Photo belongs to Vancouver Film School, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.
Guest Contribution by April Tucker
Having a degree in audio can be a double-edged sword. This was a lesson I learned after one of my earliest interviews, not long after completing my Master’s Degree (in Sound Recording). I was new to Los Angeles and interviewing for part-time tech work. It seemed to be going well until the interviewer said, “I don’t even have friends with Master’s Degrees… why would I hire someone with one?” I had just been discriminated against for having a formal education.
There’s a lot of lessons about working in entertainment (like that one) that you hear about and prepare for, but you can’t really process until you experience it yourself. Another example is being out of work. Even if you’re financially prepared, nothing can prepare you for the mental game that happens when you’re going through it the first time.
Given that our field is very experience-driven, one might ask, what’s the point of formal audio education? As someone with two audio degrees (and ten years in the field), I can confidently say that there is value in some audio education; students can practice, experiment and fail in ways that you can’t do in a job. There’s skills that can be learned faster through focused learning or practice (like technical ear training, acoustics, or electronics). My concern with audio programs is that they tend to be too focused on teaching niche vocational skills (like large format consoles and microphones), or too short for a well-rounded audio education.
(CC BY 2.0) OiMax
By Karen Collins
Adapted from a forthcoming article in Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
An often overlooked aspect of sound design is the use of sound to create a sense of identification for the audience. Just as with using point-of-view with camera angles, sound can be used to create an auditory position for the listener/audience, putting them “there” in the space, creating an emotional response and empathy, or distancing them from the action.
Auditory perspective is constructed by a variety of techniques that create or reinforce the physical sense of space for the listener through the use of spatialized sound. These techniques combine physical acoustics with psychoacoustics (the perceptual aspects of our response to sound). For example, the perceived location of a sound can appear to emanate from between two loudspeakers, in what is referred to as a “phantom image”. The techniques commonly used to create and reinforce a sense of acoustic space for the listener including microphone placement, loudspeaker placement, and digital signal processing effects.
“Where are we?”
“No. How far are we?”
Directed by Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) centers around the damaged psyche of Martha, portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen. Martha is a young woman who, through the time spent living as part of a small farm commune, has lost nearly all sense of boundaries…from social through temporal. I believe “nearly” is the appropriate term, because she leaves the commune in response to certain events. If she had lost all sense of boundaries, that probably would not have happened. Despite retaining this small level of faculty, Martha is lost. The five lines above this paragraph are a conversation between Martha and her sister, Lucy, from early in the film. In my opinion, this is possibly the most illuminating exchange that occurs in the entire piece. Martha wants a description of the distance she’s traveled from a temporal reference point. She spends the film slipping in and out of time and place, pulling the viewer into her fractured perspective of the world.
Guest contribution by Michael Theiler (Kpow Audio)
Situating an Ambience
When creating ambiences for games (this applies equally to film), I am striving to make them blend into the background and not mask any important in game sounds. For most ambiences, these are the most important qualities that I am attempting to resolve.
In order to achieve this, I need to firstly focus on the repetition and timing between audio occurrences in the sounds. This means spacing sounds, and adding and removing sound occurrences in my audio sequence. I then work on the frequencies in the sounds, using equalization to mold them into the right sound. Finally, I work on their sound propagation and the sound of the space in which they are to inhabit. These are the steps necessary to mould sound into something suitable for the space. Just adding reverb is not enough – the sound needs to be purpose built for the space’s reverberation and delay treatment.
Cross-posting from my personal blog.
This article is the follow up to Part 1 of Ideas in Sound Design: Deprivation and Barriers. I’ve gathered a selection of media to discuss the ideas presented in the original article. I will focus on three films and one video game trailer: Saving Private Ryan, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Fight Club and Mass Effect 3’s Take Earth Back (extended version). I’d first like to state that the interpretations I’ll be outlining simply reflect my personal perspectives on the films and/or scenes in question. I do not present the single interpretation, merely a single interpretation. If you have an alternative view that adds to or diverges from mine, then I encourage you to say so and share with the rest of the community. Second, I do not mean to exclude mediums beyond the linear cinematic (hence my attempt, perhaps a weak one, to include games by the inclusion of the Mass Effect trailer). My selections were based on pieces with which I was familiar enough with to allow me to coalesce my thoughts in an expedient manner.
Finally, the ideas of “deprivation” and “barriers” are not exclusively the purview of sound editing or design. They belong to the mix as well. And beyond that, the director, the DP, the scriptwriter, etc…but that broad a swath is beyond the scope of this article. The point is that contributions to a piece’s depth come from many places. So, I credit the below examples to all of their respective principal sound artists (Supervising Sound Editor, Sound Designer, Re-Recording Mixers), to the best accuracy that I can.