In the cinema we might hear the sound of a cloth as it rubs against the skin at the same volume of a glass crashing into the ground. This is possible thanks to the massive amplification of tiniest sound phenomena, even those we wouldn’t be able to perceive in everyday circumstances which is a regular feature of the auditory experience of film and audiovisual media.
The role of loudspeakers and microphones and the way they imprint the sonorous conditions of our media saturated environment is frequently unacknowledged. They do not only affect the sounds we hear, but the ways we make sense of our own listening.
Sound scholar Seth Kim-Cohen signals the historical conditions that prompted a “new embodiment of sonic space” as it unraveled in “Muddy Waters’ 1948 recording of I feel like going home”. His observation is that this recording “sets a precedent for a sound condition that will determine a great deal of our implications of hearing from then on. An individual microphone is dedicated to each of the instruments: [voice, bass, guitar] or, more accurately, the guitar amplifier)”. This “new embodiment” alludes to the conflation of spatial imprints which are physically impossible to occur simultaneously – those produced at the point of audition of each pairing of microphone and instrument – as one single acoustic signal, in natural circumstance. But as Kim-Cohen points out, such spatial coalescence becomes specific, and prototypical, of the field of audio recording from then on. 1