As I shift my creative focus away from traditional 2D/framed media and towards 360° video and VR, I find myself in need of good ambient sound more and more frequently. In the world of traditional motion design and film, good music was king. Adding a catchy tune to a piece could make or break its success, and entire careers were built on the ability to sync up visuals to the rhythm and sounds of the audio track.
Now, with the advent of Virtual Reality the priorities have changed. Establishing audience’s sense of presence is the key component of crafting a successful experience. Generally speaking, it is a good practice to take your time immersing the viewer in your world – and well-crafted soundscape is as important as the visuals in establishing the believably of the virtual world.
While nothing will substitute a good audio track created by a professional sound engineer, Ambient Mixer is an online service that’s ideal for rapid prototyping. It comes in extremely handy whenever you need to lay in a basic atmospheric sound, but still want to customize it to fit your particular needs.
Ambient Mixer can be accessed through a browser at www.ambient-mixer.com/, or via free and paid mobile versions (on iOS and Android). At the heart of the service is a simple 8-channel stereo mixer loaded with just enough functionality to create a soundscape that’s rich and unique. The output may not have the fidelity of a professional studio mix, but should satisfy all non-audiophile listeners just fine.
The mixer can play back any one of hundreds of sound samples already available in the Ambient Mixer’s library, or user’s own files that were uploaded to the service. Once loaded into the app, each channel offers basic volume and Left-Right panning controls as well as three playback modes: Your sample can be looped, crossfaded or randomized.
Looping is simple enough – once the sample ends, it will start again. If simple looping does not create a seamless repetition, you may enable the crossfade option – the sample will then fade out towards the end, simultaneously fading in the next repetition. It works for most of longer recordings.
Finally, for some extra sounds you may not want playing back non-stop you can apply the randomize option. All you need to enter is the frequency and the time period and the app will take care of the rest. Setting frequency to 5 and period to 10m will make the sample randomly play 5 times over the period of 10 minutes. 1 and 15s will make it play once inside each 15 second period, or 4 times within each minute.
If you don’t feel like building your own, the site has a vast library of user-created atmospheres, ranging anywhere from nature to the matrix, indoors to outdoors, underwater to otherworldly.
Once you are satisfied with your mix, you can save it and then purchase a 192kbit, 44.1kHz MP3 of it. At the moment of writing this article, Ambient Mixer charges $5 for a 15min render, $9 for 30min and $16 for 1 hour. Registering to the site and subscribing to their newsletter will yield you a one time $5 voucher, good for a single 15 minute clip purchase.
A good ambient atmosphere will help immerse your audience in the world you are crafting, effectively doubling the number of senses the VR experience is fooling. While still very far from proper ambisonics, a proper soundscape (even a stereo one) will enhance your VR content and help the viewers feel present in the scenes you craft. A good audio can also help with scene to scene transitions and editing cuts in VR, but that’s a topic for another conversation…