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…
This week, I’m returning to the little thread of visual analogs that I had going for a while.
I recently finished reading William Whittington’s Sound Design and Science Fiction, and he had an interesting idea that hadn’t occurred to me before. Background sounds…ambience, the sounds of the space…are sound’s “establishing shot.” The visual establishing shot is a moment of wide perspective. It lets us see the space, what occupies it, and where the characters fit within that space. The blocking and positioning can immediately give us a number of clues as to what’s happening both physically and emotionally in the scene. It’s important to note that the establishing shot doesn’t always happen at the beginning of the scene though.
The background sounds we put into a scene become something similar, an establishing field, and we can do interesting things with that. They let us know what’s taking place outside of the frame, and help us establish the space and the actions taking place within it. This establishing field can precede an establishing shot…picture a close up shot, with the sounds of the environment, while the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the space. That type of combination can create tension. The establishing field can replace the establishing shot entirely, never allowing the viewer to see the larger picture. That can be an excellent way to lock the viewer into a character’s perspective. The polar opposite, which can have the same effect, is to completely deny the viewer of the establishing field. We can transition from an establishing field to a tighter focus on particular sound elements…which has its own implications based on the context.
Just remember that there’s a whole host of narrative effects that can be engendered exclusively through the use of background sounds. How you think about those elements will have an enormous impact on how effectively you use them.