I think it's safe to assume that this crowd loves a good story. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that we're the ones who vocalize all the sounds and give voices to the characters when telling a co-worker about our crazy morning commute in an attempt to make a crap story a better story. We contribute our acoustic impressions to all kinds of different worlds everyday, trying to make them more encompassing, evolving and appropriate as supporting characters in the storytelling process. But how do you know what succeeds and what fails?

Is it trial and error? Learned expectations from listening to decades of media? Are there unwritten rules that a single Red Tailed Hawk screech against a gritty, blustery wind implies solitude and desolation? Are there written rules that explain it all?

I try to view TV/ films and actively listen to hear how the role of sound supports the story, but I always get lost in the story! I'm always backing up, usually kill the screen, turn off lights, close my eyes and re-listen. And then I'm only 70-80% sure of what it is I'm actually listening for.

So, when studying films, television or theater for how they use sound to tell the story, how do you not get lost in the story? What do you listen for? What are some of your favorite nuggets of media that use sound effectively in support of telling a story? And why were they effective to you?

How else do you hone your acoustic storytelling skills?

2 Answers 2


A technique I've tried a little bit is to take a photograph and try to create a scene around it.

Another thing I do to hone my ears, which helps everything in sound design, is just take long walks for sound sake -- smells, too, but that's a different story. If I were really smart, I'd either carry a portable recorder with me to capture good sounds, or I'd immediately try to recreate parts of my walk once I got home.

  • That's such a gret idea. Using photographs as visual material to sound design. Wonderful, thanks.
    – Kurt Human
    Jul 8, 2010 at 16:46
  • I've done the photograph technique once before, actually using a random illustration I pulled off google. I had forgotten about that. Need to do that again. Actually, come to think of it, @Tim Prebble's Synaesthesia series is exactly that. Jul 14, 2010 at 21:21
  • That's where I first got the idea. Jul 22, 2010 at 19:41

It's a hard thing not getting lost in the story but I use a method that usually helps a lot. The problem usually is that you don't notice a good sound design because of the fact that it's good.. The method I'm using is simple but takes away all the beauty of the movie, so you have to sacrifice. First, you watch the movie, and you're blown away by it. Then you want to know how they did this.

Going back to the basics and remembering that a movie is nothing more then a story told by images and sound will get you to the "Masking method". (I read about this method in a great book by Michel Chion: "audiovision").

After you've seen the movie you're going to watch it scene by scene. With every scene you first shut the sound down and just watch the images. Then you go and listen the scene without image. You make notes while doing both and you go through the whole movie this way. At the end you're going to read all your notes and you'll find yourself a clear blueprint of the movie. I usually go and write a small paper for myself about the movie.

It's a time consuming process and it takes all the magic away, but for me it's the only way I can truly analyze the sound design. To make it more clear, I usually separate the whole movie in four categories: Dialogue, Sounds, Silence and Music.

I could send you a couple of examples I made, but I think it wouldn't make sense, since their'e all in Dutch. If you would still like to see them, contact me.

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