Interviews 3deafmice

Published on April 26th, 2013 | by David Forshee

Interview with David Sonnenschein (Part 1)

Today we are begin­ning a series of blogs com­ing from a con­ver­sa­tion we had with author, sound designer, and lec­turer David Son­nen­schein about his lat­est project: 3 Deaf Mice. To learn more about 3 Deaf Mice visit the project Kick­starter page at

3 Deaf Mice is based on David’s book “Sound Design: The Expres­sive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cin­ema”, which is #1 on Ama­zon and the defin­i­tive inter­na­tional resource on sound design for film. As founder of Sound Design for Pros, David has pro­duced lots of great sounds, inter­views and arti­cles, and offers a 12-hour webi­nar series as part of the Kick­starter rewards. His expe­ri­ences as audio con­sul­tant for EA’s “Mass Effect 3″, musi­cian, film­maker and neu­ro­sci­en­tist, com­bine to bring this incred­i­ble sen­sory chal­lenge and unique game play to everyone.

PSE: What is 3 Deaf Mice?

DS: 3 Deaf Mice is a music puz­zle game that is based on the rock band of three mice who’ve been play­ing loud music for so long that they’ve lost a great deal of their hear­ing capa­bil­i­ties. And now the player of the game has to help them put together their next hit song. So the goal is to first find the sounds in the envi­ron­ments that the mice will be in, and next trans­form those sounds into musi­cal ele­ments and then finally put them together in the struc­ture of the song. In this way the player gets to expe­ri­ence the full spec­trum of lis­ten­ing and cre­at­ing with sound to make music.

PSE: Could you give us an exam­ple of a sound effect in the game and how it is trans­formed into a musi­cal element?

DS: An exam­ple would be in the sto­ry­line and the lyrics of the song where the mice went into a very gluti­nous expe­ri­ence of over-eating in a restau­rant kitchen and now have to help relieve their stom­ach pains. They find a stom­ach antacid that they plop into the water which cre­ates a fizzy sound. This fizzy sound then becomes what I’m call­ing the “core sound” inside other masked sounds in the sonic trea­sure hunt. The player will have to choose the right kinds of audio pro­cess­ing on this core sound, trim­ming, EQ’ing to cre­ate chunk of sound which actu­ally becomes what is known as a phoneme in lan­guage. A phoneme is the small­est ele­ment of our speech, smaller than the syl­la­ble, there are some­thing like 40 of them in the Eng­lish lan­guage. And so the fizzy sound is going to be cre­at­ing the phoneme of the ‘ch’ sound in a word that is part of the lyrics. So that’s one exam­ple of how the sounds fit into the lyrics. They’re also going to be fit­ting into the rhythm with beats and loops, and into the har­monic struc­ture by pitch shift­ing the dif­fer­ent sound effects so that they actu­ally cre­ate chords.

PSE: Who is the tar­get audi­ence for 3 Deaf Mice?

I think our tar­get audi­ence is fairly broad, start­ing with gamers who can be kids of any age that are sophis­ti­cated enough to play a game that has spe­cific instruc­tions to find and trans­form audio. I’m guess­ing that the aver­age 12 year old should be able to play it. How­ever we are also design­ing the game to be chal­leng­ing enough for pro­fes­sional musi­cians, com­posers, audio engi­neers and sound design­ers so that they can really dive into the aspects of sound that they work with on an every­day basis in a play­ful man­ner. They will dis­cover a sur­pris­ingly fun way to explore sound that they may never have done before. The game lev­els will increase in dif­fi­culty so that pretty much any­body can do the first cou­ple of lev­els in order to get a feel for how to play the game and then move into harder chal­lenges. For those that are already sophis­ti­cated in audio, they may breeze through the first few lev­els, but I guar­an­tee it won’t be so easy as the game goes on.

The game is also aim­ing towards those inter­ested in music as a per­former, com­poser, the­o­rist, and as gen­eral music edu­ca­tion. The game will also appeal to any­body inter­ested in devel­op­ing lis­ten­ing skills and devel­op­ing what I call mind­ful­ness. Mind­ful­ness is the abil­ity to be aware of your world and your own thought pat­terns about that world in a very clear way. And so this game is going to develop skills that help peo­ple in their daily com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and also in their abil­i­ties to work with New Media. Nowa­days every­body has a smart phone that’s like a mini movie stu­dio, but it also has a micro­phone. When you’re work­ing with sounds and edit­ing sounds and cre­at­ing some form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, whether it’s a film or game or just a Skype call, what are you going to do with your sounds that is going to help the lis­tener really get what you want to transmit?

PSE: I under­stand that the game is struc­tured around the three lis­ten­ing modes that are well known in sound design the­ory. Can you explain what those are and how you are using them in 3 Deaf Mice?

In sound design the­ory we talk about three dif­fer­ent lis­ten­ing modes which are tra­di­tion­ally called casual, reduced, and seman­tic. In this game I’m using more acces­si­ble terms. When we talk about causal, it’s truly about the Source of where the sound is com­ing from and what’s caus­ing that sound. When we talk about reduced lis­ten­ing we’re talk­ing about the Shape of the wave­form or really how is it formed in a phys­i­cal man­ner for us to ana­lyze it as an audio engi­neer. For exam­ple, the pitch, vol­ume, and EQ or tim­bre are all ways to actu­ally mea­sure the sound wave­form and become aware of how it’s actu­ally trans­mit­ting its energy and information.

And then thirdly we talk about seman­tic lis­ten­ing or what is the Mean­ing of this sound. And of course when we speak the sound has mean­ing of the words and the phrases, as well as the into­na­tion or the prosody of the voice.  And then we can detect the mean­ing of musi­cal instru­ment sounds. Do they make you feel excited or happy or sad? We also have the mean­ing as well for sound effects. If we hear a dog bark­ing it could be angry that some­body is invad­ing its ter­ri­tory or it could be happy that its owner has returned home. So there are a lot of dif­fer­ent lev­els of mean­ing and con­text, and that’s how we’re struc­tur­ing the game play of 3 Deaf Mice into these three dif­fer­ent lis­ten­ing modes.


Check back next week for Pt. 2 of our Inter­view with David Sonnenschein!

Be sure to check out the 3 Deaf Mice Kick­starter page at

Back to Top ↑