin-out company, LandR, which currently has over a million and a half subscribers and is valued at over £30M. He has investigated psychoacoustics, sound synthesis, multichannel signal processing, intelligent music production, and digital audio effects. His primary focus of research, which ties together many of the above topics, is on the use of state-of-the-art signal processing techniques for professional sound engineering. He maintains a popular blog, YouTube channel and twitter feed for scientific education and dissemination of research activities.

 

Greatest JAES papers of all time, Part 2

Last week I revealed Part 1 of the greatest ever papers published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society (JAES). JAES is the premier peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to audio technology, and the flagship publication of the AES. This week, its time for Part 2. There’s little rhyme or reason to how I divided up and selected the papers, other than I started by looking at the most highly cited ones according to Google Scholar. But all the papers listed here have had major impact on the science, education and practice of audio engineering and related fields.

All of the papers below are available from the Audio Engineering Society (AES) E-library, the world’s most comprehensive collection of audio information. It contains over 16,000 fully searchable PDF files documenting the progression of audio research from 1953 to the present day. It includes every AES paper published at a convention, conference or in the Journal. Members of the AES get free access to the E-library. To arrange for an institutional license, giving full access to all members of an institution, contact Lori Jackson Lori Jackson directly, or go to http://www.aes.org/e-lib/subscribe/ .

And without further ado, here are the rest of the Selected greatest JAES papers

More than any other work, this 1992 paper by Stanley Lipshitz and co-authors has resulted in the correct application of dither by music production. Its one possible reason that digital recording quality improved after the early years of the Compact Disc (though the loudness wars reversed that trend). As renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz put it, “if you want to get your digital audio done just right, then you should learn about dither,” and there is no better resource than this paper.

According to Wikipedia, this 1993 paper coined the term Auralization as an analogy to visualization for rendering audible (imaginary) sound fields. This general research area of understanding and rendering the sound field of acoustic spaces has resulted in several other highly influential papers. Berkhout’s 1988 A holographic approach to acoustic control (575 citations) described the appealingly named acoustic holography method for rendering sound fields. In 1999, the groundbreaking Creating interactive virtual acoustic environments (427 citations) took this further, laying out the theory and challenges of virtual acoustics rendering, and paving the way for highly realistic audio in today’s Virtual Reality systems.

The Schroeder reverberator was first described here, way back in 1962. It has become the basis for almost all algorithmic reverberation approaches. Manfred Schroeder was another great innovator in the audio engineering field. A long transcript of a fascinating interview is available here, and a short video interview below.

These two famous papers are the basis for the Thiele Small parameters. Thiele rigorously analysed and simulated the performance of loudspeakers in the first paper from 1971, and Small greatly extended the work in the second paper in 1972. Both had initially published the work in small Australian journals, but it didn’t get widely recognised until the JAES publications. These equations form the basis for much of loudspeaker design.

Check out;

or the dozens of youtube videos about choosing and designing loudspeakers which make use of these parameters.

This is the first English language publication to describe the Haas effect, named after the author. Also called the precedence effect, it investigated the phenomenon that when sending the same signal to two loudspeakers, a small delay between the speakers results in the sound appearing to come just from one speaker. Its now widely used in sound reinforcement systems, and in audio production to give a sense of depth or more realistic panning (the Haas trick).

Hass-effect

This is the first ever research paper published in JAES. Published in August 1949, it set a high standard for rigour, while at the same time emphasising that many publications will have strong relevance not just to researchers, but to audiophiles and practitioners as well.

It described a new instrument for frequency response measurement and display. People just love impulse response and transfer function measurements, and some of the most highly cited JAES papers are on this topic; 1983’s An efficient algorithm for measuring the impulse response using pseudorandom noise (308 citations), Transfer-function measurement with maximum-length sequences (771 citations), the 2001 paper from a Brazil-based team, Transfer-function measurement with sweeps (722 citations), and finally Comparison of different impulse response measurement techniques (276 citations) in 2002. With a direct link between theory and new applications, these papers on maximum length sequence approaches and sine sweeps were major advances over the alternatives, and changed the way such measurements are made.

And the winner is… Ville Pulkki’s Vector Base Amplitude Panning (VBAP) paper! This is the highest cited paper in JAES. Besides deriving the stereo panning law from basic geometry, it unveiled VBAP, an intuitive and now widely used spatial audio technique. Ten years later, Pulkki unveiled another groundbreaking spatial audio format, DirAC, in Spatial sound reproduction with directional audio coding (386 citations).