Videoconference software is designed for conversations. As such, it tends to have algorithms which prioritise one single voice over other sounds in the meeting. This means that instead of how we hear sound in when we’re in a group in person, with multiple people’s sounds all blending together, what we get is an interruption of a single line of sound when another sound is interpreted to be the most important. Thus, simultaneous sounding becomes interrupted.
What triggers this effect?
The driver is largely volume – louder sounds will be seen as more significant than quieter sounds, but this can of course mean that a loud background sound can interrupt a ‘speaker’, and of course breaks in a prominent part will allow fragments of quieter parts to be heard.
It is possible that visual triggers such as covering the camera come into play too, but this is unconfirmed. See the example in the next section (‘Looking down’).
Effect on visuals
This approach becomes visible particularly when capturing using ‘spotlight’ mode, where the view changes according to whose ‘voice’ the software deems most significant. This can be creatively interesting when it creates edits between parts:
Example: Bastard Assignments ‘Looking down’ for Lockdown Jams (2020):
It can also result in the effective excision of a group member whose sounds are quiet or who is working principally with visual material or whose internet connection is poor – if their sounds can’t be heard then possibly they won’t be seen either. To avoid this, try working with a different mode, such as grid mode.
- Accept the interruptions! The internet behaves as an extra member of the group, disrupting and changing the material as you create it. Example: Bastard Assignments ‘Looking down’ for Lockdown Jams (2020) (above)
- Play with manipulating volume – change from loud to quiet or back again to give others a chance to be present.
- Using a grid mode, plan for one principal voice overall, with other members of the group working silently, or with planned periods of interjections. Example: Jennifer Walshe ‘zusammen iii’ for Bastard Assignments Lockdown Jams (2020):