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How Exploring the World Via Soundscapes Has Shaped My Perspective as a Sound Designer

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As a sound engineer, I have been trained to critically listen. This set of skills has changed my life experiences daily As a result, I pay closer attention to my everyday surroundings. Whether it be a voice, a musical tone, or a natural environment, the experience of sound is universal. As I discover more about the world by listening, I am able to reflect on my own life. I wouldn’t see the world in the way I do today without sound.

While I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to navigate into a career of sound production for commercial and film projects, I’ve also always had a yearning to explore our planet, and what better way to do that than through a sonic experience? While many mark the start of their quest to see the world with a new passport and an investment in a DSLR camera, I packed up a field audio recorder, and set off to immerse myself in the rich cultures and climates of far off places through the transformative power of sound. I did all of this with my brother Jonah–who was always down for an adventure. The singularly transportive quality of sound has the ability to connect you with experiences that both drum with nostalgia and ones you’ve yet to encounter. After using a friend’s field recorder on a whim during a trip to New Orleans, I was struck when listening back to the recordings at home with just how viscerally I was brought back to that place. Whether it was the sounds of the local musicians jamming or the Mississippi River streaming by, I was able to relive the vibrancy of the city in a way I had never experienced before. 

From that experience, I teamed up with my brother to launch The Touch of Sound, a project featuring a library of authentic sound recordings from across the world. Admittedly, at first, the project was a great excuse to travel to far-reaching destinations that I may have never had on my radar before. But on trips to places like Tanzania, Egyptian pyramids, and the Galapagos Islands, I quickly realized that this project was not only allowing me to explore the world, but it was completely transforming the way I experienced and interacted with my surroundings. No matter where I’m visiting, my goal (if jet lag allows) is to take in the dawn sounds of nature. Surrendering your mind and ears to the hums of the native creatures stirring for a new day heightens your perception and allows you to find an almost meditative state.

The project also pulls from additional content contributors who go beyond borders to capture the essence of what surrounds them. All sounds and photos are 100% authentically captured by real people from real places. As curious people, my brother and I have used the project to constantly fill our desire and continue learning and discovering. It is also a way to pay respect and carry on the tradition of our grandparent’s passion for explorations. But mostly, it provides perspective and appreciation for all things in life–especially those that maybe go unnoticed by the untrained ear.

The Touch of Sound was something that allowed me to further my passion for an authentic sound, rather than discover it. In my commercial work, whether through that project,  or others that I’ve created, I am always suggesting authentic recordings for commercial projects, which is met with excitement by the clients. Since sound has the power to help immerse you in a world–a world that is often being established in 30 seconds or less for an ad–organic sounds have an advantage due to their inherent  authenticity. 

While sound design can sometimes be viewed as a part of the production process that simply adds some final polish, thoughtful sound design has the potential to be transformative in not only more effectively communicating what is on screen, but also what is off-screen. There is a certain kind of magic in leveraging sound to build a bigger world that the viewer can build through their own imagination.

The reality is that no matter which lens (or microphone) we view the world through, sound will continue to surround us, it’s as certain as the continuation of time. It comes and goes and there can be such profound beauty in a fleeting moment that you could easily miss without a carefully attuned ear. So, breathe in and immerse yourself in the sounds around you.

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