What is a Sound Shadow and Why You Should Capture a Sound Memory

I've worked with signals and sounds, especially speech, for most of my life. Many years ago I was analyzing some speech parameters for a new technology we were developing when it occurred to me I'd always loved the visualizations common to audio analysis, one of which is the spectrogram (aka sonogram). "I should share these!", I thought, and began printing them up as gifts to colleagues. Our interns especially liked to take away a picture of their own voice saying something clever.

Here's an example of an early one.

 Signal analysis simple spectrogram and waveform

Sexy, no? Okay, maybe not wall art worthy for most folk, but it is a bit sexy when you know the dark blue waveform at the top essentially shows pitch information and how loud a sound is. It's even sexier when you add the black, splodgy, spectrogram information, which shows the shape of the speaker's mouth for every sound they're making, the unique features of their vocal tract - passed to them by their parents; how their regional dialect influenced their pronunciation; whether they're male or female; what their age range is likely to be, and more. An experienced spectrogram reader would know from this picture alone that the recording says "Author of the Danger Trail, Phillip Steels, etc.", that it was spoken by a male in his twenties, with a standard American accent, maybe that he sounds more like his dad's side of the family. It's like a finger print, but a little more like a segment of DNA. Sexy enough, now?

So how did I move from this really nerdy representation to the "Sound Shadow"? Well, my use of the term "Sound Shadow" comes with a little creative license to start with, as it's an acoustic engineering reference to the blocking of a sound wave. I imagined a sound imprinting itself to the art medium, so it's still readily available in its own way, instead of propagating through the air, or taking up ones and zeros on a hard drive or cell phone.

There were a few technical and artistic challenges to overcome. And it still does take a human, artistic eye and analytical skills to make the spectrogram part really suit the recording, but it's been so worth it. I'm truly excited to be able to share this in a beautiful way. 

Here's an example Sound Shadow, using the same recording I was looking at all those years ago. Simple, deep blues on brushed metal.

arctic dataset Sound Shadow in blues on brushed metal

You can see many more examples on walls, along with really cool spectral animations, like this one, at our web site, www.soundshadowsart.com

Sound Shadow art hanging over a bed. Words of love captured.


Why a Sound Shadow? When you take the time to capture a sound memory for your wall you'll know you're not just getting an interpretable image of the sound; you're honoring a focus on what it means to you. We already watch our children grow in photos and film, but to see hidden transformations in their voices as they mature is an added bonus.

Father with son, talkingPhoto by Matthew Henry from Burst

Daughter help father record his voicePhoto by Nicole De Khors from Burst

Other sounds can be important, too. Music, background environments, machines, our pets, you name it. I'll be talking more about those in future blogs. In the mean time, spare some time now and then to just close your eyes when you listen to someone or something and really focus on what makes them special. Maybe you'll want to save it.

  Capture a Memory

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