When we praise the sound design in a given film we almost always applaud the amount of “detail” when we describe its accomplishments. There seems to be a consensus that making sure nearly everything that could make a sound DOES make a sound is a good thing. This is dumb. When we admire the mere number of details in a movie’s soundscape we’re basically saying that the sound designers and editors weren’t lazy. That’s placing the bar very, very low. By the way, the same thing seems to happen when we praise a film’s production design or costumes. The more baroque and ornate the furnishings the more likely they are to be considered first rate. What really matters is the nature of the details, not the number of them, don’t you think? In fact, it’s often the case that choosing to make only one or two “details” audible in a sea of possible sound sources is the most powerful choice. The often praised Omaha Beach battle sequence from Saving Private Ryan is a case in point. What makes it sonically special is mainly how FEW sounds we hear during key moments, and their extraordinary quality. And when I use the word “quality” I don’t mean that the sounds are necessarily super hi-fi. I mean that they have a strongly evocative set of qualities in that context. I’ll ramble on the notion of context in another blog.