Sounding Off

Eva Wewiorski
Wednesday 15 July 2015

Howdy Laidlaw peeps, here are my reflective ramblings:

Film is a uniquely sensory experience in that it can make us feel things physically, as well as emotionally. Consider: have you ever flinched when watching a character get shot in the knee cap, or gripped the armrest tightly as a vehicle collision is about to happen onscreen? You can almost feel the pain, and feel the impending impact. It tends to be the images that stay in our minds, and we overlook the role of sound in immersing the viewer. Prior to starting this project I, like most, considered film primarily a visual art form. In the four and a bit weeks I have been studying sound design I have come to realise that the role of audio in cinema is arguably the defining component when experiencing film on a sensory level. My challenge is trying to answer the question: how does sound accomplish this?

When I began this project, my focus was on technology and its innovations, particularly in relation to Dolby laboratories. I began by reading copious interviews with numerous sound designers and learned extraordinary things about the ways in which they created sound effects. I studied sound equipment so as to better understand the aural intricacies of mono and stereo, noise reduction technology and surround sound. All this gave me a firm grasp on how sound is made and improved, what I needed to do next was analyse its effect.

Each previous week I’ve chosen a certain film that was in its own way revolutionary, to use as a case study to analyse its use of sound and how it contributes to the overall response. These were: A Clockwork Orange, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, and Eraserhead. I’ve searched thoroughly through online archives, listened to audio commentaries and watched behind-the-scenes documentaries, learning vastly about how sound fits into the rest of the production process. Although there is frustratingly little criticism written about sound design, I have learned a great deal just from my own observations and analysis of the films.

One of the most eye-opening things I’ve done thus far is meet and interview a professional Edinburgh-based sound designer who has worked on an array of projects, from drama to documentary. He helped me understand how as a sound designer he is both an artist and technician, how sound can convey characterisation and how sound is far more powerful when used subtly (not turned up to full volume as is popular in blockbuster films nowadays). His passion and creativity proved that there is little difference between a Hollywood sound designer and a freelance one, their thought processes and dedication are the same.

Today marks the precise halfway point of my project so from hereon I am going in a slightly different direction. Rather than examine one film a week in detail, I am now considering film and sound on a far more theoretical scale, considering sound in relation to space (onscreen and off), film texture, and individual aspects of mise-en-scene. This broadens the potential of my research as well as enables me to watch far more films (this internship has its major perks!).

I’ve come to terms with the fact that at the end of this project I may not have produced a single answer, but likely uncovered more questions. One thing is certain, when I go to the cinema, I no longer will be ‘watching’ a film, but rather ‘experiencing’ a film.

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