In the cinema we might hear the sound of a cloth as it rubs against the skin with the same volume of a glass crashing into the ground. This is possible thanks to the massive amplification of the tiniest sound phenomena, even those we wouldn’t be able to perceive in everyday circumstances. This is an unnatural circumstance that nonetheless doesn’t shock us, because these and other frequent manipulations of audio technology are a regular feature of the auditory experience of film and audiovisual media.
The role of loudspeakers and microphones and the way they materially imprint the sonorous circumstances of our media saturated environment is frequently unacknowledged.
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 conditions physically impossible to be heard simultaneously – those produced at the point of audition of each pairing of microphone and instrument – as one single acoustic signal. Such spatial coalescence becomes specific (and prototypical) of audio recording processes from then on. 1
Gabriel Paiuk (2021): Sound Theory (The Clouds)