From signal to substance and back: Insights from environmental sound research to auditory display design
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A persistent concern in the field of auditory display design has been how to effectively use environmental sounds, which are naturally occurring familiar non-speech, non-musical sounds. Environmental sounds represent physical events in the everyday world, and thus they have a semantic content that enables learning and recognition. However, unless used appropriately, their functions in auditory displays may cause problems. One of the main considerations in using environmental sounds as auditory icons is how to ensure the identifiability of the sound sources. The identifiability of an auditory icon depends on both the intrinsic acoustic properties of the sound it represents, and on the semantic fit of the sound to its context, i.e., whether the context is one in which the sound naturally occurs or would be unlikely to occur. Relatively recent research has yielded some insights into both of these factors. A second major consideration is how to use the source properties to represent events in the auditory display. This entails parameterizing the environmental sounds so the acoustics will both relate to source properties familiar to the user and convey meaningful new information to the user. Finally, particular considerations come into play when designing auditory displays for special populations, such as hearing impaired listeners who may not have access to all the acoustic information available to a normal hearing listener, or to elderly or other individuals whose cognitive resources may be diminished. Some guidelines for designing displays for these populations will be outlined.