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Sound Advice ...

14th June, 2016 by Steve J

In my degree course days I was fortunate to learn from one of the best. John Jordan was a remarkable man. He worked with Stanley Kubrick on the infamous “A Clockwork Orange”, work for which he received a BAFTA nomination in 1972. John and I used to talk a lot about sound design and its still a subject that inspires me.

All through the history of cinema and television, the contribution of sound design and musical score has, on so many occasions, been the determining factor is how an audience is engaged. Hitchcock remarked that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music” Indeed it is notable that composer Bernard Herrmann’s credit in the movie is followed only by that of director for Hitchcock.

Then who can forget, or imagine Jaws without John Williams’ relentless repeat of the notes E and F played on the tuba by Tommy Johnson. How would The Graduate feel without the music of Simon and Garfunkel?

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There is of course more to a movie soundtrack than a few decent tunes. The terrifying opening 20 minutes of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan features one of the most incredible pieces of sound design. The viewer is placed right inside the action, surfacing from the waters of the English Channel to the chaos of bullets and mortars. Every bit of this audio landscape was created by Gary Rydstrom and his team in post production. It is a remarkable piece of work. If you don’t believe me try watching the scene with the sound turned off or alternatively just listen to the sound on its own. A truly well earned Oscar.

Another favourite of mine is Disney’s Wall-E. Having done some time working in animation I know a bit about how you are starting from nothing. In Wall-E, with no dialogue in the opening 30 minutes of the movie, every emotion, every movement, clang, crash and so on had to created from scratch, often from unusual sources. Sound designer Ben Burtt recorded over 2500 sounds for the film including that of an old hand cranked electrical generator to create the sound of Wall-E moving around. It is a staggering piece of work combined with what I still think is one of the most beautiful examples of character animation.

There again, the use of silence can be just as powerful. Back to Kubrick, the sound of Dr David Bowman breathing in his space suit builds the tension and isolation of deep space in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The 2013 movie Gravity did much the same, placing the viewer right in the middle of the action.

So, round at mine, Saturday night is movie night and the Dolby surround sound gets turned up loud. Bring a bottle.

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