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  • Writer's pictureDarren Woodland

Defining Sound: Sonic Virtuality and Emergent Perception


In this post, I will discuss the definition of sound used for my research, which is based on the concept of Sonic Virtuality and sound as a form of emergent perception.

The field of digital media research is continuously expanding, with new concepts and approaches emerging to provide a better understanding and application of sound in various contexts. In their groundbreaking book, "Sonic Virtuality: Sound as Emergent Perception," Mark Grimshaw and Tom Garner propose a novel definition of sound that has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach research in procedural audio, spatial sonic narratives, and play. This blog post delves into the authors' definition of sound and explores its implications for digital media research.

Sonic Virtuality:

The following section outlines what sonic virtuality is and its implications for audio, interactivity, and sound in interactive digital media as a whole.

Sonic Virtuality: A New Definition of Sound -

Grimshaw and Garner's concept of sonic virtuality challenges traditional definitions of sound, which typically focus on its physical properties or, alternatively, its isolated sensory experience. Instead, the authors argue that sound is an "emergent perception", a result of the complex interplay between the auditory system, cognitive processes, and the environment. This is to say that sound emerges or is actualized, from the intricate and varied relationships between a system of external (exosonic) and internal (endosonic) factors. This understanding recognizes the sound as virtual, multimodal, and embodied, emphasizing the experiential aspect of auditory perception. The system the sound emerges from is called the "Sonic Aggregate," by the authors.

An illustration of the Sonic Aggregate from Sonic Virtuality

Implications for Procedural Audio -

Procedural audio is a technique used in digital media, such as video games and virtual reality, to generate and manipulate sounds in real-time based on specific parameters, rules, or algorithms. The concept of sonic virtuality has significant implications for procedural audio research, as it shifts the focus from pre-recorded, static sounds to the dynamic, interactive nature of auditory experiences. By acknowledging sound as an emergent perception, procedural audio can be designed to respond to user interactions, environmental factors, and cognitive processes, creating a more immersive and engaging experience. There are, however, current limitations in the implementation of such a system for commonly used software and application for developing interactive media. that is because audio implementation still relies heavily on pre-recorded and uploaded sound files as workflow. Fully procedural or generative systems are less common, for a myriad of reasons. But namely, optimization and sound quality reasons.

Spatial Sonic Narratives and Play -

Spatial sonic narratives refer to the use of sound to convey stories or create immersive environments in digital media. Sonic virtuality offers a fresh perspective on how spatial sonic narratives can be constructed and experienced, emphasizing the importance of interactivity, embodiment, and multimodality. By considering sound as an emergent perception, researchers can explore new ways of designing and implementing audio cues that contribute to the narrative, enhance the sense of presence, and facilitate user engagement in playful contexts.

Digital Media Research -

The concept of sonic virtuality has far-reaching implications for digital media research as a whole. By shifting the focus from the physical properties of sound to the experiential aspect of auditory perception, this new definition encourages a more comprehensive and integrated approach to understanding sound in digital media. Researchers can now explore the relationships between sound, visual elements, haptic feedback, and user cognition, leading to more advanced and inclusive theories and applications in the field.


The definition of sound as proposed by Grimshaw and Garner in "Sonic Virtuality: Sound as Emergent Perception" has the potential to reshape the way researchers approach sound in digital media contexts. By considering sound as an emergent perception, researchers can investigate innovative applications in procedural audio, spatial sonic narratives, and play. Ultimately, this new perspective on sound has the potential to enrich our understanding of auditory experiences in digital media, leading to more immersive and engaging experiences for users. That is why this definition of sound is what has been adopted as the working paradigm for our research.

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