Sound+: Social

Sound+: Social

In this new guest blogging series “Sound +”, Laura Haapio-Kirk will discuss why sound is important and what it means to different professionals in various “sound-focused” industries. This week, her focus is on “Sound + Social”.

This post takes a look at the social nature of sound – how it connects and communicates. I hope to open up the subject rather than attempt to provide a conclusion, by inviting the opinions of people involved in sound in various ways. First up is the final instalment of the Sound Series videos featuring our lovely sound experts including Moby, Imogen Heap and Tim Exile amongst others. Take a look at the previous videos on the effects of sound and technology.

Social Sound from SoundCloud on Vimeo.

Have you ever heard a smile? Our ears are finely tuned to pick up social and emotional cues from others, according to research conducted by Portsmouth University. They found that a significant number of participants were able to identify not only a smile, but the degree of the smile just by hearing someone talk without seeing them. Are emoticons enough to convey such social signals in online text or would the web be more social if we could hear each other better?

Not only do we read social signals in sound, but our social networks can be influenced by preferences for certain types of sound. A shared fondness for Latvian tango can mean instant friendship for some. The networks that revolve around sound, especially amongst musicians, are often close and supportive – demonstrated well by the SoundCloud community. A project that explores these networks is Record and Ride, a five-month cycling tour of Europe tracing connections between artists and making recordings along the way. Niko found time to record an update from a hostel in Croatia, talking us through some of the highlights and his thoughts on social sound. More on the project here and check out some of the wonderful recordings on his profile.

I also caught up with Ariel Elkin from The Music Hackspace, London – a place for artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs passionate about music and technology. Check out some of their sounds here. Their weekly meetups are focused on finding novel ways to work with sound. Is sound inherently social? Drawing on his experiences, Ariel discusses this and more in the following clip.

Comparing the experience of sound with the other senses, it appears that one of sound’s unique properties is how it envelops us in a soundscape that stretches beyond our visual perspective, making us aware of people and things we don’t necessarily see. I can be sitting on a train staring out of the window but be fully aware of the social setting just by listening. However I can also choose to limit social interaction and immerse myself in a personal bubble via my iPod. So it seems that sound is not only key to our sociality, but we use it to actively control and sometimes limit our social world. Sound is intrinsically linked to social life and perhaps as our online interactions become ever more sophisticated, sound will have a bigger part to play.

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