Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Saturday, 9 January 2010

Films that use sound in an interesting way

Edit 22 December - re-ordered clips from earliest first and to add in a brilliant interview with Walter Murch (see Apocalypse Now 1979) who, delightfully, comes out with some brilliant soundbites.


Films that focus on something to do with sound generally interest me - I like it when someone notices something and rewinds a tape to hear something again and 'bing' - some problem is solved, or discovered.

I've added these films here because they did something that I thought was interesting with sound. This isn't about the merit or quality of a film, but about its sonic properties.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
OK the *entire film* is about sound, sound effects and is generally rather eerie so it scores rather highly for me :)

Sebastian (1968)
Oxford maths don Dirk Bogarde is involved in an espionage / decryption / listening project which involves intense listening to recordings or radio programmes. The opening sequence (brilliant) is sadly no longer on YouTube but some of the film's strangeness (though not its sonicness) is captured in this psychedelic segment.

Edit: Just found part 1 (50 minutes) - wonder how long it will last.

The Conversation (1974)
Gene Hackman's in this one - he records people's conversations remotely for clients but on listening to one of his tapes hears something that makes him reluctant to hand the tape over.

From Googling this film just now I discovered that Walter Murch and David Shire were behind the music in the film. David Shire also wrote the score for the original version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and there are a couple of interesting interviews with Walter Murch in the Radiolab podcasts - Blink and Making of Radiolab.

There's a good use of sound at the end of the Pelham film but I won't give it away if you've not seen it.

Apocalypse now (1979) - interview with Walter Murch in 2000

The sound of Vietnam
How wizard Walter Murch created a soundtrack of horror for Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." 
"One more wonderful thing about the way a helicopter sounds is that it has a different articulation as it passes by. You’ll hear five or six different things going on when you get into different spatial relationships to it — sometimes you’ll hear just the rotor, then you’ll hear just the turbine, then you’ll hear just the tail rotor, then you’ll hear some clanking piece of machinery, then you’ll hear low thuds. The helicopter provides you with the sound equivalent of shining a white light through a prism — you get the hidden colors of the rainbow. ... In musical terms, we thought of the helicopters as our string section. ... Small arms fire would be the woodwinds, I guess."

I've noticed this too - a helicopter can be rattling away when it's pointing in one direction and almost silent when it's pointing in another. I'm lucky enough to live in Blackheath / Greenwich and occasionally we get Chinook helicopters passing the heath and they do make a lovely sound.

But of course Stanley Rogers' theme tune for Apocalypse Now is also brilliant, in its own way ;) (Smith and Jones).

Blow Out (1981)
John Travolta plays a sound engineer investigating video footage of a car accident, suspected to have occurred because of tampering. I think he spots an audio and video mismatch and he listens intently to pick out what might have happened.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
At ~25 minutes into the film Uhuru puts the sound output of a probe device through a variety of filters and discovers that whales are trying to communicate...

Contact (1996)
Lots of good bits here - from Ellie outside listening with headphones on, everyone trying to work out what the TV signal is, and Kent hearing Ellie speak against the noise generated by the alien device.

I'm collecting more, throughout life... :-)

Further reading 


  1. Great list, but, what? No Requiem for a Dream?

    1. I've never seen it! Soundtrack's awesome though but don't really know how the other sounds are used.


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