Experimenting with Binaural Audio

An important part of the process I undertake when creating artwork is for me to have an empathic connection to the work that I create. Even when I view artwork, the question that is uppermost in my mind is “How does this make me feel?”. When viewing artwork, I listen to any physical and emotional responses in my body to help me determine a response to this question.

Previously in my video work I have manipulated sound to a certain extent and in particular attempted to collect audio that represents the emotion of the subject matter that I am representing through my artwork.

After a really interesting and inspiring visit to the Liverpool Biennial and a continuing discussion with my tutor, Jonathan, I am keen to develop my skills further when it comes to working with audio, in particular in an attempt to invoke a physical or emotional response.

In particular, I am interested in Binaural recording, where two microphones are placed a distance apart (similar to the distance between your ears) to record different sounds through each microphone so that when played back through headphones, you get the sense of the sound moving around you as each headphone plays a different audio track.

Through my many years of association with Yoga and Meditation, I have long since been aware of Binaural Beats. Binaural Audio and Binaural Beats are not the same thing at all. Binaural Beats are a method of producing two tones of different frequencies (Hertz) when played back so that each ear hears a different tone. These tones cause a physiological response, where the brain perceives a third tone, and the difference between the two mathematically and begins to produce brainwaves at the new frequency (Hz).

For example, if the tones used were 140Hz and 100Hz then the brain would produce brainwaves at 40Hz, the mathematical difference. Also different tones are said to stimulate different brain states, so any tones produced can be set to target the different brain wave frequencies:

  • Alpha (7.5-14Hz) – deep relaxation
  • Beta (14-40Hz – Waking Consciousness and Reasoning
  • Theta (4-7.5 Hz) – Light Meditation and Sleep
  • Delta (0.5-4Hz) – Deep Sleep
  • Gamma (above 40Hz) – Insight

I am also interested in ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridien Response) which is a response to an experience that is akin to a low-level euphoria, bringing feelings of positivity and associated physical responses such as static or tingling. Why this is significant here is that it is usually stimulated with audio or visual stimuli. I personally associate my “How does this make me feel?” question with very similar responses.

The other area of audio recording I am interested in is recording of the imperceptible sounds around us, sounds that happen all the time that we never really hear because of other louder sounds that are at the forefront of our hearing. For this, I will need a sound booth and have invested in the materials to make a homemade sound booth, including a huge box of egg crates.

In the first instance, I decided to spend some time re-acquainting myself with Audacity and using audio from previous videos and some audio recordings that I have made for this experimentation. I used my iPhone for these recordings and covered it in some cases to produce a muffled sound.

Firstly, I reviewed some interviews of people affected by the events at Tryweryn and noted some of the comments that they had made. I then recorded some ambient sounds and whispers of comments made in the interviews that I had seen. At this stage I am not actually recording bin-aurally, I’m just manipulating two mono tracks in Audacity so that the audio in each ear can be heard separately.

It intrigues me the different sounds that use the repetition of words/phrases, so I firstly recorded a couple of tracks where the repetition is the same phrase used in the audio track.

I then moved on and combined different phrases in an attempt to expand upon my first few recordings.

I was also considering at this time the ambient sound from Tryweryn and created the following piece using recordings of the wind and water and incorporating a fade in/fade out.

I then set up a couple of Binaural Beats experiments, the first said to train the brain to produce Beta Waves – (between 14 and 40 Hz) at 20Hz.

With the following track said to train the brain to produce Alpha Waves (7.5 to 14Hz) at 10Hz

With the following track said to train the brain to produce Gamma Waves (above 40Hz) at 50Hz.

I then added Binaural Beats tracks to the Wind and Water Audio track.

Finally I created an audio track that included the whispered phrases, added binaural beats (not yet sure if this is necessary or relevant – but I did it anyway) and added a track that had noise of the bulldozers moving in.

Retrospective

The best thing I did during this experimentation was to learn about the brainwave frequencies and the tones required to achieve each of the associated states of being. I also learned about how the brain attunes to the mathematical difference of the audio playing in the left and right ear. This enabled me to extend the experimentation further on this occasion.

The absence of a proper binaural recording device and a sound box definitely hindered my progress with this and I intend to purchase a microphone and make a sound box so that I can progress this experimentation further.

This work was stimulating, yet challenging as it is a somewhat new addition to my skillset. I did not find this boring or tedious at all. As I find this concept of manipulating audio very interesting, I am keen to experiment further with this.

4 Comments

  1. […] Binaural Audio and had Tutorial […]

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  2. […] Binaural Audio and had Tutorial […]

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