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.
Director David Fincher and sound designer Ren Klyce has worked together for more than 20 years, and their ongoing partnership is one of most acclaimed collaborations in the modern film sound community. Klyce has been nominated for five Oscars – one for Fight Club, one for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, one for The Social Network and two for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Their latest work is the very successful marital thriller Gone Girl which has just overtaken The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as director Fincher’s highest-grossing film in the US. The movie is filled with so many twists and turns that you can’t really talk about it without revealing something – and this interview with Ren Klyce also contains spoilers, beware!
Better late than never. Last month’s theme at Designing Sound was Acoustics but one person we really wanted to include during July had to get moved slightly – so here is a belated feature on one of the world’s true pioneers when it comes to exploring acoustic phenomena and auditory perception: Alvin Lucier.
The American avant-garde composer was born in 1931 and composed chamber and orchestral works since 1952, but Lucier and his critics count his 1965 composition Music for Solo Performer as the proper beginning of his career. It was the first work to feature sounds generated by brain waves in live performance – it’s written for ”Enormously Amplified Brain Waves and Percussion” (sic!) – and space, sound and psycho-acoustics are combined in fascinating ways in Lucier’s work, all the way throughout his career. The long-time music professor is still very active to this very day, moving between sound art, installation and abstract classical pieces.
We just wanted to take the time to thank our guest contributors this month:
For our featured Backgrounds and Ambiences articles…Chris Groegler, Chris Didlick, Douglas Murray, and Tim Prebble…Yann Seznec, Peter Chilvers, Robert Thomas, and Stephan Schütze for discussing interactive mobile applications…and thanks to Chuck Michael and Craig Henighan for sharing their thoughts on Dolby Atmos (as well as Josh Gershman and John Loose from Dolby for providing us with a little more data). And a big thank you also goes out to Ariel Gross for sharing his thoughts, and Brady Dyck for his interview with Rob Bridgett.
Thanks again gentlemen!
Remember…this is a site for the community, by the community. If you would like to contribute in the future, drop us a line.
Sitting there as credits rolled after a Dolby Atmos presentation of Brave this past summer, I felt excited for the potential of this budding format. Before the film, a few seated moms and dads were even verbally excited as the usher announce that we would be watching the film in a new sound format. During the film, the theater was saturated with sound, I truly felt immersed at times. Yet as I watched the credits fly by, I couldn’t help feeling that until sound crews sink their teeth into the format, we won’t really hear Atmos fully realized. For the format to really sparkle, films need to be designed, edited, and premixed with Atmos in mind or as Dolby would like it, premixed IN Atmos entirely. After reading about the impression Atmos left on Shaun at AES and trying to find a way to contribute to an already excellent month of ambient discussion, I decided I should contact a few sound crews that mixed in Atmos, ask how backgrounds are handled, and with that initial experience how they would approach BGs in their next Atmos mix.