SFX, what are you hearing?

by Susana Alarcon


This week we made a little experiment in recording sounds of interesting sounding objects. Particularly for me, it was a very entertaining and successful learning experience. I guess that I had never been in the situation of trying to record sounds and then trying to search new meanings for them. What we hear may not be exactly the way we see it, or what we hear can trick our mind and adapt to other views.

Is a good thing to remember that anyway the possibility to manipulate the recordings opens an infinite variable game.


Creativity in creation of sound

I guess that the word “designer” also implies a creative side of sound creation. If we take the flow of a “design”, creativity can rule most of the process from exploration, to ideation and also prototyping.

Examples of creativity seen and good to point out:

King Kong: lions roar slowed down

Dog walking: press on nails glued on to gloves

Mammoth footsteps in Ice Age: dropping a log into a pit of dirt

Bats: Umbrella!

Horses: Coconut halves

Snow walking: Salt in a bucket

Earthquake: Wooden cracking slowed down

Ripping body: Cabbage cut with a machete…. and so on

sounds and SFX as words in language

by Susana Alarcon


The sound effects are a manipulated language;  each sound film demands the creation of its own “soundlibrary” (vocabulary) with unique definitions, tense, intention, pronunciation and accent. Is also like if every single world that is created had its own history, traditions and storytelling style.

I could understand this way why is it so important to create a unique version of sounds that appear in a movie; even if it’s a good translation, sometimes the words in one language don’t exactly describe what you mean in another.

It’s real but doesn’t sound real

by Susana Alarcon


What happens when the real sounds of something even recorded on the exact intended place with high quality equipment lead to a “bad” sound, a not understood sound of an out of tone sound… This week I learned that even when you are trying to recreate real sounds, the real source and recording of it is not the answer.

The possibility of manipulation of sound, and the sound in film, seen as an orchestrated composition give the hints again to the way sound should be picked, produced and placed.

Everything needs to be orchestrated, this is as I said in the previous post, with a fluent play of instruments according to our intentions (focus), but also, it has to be on time, on tone, and amplified according to the orchestra.

It could sound really obvious, and easier to detect and prove in present DAWs, but anyway, it’s a good point to make and a precise thing to remember when preparing the material for a composition.  I will specially point out the manipulation of the TONE of sounds to flow and express on harmony or as desired.

A story has its own orchestra


by Susana Alarcon


A story has its own world and sounds, but in order to have a fluency in the storytelling, the sounds need to be orchestrated. (Took from the noter of class of the interview Michael Bates to Peter Miller)

The creation, variation and interaction of sounds then work as functions in an organism. This is, there is a need of focusing energy in actions that are needed. For animals, this could be explained on how the brain regulates the energy and focus on eating, nesting, flying, … depending on the needs and cycle,  better example, same orchestra, if we want to hear the violin solo, the transition is prepared, the other instruments are lowed down and the violin gets our attention, in a story, the intoduction of characters, the detail in a fight, the presence of “evil”, the emotions in our protagonist that will evolve to an action,… the whole flow of it will be regulated by the atmosphere and the orchestration of the sounds in it; What do you want the energy and focus of your audience fall on?


by Susana Alarcon

In the exploration of Ben Turner for his degree I found an interesting paragraph that talked about the use of “silence” in film. Before, when talking about apocalypse now I said how I think is an amazing imagination and emotion booster, but I missed uses and the technical part of it and I found some clues and notes in Turner’s doc:

-““Coloured” silence allows a spectator to reflect the action shortly before and after its inception.”

– Silence may evoke significant symbolism: the world has momentarily stopped, a shut down of a character’s mental continuity, blind pain or shock..

-Technical silence may distract the spectator, so “silences” have a faint reverb or brown noise to keep the speakers activated.

-Important to “set up” silence. “In most cases silence is preceded by a dense soundtrack to create a suitable contrast.”


by Susana Alarcon


Keeping up with the topic of creating ambiences, I decided to have a look on Ben Turner’s Acoustic Ambience in Cinematography.  I liked the way the action “To be immersed” (like in water)  is used to explain the way the spectator feels from the stimulation of a “narrative virtual world” and how the immersion can be manipulated by a designed ambience.

Ambience deals with a delicate and discriminate setting up and play of sounds, in screen, synched, off screen, not synched,… that will help to construct the “seat and live the cinema reality” , a Virtual Reality in other words.

As sound designers, the aim is then to immerse people in a believable reality on which the spectator doesn’t have to question about it.

With the advices in technology (3D, Atmos), the immersion is evolving and now it is more possible to drop the audience in the middle of the scene, and as spectators, we are also hoping for being able to experience Virtual Reality of things that would not happen in our every day life.