Research Output
Sound Design
  This book explores the underlying principles of sound design for linear and interactive media, and specifically how they apply to theatre, radio and film. The focus of the text is about how to design effective sound so that audiences' experiences are as close as possible to designers' intentions. Sound is omnipresent, it surrounds us and immerses us in the world. As a form of communication sound is fully embedded into our lives, providing information way beyond what we can ever hope to see, touch, smell or taste. Foetal human hearing apparatus is thought to be fully functional early in the third trimester, which is considered a key factor for both cognitive and speech development. As sound is a temporal medium we have to rely on memory to interpret what we hear, these memories have been built up since gestation, and are added to continuously. We have the ability to listen as well as hear, with listening we can choose what to attend to, and filter out to a certain extent, irrelevant content. What sound designers do is guide listeners on this aural journey, through the creation and/or the manipulation of sounds. These sounds can support a narrative, affect emotions or just confirm an action, but if designed properly events can be transformed into experiences, and observers into participants. Sound design is not about adding sounds to every element that might make a sound, there should be an elegance and economy by only using the bare minimum number of sounds to tell the story well. However, if obvious sound sources are omitted then an audience can become distracted, and with special effects films an increased use of designed sounds can help bring the small details to life.There are many different philosophical approaches to design, but the one being advocated here is that of the invisible practitioner, where the audience are completely unaware that any design took place at all. It is as if there was a perfect microphone on top of the camera and it captured everything without any need for postproduction. The designed sound is impossible to differentiate from the object, it belongs, and is perceived as if no third party was involved in its creation. Even when a stylistic approach has been taken, it is a case that that is the way the character is experiencing it, and whilst the sound might be new to us it makes perfect sense to the character, and we are not distracted in any way by the sound design. Nobody should have to think that was great sound, there was no sound, there was just the experience, and the sound was so intricately interwoven that is was impossible to separate it. The listener’s interpretation of the sound is of major concern for the designer. It does not matter how a sound was created, all that matters is that the sound affects listeners in the intended manner. This is a very difficult thing to achieve as all listeners are unique. Whilst there are some commonalities, there are just as many, if not more, differences. If a design is not successful listeners will notice it. When a design is successful an audience becomes immersed and the entire experience is improved.

  • Type:

    Authored Book

  • Date:

    24 August 2020

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


McGregor, I. (2020). Sound Design. (3rd)


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