Sound is one of the primary vehicles of communication in film, as the art of film making progresses we strive to present realism in a more accurate and immersive way. One of the complications with this in traditional Hollywood comes from the use of a musical score that does not come from the onscreen events we are watching. Foe my dissertation I investigated a solution to this where musical content is created from the sound effects created as part of the film’s environment so as to blur the boundaries of these two categories of sound. By doing this audiences are less aware of how their emotions are being guided and are ultimately more immersed in the film.
To investigate this my project involved creating a unified soundtrack for five different pieces of film. These were sourced from There Will Be Blood, Panic Room, Alien: Isolation, Moon and Gravity. This was done by creating sound effects for the clips, predominantly through the use of field recordings, and then using these as the material for musical content by applying processes such as time stretching, pitch shifts and granular synthesis. Doing this formed musical content that shared textures and tones with the sound effects, allowing them to extend the emotions that the sounds conveyed or slowly build tension to the event while still having a place in the acoustic environment of the scene so as not to make audiences aware of how their emotions are manipulated. I refer to the soundtracks created in this fashion as "unified soundtracks".
Electroacoustic music was the focus of the musical content as it offered styles where many obscure sounds serve as the catalysts for musical events, textures and devices. Investigating approaches in this style lead to the discovery of new techniques and methods that were appropriate for morphing sounds in such a way that did not betray their source by being unrecognisable.
On this page you can explore each of the five clips by using the password "showreel".
The first clip I will examine comes from a trailer for the Alien Isolation game released in 2014. This one was particularly fun to create the sounds for as there is a lot of room for creativity. Some of the more memorable ones are the sausages cooking that I recorded and combined with rain sounds as well as the various processes involved in turning my breathing into the sound of a xenomorph.
Horror was an interesting challenge for the unified soundtrack as it is easy to get carried away with misdirection; fooling the audience with a sound that then transforms to music can only work so many times before it fails to resonate. However it's difficult for a composer to discern what the musical content is when attempting to be subtle, certain gestures that have been carefully mixed in with actions on screens to blend with the environment may be completely disregarded by a listener who is unaffected by them.
This excerpt comes from a scene in David Fincher's Panic Room (2002). This was one of the first scenes attempted, giving me a good chance to find my feet with sound design as many of the needed objects were close at hand. The scene itself features this feel of being done in one take (though I'm sceptical that it is). This unique camera movement presented excellent opportunities to reflect in the musical gestures.
The use of a radiator growing more intense is inspired by David Lynch's Eraserhead.
This clip was one of the more difficult ones as emotion is less conveyed solely through this excerpt of the film. It is hard to convey the impact that finding the man has on the character without the context of the clip, but the unified soundtrack does have some devices to convey the significance of the discovery.
This would be my favourite of the five clips I have done. It makes use of a lot of environmental sound and showcases the best aspect of a unified soundtrack - that it is more immersive. Given more time this sound could use a lot more additional sound, especially inside the satellite as much is moving, but it is clear to see how the blend excels in this environment.
There Will Be Blood
This was the first clip attempted. It was particularly difficult as it's hard to justify additional environmental sounds in a sparse environment. Overall I feel this is the least successful clip, if I were to do it again I would tackle it from the angle of representation the characters mental state. With that said this was the start of the learning process, and as first efforts go it could have been worse.