The Importance of Sound in Film, Media, and Society

Steven Johnson’s article on sound helps to demonstrate the importance of sound in film and media. Johnson’s writing explores the history of sound technology and the role that different advancements have played in shaping society. Through this holistic approach, we can more thoroughly understand why sound is such a paramount aspect of film. It was interesting to read that when sound was initially introduced to film, it was seen as a sort of corrupting influence that devalued the experience. This sharply contrasts with the usage of sound in today’s media, where the viewer’s relationship with a film is forcefully guided by the sound tracks that accompany the film’s visual elements. Johnson describes the history of the first radio devices and how they were ill-suited for transmitting opera music, but were able to play jazz music with considerable efficacy. His explanation of the radio’s influence on making jazz music more readily available is quite striking. The idea that the radio allowed for the injection of jazz music into US households, which resulted in an increased appreciation for the black community from white citizens, is quite noteworthy. The article goes on to explain how jazz was instrumental in dissolving racial barriers between whites and blacks by allowing them to bond over their mutual appreciation of jazz music. This example illustrates human’s inherent attraction to sound, as well as their primal inclination to be affected by sounds which they find to be moving.

These examples can be applied back to sound in the context of film. As a class, we watched some of the many ways that sounds can be generated for a film with various household items. It was surprising to see that many of the sounds in the advanced animated film Wall-E were not generated by computers, but were made using common items like springs and other noise making devices. The fact that these sounds are still generated by analogue means speaks to the importance of having a realistic and relatable soundtrack. Wall-E’s directors explained that the importance of sound was central to their film, as there was no spoken dialogue. Each of the character’s squeaks and bodily adjustments had to convey some sort of emotion that would normally be accomplished with dialogue. When studying film and media, its easy to focus on cinematography, themes, and acting techniques. However, sound is such a central aspect of human perception that a well-orchestrated soundtrack almost accomplished more by being not noticed. Realistic sounds are taken for granted in that they align effectively with a film’s visuals to realistically portray what is occurring on screen.

Despite extraordinary advances in film and audio technology, many aspects of film soundtracks are added in during the editing process. Sometimes a microphone’s recording of a car driving off is less favorable than a sound that is added in post-production. This is very interesting, as many of the sounds we experience in films are not accurate. An example of this would be the prevalence of tire screeching whenever a character gets in a car and drives off in a hurry. Its noteworthy that sound engineers play such an interesting role in mediating our perceptions of a film through their tactful application of sound effects.

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