Ircam Amplify Shares Results of Study on the Power of Sound in Daily Life
Paris, January 21, 2020. In today’s world, sounds and auditory environments are situated at the crossroads of technology and emotion and are increasingly prevalent in new products and experiences. In cities, for example, noise pollution is a central issue for urban planners and sound designers. The prevalence of audio in our daily lives, through podcasts, voice-controlled connected objects, as well as public works of art featuring immersive sound, music and concert performances, suggest that people’s relationships to sound are changing. Every industry, from public works to technology companies, are now tuning in to these audio needs.
In order to better understand the power of sound in everyday life, Ircam Amplify, a subsidiary of IRCAM that links IRCAM’s renown research to real-world applications, interviewed a representative group of over 1000 French adults via online survey supported by the innovative research company OpinionWay. The results of this November 2020 survey revealed a number of interesting insights and valuable reflections on the power that sounds and voices embody for everyday people.
Despite growing interest, the power of sound often goes unexamined. However, our ears do not have eyelids: sound is omnipresent in our quotidian realities. Sound can guide us, it can take us on a journey, and it can leave a positive or negative impression. It is therefore essential to examine this question, to pay attention to the power of sound: now is the time, given the current atmosphere, our daily interactions, and our new levels of digital consumption.Frank Madlener, President of Ircam Amplify and Director of IRCAM
Sound as a Signpost
Sound is a crucial reference point that helps people decipher their environment. As a kind of landmark for situations and places, sound makes it possible for us to find our bearings in a space and to then become familiar with that space. 85% of respondents said that the activity of an establishment (coffee shop, school, hospital, etc.) was easily recognizable by its sound environment. 74% of respondents said that different districts of a city are recognizable by their sound environment, reinforcing the idea that sound has a central place in how we analyze our surroundings. Additionally, 86% of respondents believe that sound is the most effective way to alert someone of danger. Furthermore, 71% of respondents said that they want more control over their sound environment. These responses demonstrate that sound is a vital element for urban planning and design.
“Hearing is the only sense that sends information to our brains continuously and without a filter, which is why sound design, and more broadly audio technologies, are such powerful tools for strengthening our understanding of place. Sound makes it possible for us to assess our surroundings, it can improve or degrade our perceptions, and even transform a space. Developments in immersive sound and 3D audio technologies are at the heart of these explorations,” explains Nathalie Birocheau, CEO of Ircam Amplify
The Emotional Power of Sound
As Nathalie Birocheau points out, sound stimuli interact directly with our brains, and therefore, create a much stronger emotional response than input from any of our other senses. In addition to the pragmatic everyday uses of sound, there are also important emotive dimensions. Our moods and feelings are profoundly affected by our sound environment. Three out of four respondents said that everyday sounds have a significant effect on their mood, while 81% of respondents indicated that listening to music makes them feel better when things are not going well. These responses indicate that the management of sound and its quality are indispensable factors in improving our quality of life. Given the emotional power of sound, a personalized approach to our everyday auditory environment would allow us to gain more control and positively influence our mental state.
Beyond the emotional power of sound or music, voices can also give rise to a whole range of different feelings. Someone’s voice is an emotional marker, capable of triggering sensations, even without visual cues. In Ircam Amplify’s recent study, over 80% of respondents said they could be annoyed or charmed by a person without having seen them, just by the sound of their voice. Additionally, 78% of people said they could be reassured by a voice and 69% said they could be convinced by someone’s voice. In a true testament to the power of voices, 52% of respondents even said they could fall in love with someone based on their voice, a figure that rises to 61% when the respondents were between 18 and 24 years old.
Not only can the voice quickly trigger an emotion or feeling, but it can also identify another person’s emotional state, or betray one’s own emotions. For example, over 75% of people surveyed said they could feel the stress or fatigue of a speaker just by the sound of their voice. Voices, therefore, become interfaces capable of making the link between a person and their emotional state.
“In an increasingly digital world, the voice is the interface that humanizes everyday tools (IoT), and embodies the transmission of information from robots to humans. Today, technologies not only make it possible to analyze a voice, but also to transform it, recreate it or even create a totally new voice. The search for emotion when designing a voice is essential to emerging themes in vocal technology, such as artificial speech and deep fakes,” comments Nathalie Birocheau.
The Necessary Evolution of Voice and Sound in Technology
Today, new technologies are using speech and sounds with increasing regularity, making it crucial to adapt these sounds to user preferences. Yet, voice-assisted technological tools such as Siri, Ok Google, or Alexa, are not currently satisfying everyday users. Indeed, respondents rated their satisfaction with voice assistants as only 5.6 out of ten, where 10 represented complete product satisfaction. 77% of people think there should be more voice variety and 72% are in favor of completely customizable voices, making personalization a vital focus for the voice technology sector. Audio product differentiation also appears to be an important consumer criterion, with 72% of respondents stating that there should be more audio and voice variation between companies and products.
“The issues of personalization and emotional connection should no longer be thought of as optional for robots and technological tools. With this study, we can clearly see that people want voice-connected technology, they are bringing more and more technology into their daily lives, and they need to have more control over their sound environment. This all involves the voices and sounds of the technologies that accompany them on a daily basis, at home, in their car, and at work,” concludes Nathalie Birocheau.
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Survey conducted online on November 12 and 13 with a sample of 1,019 people, representative of the French population aged 18 and over, formed according to the quota method, taking into account sex, age, socio-professional category, population density and region of residence.