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 like to regularly spend some time thinking about how I describe sound to people who aren’t so focused on sound. It gives me a chance to prep very basic ideas for collaborators in the hopes that, in the process of quickly explaining them, they will some ideas about how to use sound in their projects…or, honestly, to make them want to give me some room to explore those ideas to make their stories more dynamic. A key group I like to talk about is the functions sound can play in a narrative. I’m posting them here so other people can use them, but also to see if anyone out there in the community has ideas to add to this.
I have five key functions that I quickly explain.
Physical Representation – The old line, “See a dog, hear a dog.” It’s building the world around the characters and placing the characters in that world. This is a really low-level basic function.
Directing Attention – Sounds can draw the eye to a specific portion of the screen, or away from it. What do we want the audience to see? What do we want them to ignore. The way the visual edit is constructed has a strong effect on where the viewer’s attention goes, and sound can augment and solidify that direction.
Characterization – The sounds we attribute to objects and people tells us about their nature, and helps add meaning to their existence and actions.
Provide Perspective – Sound can help place the viewer in the moment. Are they supposed to be connecting to a specific character? Are they supposed to understand the inner workings of some device? The sounds we choose to include tell the viewer, even if it’s only at a subconscious level, what lens they’re viewing the story through. This can have a major impact on the way the story is interpreted.
Commentary – Sound can provide comment on the actions and events on screen. For a simple example, think of any comedic moment that uses sound to punctuate the gag (Looney Tunes anyone?). Want to provide a little wink or nudge to the audience? Sound is a great way to do this.
So what do you think? I feel this list stays just under the threshold of getting too long, and provides plenty for a collaborator to think about. Is there anything you feel that’s missing?
We’re discussing sound for the documentary “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood” with Director Mac Smith and Co-producer John “JT” Torrijos. The live stream will begin at 8PM (U.S. Eastern). If the stream is not available immediately on the hour, it’s simply because we’re waiting for someone to log in to the hangout. You can watch in the embedded video above, but make sure you head directly to the hangout page if you want to ask any questions when we open up the Q&A.
Image by Stewart Butterfield, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.
When we say “space”, people generally think of two things: outer space, or a bounded area that something fits into. It’s a safe bet that most people in the sound community immediately think of the latter. So often we focus on the characteristics of a space…how far a sound carries, reflections and reverberation time, etc. Certainly that helps us define a space, but…for the most part…only on a technical level. What really defines a space, is what occupies it. There’s no denying that production designers and location scouts in film, or level designers and artists in games, have a strong role in creating a space, but we in the sonic branch of our respective mediums have the unique ability to refine…or even redefine…those spaces they create. Sometimes, we’re even given the opportunity to create spaces where they cannot. What I want us to consider in light of that, is how we approach the creation of that space.
I contacted Jeremy Peirson, the sound designer for Looper (2012), to talk about his role in the best received time travel movie in a very long time. What follows is a transcription of our phone conversation. Enjoy!
DS: For our theme on the site this month we’re talking about “time,” and I though it would be interesting to talk about Looper (2012) as a time travel movie and your work on that.
DS: When did you get involved in Looper? Were you asked early on, or was it just in post…?
JP: No. It was just in post, and it turns out that it was a lot later…I guess they had finished shooting about a year before I got started. Just because it was a low budget indie, and they were doing a lot of cutting. It turns out that it was a lot later than I expected.
Michael Theiler has posted a new article on Gamasutra in response to Rob Bridgett’s “After Sound Design”
I have been buoyed recently due to some excellent writings by Ariel Gross and Rob Bridgett talking about game development, and also by my own sense of belonging in the world of games. We are at such an exciting and interesting point in history as it relates to games, and there are practices and stylistic methodologies that deserve some discussion.
I mention Rob Bridgett, as he recently published a blog post about the changing role of the sound department in games. He sees sound department’s role as “principle collaborator to not just the overall project, but artistically, technically, socially and politically in the development of company culture”. This statement is one that rings true, particularly now. I think most game devs will recognise this, and game development companies the world over, if they are not already doing it, will soon be recognising the people in audio departments willing to put up their hand to fill these roles.