Tagged: music

Readings: Creating the Sound Design

Alten, S. 1994, Creating the Sound Design, Audio in media, (p266-286). Belmont: Wadsworth


Sound provides cognitive information and affective information.

Sound can be grouped into three categories: music, sounds, and speech.

The basic components of sound structure include pitch, loudness, timbre, tempo, rhythm, attack, duration, and decay


“Speech has basically two functions, narration and dialogue, and conveys meaning primarily through emphasis, inflection, and aural mood.” pg 268


Direct Narration – describes what is being seen or heard

Indirect Narration– gives further information while the action in the scene speaks for itself

Contrapuntal narration – as the term suggests, counterpoints narration and action to make a composite statement not explicitly carried in either element.

Although the particular narrational approach depends on the script, understanding the influences of narration on content in general results in a better-conceived sound design.

Other elements of speech:




Aural Mood of Words and Sentences

– “The second sentence contains rounder, gentler sounds that provide less of a sonic complement to the verbal meaning.” pp270


Contextual sounds

Narrative Sound

– Descriptive sound

– Commentative sound – can also describe but it makes an additional statement

The effects of sound effects: defining space, establishing locale, creating environment, emphasizing and intensifying action, depicting identity, setting pace, providing counterpoint, symbolizing meaning, and unifying transition.

Defining Space – sound defines space by establishing distance, direction of movement, position, openness, and dimension.

Establishing Locale

Creating Environment

Emphasizing Action

Intensifying Action

Depicting Identity

Setting Pace

Providing Counterpoint

Symbolizing Meaning

Unifying Transition

– overlapping occurs when the sound used at the end of one scene continues, without pause, into the next scene.

– A lead-in occurs when the audio that introduces a scene is heard before the scene actually begins.

– A segue


– linear sound provides melody and rhythm; simultaneous sound provides harmony and texture.

Melody– Melody is a succession of pitched musical tones of varied durations.

– Generally, if a melody moves in narrowly pitched steps and ranges, it tends to be expressive and emotional. If it moves in widely pitched steps and ranges, it tends to be conservative and unexpressive.

Harmony – is a simultaneous sounding of two or more tones

consonance in music is produced by agreeable, settled, balanced, stable-sounding chords. dissonance is produced by unsettled, unstable, unresolved, tense-sounding chords.

Dynamic Range 

Crescendo – changes sound level from quiet or moderate to loud.

Diminuendo – changes level from loud to soft

Tremolo– a rapidly repeated ampliude modulation


– style is a fixed, identifiable musical quality uniquely expressed, executed, or performed.


– It is music’s unique and universal language and vast vocabulary that make is so widely applicable in aural communication.  pp 276

– establishing locale

– emphasizing action

– intensifying action

– depicting identity

-setting pace

– providing counterpoing

– unifying transition

– fixing time

– recalling or foretelling events

– evoking atmosphere, feeling, or mood


– But is the pauses or silences between words, sounds and musical notes that help to create rhythm, contrast, and power- elements important to sonic communication.


When discussing the sound-picture relationship there are five relationships:

1. Sound parallels picture

2. Sound defines picture

3. Picture defines ound

4. Sound and picture define effect

5. Sound counterpoints picture

sound parallels picture – neither the aural nor the visual element is dominant. In other words, what you see is what you hear.

sound defines picture – when sound defines picture, not only is audio dominant, but it also often determines the point of view.

picture degines sound –  Picture helps to define sound by calling attention to particular actions or images

sound and picture define effect – when sound and picture define effect, the aural and visual elements are different, yet complementary.

Sound counterpoints picture – when sound counterpoints picture, both elements contain unrelated information that creates an effect of meaning not suggested by either element alone.


The school of documentarists producing in the cinema verite style record life without imposing upon it; production values do not motivate or influence content.

– microphone selection and placement could be designed to emphasize a harsh cutting sound suggesting an insensitivity toward the poor… All of these approaches to the sound design enhance overall impact and meaning without compromising the cinema verite style.