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Videos Games Killed Ambient Hyperreality

A sonic subculture on the other side of the screen


YouTube is filled with videos of ambient sound from cities and nature alike. There are walking tours of Notting Hill in London, and still-camera video documents of redwood forests. You can even hop aboard someone’s bike as they cycle around Tokyo, mic to the world, picking up traffic and chatter and wind. Some of these are too good to be true. If your browser finds you in picturesque desert or drenched Amazon rain forest, there’s a good chance the sounds originated elsewhere entirely, perhaps nowhere — which is to say, the nowhere that is an audio technician’s computer, refining idealized sounds of what we think the world sounds like, what the world “should” sound like. Reality is rarely as good as one might hope, especially reality recorded for hours straight without an edit and immediately uploaded to the internet. As for fictional reality, that is something else entirely. Right alongside the audio-video of seaside boardwalks and mountain tops are extracted segments extracted from television, movies, and video games. This one, for example, shows different settings from the video game Cyberpunk 2077, soaking with precipitation, the city streets circled by occasional cars, haunted by solo pedestrians, and flush with enough little sound objects — a honk here, a crossing signal there, the buzz of electricity everywhere, the halfhearted appeal from advertising on repeat — to feel not so much real as dourly welcoming, a false reality that’s arguably all the more real than the hyperreal hillside lake or island paradise, or campsite fire that manages to stay lit for a quarter of a day.

Video originally posted to the Slow Walkthroughs / Video Game Ambience channel at YouTube.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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