Extinct Sound Effects

2011/03/04

Chevy Volt Image courtesy of Chevrolet

I was recently reading about the new Chevy Volt and something caught my eye. Chevrolet is including artificial warning sounds with the vehicle.

This is because, as a hybrid electric car, it produces next to no noise at low speeds. Electric car companies are including these warning signals to alert the blind and pedestrians to the car’s presence.

I’m curious what these sounds are (and if anyone has heard them, please share in the comments). I sincerely hope that it won’t be similar to the obnoxious, and arguably now-useless ubiquitous construction vehicle backing beep sounds.

A few years ago I recorded a Chrysler 300 Hemi and captured some great roaring engine sound effects. Will these cool, gutsy sounds eventually become extinct?

David Pogue, tech writer at the New York Times, writes about sounds becoming extinct in his column this week. He notes that younger people can no longer identify record scratches, modem dial-up sounds or cash register ka-ching sounds.

Combustion engines will be here for quite some time, of course. But iconic sounds such as Pogue mentions are already extinct. The reason they remain notable is because they transmit to us more than just the audio; they transmit a meaning, association, or a feeling.

And this leads to something, as sound professionals, that we have to consider. Our best sounds are the ones that compel a reaction in other people. It’s relatively easy to create excitement and feeling with angry animals, roaring engines, or even something as simple as an intense, shrieking train pass.

How easy is it to pull emotion out of an electric Prius engine? Even something as simple as warbling radio tuning or television white noise transmits a distinct impression. How can we create similar responses in listeners with clean, precise, modern technology?

These are ongoing questions I’m aiming to answer through my current field recordings. I’ll address this in a future post. I’d also be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

In the meantime, I’d suggest reading the article by Pogue. Scan through the comments on the page as well. There are some interesting thoughts on iconic sounds.





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