When it comes to film, we might actually think it is basically and essentially a visual experience; however, a film is much more than that. We really cannot simply disregard and underestimate the importance of sound within the film biome: a well-crafted soundtrack is often as powerful —and sometimes complicated— as the image on the screen. So, in order for us to understand the complexity of today’s modern film, there are several aspects that traditionally go unnoticed by the audience, but that is as important as the image being projected.
Soundtracks are entirely a different universe. And they involve three different aspects: the human voice, music and sound effects. In fact, each component is a soundtrack on its own, and they need to coexist seamlessly. These three soundtracks must be balanced and mixed in a way so they produce the desired effect and the desired emphasis throughout the film.
The Human Voice
When it comes to the human voice, we are basically talking about dialogues. Dialogues are used to authenticate the speaker as a real individual rather than a product or a concept of imaginary storytelling. For example, with stage drama, the dialogue is used to convey the story, and it ultimately expresses the motivations and feelings of the characters during the play.
Oftentimes, within the film ecosystem, audiences perceive little or practically no difference between the character being portrayed and the actor portraying the character. Think of Humphrey Bogart and Sam Spade or Jim Carrey and Stanley Ipkiss: we could assert to some extent that both film personality and Mr. Bogart’s and Carrey’s own personality merge in a rather high level since their voices complement both characters.
Additionally, when voice texture seems to fit the actor’s of the performer’s aspect and appearance, a wholly different yet realistic character, called persona, is born. The audience does not see a performer working on the character, but another individual struggling through all kinds of situations. On another note, it is also worth mentioning that dialogues are introduced within films in a unique way, and its use varies widely among the nature of the film. Sometimes films include little to no dialogue, and the narrative depends a lot on the visuals, and sometimes audiences are faced with non-stop dialogues, bouncing from conversations to a conversation in a frenetic, comedic way.
Sound effects have two major components, so to speak. First, when talking about sound effects, we also talk about synchronous sounds —those sounds that match what the audience is watching. For example, if a character is playing a musical instrument, then the sounds of the instruments are projected. This type of sounds also contribute to the realism of a visual project or a film and are also used to create a desired or particular atmosphere. For example, when a door is being opened and we hear the door handle make its particular “click”, we are fully convinced that the image being portrayed is real.
However, if the door handle clicks during an action sequence like a robbery, the sound mixer may emphasize differently the “click” with a totally different volume level to create suspense.
The other main component of sound effects are the asynchronous sounds —those that don’t match what the audience is watching on the screen. These are used to introduce emotional nuances in the project and add a bit more realism. Think of ambulances as background sounds during a car chase, for example. The noise of the siren adds to the realism of the film by elaborating on the project’s city set. Or the noise of birds, dogs, and bystanders while a couple is arguing about something in the park during autumn. Both scenarios are real to us simply because we associate the background sounds we hear with what we are used to. We know ambulances move across city streets, and we know parks are often full of people with their pets.
Background music plays a pivotal role in every visual project. Music is often used to add nuances and emotions as well as rhythm to the film. Traditionally, music is not meant for the audience to note it, as it is rather used to provide a specific tone or emotional nuance to the story. Additionally, music also emphasizes all types of changes throughout a visual project; it foretells changes in mood, in pace, in sequences, etc.
Film sound is often comprised of both innovations and conventions. During a car chase, for example, the audience always subconsciously expect an acceleration of the music; however, it is important to mention that music and sound are most of the times brilliantly conceived and written. The effects of sound remain largely subtle and are noted only by our subconscious, but they play a key role in our capacity to appreciate and understand what we call today the modern film.