These two videos from Twin Peaks are both excellent examples of what I would like the sound production to be like on my series. Understated, minimal, but used highly effectively.
Harmonics, unusual sounds, very little soundtrack and only a bit of enhancement, the sound is unsettling because it is almost too silent. The Red Room has no ambient sound, there is no room noise. It is not a place as we know it. The less a sound is used, the more potent we notice when it is there.
The Coen Brothers know the importance of silence and how sounds can be used more effectively when they’re used sparingly. The above clip, from No Country For Old Men uses absolutely minimal foley just to give space to the room, and that is all. The below clips, from A Serious Man show, once again, how sound can be used incredibly effectively, especially when used rhythmically.
Both the slow layering of rhythms in the trailer and the minimal foley used in the end scene work as a way of suggesting foreboding, but in different ways. By layering, we are made to be very aware of each sound, wondering what it is building up to. The other example, however, makes us recognise the lack of sound, making us feel uneasy by highlighting silence.
Once again, it comes back to my two friends: Eerie and Uncanny.
Apparently, these can work just as well with audio as they can in any other medium.
There Will be Blood uses clashing chords and an off-key soundtrack to add a sinister element to the film. As with below, Oldboy, strings can be used to great effect to add a sense of dread, without needing to resort to the Cats On Violins technique favoured by so many horror films.
Graham Reynolds soundtrack to A Scanner Darkly combines several unusual effects, using traditional instruments (such as guitar) but treating them in unusual ways. Such as going absolutely nuts on the whammy bar, and using a resonator to get an unusual metallic sound. There is also a lot of use of a theremin, or something like it. Changing tempo and time signature throughout the film settles into one pace, before being pulled out and shoved into another. This can be quite jarring.
Welcome to Night Vale was a huge inspiration when coming up with the idea for this project, and I still maintain they know what they’re doing when it comes to sound design too. Minimal use of music or sound effects, only used to highlight certain things. Although I want to make it feel like it is more of a story being told, the way in which Welcome To Night Vale delivers the audio is a prime example of narration as a medium.
Breaking Bad uses audio to fantastic effect, especially during the earlier series. Frequently, an edit will be made with a piece of foley, recontextualising it from one scene to the next. Don’t Look Now famously did this at the top of the movie, transforming a scream into the sound of a drill.
The Pianist, again, uses silence to great effect. The energetic sound of the piano is harshly juxtaposed with silence in this scene. The sound of the piano makes the silence seem all the more complete once it is gone.
Pixar know how to do sound design. The wonderful thing about Wall-E is that there is no dialogue for substantial part of the film. Indeed, with the opening credits, we are treated to a section from Hello Dolly as we fly through space, but as soon as we arrive at Earth, the sound drops out. Once this happens, everything for the next few minutes is entirely diegetic, the music still being audible, but as played from Wall-E’s speakers. The reflections off the buildings adding extra dimensions and location to the sound.
And finally, one of my favourite films: Akira. There is almost no sound used in the opening scene, but once again, there is wind initially to contrast with and highlight the silence that follows. During the titles, there is the sound of a drum, which recurs throughout the film. It is often used to punctuate something, as it is here, and with massive amounts of reverb, it makes it known that this information is important. Unfortunately, in this version, it’s in German.
Sound can be used to create a space, as well as describe it. This is an important thing to remember.