Resonant Thoughts: Mads Walther-Hansen on Balance in sound Production

Balance is one of the most important cognitive concepts in sound production and perception. Musical movement is often conceived of as driven by sonic elements that continually balance and unbalance each other in different forms of tension-and-release patterns, and sound production is largely about balancing sounds relative to each other in order to achieve a well-balanced mix (or to deliberately create tension and imbalance as a creative effect)” (84).

“In music production, balancing sound is about finding the right amount of ‘ingredients’ (e.g., heavy sound, light sound, rough sound, and soft sound) to reach an ideal mix of elements in the sound container. It is also related to creating a harmonious arrangement and interaction between the elements (e.g., blending the elements properly with each other). Finally, equilibrium balance is connected to the creation of a balanced functional relation between the sound container and the content in such a way that sounds are contained and constrained in the mix with the right amount of control (e.g., controlling the dynamics with dynamic compression)” (85).

“Balance is a bodily activity that is not governed by a specific set of rules. It is often a felt sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in experience…Balance is a cognitive value that applies to every aspect of the evaluation of auditory experience…We may…point to three overall properties of balanced sound:

Spectral balance concerns the relative amount of bass and treble in a mix. In a well-balanced mix sounds are distributed across the frequency spectrum to give enough room for each sound. An excess of sound in one frequency band gives rise to spectral imbalance” (86-87).

Stereo balance relates to the distribution of sounds on the lateral axis” (87).

Dynamic balance…means adjusting the relative volume between individual tracks to reach a satisfying mix. If we think of the mix as an organism we can make sense of the act of balancing the dynamics in two ways: (1) it is about finding the right proportion between individual elements for the organism to function properly, and (2) it is about finding the right ‘amount’ of elements relative to the size of the sound container—if there is too much, then the recording is overloaded and distorts” (87).

Mads Walther-Hansen, Making Sense of Recordings:
how cognitive processing of recorded sound works (2020)

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