24ThursdayJan 2019


It’s a cliche to say that film sound is underappreciated as an art, but it’s also true.


Let’s just admit right off the bat that the visual sense tends to be dominant.  It’s the sense we are most aware of.  We are more analytical about visual images than we are about sound.  Our vocabulary for describing visual images dwarfs our vocabulary for describing sounds.  The fact that our eyes move, and the muscles around our eyes move, conveys a sense of dynamism to the act of looking that is nearly absent in the act of hearing, if hearing can even be called an act.  As Walter Murch has pointed out, the lexicon for describing the act of looking is vast:  we peer, glance, stare, we bore into, gaze, glower, look wide eyed, look inquisitively, beam, scrutinize, glimpse, ogle, gawk, gape, look piercingly, stare icily, study, inspect, shoot daggers, scan, regard, watch, peep, spy, etc., etc.  Hearing, on the other hand, is passive.  Or is it?

More people say they would prefer to keep their sight than their hearing.

Let’s face it, eyes are more attractive than ears.  The eyes are the “windows to the soul.” Our ears are windows to wax. We can read someone’s emotions and intentions by looking at their eyes.  By looking at someone’s ears we can speculate how much they will regret their piercings in a few years. In short, our eyes think they are in charge, and they have us convinced that they are in charge, that they rank higher than our ears. But do they?

The image comes to mind of a traditional, unfair, male-dominated marriage. The man seems to be in control, and in many ways IS in control of the family. But behind the scenes, often without the man or onlookers being aware, the woman exerts her power.

7 thoughts

  1. Your articles are very inspiring. Honestly you are very good at explaining about Film sound mixing. Expecting more posts regularly. Thanks.

  2. I can’t wait to read the piece as you flesh it out.
    I had a 3 part experience this past year. My wife and I saw Bruce Springsteen’s one man( sort of one man) show on Broadway. Incredible evening and I’m not a Bruce guy. Small theater, bare stage, one mic center and a acoustic guitar. To the right a mic and a piano. He told the story of his life was he played parts of songs on either instrument. He also wandered the stage, going on and off mic to great affect as it obviously changed our need to focus and listen more intently when he was none amplified. This I’m sure was intentional. Anyway it all worked wonderfully and the crowd responded appropriately. Cut to 6 months later. Driving home in Friday night L A traffic, I heard the show on my radio. No picture. Just Bruce, the instruments, the room, the crowd and my memory of the experience. I was hypnotized by the experience of reliving my experience as I crawled the freeway madness. It was almost better as theater of the mind with no visuals. Two weeks later I saw it on Netflix on my decent home system with the multiple cameras and appropriate editing pace and I found this to be the least satisfactory of the 3 experiences. It seemed to be drained of the energy of the first two exposures to the piece. Was it me? Was it the act of listening actively as compared to passively? Was it the order of my viewings and would that change my experience if the were in a different order? I’ll never know but I was certainly struck by how different yet pleasing each was. Sorry for the long story. I should of just said hi. Big fan of your blog Randy. Cheers.

  3. I normally cringe when I hear someone repeat the “sound is 50% of the movie” line. It may eventually be true, but it’s so cliche, it’s lost all meaning. In my experience, sound legitimizes the picture (sometimes, often times, it needs it). We build the world around which the picture exists. Where the camera is showing a scene through a keyhole, sound is letting you tour the house. However, sound is a respite where I love to hide and I hesitate wanting the audience to pay more attention to it. No one leaves the theater saying, for instance, Bumblebee’s engine wasn’t a real Camero, that the room reverb I chose changed when someone pounded on the door, that Linda Hamilton’s bare feet sounded like boots. We influence the subconscious, we reinforce character, mood, and emotion, and we do it all with (almost) no one knowing. That’s where we belong and when we fight for more recognition, we risk losing the anonymity and therefore power of our art. That’s not to say it doesn’t sting when Mike Myers mocks our awards at the Oscars, but this is the role of a magician and we should be extremely careful calling attention to our hands.

    1. I agree that sound is sometimes 50% of the storytelling, sometimes more. What doesn’t make much sense is that it’s never more than 2% of the budget.

      I’m not worried at all about the audience being too aware of how important our contribution is. It’ll never happen. Sound sneaks into the brain’s side door. But I think it’s a tragedy that directors, producers, etc. are either unaware of the importance of our contribution, and/or they don’t have a clue how to treat sound like a full collaborator.

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