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Posted by on Jun 28, 2014 | 1 comment

Designing Silence


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 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.

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 | 1 comment

Sonic/Temporal Ambiguity as Evidence of Psychosis in Martha Marcy May Marlene


“Where are we?”


“No. How far are we?”

“From what?”


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.

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Posted by on Mar 29, 2013 | 4 comments

Sonic Centaurs: An Exploration of the Common Grounds Between Music and Sound Design

Guest Contribution by Carlos Alberto Manrique Clavijo

“The vocation of the sound film is to redeem us

from the chaos of shapeless noise by accepting it

as expression, as significance, as meaning. . . .”[0A]


“(…) When does sound become music?

Above all, in the supreme states of pleasure and displeasure

experienced by the will, as a will which rejoices

or a will which is frightened to death,

in short in the intoxication of feeling: in the shout.”[0B]

 As sound designers, we are always driven by passion and curiosity to try to understand that gentle monster that is the sonic language in the audio-visual world it inhabits. We constantly invoke its power to express emotion and to create significance and meaning. Yet, it’s mechanisms aren’t fully understood. And both film industry practitioners and audiences, have historically had the tendency to group it as a single entity with a different creature: music. But beyond the simple understanding that both art-forms stimulate and play with our auditory perception, asking ourselves about all the possible points of contact between both expressive languages may lead us to discover rich common-grounds to nurture our creative processes as ‘aural story-tellers.'[02]

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Posted by on Mar 12, 2013 | 1 comment

Audiovisual Correspondences

Guest contribution by Martin Stig Andersen

The following is extracted from the author’s article “Electroacoustic Sound and Audiovisual Structure in Film” (supervised by Denis Smalley) originally published by eContact.


Music Versus Sound Effects — Sound Designer qua Composer?

Given sound’s ability to create temporal experiences unique to that of other media, it seems no accident that it has attained an important role in film. Where a film montage made out of cuts in time and space causes a chaotic, fractionated temporal experience, sound can bring to the image an all-embracing temporal trajectory. Conversely, where a film shot implies linear time, sound can impose the experience of non-linear time. While applying to sound in general, in traditional film making such temporal attributes are mostly exploited by means of a film score accompanying the picture. The reasoning behind this, according to Michel Chion, is that where “other sound … elements … are obliged to remain clearly defined in their relation to diegetic space and to a linear and chronological notion of time,” music, on the other hand, “enjoys the status of being a little freer of barriers of time and space” (Chion 1990, 81). Chion states that the spatiotemporal quality of music especially applies to what he himself calls “pit music” (1), with reference to the orchestral pit in the opera house (ibid.). In other words, pit music is the traditional music accompaniment to a film, often performed by an orchestra, residing outside the film’s world. Accordingly he implies that “screen music” (2), that is music arising from a source within the film’s world,may only in some cases attain the status of its aforementioned counterpart. A classic example occurs when music is heard over a car radio, linearizing an otherwise nonlinear montage of images showing a character travelling a long distance. The “other sound elements”, on the other hand, the structuring of which Chion considers subordinated to the spatiotemporal information within the film’s world, could, besides dialogue, be regarded simply as “sound effects”. In the context of motion picture production, sound effects denote all sound elements that do not fall into the categories of music and dialogue. The recording, processing, editing and mixing of sound effects, including “on screen”, Foley, and background sound effects, is often managed by a sound designer. According to Walter Murch — the first person to be credited the title in recognition of his contribution to the film Apocalypse Now (Coppola 1979) — the role of the sound designer is to take care of the overall treatment of sound in film (Thom 1998, 122). Equally, in general, sound design is considered as an artistic field covering all non-compositional elements of film sound. While one can arguably make such a distinction between music and sound effects when considering films featuring traditional film music, incorporating electroacoustic music in film challenges this idea. For decades any sound available, be it instrumental or environmental, has been part of the electroacoustic composer’s sound palette, and musical properties such as space (spatial articulation) have developed and acquired equal importance to pitch and rhythm.Furthermore, just like the sound designer, the electroacoustic composer is concerned with sound recording, editing and mixing, each representing essential and often indistinguishable parts of the compositional process. Thus, in principle, by means of the electroacoustic medium, the composer has the opportunity to include all sounds relating to a given film’s world in his compositional work, thereby potentially exploiting their temporal forces in relation to image. However, temporal utilisation of sound effects in film is not new but has been practised for decades by innovative sound designers. As a brief example, consider the “tiger scene” in Apocalypse Now in which a high-pitched, sustained sound of insects freezes time and causes the experience of suspense, an effect usually achieved through the use of music, and by orchestral means. In such examples, if the categorisation of sound elements into film music and sound effects is to retain any meaning, we would have to redefine the terms according to sounds’ correspondence with the image rather than simply their means of production.

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Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 | 4 comments

Loudness and Metering (Part 1)

Guest contribution by Owen Green

[This is the first of a two part series on loudness, mixing, metering and the new ITU loudness spec]

Understanding the complex relationship between sound level and perceived loudness turns out to be very important to us as designers of sound for a number of reasons:

  • Our perception of loudness is not constant (or even remotely linear) at different frequencies, so it is possible to have high level signals that nonetheless sound weak (and vice versa) depending on their frequency content.
  • The levels at which we monitor in the studio have an impact on how we hear our work, and consequently on how the work translates to different spaces and systems, because our relative perception of frequency is not constant across different levels.
  • Our judgement of frequency balance and loudness is not constant with time. This is particularly true if we tire our ears out with working – it becomes harder to make reasonable decisions.
  • To get the best out of our equipment, we need to understand how it works and interconnects; this means knowing about the various different dB scales we will encounter, and how they should align.
  • Recently, a number of areas have adopted a recent ITU recommendation on a loudness (rather than level) based form of metering and specification for broadcast. Other sectors are investigating following suit, so it is quite likely that this will be a standard and required practice.

Insofar as the ITU recommendation arose as an attempt to circumvent the sonic race to the bottom of the ‘loudness war’, this whole issue of how we relate the levels of our equipment, our perceptions of loudness and our working practices occurs at a complex intersection of technology, psychology, aesthetics, economics, politics, philosophy, etc…

Levels and dB

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