Sounds for films – some thoughts and subjective rambling on visual and audio perception and creation …
A film without sound is a rather strange and awkward thing. We are used to sounds. When we move through our everyday-caleidoscopes, we encounter soundscapes everywhere. Sometimes in a pretty disturbing way. As evolution provided us the gift of closing our eyes, whenever we don't want to see or we choose to sleep, it missed to give us the ability to close our ears at will. Same applies to the sense of smelling. These two are the most ancient sense-doors and as with all those ancient things, they serve our mere survival: If you shut them down, you would risk to not hear/smell the predator approaching out of the dark and become his/her tasty prey. Smelling and hearing share another peculiar feature: They are both directly linked to those parts of our brain that are immediately triggering emotional patterns and reactions. They do this without asking for opinion and permission of our much younger human frontal brain sections: You're already feeling/sensing something before your mind builds its story-lines around it.
In contrast to this, passing our eye-door is a rather overelaborate undertaking. On its path it has some nasty short-cuts to those areas of our brain where judgements, opinions and comments are born. This is neither good nor bad, it's just different, compared with the functioning of our ear-sense.
For joining visual- and audio-creations this means: A well composed music will creep into the spectators world much more direct, quick and therefore intense, than a visual scenery alone ever can. It opens up archaic pathways of perception, enabling the viewers to experience the scenery. To feel its impact, before their frontal brain is trying to hold up against it, superimposing some sort of restricting, boring, sober evaluation.
A muted scenery without sound seems unreal, dead … and somewhat scary. There is no sound providing us with some sort of cue for orientation: We feel lost. Of course this can be a great tool to be used intentionally, for example to intensify a traumatic experience the protagonist is undergoing in a movie. Or while displaying a destructive dystopian atmosphere to emphasize the finality of the given situation: “Hey guys, no way out of this!” And then after a short, but intense muted break a soft, minor, dissonant synth-phrase leaks in, shifting into a major, harmonic something with strings and all to denote: “Hey guys, there's some hope left, follow me along” … this is the power of music, no words, visual effects, great actors whatever can provide this! (Ahem, yes I AM definitely subjective and passionate in this …)
Some directors tend to define well composed scores as those you won't hear. This does not seem to make sense after all what has been said here – at first glance. But looking deeper, it does: A well composed soundtrack does not stand out as a separate entity to feed the ego of a needy composer. It rather dances along with the sceneries displayed, turning the film into a multilayered, sensual experience for those who are (hopefully) going to watch it, inviting them to join the dance. The composer as a modern magician, opening gateways for the spectator to find his/her personal access to the obvious as well as to the oblique story-lines woven into scenes and sounds ... providing more depth, more dimensions, more emotional impact.
However – by which dramaturgical means this choreography is designed is a completely different matter.
The – from an artist point of view – most trivial approach is to compose music playing with the action: When there's a martial arts battle-scene the score will reflect this in tone, rhythm … intensity. Tons of beautifully designed examples for this you find in martial-arts-series, like e.f. “Into the badlands” produced by AMC, NY (my personal favorite in this matter for the awesome fight choreographies that are perfectly paired with the matching scores) or – of course – "Vikings".
But you could also play against the action by adding another dimension, another flavor into what is going on on the screen. A famous example for this strategy would be Hans Zimmers battle-scene in Gladiator (2000) where he composed almost sacral, monumental music to counterpoint the bloody battle-business.
Many (not only) Hollywood-productions like to introduce specific mood-qualities with their soundtracks, to invoke emotional landscapes in the spectators, pushing them into a certain, intended emotional experience. This is especially powerful if you have an otherwise “weak/neutral” scene, like, someone driving a car at the beginning of a movie, but you don't know yet, who is this person, what is going to happen … By adding moody-music-spheres the scene gets the emotional color you intend to have perceived (and above all felt) by the viewers … or you might want to point out by attributing a wild and dark-industrial composition, this, average-type-looking guy is not what he seems like, he has a dark side... beware!
I could go on … almost endlessly … rambling on this magnificent and exciting relationship between films and scores ... But beyond all this theory, there is an enticing practical sphere which needs to be tended to ...
The Muses are calling …
Please note and respect: © Ann-Uta Beißwenger 2019
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