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Posted by on Feb 28, 2016 | 3 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 9 – Constructing Which Reality?

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

Though it’s not the first time Randy Thom has voiced his opinions about “detail” in sound design, his first personal blog post felt like it dove-tailed in nicely with one of the ideas I had planned for this series…so much that I thought I should push it forward in the schedule. The concept of “reality” in film.

I once knew a man who considered himself a great film sound aficionado, and he explained to me a game he and his father like to play that they called “bad foley.” Ignoring the fact that the term “foley” doesn’t actually apply to the targets of their disdain, it basically boiled down to picking out sounds that had no basis in reality. They viewed this as something that should be avoided. The quickest example he gave me was the sound that accompanied the helicopter in Terminator 2…specifically, the whoosh that tracked the search light as it panned through the building. This game of his bothers me on a number of levels, but there is one primary argument I have against it.

Sound design is not about re-constructing reality, it’s about constructing a reality…one that suits the purposes of the story and augments the characters’ perspectives. As Mr. Thom said, and I’m paraphrasing here, choosing which details to present can be “the most powerful choice.” There are times when that most powerful detail might just be something we would never experience in our own personal lives.


  1. your friends already have a cinema category for the films they seem to want-

    it is called Dogme 95

    their is perhaps an interesting argument in story telling aesthetic, but I see as a more academic sort of complaint which misunderstands the possiblities of the medium itself.

    • Haha…yeah, Von Trier and his sardonic troupe of. The conversation about “Bad Foley” happened over a decade ago, and I didn’t learn about Dogme 95 until a few months after it had happened. I’m sure he would appreciate the movement, but he wasn’t opposed to sounds being added after the fact…just sounds that had no basis in reality.

      Like you said, misunderstanding the possibilities presented by film. Good mention though, especially if any of our readers haven’t encoutered Dogme 95 yet!

  2. I’m totally with you here–the kind of sounds that inspired me to get into post-audio are sounds that would never exist in a purely realistic aesthetic. Experimentation with using abstract sounds to elicit a specific emotional response is one of the most special things we as sound designers and editors can bring to a project. Great post!

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