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SOUND FOR THE UNBORN

Once a certain awareness has grown, the player will be able to distinguish a more detailed world of sound. So what would they hear, and how would it sound if it was the first thing they had ever heard?

What’s there is:

  • Liquid all around, slowly streaming and pressing against their ears;
  • Heartbeats of their mother;
  • The sound of their own body – heart beating and blood flowing;
  • Sounds from outside – their mother singing, filtered sounds of the reality of the world outside the womb.

But what could it sound like to an unborn?

As the player grows more conscious, their perception sharpens. They’re able to dissect what they’re hearing, even if it all still makes no sense. More layers are revealed, more subtleties emerge, creating new connections with existing sounds. The player’s state of listening constantly shifts between causal and reduced – a state of awareness and a state of habituation.

Now then, how can we seduce the player to switch between these states?

To help get this into motion, we could make use of another pair of sound perception definitions: non-diegetic and diegetic listening.

Diegetic: any sound presented as originated from a source within the game’s world.
Non-diegetic: sound coming from a source outside story space, like a soundtrack.

First of we’ll suggest the player that they’re presented with ‘real’ concrete sounds. Sounding within the constraints of the space around them, resembling for example a heartbeat, they’re qualified as being diegetic.
Next we’ll cloud the distinction between these two, morphing seemingly clear and concrete sounds into abstract and surreal sounds or even musical themes.
Sounds of a beating heart, of blood flowing through vains, of growing of cells are introduced as they are. And then they are combined in a musical, rhythmical way so they cease being just these concrete sounds and start being music – a non-diegetic soundtrack.

And yet… not quite…

The sounds keep their places in space at all times, suggesting there’s still a local source that causes them to sound. This shifting between different ways of listening and interpreting creates an ambiguity, alienating the player from the acoustic principles they’re accustomed to and forcing them to rediscover the audible world around them. Hopefully a little bit as if you’re listening for the very first time…