Randy Thom’s Thoughts on Film Sound blog is a mine of pertinent info, thoughts and ideas. And so I have decided to do just that: mine it, and in so doing sharpen up my own thoughts and reflections on sound and film sound. If you can’t learn anything from the best, you’re in trouble. So, I am going back in time, starting at February 19th 2016, and am going to attempt to put my own spin (hopefully with some added insight) into what Mr Thom has to say. It might prove useful to me, and maybe to others.
This is a response to Detail Oriented.
As in life generally, less often means more, and this is a lesson that all sounddesignes come to realise at some stage without fail. Although, how much less depends course on the context. With regards to detail… more detail doesn’t have to mean more sound, Thom is right. It’s certainly about where, as a sound designer and a storyteller, you choose to shine your torch, and for what reason. And this, I would argue, is very much dependent where you want the listener to be, in terms of perspective and context. For example, are they listening with a protagonist, or does the listener know something the protagonist is yet to discover? Is the listener hearing a sound element that recurs, or that has significance for later on in the film? The “detail” required is an equation comprising of emphasis; the light and shade that can life the emotional and expository scope of the whole film that few notches higher.
The other part of the equation would be depth, because that is often what is wanted as an outcome; emotional, expository, sensory depth. To my mind, depth comes from understanding: understanding what’s important and then selecting, discriminating, with one’s choices, based on that understanding. So, rather than being a numerical outcome, detail is a philosophical outcome that is based on the depth of one’s understanding of the sound scene and it’s connection to all the moving parts of the film world, and the emphasis that is desired in expressing that understanding aurally. This seems to me like a good alternate way of thinking about sound as a three-dimensional phenomena.
One final point to make is that all of the above does not mean there is no place for ‘numerical detail’ (for lack a better, handy term) in film sound design. In fact, to the contrary: numerical detail will, in some cases, be desirable, but not for its own sake. Not for the sake of completeness. The completeness of a sound scene does not equate to how many elements we decide to put in it but, to say it again, on the successful presentation of sensory, emotional and expository depth and emphasis. As a sound designer, I may choose to skew towards numerical detail in gather sound elements on field recording trips, on the Foley stage, from the library, but understanding what’s needed, and why, is the truly successful outcome of capturing detailing in a sound scene.