Barnaby Smyth at The Sound of Story 2014
Barnaby Smyth at The Sound of Story 2014

'A fertile ground for seeding ambition in sound' - Tim Goodyer on The Sound of Story


09 February 2015

Last year we hosted The Sound of Story at The Sallis Benney Theatre. Tim Goodyer, of Fast and Wide, wrote a fantastic overview of the days proceedings.

Anna Bertmark and Ray Beckett at The Sound of Story 2014
Anna Bertmark and Ray Beckett at The Sound of Story 2014

Already resigned to its role of ‘poor relation’ to video and film, sound has recently seen new terminology further challenge its dignity. Locked film reels are increasingly being replaced with ones that are ‘soft locked’ or ‘parked’, giving the sound team a moving target.

A recent conference on sound for picture saw a series of high-profile speakers turning this to their advantage, among other insights, however…

With Touching the Void and The Constant Gardener, as well as a long string of collaborations with filmmaker Michael Winterbottom among his lengthy credits, sound designer Joakim Sundström reckons to have encountered soft locked or parked reels on the past ten or so films he has worked on. Rather than the loss of a final picture edit to work to, he regards this as an indication of a director open to making changes in response to seeing the footage with sound.

‘It’s an art, not a science,’ he points out to the audience at the Lighthouse Sound of Story conference in Brighton. ‘Off-screen [acousmatic] sound, for example, appeals directly to the imagination without the intervention of picture, and can play a major part in telling a story.’

Among Sundström’s more unusual projects, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) cast Toby Jones as the sound man making a psychological thriller in a 1970s Italian horror film studio – ‘seriously weird and seriously good’, in the opinion of The Guardian. Although the film being made is never seen – its presence is exclusively described in sound – the sound tracks both it and the story of its making as part of the drama.

‘The script gave a clear story but the sound became a big experiment,’ Sundström says. ‘For a body chopping scene, we filmed Foley artists chapping melons but then we dubbed it for Foley’ – and the difference is significant. ‘Sound needs to be involved to create a dramatological script.’

Drawing on his Foley work for TV, film and theatre, Barnaby Smyth later paints a sound picture for the audience to further illustrate the point. From behind a couple of screens, he performs live Foley without images to prove the ability of sound alone to describe a scene – and to demonstrate the unorthodox thinking behind creating sound unseen. The agenda is set – our speakers are out to challenge the idea that sound is simply something that is added at the end of a production. It is as conference moderator Anna Bertmark (herself a sound editor/designer) has already said: that taking an image and adding sound changes the image. Change the sound, and the image changes again.

Coming to sound storytelling from an altogether different direction, Roly Porter underlines this with his own soundtrack to Rene Laloux’s cult sci-fi animationGandahar. Made in 1982 and animated in North Korea, the original soundtrack to the bizarre storyline is a predictable mush of synth-heavy rock.

Porter put both this and his involvement in dubstep duo Vex’d to one side in order to completely recontextualise the film for the British Film Institute’s 2014 sci-fi season. ‘I found that I could change the entire meaning of the film through the sound, so I set out to change the pace and focus by using the music and effects, and removing some of the dialogue.’

To read more, visit Tim’s blog, Fast and Wide.


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