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I'm editing a night scene at the moment. It's set in a suburban location, in Australia and I'm looking for ideas on sounds I can lay into the tracks to heighten the sense of tension.

So far I currently have cicadas running as part of the atmos/bg and I've got a nice bunch of dogs barking in the distance. I've tried a distant car alarm and siren, but they're not really working.

Any ideas for other night-related sounds to heighten the tension in the scene?

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    I honestly don't know what an Australian suburban landscape would sound like - but Hollywood popularised the tree-frog & cicada to such extent the world recognises it as 'night time', even if we've never heard either in real life ;) – Tetsujin Feb 16 at 17:20
  • Yeah pretty much all my atmos contains cicadas by default - just looking to vary it up a bit. – Mark Feb 17 at 2:18
  • I definitely need more pobble-bonk frogs though. – Mark Feb 17 at 4:22
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    maybe an owl sound? might also help serve the tension/spook factor.. also, what is pobble-bonk? – Tyler Stone Feb 17 at 6:54
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Nice to see a sound design-related question on the forum for a change.

As you know, every part of the world has a different "daytime" and "nighttime" vibe. Some locations have insects during the day (as @Danny James noted) and virtually silent nights, while others could be the opposite. Distinguishing between rural, suburban and urban will also cue what sounds may be appropriate.

But the interesting part of your question, to me, is how can you "heighten the tension" in the scene. That gets me thinking less about the accuracies of your chosen sounds and more about the emotional storytelling cues. Things like owls and dogs may root your scene in too much realism, taking away from tension, for example.

Perhaps try sounds that would be native to your location but slightly twisted; just odd enough to give the audience a sense of unease, that something's not right. Maybe play your cicadas backwards! Maybe pitch your owl down half an octave and put it a mile away, using EQ and reverb! Maybe your dog barks could be whimpers and whines!

Experiment! There is no wrong answer.

  • yeah thanks Jay - those are great suggestions. I particularly love the idea of grabbing the cicada atmos and running it backwards. I'll try that.... Cheers mate! – Mark Feb 21 at 7:38
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Close-caption your speakers, let them talk at subdued volume, give it some reverb but with significant initial delay, dial the volume up still and mix it with the background noise which includes stuff like the speakers' footsteps, again with some significant reverb (assuming urban environments, otherwise sounds like gravel under footsteps with little reverb).

  • Can you clarify "close caption" in this context? – Mark Feb 19 at 23:43
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I'd deffo have some crickets and tree frogs for sure - Cicadas are more hot daytime noises.. Also in any areas you could also add in tyres screaching of hoons doing burnouts and doughnuts on industrial estates haha Dan

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    Cicadas hot daytime sounds? You're not from round there then. – Mark Feb 19 at 4:31

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