”When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralise it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer." Walter Murch.
I am interested in the use of sound in movies, but i’m no pro and not yet a film buff.
I like to rip audio from movies and load them into a sound editor, it’s time consuming but hopefully the end result is that I have some nice sounds to make a song with; a process commonly called sampling. I’ll often load the audio into a sound editor before I even watch the film.
Doing this focuses my attention on the sound alone and produces a different kind of intensity to that of images. Even without the priviledge of high end audio equipment, room tones really reveal themselves here; as does uninspiring field recording, trite sounds of footsteps and doors shutting, even monophonic sound or Wilhelm screams.
Chris Watson is good. David Lynch is good. Who else is good?
Audio in Films of Lucrecia Martel by Dominique Russell
For interesting sound, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” has some good work.
The scene with the Adrenachrome hallucinations features some surround-mixed layers of voices, deep bass notes and much else that really disorient you along with the visuals.
“Das Boot”, in its re-mixed DTS “Director’s Cut” version, is a textbook example of sounds as mood. From the tiniest creaks to the massive explosions and the (almost) silence in-between, in my book, a very fine track that is both “realistic” and “dramatic.”
“Apocalypse Now” hits a fine blend of reality and the mad, as needed by the story.
There is a film publishing company called Michael Wiese Productions and they have published a book called Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema by David Sonnenschein., I have only glimpsed at it, but haven’t really read it. There’s another one on sound by the same publishing company called The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create And Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects by Ric Viers. It features topics such as how to build your own Foley stage, what kind of recording equipment you need to use and also features how to make specific sounds. Hope that helps.
I’ve heard that Pixar are good with sound but I have not seen any of their movies.
What i’m interested in is art house foley and sound design.
It is usually possible to tell what kind of movie you have in front of you simply by looking at the waveform of the audio track. For example, we can say; this is a Horror, this is an Action Hollywood, this is a Comedy or this is an Art film. What do you think aboiut this?
Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” is a landmark in sound design. Its probably the first and only film where the visual direction derives directly from the sound work. There was even the myth that most of the directing was done by Walter Murch instead of Coppola.
Other work that strikes me for its sound design in Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Being a film without musical soundtrack, Bernard Herrmann did a great job at manipulating the bird sounds to build up the suspense. Most films nowadays use sound editing in a very loud and noisy fashion. Horror and suspense are genres that lend themselves to good soundwork. I particularly like the sound design of Shyamalan’s “Signs”, where everyday sounds were used to intensify the tension (the rustling of leaves, the creaks of the wood, etc).
I did not find Master and Commander that interesting of a film, but I have heard that none of the sound in it is “canned”, i.e, previously recorded and sampled. Instead, they foleyed or recorded every sound anew for the movie. It’s interesting to watch from that perspective.
Sonic Youth does a very fascinating noize track for Demonlover . The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t even “hear” it for what it was.
Experimental films often have accompanied experimental sound design. Peter Tserchassky’s Outer Space is a noize song/picture in and of itself because the same processing he does on the image affects the sound simultaneously (though he does layer in some non-altered sound for ambient effect, mostly voices). Bill Morrison’s Decasia and Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi series are good to watch in terms of composer/director collaborations, where it’s very difficult to imagine either operating separately but they are both fully formed pieces of art unto themselves.
Horror movies come to mind, but beyond just the shrieks of stabbing violins. I’m talking about monsters that have distinct “sounds”. Jurassic Park dinosaur sounds were created by mixing various bird calls together, and have come to stand in for the most part how dinosaurs “sound” in cinema. Predator , those types of movies where the monster’s presence is announced by a familiar sound, that ultimately defines the franchise if it becomes one. Or the fact that for the most part, all vampires seem to hiss for some reason, as if they were some snake. I don’t know why. And Carlos is right, Signs had great sounds, if not a great story.
George Lucas, actually, of all things, is an unrecognized wizard of sound effects. Along with the incredibly distinctive microphone spins of lightsabers, take a look at both THX 1138 and it’s short film earlier variant, Electronic Labyrinth THX1138 . Both have absolutely amazing sound design, but they aren’t really acknowledged often for that fact. Quite a lot of what we today consider canned sound was recorded by Lucas’ THX company. You know everytime a person falls off a cliff and THAT scream happens? Or when an audience is taken aback and THAT mob reaction sound happens? Or the fact that The Dark Crystal might as well have been set on Dagobah, since the two fantasy lands “sound” the same (because there are similar sounds recorded into each—check it out!).
One place you might want to go for sound effects and sound design tutorials and help is a website called Video CoPilot. You can download sound effects for free and watch tutorials on how to build atmospheric expressions in your movie, or make scores (or at least mark scores so that a composer can know how to compose the new one). It’s a very good resource.
You might also want to watch Godard’s Made in USA . However, it deconstructs sound design, not constructs it. This is useful but not necessarily pleasant, so be aware.
Yes, “Predator” has a very clever use of sound (the original soundtrack by Alan Silvestri is also very good). That factor actually puts the film above the average action films where sound almost always just means loud explosions.
The sound design in Spielberg’s films is also top notch. I remember “War of the Worlds” and the amazing sounds created for the tripods. When the first emerges from under the ground with those quasi-musical frightening tones I just applauded with delight.
I get the impression that there are some worn out sounds surrounding us and using these canned sounds should be thought of on the level of reusing stock footage. Maybe there is some crack in the market. There is also a loudness war in the mainstream where it is likely to find overcooked and bombastic sounds. Of course, it is Sci Fi movies for sound Fx and Horror movies that have dark noises and reverb which is very useful to me, There is a certain thickness to the sound.
Barton Fink is a great film for studying narrative use of sound – Coen Bros have a reputation for great sound design and this is one of the best examples. As well as great sound signatures denoting space (check out the hotel entrance scene), and interesting ways of doing a mosquito (playing it on a speaker on a stick that they waved around a mic!), the sound designer and composer also met before shooting even to plan who would occupy which ranges of sound with their work in each scene.
I also watched Padro Padrone by the Taviani Bros recently and was astonished at how inventive sound use was in that film, though I’ve never read any praise of it on that front. Am curious what others think of it from a sound design point of view to be honest.
Terrence Malick’s New World is a sonic fest too – he had sound designers record everything with absolute authenticity (every bird call would have been heard at that place, at that time in that season) and no sound was used twice in the film. Don’t read about James Horner’s opinions on Malick and use of film music though – he was VERY unhappy working with the guy.
Re your reference about reused sounds – there are sound libraries of course and most Hollywood film use them apparently. There are a couple accessed by internet and one is for free – if you’re interested I can find it for you.
Here are a couple of sound design links you might be interested in too though – the first is a must:
An excellent early example of creative and quite effective sound design may be found in Carl Dreyer’s “Vampyr”. Though it was produced in the first years of sound film, the use of background sounds was used to increase the sense of dread: dogs barking, babies crying, church bells, etc. I was very surprised to notice this when I first saw the film. It serves to show that sound design was important right ffrom the moment cinema conquered its voice.
One essential movie I forgot to mention is Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail .
It was the first British sound movie, and it is also somewhat experimental in its own right, showing Hitchcock again as someone using the highest of production design to tell a story while playing with the very tools he uses. This is the beginning of his birds symbolism that goes throughout his career—birdsong shows the breaking down of the lead’s psyche. Meanwhile, this one fantastic sequence involves a woman talking about the recent news of the murder (a very common situation in Hitchcock movies from then on) and every instance of the word “knife” gets louder and louder until it finally takes over the scene. Very interesting stuff.
“You know everytime a person falls off a cliff and THAT scream happens?”
This one? The Wilhelm actually wasn’t recorded by THX.