1.6. Solid sound design
design is about more than just adding cool effects. It must be
contextual, supporting the text and the graphic content. And it must
be integral to the overall purpose of the site rather than simply
drawing attention to itself.
Sound can be used to induce a specific emotional reaction from an
audience. Generations of filmgoers have become conditioned to certain
sound associations, and a type of "aural" literacy has
developed. For instance, shrill, staccato music in a horror film
usually signals that the killer is nearby, even if he is offscreen;
in action films, an ultra-low rumbling sound often signals the
impending doom of a huge explosion or an earthquake.
design came about in the late 1970s when film producers and directors
realized they could put a sound signature on an entire film by hiring
a single sound designer to orchestrate the dialogue, music score, and
sound effects into one cohesive soundtrack. Similarly, a web sound
designer can shape the various sound elements of a web site into a
cohesive audio experience that is unique to that site. Since film
sound design is a precursor to interactive or web sound design, it is
worthwhile to take a brief look at examples of how film sound has
been used in movies and television:
Hitchcock's infamous shower scene in
Psycho was originally silent. If you watch the
scene with the sound turned off, you can see why the famous director
later added the chilling score. The music carries the terror and
drives that entire scene. It has also lodged itself in our collective
psyche as the definitive sound of horror.
Creating or relieving tension.
In the British film, Distant
Voices, Still Lives, a romantic
ballad plays over a scene of brutal domestic violence. Because the
song plays directly against the visuals, the juxtaposition creates
dramatic tension. It also comments on the scene, making it not only
gruesome, but also poignant. Conversely, in a movie with a scene of a
multiple car pileups underscored by comic music and effects, such as
the scene in the original Blues Brothers film,
the sound also subverts the visual's meaning, but as comic
relief. What would presumably be disturbing to watch becomes funny
because of the audio cues.
camera pans or zooms, it pulls the audience's focus toward a
particular image. You can do the same thing with sound. One effective
public service announcement on television was completely silent. When
planning the sound design, the director considered not just the
content, but the medium as well. In many households, people use the
television as background noise, doing other things while the set is
on, so the unexpected absence of sound made viewers look up to see
why it was suddenly mute. In this case, the sound design supported
the content by drawing the audience's attention to the serious
subject matter. Silence was not only appropriate, but also
captivating. Don't forget silence as a tool in sound design.
Unlike film audiences, computer users accustomed to the CD-ROM
environment engage with interactive content.
Therefore, unlike film sound, interactive sound is not necessarily
sequential or continuous. This is true of the Web as well.
Interactive sound designers don't have complete control over
how the final product will be received by the end user because the
end user can control which sounds play and when. And there are
Soundtrack composition and duration.
A film has a linear soundtrack that runs from beginning to end for a
predetermined period of time. Interactive media typically contains
hundreds or thousands of small sound files, ranging from one second
to several minutes long.
Audience participation. In film,
there is no audience participation, except for the reactions of the
audience in the theater. (The Rocky Horror Picture
Show is arguably an exception in which the audience,
through sheer force of will, has transformed the creators'
intention into a different experience.) In interactive media, the
intention is for the audience to participate. You don't just
sit back and watch what happens.
Sequence of events. Film is strictly
linear. Interactive products are generally random and unpredictable
within a certain range of predetermined options.
Timing of audio events. Film, again,
is linear. The timing of music, environmental sound, and special
effects are determined by the action on the screen. In CDs and on the
Web, the timing of sounds is controlled by the audience (and by
technology-created delays, such as computer and CD-ROM drive
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