Friday, April 30, 2004

Liberating sound from its subconscious prison

It is more than 7 years ago that I subscribe to an email list that discusses the issue of sound in film:

This is a very interesting forum where scholars, sound designers and many other people gather to talk about the use of sound and music in order to better convey stories in films.

These days an interesting question has come to the list. Does it exist an English word equivalent to “visualize” in order to describe the work of the sound people when they imagine how the sound of a film is going to be?. Cinematographers can visualize the look of a film before they go out and shoot the film, but how about sound designers?
Some have suggested audiolize, audio illusion and auricular (which by the way I think is a very good choice). Anyway these terms sound contrived because the field of sound has been little discussed and we are not so much aware of sound as much of images.

This list has very good contributors and is proud to have Randy Thom as one of its members. Randy “is an Oscar winner and part of a small group of sound designers who work to turn motion picture sound into an art form. His work often begins before the film has started shooting, and becomes an integral part of the storytelling and emotional impact of the film”.

I love the post that Randy sent us yesterday where he makes a couple of good points:

To me the interesting question is not so much whether there is an equivalent term in the aural realm for "visualize," but rather, why are there no equivalent terms in common usage? I don't pretend to know the answer, but my guess is that it has something to do with human brains being vision centric at least in terms of conscious thought. We invent and use words for things we need to talk about. Eskimos have scads of terms for snow. Modern English has scads of terms for money.

I've never had any doubt that we are consciously vision-centric.But what the eyeball crowd doesn't realize is that phenomena we are often not consciously aware sound....are all the more powerful because of their fugitive nature.

As sound artists we need to train ourselves to think about sound like visual artists think about images, and open directors and producers eyes and ears to the same possibilities. Once we begin to liberate sound from it's subconscious prison we'll find the old saw that "sound is 50% of the movie" will live less and less comfortably with the ugly fact that sound remains today 1% of the budget.

Randy Thom


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