Understanding today’s status of what is traditionally referred to as film sound demands certain background. How did we get here? That’s a question all film sound editors ask themselves at some point in their careers. Here we have compiled several important points of reference to understand how sound has evolved throughout the years.
A lot falls under the umbrella of film sound —music, movie image, silence, foley, dialogue, etc., are some of the elements that are directly affected by sound as an abstract term. The industry has learned a lot about how music and film score are totally under different circumstances than they were 50 years ago. Of course, this evolution has been determined by the use and constant development of technology, flavored by the ongoing use of social acceptance.
If we were to fast forward 100 years in time it would be really challenging to tell where we will be and would be equally hard to tell what composers will have made a name for themselves in the history of the film score to stand out and be dubbed as legends within the industry. Instruments, likewise, have evolved. Think of the Waterphone, for example —that acoustic instrument, highly popular in older films, mostly used in a moving image. Today, there is a plethora of sound effects and sound effects libraries that can imitate that exact same sound, and even improve it through the use of synthesis. History has taught us that music as a crucial film sound element has evolved a lot, not only in terms of sound effects but also in its own interpretation. Composers such as Hans Zimmer and even Walt Disney’s have completely changed the way we visualize and digest music.
Hans Zimmer, for example, is known for having taken part in a lot of successful audiovisual projects; but the majority of his work has been a major game changer within the industry —Hans Zimmer is a true artist simple because how his work blends with the images being projected. Writing music for a project and for moving images is something we see every day, but changing the entire mood of a film and its moving images is a complex thing only a true artist can achieve, especially if it’s done whilst captivating audiences of today’s modern society.
Walt Disney’s composers, on the other hand, kind of took a leap of faith when they decided to integrate music and musical sounds into their projects. They thought initially that including music would not be accepted by a modern society and middle-aged people, but the experiment ended up being positive, especially for younger audiences at that time. So, by incorporating music into film, the film industry helped man alter the way films are portrayed these days. Had they not taken the risk of using movies in the films, probably we wouldn’t be hearing of composers and original soundtracks.
And although many seem to agree that, at some point, someone would have done exactly the same, chances are Walt Disney managed to integrate music into films simply because of the name he had made for himself in the industry at that point in time, so, chances are, when the time came, no one even questioned him about what he was planning to do; but most importantly, without a big company behind that idea, who would have managed to pull that off?
The inclusion of music and musical sounds in films brought along subsequent jobs and positions within the industry such as foley artists, for example, and the recording of realistic sound effects in films and moving images. Once the idea of giving music and sound effects a key role within the whole conception and production of film, other ideas followed, but most importantly, other industries started to develop themselves according to the pace at which filmmaking was developing: software, music instruments, technology, Foley techniques, etc., all of them leaned towards filmmaking, not to mention that such development also allowed filmmakers to explore other genres such as sci-fi, 3D animation, fantasy, etc.
It would be fair to assert that the evolution of sound was determined by social changes as well, not only the pace at which technology allowed the industry to develop. Music, as a key element of film sound, will certainly get to new shores —new instruments, new technologies, new composers, new ways of recording and merging music with moving images, and, why not, maybe new genres. And although films are considered essentially a visual experience and a visual medium —that is, more sight and sound—, the fundamental importance of the latter as a part of the storytelling process of any film plays a pivotal role from the beginning till the end. It definitely changed the way filmmakers used to think about the nature of cinema.