I attended a very interesting talk recently, presented by SAE, from film and television sound designer Tristan Meredith, and composer Dale Cornelius.
It was great to be in a room with such highly-acclaimed professionals within the music industry – it served a nice reminder that it is possible to have a successful career within music, for those who are passionate about sound and dedicated to creating top-quality work.
This talk brought to light for me how much impact sound does have on the message of a story, and that even environmental sounds, for example, are calculatingly placed into scenes in order to make them realistic and believable. It is such a complex and intricate art form.
I found it amazing to see/hear examples of what directors and film-makers have given Dale and Tristan to work with – I couldn’t believe the absolute bareness of the pre-edited versions of film, which they would then turn in to full, natural-sounding products (the style we inherently expect from a television show, documentary or film). It elucidated for me how little we consciously regard the amount of work and effort that actually goes into formulating a ‘normal’ state of viewing.
As George Martin, not only The Beatles producer but an esteemed film composer, wrote:
“In many ways, film music has become a part of our culture. The audience know, for instance, when a murder is about to happen, or the cavalry are on their way, or the lovers are about to kiss, because the music tells them so, and the convention is understood. Without that musical build-up, most films would seem clinically sterile. But the audience need not necessary be aware of the music” (Martin, 1979, p.233).
The work of sound-designers does often go unnoticed – the projects turn out to be such cohesive wholes that viewers habitually look past the very fine details the sound professionals engage, in order to create that unified product.
In contemplating the integration of sound and film, Martin uses an example of a highly-tense car scene from the Bond film ‘Live And Let Die’ –
“Now I’m certain that if you asked any member of the audience what the music was like in that sequence, he would have proved unaware that there was any music at all. But there was – and without it, and the sound effects, most of the excitement would have been stripped from that scene” (Martin, 1979, p.233).
As Dale said, it is like trickery – it is intended that the layers are seamless, to make the scene believable, and allow the audience to feel the whole effect of the visual with the aural, and their combined impact on us (after all this is how we experience these sensory forms in real life).
It really highlights the way in which our senses are interwoven – that a full and deep impact of the arts can derive from a natural experience of their connectivity.
That point was really explicit in footage Dale and Tristan showed us of a scene from the Doctor Blake Mysteries. When I watched the clip in its original state, completely devoid of sound (aside from a little dialogue) I couldn’t grasp the effect of the scene - what its intention was and how I was meant to feel... There was even a part, where a man fell off a horse, that actually made me laugh a little! Not at his ill-fate, but because seeing him roll on the ground looked humorous - the silence made the acting seem so unrealistic!
Then we were shown the scene with the sound they applied to it... Everything was different. The mood felt intense! I even got quite emotionally involved in what was happening, never even having seen an episode before! And this time when the man fell off the horse, I physically reacted from the shock of the impact (even though it obviously wasn't a 'shock' - I had just seen the footage).
It’s absolutely amazing how the sound basically created the true effect of the scene.
In deliberating this theme, Alfred Hitchcock comes to my mind - I think he was someone who really understood the power of sound, and used it every bit to his advantage to build suspense and anticipation in his films. He knew exactly how to augment the impact of a scene through the creative use of the aural (to amplify the sense of uneasiness, confusion, fear), and importantly, in the balance and contrast of sound – often applying the unexpected silence, or deliberate minimalism.
This clip freaks me out thanks to the audio.
A particular example I found absolutely brilliant from Tristan and Dale was their work on 'Uranium'. Tristan made sounds to represent what we believe certain technologies, elements, and events would sound like - sounds that we haven’t actually even heard, or that are unable to be captured in reality.
It’s also very cool how they work together to complement the work of one another; providing the various aspects of the sound (Dale's dramatic percussion underlying the more sporadic, story-telling, ‘sounds of science' from Tristan).
Introduction from beginning to 57 seconds. URL:
As someone who is attracted to the thought of potentially pursuing this career path, I found it extremely enlightening to hear first-hand the sort of tasks this profession entails - the difficulties, the rewards, the hours, the liaising and the enjoyment factor.
It would yield great satisfaction seeing one’s work, especially through a collaborative project, helping to inform and/or entertain, and affecting people’s emotions and experience of creative projects... Possibly even thousands of people at a time! Even though they may not realise it.
Reference: Martin, George. (1979). All You Need Is Ears. New York City: St. Martin’s Press.