Sound sneaks literally through the side door to the brain, often unnoticed, rarely analyzed, but almost always felt.  One of the earliest senses to develop in the womb of the mother, hearing is hardwired into “pre-conscious” parts of our brains where emotions are formed long before the mind has time to make sense of them.  We are fundamentally emotional creatures who struggle to be rational, and sound plays the role of the puppeteer, pulling our strings more deeply and compellingly than perhaps any other sense.  Odd then that we don’t take it seriously.

 

Analogous to the ways sexist men relate to women, we humans fall into two camps in the ways we disrespect sound.  One camp treats sound as banal and utilitarian, not worth paying much attention to.  This tendency is especially prevalent in my line of work, filmmaking.  Historically, the vast majority of filmmakers have assumed that the only role of non-musical sound in their films was to bring a level of gritty realism to a series of visual images.  Sound design is nearly never seriously considered in pre-production by the screenwriter or director as an element that could shape the narrative and inform creative decisions in the other crafts.  Instead, they treat sound as an afterthought, a series of technical details you have to tidy up at the very end of the filmmaking process.

 

The other way we disrespect sound is to put it on a pedestal.  Music is especially likely to be victimized by adoration.  To be on a pedestal is to be magical, mystical, beyond analysis.  Which is to suggest that it would be a waste of time to look past the surface, since whatever is under the surface is impenetrable, beyond our ability to understand.  This tendency is at least as rampant in filmmaking as it is in our everyday lives where we expect no more from music than to work its magic and make us feel good.

 

Whether we treat sound as utilitarian, like a whore, or as a goddess we are not taking it seriously.

 

Well then, how do we take sound seriously?  By assuming it has something to teach us, and by using more of our brain to think about it.  By asking ourselves questions like “How and why is it making me feel this way?  What elements of my history and its history are contributing to what it has to say to me?  Are there ways it should be informing other parts of my life?  Can I try to listen to it on its own terms as well as on my terms?”

 

Learning to treat sound with respect instead of dismissal or adoration is not easy.  It runs counter to the way we are programmed by evolution and culture, but a fuller life is the reward… and better movies.

3 thoughts

  1. Nice thoughts, thank you.

    Lately, you seems to be frustrated about the treatment of sound in the industry.
    It’s kinda discouraging 🙁.
    As a Sound Designer at Skywalker Sound and considering your amazing career, you represent the high end of what a sound designer can be; with opportunity to work on films that allows to take some time to craft sonic masterpieces. Literally what I (and I’m sure many others around the world) dream to reach one day. I mean even the (very) few French productions who wants to sound “right” hires you (Congratulations for “Le chant du Loup” by the way 😉)
    But still, the frustration is there. It seems that even when millions of dollars are on the table, “they” still don’t care about sound. If even you, THE Randy Thom, can’t convince them to “respect” the sound, it seems hopeless for me 😔.
    Cheers and take care in those contagious times.

    Like

  2. Dear Clement,

    Improving the status of film sound is not hopeless, but it will take a long time. Stay optimistic and keep trying, my friend.

    Best Always,
    Randy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You make a very important statement Randy! Sound is the beginning of everything. Whether one believes in ‘in the beginning was the word,
    Or in the big ‘bang’ Or in the primordial sound ‘Aum’, it all started with sound. We are all ‘tuned’ to frequencies and our emotions are ‘harmonious’ or not! Sound can torture or soothe. Sensible and sensitive film makers know it and use it. Others have yet to learn. Learning is what we are all doing in the journey. Everyone is ‘in search of the lost chord’!

    Like

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