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Everyday science

Everyday science

Recreating the visual effects in Oppenheimer, hearing-impaired music lovers prefer different mixes

25 Aug 2023 Hamish Johnston

If you have seen the film Oppenheimer, you may have enjoyed the visual effects that were used in the film to illustrate esoteric physical concepts – I certainly did. There has been a bit of a debate in the movie press about whether computer-generated imagery (CGI) was used to create the effects. As far as I can tell, visual effects such as the conflagration used to illustrate the detonation of the first atomic bomb where real images of burning fuel. But, digital techniques were used to put the images together to create the final effect. So the images were not computer generated.

Now, the independent filmmaker William H Baker and colleagues have had a go at recreating some of the visual effects in Oppenheimer without using CGI. Check out the above video to see how they have done.

Different perceptions

Musicians and producers put a great deal of effort into getting the right mix of instruments and vocals in their music. But it is often the case that these mixes are fine-tuned for listeners with “normal” hearing. However, many people around the world suffer from hearing loss related to age, disease and exposure to loud noises. This loss can be more pronounced at some frequencies than at others, meaning that different people will perceive the same music in different ways.

Now, Aravindan Benjamin and Kai Siedenburg at Germany’s University of Oldenburg have investigated how the mix of a musical track affects how it is perceived by people with hearing loss. The duo played music with different mixes to subjects with normal and impaired hearing.

They found that hearing-impaired listeners preferred louder vocals, higher frequencies and sparser mixes. “Generally, hard-of-hearing listeners have reduced frequency selectivity and impaired level perception,” explains Benjamin. “They tend to prefer louder levels of lead vocals compared to normal listeners.”

Headphones and equalization

While the listening experience can be enhanced by using hearing aids, the team point out that these devices also have their downside for music listeners. Instead Siedenburg recommends another solution. “Getting good headphones, for example, and then playing around with the equalization might be a better approach than trying to squeeze everything through the hardware of the hearing aid.”

He also has advice for artists, “One approach could be to offer a couple of different mixes, one for the general public and one for people who are moderately hard of hearing,” says Siedenburg. “Certain adjustments to the mix might help to cater to the needs of this group of people in a better way.”

The research is described in an open access paper in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

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