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Posted by on Oct 29, 2009 | 1 comment

Walter Murch Special: Interviews


The Walter Murch Special ends here, a very interesting journey through the articles of one of the most important men in the history of audio and video creation. November will be a great month for the blog… If you were hoping for game audio articles, you’ll love the November Special!

Finally, let’s read a nice round of interviews of Walter Murch selected form several webs:


I noticed a picture in a recent interview of you in a small studio – is that your personal studio?

That was up in the barn and I was editing what you might call a Directors Cut of “Touch of Evil”, which Orson Wells directed forty years ago and any project that I take on, particularly short term projects I can just do them up in the barn, renting whatever happens to be the available and appropriate technology for that particular film. So what I had there was an Avid, which is a film editing machine, which has up to 24 tracks of sound that run along with it, but you can only actively work on 8 at one time. If you get a track the way you want it, you can make it one of the ‘Sleeper’ tracks, sort of ‘demote’ it to playback only, and then move another track up into the active area, so you can play back 24, but you can only actively work on 8 tracks. Everything just ran through a Mackie Mixer which was also feeding audio from CD’s and cassettes and DAT machines, and a DA88 which is an 8-track recorder which uses High 8 video tape.

How do you feel about working with a computer based system versus something like an analog tape machine?

Well, for me it’s fine. There are some people who claim to be able to tell the difference between professional digital equipment and analog equipment. I can’t. The advantages operationally of using digital are so great, I focus on that and not on what I guess might be the “digital” sound of it. “Touch of Evil” was a film that was done in 1958, so there wasn’t a wide range soundtrack to begin with.

Were you taking the existing sound track and mixing it with some sounds that were recorded now, or…?

Well no, we had separate dialog, and music and sound effects from the original magnetic masters, so we loaded those via DA88s into the Avid, onto the Avid’s hard disk, and I was editing them, supressing the music in some cases, lifting the level of the effects in some cases. All of this was following Orson Welles notes. Where we had to make changes, we simply stole (sound) from various places within the film. The goal was to make something that still sounded like it was all done in 1958 with a minimum of disruption of that particular kind of sound.

The English Patient. What process did you follow for mixing that?

I produced a ‘guide’ track on the Avid, and then that was taken and transferred at a higher quality, onto a Sonic Solutions system at Fantasy Records, and then coming out of the Sonic solutions, after it had been cut, we would make transfers either onto 6 track film, or DA88’s

What we just did on “Touch of Evil” because I was working on the finished soundtrack right from the beginning was to take my Avid sessions and re-create it, opening it up through an OMF (Open Media Framework) file and convert it into ProTools, which is another sound editing situation (Digidesign and Protools are both owned by Avid). That was a real timesaver, in the sense that all of my decisions cutting and fading in and fades out and level setting were maintained when the sound track was opened up in the ProTools environment.

So all they had to do was to tweak what I had done and refine it, because the tools that they have in ProTools are much more precise than what I have on the Avid.

On The English Patient all they really had to rebuild everything that I had done from scratch which was a time consuming process.

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Posted by on Oct 27, 2009 | 0 comments

Walter Murch Special: K-19: The Widowmaker


The history of the disaster of the sovietic nuclear-submarine K-19 presented in theaters, with K-19: The Widowmaker, an independent film that cost $100,000,000 to make. It’s about the disaster of the sovietic nuclear-submarine K-19. An interesting film with a lot of work of foley and impressive recording.. Walter Murch worked as re-recording mixer. Let’s read this article on Mix Online, with several interesting notes about the recording and foley sessions:

“It’s very difficult to get a sense of space in an enclosed [environment] like a submarine,” says picture editor and re-recording mixer Walter Murch. “If it’s not lit and art-directed right, everything just sort of blocks up.” […]

“When I started working on features,” says Walter Murch, “the idea of doing Foley was very exotic and nothing that we could afford. On The Rain People, Francis [Coppola] was shooting on location with the actors, and they were traveling across the country. At the end of the day, he would ask the actors to walk through all of the moves they made without saying anything. On THX [1138, George Lucas’ first feature], I would put the Nagra somewhere and walk around duplicating the footsteps in a real space. We did versions of that on The Conversation and American Graffiti.

“On Godfather II,” Murch continues, “we’d figure out the rate at which the principal was walking, and we had a little portable electronic metronome, which we would set at that frame rate. I remember doing the footsteps for Fanucci where he comes up the stairs before he’s killed by DeNiro [young Vito Corleone], and we found the marble staircases in the old Zoetrope building were very much like the staircases in that actual location. So, I set the metronome and I had my assistant at the top. I walked a couple of flights up, so you hear these footsteps coming from far away. They get closer and closer, which is the whole idea of the scene, and then I stopped, as Fanucci stopped, at the top. I said Fanucci’s next line, and when we took the track and sunk it up, all of the footsteps sunk up. On the Foley track, you can hear my voice, and it exactly syncs with the lips of Fanucci.”

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K-19 The Widowmaker at IMDb

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Posted by on Oct 21, 2009 | 0 comments

Walter Murch Special: The Process of Transition and The Role Of Sound In The Image Interpretation


The Walter Murch Special continues! With more sound techniques and fantastic theories by the sound master Walter Murch. Let’s check two artibles of Filmsound. The first one is an interview where he talks mainly about Transitions:

At the basic level, a transition is simply the process of changing from some state A to another state, B. What we should examine carefully is the degree of change, and our awareness of it. Change is happening all the time, though we are not always conscious of it. But without change there is no perception. This is somewhat of a paradox. If you are staring constantly at a static object you would think that nothing is changing, but it turns out your eyeballs are constantly moving, though the movements are so tiny you are unaware of it. You might be stationary, the object you are staring at might be stationary, but your eyeballs are rapidly scanning the image in what are called microsaccades, at the rate of around sixty per second. It is this slight vibration the eyeballs are moving about 1/180th of a degree – that is keeping your perception alive, scrubbing the image across a slightly different set of rods and cones at the back of your eye. In a way it is kind of like the scanning electron gun in a video monitor. Fascinating experiments have been performed, neutralizing these microsaccades, and the result is that the vision of the subject quickly dims and then disappears entirely, even though his eyes are open and he is in a lighted room. At a very basic perceptual level, then, there has to be some kind of a transition, a change, for us to perceive the world at all.

1. In film terms, the smallest transition is the frame: this is the equivalent of the microsaccade that keeps vision alive, and we are unconscious of the shift as such from one frame to the next, though it is perceived by us as motion.

2. The next smallest transition is the cut between shots: this is the equivalent of a shift of attention of our eyes and we are intermittently conscious of this sometimes more sometimes less, depending on the nature of the cut.

3. And then a still bigger transition is the cut (or dissolve, or whatever) between one scene and another, and we are usually quite conscious of this. In fact it is the editors job to make sure that the audience is conscious of the transition from one scene to the next, otherwise there will be confusion.

4. Beyond that there are the major transitions between the Acts of a movie, but these are more difficult to qualify since cinema is unlike theatre: very rarely does a curtain fall in a movie! But we do occasionally get a sense of this end of act transition. For example, in The Godfather all the scene transitions up until Michael kills Solozzo and McCluskey have some action or story continuity. But after the double murder we get a somewhat abstract montage of various newspaper images, and the music changes from dramatic orchestral to tinkling piano, and it is by these means that the film is letting us know this is the end of Act I. Everything after these murders will be different.

5. Lastly there are the biggest transitions of all: the beginning and the ending of the film. The beginning is the transition from nothing to something, and the end is the transition from something back to nothing again. (In the technical sense, the film has not yet begun, and at the end, the shutter closes and the film stops. In the mind of the audience of course, this is not true. Whenever the audiences enter the theatre, they are full of thoughts and emotions. They come in with expectations about the film. (based on the star cast, the promotion, genre etc) It is upto the film to meet their expectations or not, in a sense to transport them into its own world and either meet or defy their expectations. The audience always enters the theatre full of thoughts and emotions, brimming with all of their past histories – love affairs, tragedies, disappointments, triumphs, etc. The film energizes and synthesizes these feelings, and hopefully transforms them in some way – makes them more coherent, meaningful, endurable, funny – which is one of the primary functions of dramatic art. Most films do not engage the audience, therefore either the audience get disinterested while watching the film or they forget about it the moment the screening is over. However, the few films that do engage the audience transport them into its world and the audience, collectively, experience the emotions in a coherent way. The way in which they were meant to experience the film in the first place. Whenever this experience happens, the audience carry the film with them. Depending on the impact, the film stays with them till they come out of the theatre or, in case of a great film, it remains with them for a very long time. Although this process of the film leaving the space of the screen and entering the minds/hearts of the audience is not a cinematic transition in the true sense it is, by far, the most important transition for every film. Because no matter what the filmmaker does within the film, if the film fails to reach the audience and make an impact (either by thought or emotion) then all that the filmmaker does within the film becomes useless.)

Within the shot, at the level of the transition from frame to frame, we are essentially cutting from one image to a very similar but not identical image. The mind tries to explain this slight difference, and the concept it arrives at is the idea of motion. Remember that motion does not exist on film, it exists in the mind of the perceiver as a way to explain the difference in adjacent frames.

At the point of a cut from one shot to another, the audiences attention is momentarily dislocated by this new visual, even though the new shot may happen in the same three-dimensional space as the previous one. Previously, the frame to frame changes within the shot were small and incremental. Suddenly at the cut the change is much greater like a break in time code: the change isnt motion any more, what is it the audiences mind has to resolve the sudden shift of geography, position, and other things and it takes a frame or so 50 to 100 milliseconds depending on the content of the shot for the audience to adjust to the new reality. Editors can use this brief disorientation to their advantage, because it proves useful in masking technical problems we might have, such as action mismatches. To the extent that they happen mostly below the level of consciousness, cuts between shots are not strictly speaking transitions. This is why where you make the cut is crucial. If the audience is ready for a new idea, their minds will be receptive to a new shot when it occurs. And there are certain places in a shot where that readiness is more likely than others, just as there are places on a tree where branches will form and not others. If the audience is not ready, the cut will feel awkward.

Depending on the size of the transition whether it is the microscopic one of the frame, the larger one of the shot, or the even larger ones of the scene or act we can expect the audience to be increasingly alert to the differences in the transition. And the more alert the audience is at those moments of transition, the greater the opportunity we have to reveal things to them. In fact the more we do this, the more it helps to sensitize the audience to the changes, so it is a chicken/egg kind of a thing. Change is essential for perception, and greater change can lead to greater perception, if handled right.

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Posted by on Oct 19, 2009 | 0 comments

Walter Murch Special: Touch Of Evil

Touch Of Evil

Another amazing work by Walter Murch, with the sound and picture editing on the remake of Touch Of Evil. Really interesting techniques applied in both sound and picture. And as usual in Walter Murch articles… you can’t miss this!

Orson Welles’ 1957 film noir masterpiece, Touch of Evil, has recently been re-edited and released to enthusiastic reviews–many revolving around the film’s meticulously re-worked sound track, and the real, behind-the-scenes drama that deeply affected Welles’ life and career.

The re-editing project grew from a 58-page memo Welles had sent to Universal studios just prior to the film’s original release. Welles had been absent for the final editing of the film, and Universal had finished it in ways that disturbed the director enormously. The memo, and nine pages of “sound notes”, describe in exquisite detail the ways Welles most passionately wanted the film to be re-edited. Unfortunately, Universal implemented only a very few of Welles’ suggestions, aborting the director’s vision of a film into which he had poured his soul, in the hope it would revitalized his doomed Hollywood career […]

The Tools:

  • Walter Murch edited picture and sound on an Avid Media Composer. He exported his sound files in Avid’s Open Media Format (OMF) format and sent these to his editors.
  • Sound editors Richard LeGrand and Harry Snodgrass imported Murch’s OMF files into Digidesign Pro Tools audio workstations. They used Pro Tools plug-in software both to process certain segments of the audio and to clean up pops, clicks, snaps and other noise.
  • Their primary cleanup tool was the DeClicker from Steinberg
  • For processing, they used the d2 equalizer from Focusrite and the Lexiverb from Lexicon
  • They laid their finished audio back to Tascam DA-88s which they took to the mixing stage to create the final analog master.
  • To re-record the sound of the radio news broadcast, they used Sennheiser CM-50s and a CM-60.

Continue reading at Filmsound…

There is an extensive interview at Parallaz View, with Murch talking about all the info about Touch of Evil.

What does Touch of Evil mean to you as a filmmaker?

It had a large indirect influence on me because the filmmakers who influenced me directly were the French New Wave – Godard, Resnais, Truffaut and Rohmer. But it turns out that as young men they were all heavily influenced by Orson Welles and particularly by Touch of Evil, which came out in 1958, just as they started making their own film, and was much more warmly received in Europe than it was in the United States.

In addition, when I went to film school in 1965, Touch of Evil was only seven years old and was studied directly by all of us because of Welles’ use of composition, camera angles, sound, and staging. It’s a tremendous piece of filmmaking.

Do you find Welles’ sensibility to sound unusual?

It was very unusual then, and it’s still unusual today. I’m just flabbergasted when I read his memos, thinking that he was writing these ideas forty years ago, because, if I was working on a film now and a director came up with ideas like these, I’d be amazed – pleased but amazed – to realize that someone was thinking that hard about sound – which is all too rare.

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2009 | 0 comments

Walter Murch Special: Womb Tone and Dense Clarity/Clear Density


Walter Murch has created for an essay called Womb Tone as a companion to his lecture, Dense Clarity – Clear Density, published at Transom. The article is illustrated with sound and film clips, detailing all the process. Don’t miss it!.. is very interesting.

Womb Tone

Hearing is the first of our senses to be switched on, four-and-a-half months after we are conceived. And for the rest of our time in the womb—another four-and-a-half months—we are pickled in a rich brine of sound that permeates and nourishes our developing consciousness: the intimate and varied pulses of our mother’s heart and breath; her song and voice; the low rumbling and sudden flights of her intestinal trumpeting; the sudden, mysterious, alluring or frightening fragments of the outside world — all of these swirl ceaselessly around the womb-bound child, with no competition from dormant Sight, Smell, Taste or Touch. […]

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Dense Clarity – Clear Density

Simple and Complex

One of the deepest impressions on someone who happens to wander into a film mixing studio is that there is no necessary connection between ends and means. Sometimes, to create the natural simplicity of an ordinary scene between two people, dozens and dozens of soundtracks have to be created and seamlessly blended into one. At other times an apparently complex ‘action’ soundtrack can be conveyed with just a few carefully selected elements. In other words, it is not always obvious what it took to get the final result: it can be simple to be complex, and complicated to be simple.

The general level of complexity, though, has been steadily increasing over the eight decades since film sound was invented. And starting with Dolby Stereo in the 1970’s, continuing with computerized mixing in the 1980’s and various digital formats in the 1990’s, that increase has accelerated even further. Seventy years ago, for instance, it would not be unusual for an entire film to need only fifteen to twenty sound effects. Today that number could be hundreds to thousands of times greater. […]

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