Sound & Image

Greetings, everyone. I apologize for the delay in posting this review but June is Sydney Film Festival time and, as a guest curator, it tends to monopolize me for the duration.

On Wednesday, 6 June we were thrilled to have Steve Murphy present the session Sound & Image, a compelling examination of the importance of sound in filmmaking and of how some sounds have become inextricably linked with certain images over time. Opening with an Apollo 8 image of the Earth from space with the opening bars of Also sprach Zarathustra (op. 30, Richard Struass) playing in accompaniment, Steve made the point that certain pieces of music linked to particular images have become cultural icons. He cited the sound of a light sabre as one of the most well-known sounds and described how crucial that sound is to elevating what is, visually, simply a sword fight into a viscerally exciting part of cinema. (For those of you who have a Wii and the sound linked for the wiisabre, I’m sure you agree how clever was the sound designer who came up with that sound — and for those who now want to be the loungeroom jedi:

Steve described how sound is a powerful storytelling tool in its own right that can be used to create transitions between scenes, link scenes through motifs, compress time and help cut images that do not advance the story. He described the importance of thinking about how to hear a scene and the need to bear in mind that the characters hear and that sound is a way to express their experience and emotions within a scene.

He demonstrated this by playing a series of ‘sound stories’ using various combinations of footsteps, knocks, and car approaches to show how the different soundscapes changed our perception of plot, tension and events unfolding.

Steve then noted that filmscores now fill up to 85 minutes in the average 90 minute film and remarked on how this is often used to tell us how to feel about the action. He warned us that sound cannot fix a bad performance and that revoicing does not change delivery. Bad dialogue is bad dialogue and a film that drags visually will not be saved by trying to change the pace with sound. In essence, if it looks crap, sound will not make it more convincing.

However, a film can be lifted and made complete by good sound design and he recommended that filmmakers take the trouble to create fresh soundtracks rather than rely upon library sources that tend to be overused and cliche.. He quoted Randy Thom (Apocalypse Now, Star Wars V, Mars Attacks, The Incredibles, War of the Worlds — see full list at:

as saying: Sound is the quickest way to the heart. It was an excellent filmcraft session and Steve recommends the followings sites:

He says: “The first two are for videos about sound design; the last one is an excellent resource on film sound which steers away from technology and just looks at issues and theory.”

It was great night. We gave a way a pair of tickets to the Sydney Film Festival world premiere of Australia’s first feature length machinima, Stolen Life. We’re hoping to have the creators of that project join us for an event later in the year. In the meantime, July is our re-screening of last year’s Electronic Theatre animations and a chance for people to meet up prior to the conference in the US. See you on the 4th of July!

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