Ben Burtt probably knows more about the creative history of sound editing and sound design than anyone else. I asked him this morning who he thought the great sound editors were before 1970 in the US film industry. He mentioned three names… Treg Brown, Jimmy MacDonald, and Murray Spivack… the three I thought he would name. Both of us had a hard time coming up with more.

One reason the list is short is that for many decades only one or two people received screen credit for sound editing, and very often the only person who received credit was the head of the studio’s sound department, though that person may have done little or no hands-on creative work on the film. Another reason is that a significant number of sound mixers before the 1980’s did whatever they could to minimize the creative contribution of the sound editors, a shameful practice that is thankfully now nearly eradicated.

The result is that there were no doubt quite a few amazing sound editing and design talents working in the decades before the 1970’s whose names we will never know.

If you do know any of those names I would love to hear about it.

6 thoughts

  1. For example, Igor Mayorov was a sound designer of film “The Cranes Are Flying” made in USSR in 1957. It won the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. Actually, it was his first feature film as a sound designer!

    I had luck to listen to his lectures for half a year at VGIK (All-Russian State University of Cinematography) back in 2012. It was really interesting to listen to his thoughts about old analog technologies, his colleagues from the past and his early experience in film sound.

    Actually, there were a lot of great sound designers back in those years in USSR. But most of them are nearly forgotten now — it seems like we have here a similar situation to US fillms’ sound designers. But at least in nearly all Soviet sound films from 1927 to 1991 and later we had a sound designer’s name in opening credits, which I think was really good. Today it happens just sometimes (mostly in “arthouse” movies).

    BTW, really love to read your blog and to watch videos/reading articles with you. Also I really apprecite your style of work. Cheers from Russia, we really do care about film sound design too.

  2. Randy,

    Grateful to see someone writing about things like this, and glad to know that sound has changed so much in the last few decades! Things like this are especially important for me to know being a composer/sound editor/educator, and I look forward to more of your thoughts in this arena. I routinely show interviews with you from Apocalypse Now and the soundworks collection feature on the movie “Flight“ to my classes.

    Will you be attending the MIX: sound for picture event in LA in September? I will be going, and had hoped to meet you.

  3. Thanks Randy
    I would love to hear answers from people from every country and culture.

    In New Zealand, for me it would be Kit Rollings
    Kit invented the technique of using a head demagnetizer as gestural volume automation when sound editing using sep mag. He also introduced me to the idea of burying microphones. A true innovator of film sound in NZ.
    his IMDB only lists a few of his work:
    Now well into his 80s, i’ve recorded few hours of oral history with him.

  4. I would say the sound editors who are credited on Fritz Lang’s “M” (Paul Falkenberg) and “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (Conrad von Molo), which are amazing examples of influential, effective, and groundbreaking early sound-film sound design.

  5. Randy, a pleasure to read!
    In Brazil last week passed away Geraldo José (RIP) our first foley artist and sound designer. Since 1950 working on cinema. His most famous sound was the sound of an ox cart in “Barren Lives” (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1963). He’s considered a myth of film sound in Brazil.

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