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’ve had this one in the topic queue for a while, but couldn’t quite figure out how to approach it here…until a few days ago.
I walked into a restaurant’s restroom just as someone was leaving. The toilet, which had just been flushed, was refilling. I’m sure most of you can call up in your head the sound of a toilet basin refilling its water supply. This one sounded different. It was far more harmonically complex than the usual peaks you hear in the bed of white/pink noise, and it created this incredible drone in the tiled room. Then the toilet stopped filling, and I realized that the additional complexity was coming from a fan vent in the ceiling. This vent noise, 8 feet above and two feet to the left of the toilet, had sounded like it was coming directly from the toilet…like it was part of that other sound.
The way we perceive sounds in our environment can be greatly dependent on the presence of other sources of stimuli. In this case, both sound were affected by the other. One was enhanced by the presence of another sound, while the other was spatially altered by the first. This phenomenon was entirely dependent on the vagaries of the way our brain processes stimuli. As soon as the toilet stopped, my perception of the vent’s source changed to match its actual location. There are other examples. Michel Chion coined the term “entrainment” for the effect that visual elements in film have in our perception of a sound’s localization.
It’s just another reminder that everything, including sound design, is about context.
I struggled with the idea of posting one of these today. A friend of mine, and to much of the community as well, Jory Prum passed away Friday night. Ultimately, I think it’s important to keep moving forward in life. We’re working on collecting some thoughts about Jory to post later today/tomorrow. For now, here’s something I think he would have appreciated discussing.
Filmmakers love a good close up. The tight framing of an actor, prop or movement…in the right context…can really lend weight to a moment in the narrative. It’s a clear sign to the audience that “this” is important, “this” is something you have to pay attention to. There are two ways this is achieved in the crafting of a visual piece: the hard cut, and the zoom.
We have the same tools available to us in the auditory realm. If we want to highlight a particular sound element, we can strip the others away. If we want the hard cut, we simply cut the sounds out. To replicate a zoom, we can strip those surrounding elements away more slowly…deliberately…to draw the audience in to the experience of that one element.
What would really be interesting though, would be to explore the ways in which we might also replicate the “Dolly/Zoom” effect.
In a recent entry in their interview series, SoundWorks Collection speaks to Mark Ulano, production sound mixer for Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film, The Hateful Eight. Take a listen and hear stories that could only originate from a Tarantino shoot, told by one of the best productiou sound mixers in the business.
This is probably evident to a lot of people, but your boss has a huge impact on how good your project sounds. I’m talking about the director, or the game designer. If you want to get any of your ideas into the project, you have to get them to buy off on it. This is probably an obvious statement, but how often do we remind ourselves of it? MPSE does an awesome job of honoring those directors who appreciate what good sound brings to their films. Kudos to them! Without the support of the boss, even the most skilled sound professionals will have a hard time contributing their best work. It goes deeper than that though.
I can clearly remember the first time I realized how important that top level boss is to making an awesome sounding design or mix. I remember hating that specific idea my boss wanted me to do…not try, do! It was an order. I remember the first time I realized that the problem wasn’t the request, but my approach to that request. That moment changed the way I did everything ever since. If we want our ideas entertained, we need to entertain the ideas of others.
Of course, that’s not to say that every idea that comes down (or goes up, mind you) is a good one, but there at least might be the kernel of a good one buried somewhere underneath.
Oh The Variables
When you consider the variables in play when dealing with audio, it amazes me that we’re able to create anything that sounds even half-decent to someone else.
- How the authorship software processes audio
- Digital-to-analog conversion quality
- Unbalanced monitors / headphones
- The acoustic space
- Monitor placement
- Mix position
- Your ears
- Your brain