Second Sound Offers Ability to Hear Sounds Based on Sensitivity

 Wednesday, February 02, 2000  
Second Sound Offers Ability to Hear Sounds Based on Sensitivity
Based on the natural levels of human hearing, inventor and screenwriter K. J. Stewart has created a screenwriting process that layers additional story dialogue, at specific audio levels, within a motion picture soundtrack. Known as Second Sound (Patent Pending), and described as “A new tool for the imagination,” the (SS) Second Sound process will enable two people to watch the same movie and each person, depending on their level of hearing, will hear a slightly different version of the movie. When asked what it would be like to experience an SS movie, Stewart said “You’d be sitting in a dark theater and hear a voice whisper, “I hear you breathing, I know you’re there,” then look around at your friends and realize, you were the only one who heard it.”

While screenwriters can create stories with this process in mind, the actual process was designed for “after sale” modification. SS is for use on screenplays that have already been sold and are being set up for production. It can be used by the writer, director, producer or sound engineer in constructing a film’s soundtrack. The use of SS will be determined by the character the screenwriter creates and the desired affect the director wishes to obtain. Stewart explains: “When a screenwriter is creating a story, we use the notations (VO) voice only or (OS) off screen to denote a line of dialogue that is to be heard in a unique way, by everyone in the audience. Now, screenwriters can use the notation (SS) to inform the reader or director that the dialogue is additional, non-critical story information or plot detail that can be shared with the audience by using SS. Until the story is sold, that’s all the screenwriter needs to do.”

Stewart continues by explaining, “After the sale, the writer or director can use the SS Key Codes — 1 (All), 2 (Most), 3 (Half), 4 (Some), 5 (Few) — to assign the dialogue to specific levels of human hearing. These codes are then translated into specific decibel and frequency levels using a Second Sound Conversion table and placed onto the soundtrack. The director can use this process to reveal additional plot details to the entire audience at once, or gradually, by staggering the details at different Second Sound levels, depending on the desire of the director and the needs of the story.”

The desired results can be achieved by a process of layering dedicated dialogue at specific levels of decibel and frequency, just above and below the normal levels of human hearing. The process is similar to the way ambient noises are currently being encoded onto soundtracks. The main difference is the use of scripted character dialogue and the range of placement. Sound engineer and five-time Academy Award nominee Keith A. Wester, CAS, has teamed up with Stewart and will be consulting on the various technical issues regarding the application of Second Sound. In essence, Stewart has taken the natural range of human hearing, divided it up into layers and developed a process for placing additional scripted dialogue within those layers.

When asked about Second Sound’s relationship to back-masking and subliminal advertising, Stewart says, “There is no relationship. Back-masking and subliminal advertising are techniques used on people who are unaware of their presence. Anyone who sees a Second Sound film will know it before they walk into the theater. Second Sound is just an additional way to immerse an audience into the movie’s environment.”

Surround Professional Magazine