I just finished reading Douglas Murray's guest article on Designing Sound during which he states:

BG sounds connect the component shots into a whole scene and also separates the scenes one from the other by the changes in sound at the transitions between scenes.

This got me thinking about the effect of playing with BGs to deliberately affect perception. Can anyone think of an example where two scenes in different places keep an element of the previous BG? I'm thinking of how BG manipulation can be used creatively to play with audience perception. Is there an example of two consecutive scenes that ordinarily should have different BGs but somehow retain certain elements?

As Douglas Murray states, BGs serve to define time, space, mood and duration. But I'm just wondering if anyone has really experimented by messing with these "rules".

  • Interesting question, @Colin. Makes me want to re-watch/re-listen to films like Timecode or Cloud Atlas... Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 17:19
  • @NoiseJockey Nice suggestions Nathan! Haven't seen either but they look awesome! Hope all's good btw. Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 17:55
  • p.s. There's gotta be a film where a wheelbarrow ambiance gets split throughout different scenes, right? Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 17:58
  • ROFLMAO! One can only hope. :-) Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 16:17

5 Answers 5


I had a scene in a short film I did last year where I did something fun.

The film is a period piece, so no modern sounds anywhere. A woman is sitting alone in a room contemplating a potion she's in the process of making that will kill her unborn child - saving it from her abusive husband.

I put a clock in the room (even though there wasn't one anywhere on screen in the set) and had it ticking almost inaudibly at first. Just part of the furniture.

The woman is interrupted as husband storms into the room, threatens her and leaves. he's been doing this for years.

I do some other designy things around her state of mind there (stretched screams, some forgotten zither things, etc), and in a fit of rage she makes the potion strong enough to both kill herself and the unborn child. the camera starts spinning around her head in closeup and I take the clock and push it very loud in the mix - just a massive ticking thing signifying the last moments of her life. The audio and visuals are chaos for a moment as she's going to through the decision making process that will lead her to drink the potion.

then a hard cut to a wide shot of the woman. she's made her decision, now she just has to do it. The clock is back to its regular place - its there, but just part of the furniture again. The rest of the bgfx are back in place. wind, house creaking, etc.

she takes the cup and lifts it.

kaboom!! - a piano that some movers were lifting in a previous scene crashes through the window.

The cup falls and shatters. The potion is ruined. The woman is disoriented.

At this point I got rid of all of the bgfx that weren't a part of the piano ringout (thanks to Tim Prebble for tortured piano http://hissandaroar.com/sd006-tortured-piano/ there) - including the clock. Its a subtle thing, but that decision was a specific metaphor for the fact that the seconds are no longer ticking down on the woman's life.

The movers walk into the room and address the woman, but we're still only hearing the piano breaking apart on the floor and the dust settling. Despite all of the visual motion, all of the audio is of the event settling into the ground.

no clock, no wind, no house creaking, no men talking even though we see them addressing her and helping her off the floor. Just the long ringing dissonance of the piano as it lays there and the falling of dirt to the floor and the occasional random string pop as it finally gives way. The scene settles into quiet and then hard cuts to the woman screaming as she gives birth.

  • Nice work @Rene. Is the film published online anywhere as I'd love to see that? There are plenty of examples of non-diegetic sounds, but what I like in what you did (at least from the way you describe it) is how you played with the clock ticking's presence, bringing it in and out. Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 15:24
  • the film is still making the festival circuit. not sure it'll show up online any time soon. It's called "crescendo" by wama films.
    – Rene
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 19:20

well, one great film with BGs is 'No Country For Old Men' - lack of music in spots, BG's hold the scene and the tension runs very high, foley and BG - thats it. (thinking desert scene)

  • I may be mistaken but I think there's only 1 music cue in that movie besides drones, and it's a source cue with the mariachi band when he wakes up in Mexico in the morning. The BGs in that movie KILLED. Classic. Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 19:20

The scene in Barton Fink where Fink arrives at the hotel for the first time. The previous scene of waves crashing dissolves over the lobby shot but we still hear the waves.

Didn't have any luck finding a clip on youtube but there's a clip here http://www.avclub.com/articles/barton-fink,33399/

Interesting article too.

Hope that helps! :)


I have always love David Lynch's choices for BG's. The low end drone in Bill Pullman's house as he walks down the hallway into the darkness or the CCTV footage outside his house. Also, the sound of Rossellini's apartment building is truly haunting and unnerving. Great stuff.


I learned a ton about BGs by watching "blade runner". Some of the best,most unique BGs I've ever heard.

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