Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Scoring Pictures: Part I

"How much do we see when we hear? How much do we hear when we see?" - American film composer John Williams. From the liner notes of Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back album.

Transfering archive analogue recordings has afforded a rare luxury to revisit many of my audio recordings! And I’m delighted to finally present the evocative score composed for December Duet (1996).

This suite (MP3) was composed and performed by Barrie Cole and recorded at Knighton Heath Music Center, Bournemouth and Poole College.

What follows is taken from my production analysis.

Why use sound when, surely, pictures, alone, can tell the full story? Obviously television and cinema are, inherently, about visuals. But an important aspect of these mediums is also sound. Often implicitly ignored by audiences. It’s there, but on an almost subconscious level. Sound masks editing, jump cuts and the passing of time. Without sound, it would be, arguably, impossible for the director to suspend audience disbelief. That what they are watching just isn't real. And, as a result, the audience will have no means with which to relate and engage the characters and the story. In essence sound underscores the illusion of reality.

Whereas the means in which pictures are mediated to an audience hasn't technically progressed (apart from a few rare exemptions / attractions such as IMAX Cinemas and 'La Geode', in Paris), commercially, for some time, due to the inherently vast development costs. And the unwillingness of theatres to embrace such undertakings, until the costs come down. The way in which sound is exhibited has undergone constant evolution. The advent of Dolby Stereo, showcased to dramatic effect in Star Wars (1977), made such a cultural impact on movie making. And latterly domestically. It created an entire industry devoted to post production sound. This has filtered down to television, in recent years.

Who can forget what a dazzling contribution John William's epic compositions for The Star Wars Trilogy (1977 - 83) made to the onscreen F/X and action. Would the films have been so highly praised if it had been unaccompanied by music and ground breaking sound design engineered by Eric Tomlinson and Ben Burt?

I wanted to convey my affection for beautifully recorded soundtracks, both diagetic and none. Essentially create a stereo soundtrack to compliment the visuals. I wanted to apply the knowledge that I had learnt from the previous two years whilst doing audio and video. The culmination of which was last summer's (1995) integrated project.

Simon, who undertook the role of PPS, sympathised with me. He fastidiously sculpted a rich sound stage which depicted, clearly, the vocals, sound F/X and musical score. We were able to draw a very fine line between complimenting the visuals and sounds. The temptation to over do one element, at the expense of the other, was avoided. It never descended into OTT melodrama. It lent a 3-Dimensionality to the 2-D environment of the screen. And also it adds another important element, that of directing the audiences emotions. I personally believe that you cannot have good visuals without good sound. It seems such a loss of creative potential, and a human sense, to apply effort to the visuals (in video) and give little, or no, consideration to the sound design.

During post production sound, sounds can be repaired and smoothed. Voices, crowds and additional dialogue etc can be added via A.D.R (Automatic Dialogue Replacement). This technique is used extensively in film / television production. A recent example is the movie Speed (1994), in which sound design takes the action to a new level of experience and audience participation. Foley adds footsteps, additional sound needs (not normally accessible during location recording).

To be continued.