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Archive for July, 2008

Sound Design: Music and Sound and their Relationships with Images – Paul Rodgers

Sound in Film

Sound is an integral part of modern film and television, being one of the two major stimuli through which film makers can communicate with their audience. It is not surprising therefore that there are production practises and techniques that have become standard across the industry, from major Hollywood blockbusters, to low production underground films, including all film media, from real life documentaries to entirely fabricated cartoons. Whilst there will be variation in how these techniques are implemented, there is a common sophisticated ingenuity that reveals itself upon study of the art of sound design.

Sound design can more or less be described as the arrangement of all those non-musical sonic elements that feature in a piece of film.

In the overwhelming majority of film production, the aim of the sound team at the point of shooting is to capture only the dialogue of the main protagonists in a scene, hopefully cutting out all background noise. Whilst there are exceptions to this, they only really occur where an artistic decision has been made to keep these peripheral elements in the soundtrack.

The reason for this is simple: Background effects can be custom designed and added to the picture later. This luxury means that the sound designer is able to synthesise the sounds to a much higher standard than would occur naturally, creating a more suitable soundtrack that will be more effective when played with the film.

Most film production will involve a foley artist, whose job it is to make the effects we take for granted. Foley work is usually undertaken in a recording studio, and the foley artist will usually have a plethora of props that he will rely on. These will be everyday objects that the artist can use to create sounds that will match the action on screen. These objects will often bear little or no actual relation to those on screen. For example, the sound of bones breaking is often recreated by breaking a piece of celery. Sometimes the link between the sound source and the visually object is less abstract, for instance a creaking chair is often used as a controllable way of reproducing creaking stairs or doors.

The person who is ultimately responsible for composing and mixing the soundtrack, including the work done by the other people such as foley artists is the sound designer. The sound designer will have at his disposal all the sonic material that has been collected by the sound team, and is likely to realise the soundtrack in a studio similar to one used by any other sound engineer, using similar methods and programs, such as Pro Tools.

This allows the sound designer to take advantage of some common techniques that are used, such as:

· Sync Points – this is where the action that occurs on screen coincides with a sonic impulse. This is an effective technique as it establishes a synthesis between what is happening in the film and in the soundtrack, which makes the track much more plausible. An example of this can be seen in the Squarepusher video for ‘’Come on my Selector’, directed by Chris Cunningham, particularly at the point 4:50 – 5:05.

· Temporal Manipulation – This is where a sonic impulse is manipulated so as to give the effect of slowing down or speeding up time. An example of this would be the sound of a heart beat slowing, or of footsteps slowing, so as to add tension to a film.

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