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I've been thinking...

What would you recognize as being some pillars of sound design that you would identify as having had "enormous" societal impact (touching many people, shifting cultures in some way etc.)? The soundtrack can be part of any media, but the point of this questionnaire is to identify, whether there exist pieces where specifically the sound has somehow had a significant role (even surpassing the role of any visuals, if there any)?

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(even surpassing the role of any visuals, although practically this is an impossibility, because soundtracks don't exist in isolation)?

well they do! :) "War of the worlds" (the radioplay from 1938) had an enormous effect on society. Never before was a medium able to scare so many people (to the actual point of fleeing the city, some say). Whether it was the story or the sound design, i'm not certain. Sound design, wasn't 'around' back then. Although many will disagree :)

I'll think a bit more for other examples, great question!

Some more examples, besides the obvious signal sounds:
Car (the sound of doors closing, etc). Associaton='safety,transport,luxury (bmw, mercedes)'
Harley exhaust (everyone recognizes that in the western world). Association='bikers,freedom,route66,easy rider'
Senseo coffeemachine (designed by Philips, has a particular sound to the pump). Association 'coffee!, more coffee!, personally i detest senseo coffe.

  • Ah, in radio plays they do exist in isolation, of course. – Internet Human Sep 3 '13 at 19:17
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I think a lot of the sound design conventions we use could be argued as having a societal impact. For example the use of reverb to convey a dream sequence. I don't know where this first began but it is now a well accepted tool across most forms of media.

Whether this would be considered significant or not is debatable.

  • This specific example goes back to the way the brain processes physics. Usually a rich synthetic convolution reverb is used because it gives the sensation of being inside a place that does not exist in physical reality. – MickLH Sep 5 '13 at 18:29
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I think of all kinds of emergency sirens. For example: http://freesound.org/people/guitarguy1985/sounds/51909/

  • true! also in war eg imagine the fear instilled by hearing an air raid siren in WWII – user49 Sep 9 '13 at 22:13
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Not on the scale of War of the Worlds (good call btw) but an interesting example is The Arbor by Clio Barnard. Not sure if it made it that far out of the UK, but well worth a look if you can get hold of it. It's a film about the tragic life of Andrea Dunbar, a playwright who grew up on a rough council estate in the late 70's. The film has a bit of a trick up its sleeve though - filmed in a doc style it combines audio from interviews with surviving family and friends with separate video footage of actors, a kind of verbatim cinema. The effect is really strange and unsettling, but totally compelling. Not an easy watch, but recommended. Check out the clips on IMDB.

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If you read Zen Baggage from Red Pine (Bill Porter), you will read about how he perceives the Zen monastery and its activities centered around certain sounds, first of all bells. There is a strict schedule to be followed and the sounds are crucial in keeping to that.

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