[Written by Peter Albrechtsen for Designing Sound]
Let’s start with talking not about choice of sounds but choice of words.
In the US, background ambiences are called backgrounds – or just BG’s. In Denmark, though, we call them atmospheres. For me, that’s actually a better word to describe this part of the soundtrack, as background sounds can add so much texture, feeling and – yes – atmosphere to a scene. It’s an amazing tool to shape a scene, not just mapping out the geography and time of day, but also setting the mood, creating a vibe and building an underlying rhythm. It’s one of my favorite sound design tools because it works quite subliminally and can be extremely effective, nevertheless.
I want to start out showing a commercial I did a couple of years ago, which I think showcases ambiences in an interesting way. It’s an IKEA commercial directed by a very visually and aurally imaginative Danish director, Martin de Thurah, who really created this commercial with sound in mind. Here it is (even though this youtube-link isn’t exactly the greatest quality, sorry):
First of all, I need to point out that the sound design of this commercial wasn’t just done by me but by two talented colleagues as well, sound designers Morten Green and Mads Heldtberg, the latter also being a very skilled composer. It took a lot of experimentation and building of sounds to establish the very different universes and small tales that unfold very, very fast in this commercial.
If you’re very strict in the way you describe the layers of the soundtrack, some would probably point out that several of the sounds you’re hearing in this commercial aren’t really background sounds but foley and effect sounds. But still several of the small scenes are utilizing these foley and effect sounds like they’re part of a background ambience track – like the typewriter on the boat, the radio program at the apartment buildings or my toothbrush rattling in a glass at the end. This is not the point for me, though. What I find interesting is how the sound sets up a world of each image that goes beyond what the eye sees. The backgrounds really set the tone and the background sounds are in that sense very much in the foreground.Read More