I just want to share this experience I had yesterday and hear others' stories.

I got asked to do a short film yesterday. It was shot on DSLR and looks lovely. There's no dialogue and concerns a recently bereaved mother. I used two sounds to have a particular effect.

I added in the sound of thunder for no other reason than to highlight an internal emotion from the central character. It signified the beginning of her grief and it's outpouring in the last scene. It also fitted into the dull grey colour of the outdoor scenes (rural mountainous Ireland). I'm not talking huge claps but that gentle rumble of an impending storm.

The other sound was that of of air conditioning in a huge echoey bunker throughout the scenes that take place within the small cottage. It's mixed very low but is intended on making the audience feel uncomfortable. I think it creates the sense of a large empty space, the obvious link being the mother's son who is now not in her life.

I've used sounds for their dual meaning before but never so consciously. How has anyone else used a sound for a dual meaning in their films?



Ambiences are very valuable territory for achieving this, as they can evoke emotion in a more subtle way than music often does in film...

I recently did a film where two thirds of the way through, a major event shatters some kids lives (their goat gets killed) and from that moment on I removed all life from the ambiences, so at night there was no night crickets and during the day no birds, just wind in trees etc... I sincerely doubt that anyone watching the film will go: HEY! How come there are no birds anymore??? But the effect is powerful as it made the soundtrack feel subdued, and you empathised with the kids sadness, so it was working from their perspective... Only when circumstances resolved near the end of the film did we reintroduce living ambiences...

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    Nice touch Tim. I think that the majority of viewers would not have been aware of what you did but subconsciously it would have had an effect on their perception of life without the goat. I think as sound designers we have the possibility to manipulate the emotional impact of a film by carefully designing the soundtrack. We live in a world where visual perception is nearly always at the forefront of perception, leaving us as sound designers in the honored position of being able to manipulate the auditory perception of the audience without them even noticing we've done it! Jun 22 '10 at 16:45

I rarely work on film, but when I do stuff for theatre, sure. All the time! I like doing it quietly, it sneaks under the 'wait, you're manipulating me aren't you?' radar. Quiet rain, traffic, softly dripping taps, lawnmowers. All these kinds of things can bring an emotional layer to a scene that doesn't feel as heavy handed as overtly emotional music.


I've used this in the background sounds before. Like the choice of birds in either happy/sad moments in a story. eg, crows = bad, morning birds = happy. Thinking about the neighborhood they're in.. if its good, you hear kids playing in a playground, sprinklers, light/no traffic, a bike-by or two, ice cream truck, etc. If its bad, maybe construction, heavier/industrial traffic, a police siren, a baby crying, dog barking. Sometimes it sounds cliche and you take it out, but most of the time just mixed low, people don't consciously notice and are still affected, but don't know why.


I play with the pitches of non-musical elements in my sound design for improving scene emotions.

Here is an example from one of my recent projects; A break up scene of a couple. They are in a crowded street. A lot of background noise, city noise, etc. I pitchshifted "car horns" to E, G and B to get an Em. The only challenge was distributing them randomly so that it does not sound artificial.

This approach also helps me connect the scenes to music more easily. As you can guess, if the music is in Em key, this provides a feel of completeness.


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