So hey everyone, I'm working on this short and the director wants a shitload of roomtone..I'm wondering how one could make roomtone more oppressive.

10 Answers 10


Oppresive as in dark and eerie?

Put a low tone in it.

Rattles - a shaking AC vent is awesome in these instances.

A tree branch tapping a window.

A far-off hissing noise.

Every now and again, a children laughing verbed out like it's coming down from around the corner of a hall you cannot see.

A nice deep rumbly bus going by outside (depending on where it is obviously)

A dog barking outside.

It all depends on the mood you want to create with the audience, and what Oppressive means in this sense. Hope the above helps.

EDIT: Awkwardly Funny Ambience:

Get some funny sounding ambiences like a higher frequency rattle or a funny clock tick.

Also, get the scriptwriter to write something in like a coffee maker drip or a leaky sink where everything else is silent and the two people are staring at each other and the leaky sink keeps falling and then it gets louder and louder and it's awkwardly funny.

Or, write in that the main character taps his fingers over and over on the desk while he's staring at the person.

But again, this is all in pre-prod and I'm sorry if you've been given something to add an awkwardly funny ambience to after it's been shot and edited - which should really be thought with while shooting so instead of having to put obviously recognizable sounds in that are "off screen" because they didn't shoot a close-up of the leaky sink or the tapping of fingers or other things in the environment, you have more leeway to work with things. It's always easier to make a sound work for something you see visually than to make the audience know what they're hearing when it's "off screen" (read: lack of pre-prod).

  • Actually oppressive as in awkwardly funny. – Chris Apr 25 '11 at 21:58
  • This is all post pro--doesn't look like much of a strip tease either, its all morman room-tone from sound libraries for this one – Chris Apr 25 '11 at 22:53
  • no offence if anybody is morman maybe I should have said nunnish or boarding school instead – Chris Apr 25 '11 at 22:54
  • Oh, alrighty. I'd just find more room tones with more character to them, like a squeeky fan belt of an A/C unit on the roof or a noisy vent or a fan, etc. – Utopia Apr 25 '11 at 23:05
  • Cool, I'm starting to understand more now. More about the essence of sound design anyways, the movie is a mockumentary in the vein of the Office. He doesn't want anything but pure room tone. Now on the listener's level this could mean just the really low shhh but on the editor's level this could mean two pitch shifted fans, a squeak, and airconditioning, combined with a sigh on duplicate repeat all combined and finished at a level so low that it sounds like something else. – Chris Apr 25 '11 at 23:15

Well, I'm not sure I understand what you mean about room tone. If you just mean the "airy" feeling that you get from a static room tone, you can try and layer different flavours of room tones, for instance a dark hum layered with a large stone room and put in a bit of airconditioning. You can make it evolve and shift from cut to cut or from location to location.

You can also think about what the environment would sound like, and blend in a bit of traffic, people on the street, sirens, wind, birds, whatever suits the story. If the sounds are too clean, try to muffle them with a reverb that sounds like the room you are trying to describe. You can also EQ it as well, but try the reverb first, print it using Audiosuite, make it 100% wet. If it isn't enough, give it some more reverb on top, like the delay between buildings or a convolution reverb of a pipe or vacuum cleaner hose.


How about some sounds like phones constantly ringing but subtly in the BG? I always find it annoying when they go unanswered for ages in an office environment! Might add a bit if tension/unease to the scene if appropriate? Oh and the constant sounds of photocopiers/printers brings home to me the oppressive, soul sapping nature of tedious offce work! lol

  • Great idea about a monotonous copy machine in the background! – Utopia Apr 26 '11 at 17:53

In your case it sounds like "oppressive" needs to be read as "tight" or "confining", rather than low and scary, given the subject matter. If that's correct, then you need to focus on close, claustrophobic sounds, things that will make you shift in your seat and make you want to get some air. My first thought is fluorescent lighting. Nothing says office atmosphere like that. After that I'd try AC vents, computer fans and hard drives, or perhaps a soda machine compressor humming away.

Sounds like a real challenge...good luck!!

  • I don't know why I'd have to have tight and confining…sometimes its better to "score the opposite" but it is something I have been thinking about, tight and confining. – Chris Apr 26 '11 at 2:06
  • Everything is subjective and there are no rules, but my thinking behind it is that, with The Office, nobody wants to be there (except for Dwight!). And, since it's shot in a docu style, all of the sounds you hear are based in reality. So, working with those ideas, put in realistic sounds that are annoying or grating, yet believable. I don't thinking "scoring the opposite" would work in that scenario, imho. – Jay Jennings Apr 26 '11 at 3:20
  • Well I whole-heartedly agree but for the sake of it, I would have to say that perhaps undercurrents of stories can go on while the audience barely realizes it. For example, a forest ambience so low that the audience has a different feeling from their ears--not being cooped in an office while with their eyes they are in the building – Chris Apr 26 '11 at 22:07
  • especially if there is say…a plant in the shot? – Chris Apr 26 '11 at 22:09

Filter some pink noise into reverb. Play just the wet signal and maybe send some of your dialogue track into the verb to make it sound a little more authentic.


one word: fans

  • wierd, I actually tried that but the director has a phobia of fans and had to leave the room when I played it for him – Chris Apr 25 '11 at 22:43
  • You are not serious. How does he do the Darth Vader voice? – g.a.harry Apr 26 '11 at 3:43
  • With a teacup :( – Utopia Apr 26 '11 at 17:53
  • 1
    youtube.com/watch?v=M6Obr_ORiJ0 – Utopia Apr 26 '11 at 17:54
  • he's an indie director and doesn't believe in special effects like darth vader for example – Chris Apr 26 '11 at 20:25

Try introducing a tinnitus whine anywhere between 2-4 kHz, it doesn't need to be loud, it will quickly become very annoying and oppressive.


add hum.........


Use and infrasound. Most of the time, they are related to natural disasters: volcanoes, ligthning, earthquakes, avalanches ... Since its not consiously perceived, most people are annoyed, having a weird feeling of fear, like supernatural events are taking place. Sometimes even makes them sick !

  • @doc, I assume you're talking about extreme LFE? Used in moderation that approach can be quite effective. Cool! – Jay Jennings Apr 27 '11 at 0:11
  • I think the problem with infrasound is that not many speakers are designed to reproduce infrasound frequencies – Chris Apr 27 '11 at 14:45

Lots of solid ideas here! The only thing I'd add is that I often try to make tones that are either minor chords or specifically are atonal, or at uncomfortable intervals. Depends on if there's a music bed or not, but I like subtly pitching sounds not just higher or lower, but at specific intervals to one another.

  • 1
    dissonance is a powerful tool if you want to make the listener uncomfortable. – user80 Apr 28 '11 at 15:17
  • Seconded, I did an ominous/foreshadow-y type of restaurant scene recently with one or two fans/hums pitched at dissonant intervals and got some unnerving - yet believable - results. A little goes a long way, though. I think we're quite good at registering things like that without a lot of volume. – lucafusi Apr 29 '11 at 0:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.