Charlie Chaplin on ‘City Lights’
“Ideally, for me, the perfect sound film has zero tracks. You try to get the audience to a point, somehow, where they can imagine the sound. They hear the sound in their minds, and it really isn’t on the track at all. That’s the ideal sound, the one that exists totally in the mind, because it’s the most intimate. It deals with each person’s experience, and it’s obviously of the highest fidelity imaginable, because it’s not being translated through any kind of medium.” – Walter Murch
Silence can be sonic; sound can be silent. We’re always listening to both. When we listen to a sound, we listen to a silence. When we listen to silence, we listen to sound. The dualism behind this is just an illusion, because in reality, we only find one thing, a single coin, with two faces, but a single coin.
There’s always sound in silence, always. There’s no such thing as sound without silence. There’s no such thing as silence without sound. Both are always dependent on each other and get differentiated just because of our fantasy of reality. We could think as silence as “absence of sound” but that will not be in an absolute way because there’s no place without sound, there’s no time without sound. Silence is absence is just in partial ways, depending on the wave, all the time attached to the context the absence of a particular sounds, or just the choices around the speakers can’t reproduce.
First, some confessions: I am a sound designer, I have never worked on a Broadway production, and therefore, never expected to win a Tony Award (let alone be a part of a discussion of this nature).
I may not be an “insider” of the theatre world, but the decision earlier this month to stop presenting Tony Awards for sound design (of a play and also of a musical) deems a reaction from the entire sound design community. With that in mind, please support this petition initiated by John Gromada.
Link to sign the petition: Reinstate the Tony Award Categories for Sound Design Now!.
Actress Jill Winternitz showing her support on twitter.
The first time I heard of the decision by the Tony Administration Committee was from Randy Thom’s post in Designing Sound on the 13th (two days after the announcement). The news initially confused me; it seemed like a huge “slap in the face” (as Randy Thom wrote) with very little that could possibly be gained by this action. Sure, sound design is not as glamorous as some categories, but there must be more to this decision.
Guest Contribution from Randy Thom
It was announced that the people who run the Tony Awards have decided to cut two of their awards categories….the two sound design categories.
This is a sad piece of news for all of us in sound. It’s yet another slap in the face for an important art form that struggles for recognition. The people who run awards shows feel constant pressure to populate those shows with pretty people, famous people, and people who are highly entertaining when a camera and microphone are pointed at them. Advertisers pound their fists on tables in anger when their ad follows an unglamorous and unknown statuette recipient’s earnest “thank you.” One year when I attended the Oscar telecast, and left the building at the end of the show in my tux, a guy ran up to me in the middle of the street with a pen and paper in his hands screaming to me “Are You Anybody? Are You Anybody?” I said “Sure!” and he smiled big as I handed him my illegible signature. Though the Tony Awards have promised that they may, in the future, occasionally give an award to an especially noteworthy job of sound design, the message we should get loud and clear from their announcement today is that as far as they are concerned we, sound designers, are not ‘anybody.’ How sad, how dumb.
Guest Contribution by Jeff Talman
Seong Moy, my drawing professor at City College of New York, had students lightly shade their sketchpads with hand-smeared charcoal to prepare a background for the drawing. This neutral background helped to create an illusory sense of depth in a 2-dimensional medium. The negative space of the drawing was activated by this treatment. Had there been no shading, no defined background, the objects in the drawing would not have existed anywhere, but would have been only representations, floating and free of context. The background helped to create a space in which to work.
Similarly, audio engineers know how important the background silence is in recording. In the early days of Audio CDs engineers learned that absolute silence between tracks created a void that the listener could find to be unpleasant, as if the CD was somehow unnatural because it did not exist in any space itself. The problem was compounded in that LPs had a consistent background sound. So sound on the early CDs seemed to ‘drop out’ between tracks. Soon engineers added low levels of ambient, background sound to fill these voids just as the charcoal smears did for the drawings.
I recently came across the Frictional Games blog and have spent the last few weeks trawling through it’s archive. It provides a wealth of informaiton on game design, and in particular discussions on the point of game narrative. One particular post, 4 Layers, a narrative design approach, written by Thomas Grip, Frictional’s creative director, raised the concept of the mental model, and the impact this can have, not only on game design, but also on a players experience of a game.