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Our slant on sound

Postcard3

When we go about our everyday activities, we are often exposed to a fairly limited recurring pallet of sounds. Think of what you might hear around and about the house. For example, the sound of a toaster springing up or a kettle boiling is immediately identifiable, even if you’re not in the same room. If you drive, you’ll use the sound of your engine to judge when to shift gear. How many people are in the building right now? Odds are, you’ve got a reasonable idea based on the number of footsteps you’ve heard, their volume and the direction they’re coming from. Couple that with the fact that footsteps from above sound different from ones in the room opposite, and you’re probably better equipped at pinpointing sound sources than you think.

Over time, we become accustomed to these sounds, almost expectant of the results of what will follow. So, it makes sense that effective sound design is empathetic to our understanding of the world through sound. We need this cohesiveness to remain involved and immersed as an audience.

But there’s always a place for discord – a way of challenging our audible prejudices of cause and effect – and juxtaposition provides us with an incredibly playful way of toying with these prejudices. This could be placing a completely inconsequential sound high in the mix:

Or re-defining the properties of an everyday object:

(Original source: Barton Fink (1991): Check-in at Hotel Earle)

Or my personal (NSFW) example of the wrong music at exactly the right moment:

These are just a few well-executed examples of this effect (sometimes referred to as counterpoint or anempathetic sound). Scenes that may not have been as memorable if it wasn’t for the design of interesting and original sound.

Quote extract from “About the Perception of Sound