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Students play socio-ec(h)o, an interactive human puzzle game that examines how environmental sounds help people to solve problems.

Plumbing our cluttered soundscape

January 7, 2010

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Are the constantly proliferating and overlapping sounds in our environment helping us to process information, hindering us or simply driving us crazy?

And how does sound relate to learning experiences?

These are questions that motivated the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to invest $75,000 in education student Milena Droumeva’s research.

The Bulgarian-born doctoral student is using her new Joseph-Armand Bombardier doctoral scholarship to apply 11 years of knowledge acquired at SFU to assessing the significance of our increasingly multi-layered sound environment.

Droumeva wants to help create a new body of knowledge that maps out the individual and collective attributes of sounds to determine their ability to stimulate or degrade learning.

"Silence is becoming a privilege and not a right in our social media-savvy and technologically driven society," says Droumeva.

"We spend more and more time in artificial soundscapes comprised of many (individual) sounds intentionally designed to alert us, give us information, set mood, etc.," she says.

"Yet there is little research and analysis of them and no one has really looked at their combined effect on human attention, learning and well-being."

During her master’s studies as a charter student in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Droumeva helped develop socio-ec(h)o, an interactive human puzzle game, to study how environmental sounds help people solve problems.

A frequent contributor to The Journal for the Canadian Game Studies Association, Droumeva’s work has caught the eye of Mark Grimshaw, game sound expert at the University of Bolton in the U.K.

Grimshaw invited Droumeva to write a chapter for his new book Game Sound Technology and Player Interaction: Concepts and Developments, coming out this year.

Droumeva’s chapter looks at how different listening stances—background, media, distracted listening—combined with our auditory expectations of popular media such as film, have affected the evolution of game-sound environments.

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