Was Film Ever Silent?

Was Film Ever Silent?
This episode there is more than meets the ear. Put on your headphones to immerse yourself in just how much of your perception in film is thanks to the sounds that surround you.

We're back this week with another episode all about music and sound in storytelling. Listen now to find out why silent films never were so silent, how chickens and walnuts made you reel back in your seat and how layering every technique in the book is what leads to you finding an escape when you sit down to watch your favourite film.

Clips used for this episode:

Amazing Plan by Kevin MacLeod - https://filmmusic.io/song/3358-amazing-plan

1920's Silent Hollywood "Sound the End of an Era" - https://youtu.be/TVWRzaQ-Uoc

The Jazz Singer - https://youtu.be/22NQuPrwbHA


Transcript

Music: [00:00:00]

[00:00:07] Ollie: [00:00:07] This is Al Johnson in

[00:00:08] Clip: [00:00:08] the 1927 film, the jazz singer. And funnily enough,

[00:00:12] Ollie: [00:00:12] he was exactly right.

[00:00:19] the jazz singer. Wasn't the first film to use sync for recorded sound and dialogue in film, but it was the first big hit that did. And it made a lot of money, which proved to the industry that this sort of technology was worth. The investment. This opened up a new dimension of film experience that even today continues to push the boundaries of technology and creativity and film from the iconic sound of a lightsaber to the bone rattling T-Rex roar and Jurassic park sound has been a key component of films.

[00:00:47] Most memorable stories, sound and film to so much more than just link our auditory senses with the visual. Music and sound is so deeply rooted in our psyche. That sound can be used as an emotional layer to push and pull us in whatever direction the narrative takes sounds as the puppeteer behind the screen, taking the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions.

[00:01:07] It's the secret weapon every director has, but yet doesn't always use to its full potential sound as the soul of every

[00:01:14] Clip: [00:01:14] great story. Welcome to Pathfinder, a show about storytelling.

[00:01:30] Ollie: [00:01:30] Um, the silent film never really existed. Cinemar's earliest pioneers. Didn't have the technology to synchronize moving pictures and recorded sound yet. They still recognize that visuals alone wasn't enough to maximize the film experience. Lots of experiments were made to more seamlessly merge, audio and visual entertainment,

[00:01:51] Music: [00:01:51] whether

[00:01:51] Ollie: [00:01:51] it be orchestras or organists, adding live music and sound effects, or even actors behind the screen. Speaking to Mark friends, there were many different approaches use to replicate what we see and hear now. But in the late 19th century technology was the limiting factor. Of course, there were some that found the silent film was a form of art.

[00:02:10] And so any sound that was used distracted and degraded that art. But generally film was not taken too seriously by the masses as an art form. And the success of the jazz singer proved that there was more demand for innovation in this area.

[00:02:24] Clip: [00:02:24] Now, listening to way talking, moving picture is not only perfect, but

[00:02:32] Ollie: [00:02:32] foolproof, once the sync dialogue was achieved, naturally music and sound effects followed.

[00:02:38] The initial role of music in film was minimal either a pianist, improvising to the film or a small group of musicians, performing classical music in the background. In many cases, the use of music was simply to drown out the sound of the old film projectors, but once it was possible to synchronize music and sound to film music quickly became a key part of the storytelling process.

[00:03:01] One of the big turning points was the 1933 film King Kong. Max dyno was the composer. And one of the pioneers of original scoring fulfil, he used an 80 piece orchestra to enhance all the emotions behind the blockbuster film, even using leitmotifs, which are musical phrases that are assigned to specific people or moments in the film.

[00:03:27] Clip: [00:03:27] from

[00:03:27] Ollie: [00:03:27] this point, music and film was forever changed. We're aware of the power of sound in its most basic form to affect emotion and evoke reactions in the listener. So it's a powerful tool for the filmmaker. Music is ingrained into our evolutionary development. It's a huge part of our lives, deeply personal from the tone of our alarm to work out music to childhood memories, music impacts our body in numerous ways.

[00:03:51] It's activates every part of the brain that we have so far mapped the auditory cortex, visual motor emotional responses, and activating memory systems. Way more than just one part of the brain. As we once thought. In its simplest form. Most people would recognize this. A major chord of Oaks are happy feeling and a minor chord evokes a sad feeling.

[00:04:13] Fast music feels energetic and usually happier than

[00:04:18] Music: [00:04:18] slow music.

[00:04:21] Ollie: [00:04:21] The music within a film can be used to guide the audience to an emotion or simply reinforce the emotion of the visuals. The music used in storytelling is all about dynamics, the light and shade of emotion that follows the story arc. Even the most action packed film needs a balance of pace and emotion throughout the film.

[00:04:39] Music became the hidden language within film with tensions, resolutions, crescendos, and diminuendos major and minor keys and delays and silent interludes. So it's easy to see how the film score became a key part in building the atmosphere of a film. That's only one part of this other dimension to films as sound on film technology opened the door to properly sync sound with visuals.

[00:05:03] It's also opened the door for a great exploration into non-musical sounds Kim coma. Wasn't just famous for the special effects and musical skills.

[00:05:18] During production, half a dozen sound experts discovered how to recreate Kong's frightening growls and beating of his massive chest with so many special effects. It needed realism. One of those manuals, Marie Spievak the sound supervisor who said that if they get these sounds right, the rest of their problems would be simple.

[00:05:37] They tried recording a kettle drum with a board and a cloth stretched over its face instead of the usual drum skin. It was too hollow for calm Walter Elliot. The specialist in sound effects said, then they tried beating the bottom of a keen chair with the drum mallet. It was more solid, but still not what you'd expect from an enormous beast of an animal.

[00:05:55] It just wasn't fleshy enough. So three men stepped close to the microphone. One holding the delicate Marc phone against Elliot's back was Spievak began tapping Elliot's chest slightly, and then more strongly.

[00:06:12] the gospel rules of Conwell also engineered speed took stock. Soundtracks of animals sounds leopards lions tigers. He took one of their sounds, ran the track backwards, slowed it down.

[00:06:30] Then loaded the sound by an octave and rerecorded that sound. This meant what the audience heard. Wasn't a sound that they instinctively recognized, which added more realism to what the audience was seeing and creates a greater sense of fear and or new experience. This was the birth of creative sound design.

[00:06:53] Jumped forward to the seventies where sound design became the creation of completely new sounds. Everyone recognizes these iconic sounds

[00:07:02] with the lightsaber created from the hum of an old movie projector, mixed wisdom television interference to add a bit more jeopardy and beyond just the creation of sound star Wars also took leaps forward in how the sound was delivered to the audience. Moving from Dolby stereo, the film was delivered using multiple speakers that immerse the audience in what was to be the new surround sound.

[00:07:23] No one can deny that the sounds of one of the big ingredients to the success of style,

[00:07:32] jump forward to fight club in 1999. To achieve the gritty realism of the punch. Sounds unlike any other fights thing you've ever heard, Ren Klyce in the sound design team, experimented with chickens, packed with walnuts, punching this meat and punching themselves in the chest to achieve realistic sound beyond the usual artificial fight scene sound effects.

[00:07:53] These sounds are a huge part of what makes this film, what it is, and probably the reason it was cited as one of the most controversial and talked about films of 1999. Because it felt real. The irony was sound design. Is that the very best sound design should go unnoticed. It should be paired with the visuals so well that it feels completely natural, believable on film sets.

[00:08:14] It tends to be the dialogue that is the only sound captured, but it gives a lot more flexibility in post production for the sound designer to choose the sounds that they want the audience to pay attention to. This gives the sound designer a unique power to unknowingly guide the audience wherever they want to go.

[00:08:30] Like the puppeteer pulling the strings of dolls in the show. The use and choice of sound can tell different stories within the stories, the background noise and atmospheric noise. For example, tell the audience where the scene is taking place. Without those sounds, the world would immediately seem unnatural on top of this.

[00:08:47] Whichever sounds are in the foreground. We'll take the audience's attention.

[00:08:55] Clip: [00:08:55] Take a

[00:08:55] Ollie: [00:08:55] sissy setting. You expect lots of background

[00:08:58] Clip: [00:08:58] noise,

[00:09:02] Ollie: [00:09:02] introducing a close-up our founder and your attention is drawn to that car. That car might not even be in shot, but you're expecting to see it. We'll take the sound down a lot and focus on a specific sound, guiding the audience to a particular strand of the story or at the opposite end of the spectrum.

[00:09:23] Sometimes the lack of sound can be more powerful than any sound.

[00:09:30] Using near silence in settings, where there should be sound, feels unnatural and captivates the audience attention for a completely different reason. The creative use of sound in this way. It can be even more powerful than music because they're real sounds. There are crucial element of world building.

[00:09:45] And alongside these hard effects in films, you'll often hear the use of emotional effects sounds that sits somewhere between music and real life. Sounds that add more to enhance the atmosphere. These noises can evoke clear emotions of tensions and anticipation, and usually a bit of fright as technology has advanced the use of Dolby.

[00:10:05] Atmos means that these sounds have been meticulously placed within a 3d space. Giving the audience, a deeply immersive experience, placing them in the center of the moment and the world

[00:10:18] stripping it right back. The point of the film is to convey an emotion of the two basic elements in film, visual, and sound. The sound is the more powerful one on the emotional level, the music and sounds used in film. Aren't there just to support the visuals. Sounded music or the key building block of creating any believable world inside a film, not just supporting, but enhancing the story itself.

[00:10:43] Sound tells its own story evolving as the story I'll come forwards and playing with the deeply rooted emotional connections

[00:10:50] we

[00:10:50] Music: [00:10:50] have.

[00:10:59] Ollie: [00:10:59] This has been Pathfinder show about storytelling. You can find out more about the stories on our show@paulfinder.show. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Pathfinder show. This episode was written and edited by Roger Morley and produced by me Ali judge. We'll be back next week with more stories behind the stories.  .