MIASMA: An interactive sound environment inspired by J.G. Ballard's short story “The Sound-Sweep”
Created with FMOD designer and sandbox.
'They passed the remains of a gateway that had collapsed to one side of the road; originally a continuous fence ringed the stockade, but no one had any reason for wanting to penetrate it. A place of strange echoes and festering silences, overhung by a gloomy miasma of a million compacted sounds, it remained remote and haunted, the graveyard of countless private babels. '
This paragraph occurs right before the main characters Mangon and Madame Gioconda reach the sonic dumps. At ﬁrst read, this paragraph seemed to be a description of a location separate to the actual sonic dumps. It gives the impression of a spot that has a distinct mood and ambience all on its own. The paragraph gave me a large amount of creative freedom due to its broad yet descriptive, adjective-ﬁlled nature. I decided to treat this paragraph and this location as its own world; as a plot of land that precedes the sonic dumps. The location I created is the entrance, stepping over the fallen gateway, and the walking journey right before the sound dumps. “Miasma” is the foreboding of “reserved” sounds; before reaching the sounds that have been put away and packed in sound absorbent bafﬂes. I decided to stray from creating easily recognizable world sounds, such as trains, trafﬁc, or animals. I wanted this passage towards the sound dumps to be eerie, dark, random, and unpredictable. I based my design off of the strongest words in the paragraph: “strange echoes,” festering silences”, “gloomy miasma of a million compacted sounds,” “remote and haunted,” and “graveyard of countless private babels.” Through these words I worked to create layers of vocals and eerie voice textures. I wanted some words to be heard, but not really understood in context. In fmod designer, I explored with the splicing of words, sounds, and phrases as well as reversing and delay/ echo; respective to the angle of the listener. Almost every sound responds to the movement and head location of the player or character. The idea was to create a haunted ambient ﬁlled with sounds that are watching you, responding to your location and movements. As the journey progresses towards the sound dumps, sonic intensity increases. The building layers of sounds increase and a rather abrasive chaos ensues. Yet, if you are lucky, you can escape certain sounds based off of your location and head relation; this is where “festering silences” comes into play. Even when encountered with an overwhelming cloud of sounds, one step to the side could lead to a calmer, creepy silence. There are also a few sound emitters and sound samples that loop indeﬁnitely, with individual structure and tempo. I chose to include some repeating and looping sounds in order to create an uneasy, trapped feeling. A strong sense of containment and ambiguity is conveyed through slightly varying processed loops. I also wanted there to be a multitude of sounds, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Sounds converge that are unrelated to each other, coming from several different contexts.