Audiotour through a noisy city and isolation through sound...

I am working on an audiotour with one listener and one guide. The guides are migrants and let the listener hear (without using their own words) the way they experience their new surroundings and the place they come from. There is a narrator using abstract descriptions about feeling at home, feeling lost in translation etc. etc.

The audiotour is set out in a rather noisy part of a city in the netherlands (utrecht). Although we are using nice headphones, which cancel out a lot already, i'm still looking for a "sound" to keep the listener focussed. In a cinema isolation is, supposed to be, guaranteed as soon as you step inside the room. But we are in a city not a cinema unfortunately...

Let me put it in another way, we want the listener to feel distant to the city, much like their guide does. I have some great source material from the city but it is very difficult to keep the soundtrack sounding "neutral". Because i don't want to listener to feel frightened or excited by the sounds. I just want them to feel isolated and out of this world for an hour or so :)

The director asked me to create an "empty" city with just footsteps and wind. The footsteps are very difficult to find or create so i want to use the sound of leaves floating over the street.

I can't find a neutral kind of wind which refers to an empty city. I have checked out my personal library and all wind sounds are too meaningfull or too soft.

Furthermore I am experimenting with typical city sounds (ventilation,traffic, murmur, wind) filtering and using reverbs in subtle ways, Some work, some don't. It think it depends on the source material a lot also...i will record some more this week.

Anyone any clues as to how i can create or where i can find these sounds ? Especially the winds and the leaves...


For my 2c I'd say you ought to concentrate on the acoustic space. There are very few sounds that are *unique* to a city. You can hear leaves, wind, police cars and crowds in a rural environment too, so what makes it a city?

Mainly its the combination and the cookery, so ham, cheese, tomato and bread can be a sandwich or a pizza. The cookery part is the space you put it in to tie things together.

Finding a "city" space is hard. First of all the processing power needed to do the job properly is ginormous, so offline processing is likely needed. Secondly, you hardly ever get an empty city, so there's few opportinities to take an impulse response (make a reverb)from that situation. Twice I've experienced an empty town/city and its a weird feeling. Once in Portugal in an abandoned town (the water
hole dried up), and once in the London docklands after they built the warf but before anybody moved in. You can clap your hands and hear the most amazingly complex reverb bouncing off buildings etc.

If you get this space right it will have an important psychoacoustic effect on the listener and draw them into the virtual space (as opposed to a flat 2D mix of sounds) - especialy on headphones - you might like to investigate binaural impulse responses.

Hi Andy, Of course you are absolutely right in the "realistic" sense of the space creates the city. But realitistic is not what i am focussing on simply because it's not achievable for someone in my position (one man band on a budget). Besides that, the impulse responses should be moving (morphing or crossfading) since it's a walking tour ;) and that is impossible at the moment,i think. Please correct me if i'am wrong.

I have been experimenting with some impulse responses from Soundtrack Pro and Sound Forge, but to no avail. I do not know if those are real or not, but they sound plastic and like an echo device. No matter how much i tweak them i don't get the results i want (even with offline processing). I will give it another go, but time is short...

So that's why i'm focusing on isolated content rather than space. As much as i'd wanted to go "your way" it is not an option...

"Besides that, the impulse responses should be moving (morphing or crossfading) since it's a walking tour ;) and that is impossible at the moment,i think. Please correct me if i'am wrong."

Ah yes, I see your constraint, that's a very good point, sorry.

"So that's why i'm focusing on isolated content rather than space. As much as i'd wanted to go "your way" it is not an option..."

One thought that came into my mind was Bladerunner. The city scenes in that are interesting. Reminds me more of walking through a busy festival site than a sparse city, or maybe like the market in Soho/chinatown, every sound comes quickly and is gone, so quick you hardly get time to focus on it. The credits I found for sound mixing were Bud Alper, Gordon McCallum and Joel Fein. Maybe some research into those guys approach will help you.


I've done this kind of project before, and it was a lot of fun for me. I treated it like a radio drama, essentially. One thing that I will say that helps immensely is remembering that they are already in the city, so you have that very strong visual sense working on your side.

So, you may have found the most neutral wind sounds that in your studio sound too much like the middle of the countryside, but
for the listener, the immediate and powerful visual assault of a city will get rid of the subtle auditory label of "rural". This can free some selections up.

On an off note, my favorite part of my tour (which was of New
Orleans), had us recreating a bar that was a hot-stop of trouble in
pirate days. Tons of fun for a young designer!

Thread from Sound Design List May 2008