Hi everyone,

just finishing off my degree, and want to do my dissertation on audience perception of real and unreal sound in film. But need to find a way to measure it using a practical project.

any ideas?

i was thinking of making a short film and have the viewer fill out a survey to see what sounds they believed were enhanced, replaced or put in during post. i dont feel this will be accurate though, as the viewer will be aware of the task in hand and, will consciously listen to all the sounds in the clip

4 Answers 4


Um, it doesn't really matter if a sound is real or not in a movie, actually very few of them are. Generally, if the audience actually thinks of a sound as a sound effect, no matter how good it might be otherwise, it has failed.

Take for example light-sabers. We all know they're fictional, with absolutely no base in reality whatsoever. Still we all now for a fact that they sound huuuuummmmmmm-SQULASCH-hummmmmm. That's because it's so well adapted to the application that the gut-feeling overrides the intellect. Of course we all still know it's not real, but it COULD be location-sound!

On the other hand, a sound recorded on location, with the actual source and all, might very well sound incredibly fake as well. The looks right, it works just fins, but it doesn't sound convincing. These things happen all the time, though the most common way of treating it (at least for me) is to sweeten it, sometimes we just remove it and replace it completely.


If I may be devil's advocate for a moment: Why, in your opinion, is the difference between real and unreal sound important? Answering this question will probably help you figure out the best way to proceed.

It would also help us if you define 'real' and 'unreal' as you intend.

I think you're right about the effectiveness of the survey. To have an audience guess the 'reality' of a sound is pulling them out of the experience of the film and asking them to analyze the minute parts of more-significant whole. The vast majority of movie watchers have no idea how filmmaking really works anyway, let alone how sound contributes to it. They don't go to the theater to break down the structure of the cinematic process — they go to be taken into a completely different world. If the sonic and visual aspects of the film work well together, they don't need to ask what's real and what's not: it's all part of a story.

Cheers, ~Matt


It's hard to suggest ideas for a supporting project without understanding more about what you intend to achieve from the dissertation. But in terms of perception, I would suggest having a look at journals such as Music Perception or Psychomusicology. I'm not sure where you're based, but they can usually be found in a good library (i.e. The main research library of a big city, not so much your local library). Although these deal principally with music, you can draw from the studies that are made and perhaps design a similar one based on film sound.


Just skimming through the responses, i had an idea. Why don't you flip your thesis? You could explore how perception is the only thing that matters, and that the source of the sound doesn't matter at all.

For example, you could fabricate an effect from some other source, but make it emotionally realistic (ie. fitting the drama, and the world of the film). An example could be something as simple as a door slam made from a processed cannon and 2 pieces of wood slapping together.

On the other hand, you could use an effect that is a literal recording of what you're seeing on screen. Some doors have pretty lame slams in "reality". The door thing is just an example. It's also important not to deliberately cripple either side of the experiment - make both as effective as you can; just use physically real sources for one, and emotionally real sources for the other.

Then you could see which ones stand out to the audience as "wrong", in an effort see whether emotional realism is the most important thing, rather than sound sources. The tricky thing is managing your feedback. I find that it's not useful for non-sound people to focus on listening; if you tell someone to listen for something, it's easy for them to convince themselves they're hearing it. Maybe you could make your sequence short and concise, and then ask them questions about it after the fact.

Anyway, i hope there's something helpful in there. Just something that occurred to me. Best of luck!

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