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Sound Design and Science Fiction

WILLIAM WHITTINGTON
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/714304
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    Sound Design and Science Fiction
    Book Description:

    Sound is half the picture, and since the 1960s, film sound not only has rivaled the innovative imagery of contemporary Hollywood cinema, but in some ways has surpassed it in status and privilege because of the emergence of sound design.

    This in-depth study by William Whittington considers the evolution of sound design not only through cultural and technological developments during the last four decades, but also through the attitudes and expectations of filmgoers. Fans of recent blockbuster films, in particular science fiction films, have come to expect a more advanced and refined degree of film sound use, which has changed the way they experience and understand spectacle and storytelling in contemporary cinema.

    The book covers recent science fiction cinema in rich and compelling detail, providing a new sounding of familiar films, while offering insights into the constructed nature of cinematic sound design. This is accomplished by examining the formal elements and historical context of sound production in movies to better appreciate how a film sound track is conceived and presented.Whittington focuses on seminal science fiction films that have made specific advances in film sound, including2001: A Space Odyssey, THX 1138, Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner(original version and director's cut),Terminator 2: Judgment DayandThe Matrixtrilogy and games--milestones of the entertainment industry's technological and aesthetic advancements with sound.

    Setting itself apart from other works, the book illustrates through accessible detail and compelling examples how swiftly such advancements in film sound aesthetics and technology have influenced recent science fiction cinema, and examines how these changes correlate to the history, theory, and practice of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79511-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In this age of visual culture, it is important to remember that “sound is half the picture.” Since the 1960s, sound production, technology, and aesthetics have fundamentally changed contemporary Hollywood cinema and the filmgoing experience. In the field of audio technology, for instance, portable sound recorders have encouraged the collection of all types of “raw materials” used to produce innovative sound effects from dinosaur roars to the clash of light sabers; digital audio workstations have allowed for the creation of multilayered montages of dialogue, music, and effects without any loss of quality or buildup of noise; and new exhibition formats...

  5. PART I. The Dawn of Sound Design
    • 1 Sound Design: ORIGINS AND INFLUENCES
      (pp. 17-38)

      When a strange monolith first appears on the plains of Africa in Stanley Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odyssey, the “Dawn of Man” begins. Cocreator Arthur C. Clarke describes the moment in this way:

      After having touched the monolith, a barely conscious reaction occurs in the leader’s mind. As he looks out now upon the hostile world, there is already something in his gaze beyond the capacity of any ape. In those dark, deep-set eyes is a dawning of awareness—the first intimations of an intelligence, which would not fulfill itself for another four million years.¹

      It is important to note...

    • 2 Music and Speculation in 2001: A Space Odyssey
      (pp. 39-52)

      In an interview about2001: A Space Odyssey(1968), Arthur C. Clarke noted, “If you understood2001completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.”¹ The importance of2001: A Space Odysseyfor this study is that it raised questions about not only the origins of mankind but also the nature of sound in cinema, in particular questions in relation to the status and function of film music. Rather than employing a traditional music score composed specifically for the film, director Stanley Kubrick produced2001: A Space Odysseywith previously existing music as a deep...

  6. PART II. Sound Montage
    • 3 The Convergence of Hollywood and New Wave Science Fiction
      (pp. 55-74)

      The production credit that reads “Sound Montage” was in part a clever ambiguity hidden in the opening credit sequence ofTHX 1138, the 1971 George Lucas feature that was based on his award-winning 1967 student filmElectronic Labyrinth THX 1138:4EB. At the time of the feature film’s production, the Hollywood labor unions (or, more accurately, the San Francisco Stagehands Union) did not recognize sound montage as a production designation, which was in part the reason for using it. Sound designer and editor Walter Murch explains, “At the start of my career, I was working nonunion, and the title ‘Sound Montage’...

    • 4 Suggestive Fragments in THX 1138
      (pp. 75-90)

      In an interview about the sound forTHX 1138, Walter Murch characterized the ambience recordings used for the “White Limbo” sequences in this way: “It’s basically the room tone from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. . . . It’s a veil of mysterious sound—it doesn’t have anything specific to it, but it is full of suggestive fragments.”¹ The description could easily be used to categorize the entire sound track for the film. The sound montages are full of “suggestive fragments” that offer subtle cinematic metaphors, sharp social criticism, and even satire in the tradition of George Orwell’s1984and...

  7. PART III. Sound Designing
    • 5 From Sound Capture to Construction: BUILDING THE LEXICON OF SOUND DESIGNS FOR STAR WARS
      (pp. 93-114)

      In 1975, Ben Burtt was given a year to create the sounds for an entire universe, theStar Wars(1977) universe. He notes,

      When I started out, it was very unusual for someone to be employed to make specific sounds for a film . . . Then along came George Lucas, who instructed me, “Here, take this microphone and Nagra, take a year and go out and collect all the interesting sounds you can think of.”¹

      This “innovative plan” reshaped the lexicon of Hollywood film sound and positioned Burtt as one of the top sound designers in contemporary cinema. In...

    • 6 Surround Sound and Science Fiction
      (pp. 115-126)

      Over the past forty years, sound technology, like special effects technology, has been hard-wired to the science fiction genre. In part, it is a tenet of the genre not only to be about technology but also tobeits embodiment. Unlike special visual effects, which usually find themselves outdated after several on-screen appearances (e.g., morphing and bladder makeup effects), the introduction of sound technology often recalibrates audience expectations so that the newest advances—whether in the area of noise reduction or digital presentation—immediately become the standard. Sequels and subsequent studio releases rapidly assimilate the new technology, while applying it...

  8. PART IV. Sound Effects
    • 7 Genre Splicing: HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION
      (pp. 129-146)

      In 1979, Ridley Scott’sAlienlaunched science fiction cinema into the darkest recesses of space with the warning, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” The tag line from the now-familiar green and black posters offered a clever fusion of science fiction conventions (“space”) and horror effects (“scream”). This linguistic amalgam drew directly from the stylistic framework of the film, which according to the filmmakers was formulated in reaction to George Lucas’ earlier space fantasy.¹ Rather than present a genre pastiche, asStar Wars(1977) had done,Alienbound together elements from two closely related genres—science fiction and...

    • 8 Alien: AUDIO-BIOMECHANICS
      (pp. 147-166)

      Since its release in 1979 Ridley Scott’sAlienhas produced four sequels (Aliens, Alien³, Alien: Resurrection, andAlien vs. Predator), a series of paperbacks, a variety of new media games, and volumes of critical and theoretical analysis.¹ So, likeStar Wars, Alientoo must be a familiar text. Or is it? Does anyone remember the sound of the heartbeat that precedes each Alien attack? Or the sounds of the different pulsating backgrounds for the separate decks of the ship? Or the sounds of frenzied respiration and footfalls as the crew attempts to escape to safety in the shuttle? Probably not....

  9. PART V. Voice Design
    • 9 Blade Runners: A CRISIS IN VOICING AUTHORITY, IDENTITY, AND SPECTACLE
      (pp. 169-188)

      Ridley Scott’s 1982 filmBlade Runneris perhaps one of the most written-about science fiction films in contemporary cinematic history. It is also the number one film screened in science fiction courses at universities. Based on Philip K. Dick’s classic science fiction novelDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the film features a conflation of science fiction and film noir, drawing on a stylistic approach that looked forty years forward into the future and forty years back. The critical discourse surrounding the film includes numerous volumes related to the production history of the film, including Paul M. Sammon’s thorough...

  10. PART VI. Final Design
    • 10 Sound Mixing and Sound Design in Science Fiction Cinema: A MIXED PARADOX
      (pp. 191-206)

      Attend any film screening these days in a major city like New York or Los Angeles and there will probably be a trailer for the THX sound delivery system, another for the specific digital format in which the film will be presented such as Dolby Digital, SDDS, or DTS, and, in some cases, a short vignette on an element of the film sound track such as Foley or the process of sound effects mixing. These trailers serve primarily as marketing tools and a means to differentiate theater exhibition from other venues. Each teaser, however, also reveals the constructed nature of...

    • 11 Mixing Man and Machine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
      (pp. 207-220)

      Spotting notes like these represent a detailed list of vital sound effects needed to build the sound design for a reel of film. The descriptions read like poetry and refer to a sound library or sound effects wants list. If a sound is unavailable, it is designed. If the sound quality is not right, it is processed, edited, and remixed. From the spotting notes, the sound designers explore the motifs and metaphors of a sound track before a single sound edit is made. The opening sequence ofTerminator 2: Judgment Day(1991) establishes a number of sounds that will run...

  11. PART VII. Conclusion:: A Sounding of the Future
    • 12 What Is The Matrix? SOUND DESIGN IN A DIGITAL WORLD
      (pp. 223-240)

      Throughout this book, I have traced the changing conception of sound design in contemporary cinema and its relation to the science fiction genre. Although sound design first began as a term to describe the changing mode of sound production in the 1970s, it was quickly transformed into an approach in which specific sound effects could be constructed. It has since become a means of understanding how sound in film is deployed and evaluated. My analysis of sound design, thus far, has been contained within the parameters of the production process and the theatrical exhibition space. Inevitably, though, sound design has...

  12. Appendix: OVERVIEW OF THE GENERAL PROCESSES OF SOUND PRODUCTION
    (pp. 241-244)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 245-256)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 257-260)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-268)
  16. Filmography
    (pp. 269-272)
  17. Index
    (pp. 273-280)