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Posted by on Jun 26, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 26 – The Establishing Field

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.

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Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 | 1 comment

Become a Designing Sound Correspondent

Photo by flickr user Radly J Phoenix; used under a Creative Commons License. Click image to visit source.

Photo by flickr user Radly J Phoenix; used under a Creative Commons License. Click image to visit source.

Back in April, we put out an open call for new contributing editors. Holy crap, were we overwhelmed by the response! Over 50 people stepped forward and threw their names into the hat. Going through all of that data wasn’t easy, and we didn’t have the opportunity to sit down and speak directly with all of you. We’ve selected our new “staff” and are busy getting them up to speed, but we don’t want the fact that you may not have been selected to discourage you from participating. So, we’re creating a new role here on Designing Sound to get the rest of you involved: the Correspondent!

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Posted by on Jun 21, 2016 | 4 comments

Introducing Designing Sound Exchange!

DSE_Home

We’ve got a brand new feature on the site today! We’ve added a discussion area…

Welcome to Designing Sound Exchange!

We’re calling it a discussion area and not a forum, because it’s not really set up like a forum. Many long time readers may remember a site called Social Sound Design, and we’ve modeled DSE after it. If you remember how that site was, before it merged with Stack Exchange, skip this next paragraph.

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Posted by on Jun 19, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 25 – When Less Is Not More

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…

I went to see a period war film last night, and something stuck out to me. Well a lot of things stuck out to me, but one thing in particular really pulled my attention. [ed. This was an indie film from outside the U.S., so stop looking at listings trying to guess which one… ;)] There was a scene where the film took the classic approach of slow everything down ever so slightly, strip almost all of the sounds, and alternate between a montage of violence and the protagonist looking shell-shocked. It’s something we’ve seen many times in many films, and it’s become a form of cinematic short hand to put the viewer within a character’s perspective. There’s also an assumption that, I think, comes along with the adoption of this approach: that it’s going to work.

In this case, it did not.

When used properly, the concept of less is more can be a powerful story-telling philosophy. It has to work in the context though, and less is more certainly doesn’t mean strip absolutely everything out. This particular scene did just that, everything was gone except for the oh-so-favorite shell-shock sound of tinnitus. The scene lost all its pacing, it dragged and felt way too long…despite the variance in pacing of the visual edit. There was something about the combination of context, use and duration of the treatment that just pulled me out of the story and made me wonder, “How long is this going to last?” The thing that hit me, as I sat there waiting for the film to get on with the story, was that sound could have fixed the pacing in this moment…it could have given the sequence an emotional trajectory. It just actually, for a change, needed more sounds to do it.

…not many mind you; a handful would have gone a long way…but that’s still more.

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Posted by on Jun 12, 2016 | 6 comments

Sunday Sound Though 24 – Proper Use of Clichéd Sounds

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…

Besides the obvious answer of, “DON’T!”

This week’s post was inspired by the use of the Wilhelm Scream in the film Warcraft, and various conversations surrounding its usage that spotted last night. One of which I got involved with, despite not having seen the movie. [ed. …and no. I don’t plan to…ever, if I can help it.]

Regardless of how you feel about it (I personally want the madness to stop) clichéd sounds can have their place, but it’s all in how you use them. If you absolutely must see if you can sneak it past the director and/or producer, then I can only see two ways of doing it:

  1. Bury it. Make it so that YOU have a hard time hearing it in the piece you’re working on. Only people who are actively searching for it should be able to find it. Don’t let it draw attention to itself.
  2. Use it in an exceedingly clever way. The problem with this is that as soon as someone has done that, you can’t use that approach again…ever. Sounds like the Wilhelm have been bouncing around for decades. It’s getting harder and harder to use it in a clever/subtle way. If you can’t do something new with it, DON’T! A good example of a clever use comes from Tron Legacy (2010):

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There’s one other instance where it can be acceptable to draw attention to a clichéd sound, and that’s by turning it into a self referential joke. If you can make people who are sick of it laugh, then people who aren’t aware of it will probably enjoy the joke without the full knowledge of what’s happening. The film Over the Hedge (2006) did this very well with a mosquito.

And that’s about it. Anything other than these three approaches is likely to earn you the ire of soundies and the general populace. You have been warned!

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