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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 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 Mar 27, 2016 | 2 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 13 – Contact Hearing

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…

In a previous post, I posited that perhaps hearing is a specialized function of touch. An experience I had on my recent vacation made me think of this idea again in a different light…hearing through touch.

I was on a boat traveling between islands, and I had ear plugs in (the engine was pretty loud). I reached down to press against the hard seat, and noticed a bump in my perception of the low end of the spectrum. I took my hand away, the bump left. I stood up from the seat briefly, but didn’t notice any significant change in the spectrum. Sat back down, and placed my hand on the seat again. That boost in the low end was very pronounced. I don’t know why contact with my hand had such a dramatic impact over the fact that I was sitting on the seat…maybe because the vibrations in my hand/arm had less muscle and fat to attenuate them when traveling through the skeletal structure to reach my head? Regardless, I heard the engine differently when I place my hand on a surface that was vibrating in sympathy with it.

That’s an interesting angle from which to explore subjectivity of perspective in a story. Not something that can be used in just any circumstance, but it’s one more tool in the bag for putting the viewer in the mind/space of a character.

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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.

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Posted by on Feb 21, 2016 | 1 comment

Sunday Sound Thought 8 – Solipsism

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…

Solipsism is the idea that the only thing that can be confirmed in life is the existence of one’s self. Whether or not we want to accept the possibility that this idea is true, an extrapolation can be made from the idea…one that is a little easier to accept. The only perspective that can be confirmed to exist is one’s own.

It’s impossible for us to see through another’s eyes, hear through their ears, or fully understand the complex impressions of the mind behind the words that people use to express themselves. Without a direct link between minds (something which we’re not currently capable of), it is impossible to truly share the sensory experience of another person. That’s something we can take advantage of in sound design.

Sound is solipsistic. Not every character needs to hear something the same way. The audience certainly won’t. Leaving room for them to interpret what those differences in character perspective (and maybe the realization that they have a different perspective as well), allows for a more complex story that feeds each individual’s experience and reaffirms their unique perspective. If you don’t believe me, go watch The Conversation (Coppola, 1974).

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