Stretching Sound to Help the Mind See by Walter Murch

On Sound – by Walter Murch

See also Murch’s Rule of Six

Wingstedt, J., Brändström, S., & Berg, J. (2010). Narrative Music, Visuals and Meaning in Film. Visual Communication, 9, 193-210.

How music affects meaning — with an emphasis on films.  Includes Jaws as an example.  Draws on Halliday and Kress et al, social semiotics.

Added 3/1/12: Gunnar Iversen, (2010) ADDED VALUE: THE ROLE OF SOUND IN DOCUMENTARY FILM THEORY AND VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY, from Iversen and Simonsen, eds. Beyond the visual: Sound and image in ethnographic and documentary film.  In Dropbox.  

Similar to Wingstedt — both cite Chion — but about documentary and ethnographic film.

Sound editing: how much they do on NPR (a lot), and how it’s easier with audio than video. From On the Media:



Excerpt from  Jarrett, M., & Murch, W. (2000). Sound Doctrine: An Interview with Walter Murch. Film Quarterly, 53(3), 2–11:


p. 7: In your book-In the Blink of an Eye-you outline six
rules for editing images
. Are there comparable rules
for editing sound?
You have more freedom with sound than you do with
picture. There are, consequently, fewer rules. But the
big three things-which are emotion, story, and
rhythm--..apply to sound just as much as they apply
to picture. You are always primarily looking for something
that will underline or emphasize or counterpoint
the emotion that you want to elicit from the audience.
You can do that through sound just as well as through
editing, if not more so. Rhythm is obviously important;
sound is a temporal medium. And then, story. You
choose sounds that help people to feel the story of what
you’re doing.

p. 9:
What are your feelings about nondiegetic music?
Do you mean ordinary film music? I generally think
music is used too much. But the general principle, for
me anyway, is that although music is an effective rallier
of emotions-it can provoke emotions in peopleit’s
best used in film as something that directs or
channels emotions that are already present. If a film becomes
too dependent on music to create the emotion,
there’s a kind of steroid-like artificiality that comes into
play. The audience, without knowing it, begins to feel
manipulated. What I’d much rather have happen is that
the scene itself-and that scene from Godfather is a
perfect example because it provokes an emotion-!’ d
rather, when music comes in, that it tell the audience
where to channel that emotion, what twist to put on that
emotion. Is it a safe emotion? Is it a heroic emotion? Is
it an uncertain emotion? That’s when music, to me, is
most effective.


* The piece on narrative music has a nice breakdown of the movie Jaws; you may want to poke around on YouTube for some more leitmotifs–there are some pretty fun ones out there, like the Pink Panther for example.
* reflect on how sound is used on news programs, TV soap operas, TV comedy, films…… if you happen to be watching something this week, turn the sound down and experience what the difference is for your experience, and/or play with adding different music sound tracks to things you are watching.\\

A useful distinction  is the following —  Diegetic sound versus Non-diegetic sound

Diegesis is a Greek word for “recounted story”. The film’s diegesis is the total world of the story action. Diegetic sound, therefore, is a sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film. Examples include:

* voices of characters
* sounds made by objects in the story
* music represented as coming from instruments in the story space
( = source music)

Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from source within the film’s world. Diegetic sound can be either on screen or off screen depending on whatever its source is within the frame or outside the frame. Another term for diegetic sound is ‘actual sound’.

Non-diegetic sound is sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action. This could be:

* narrator’s commentary
* sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect
* mood music

Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from the a source outside story space. Another term for non-diegetic sound is commentary sound.

The distinction between diegetic or non-diegetic sound depends on our understanding of the conventions of film viewing and listening.  We know of that certain sounds are represented as coming from the story world, while others are represented as coming from outside the space of the story events. Playing with diegetic and non-diegetic conventions can be used to create ambiguity (horror), or to surprise the audience (comedy).

* Check these out on YouTube:

Early film:
Sound effects:
Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929) – – irritating ’80′s bloke so I would start at 1 minute 30 seconds to minimise his intro.
Famous for sound: – the Jazz Singer, recorded sound — a little overblown but some nice examples – the trailer for The Conversation – Coppola’s film is all about sound and what is heard versus what is seen, and how it is interpreted.

(Thanks to Elizabeth Churchill for the above discussion.)