Rhetorical Answer

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A response to the question never asked

What is Sound Design?

My first Sound Design class began with an overview of sound, which brought me back to my days in Psychoacoustics Lab in college. I would have never thought any of that course would have come in handy in the future besides providing me with great stories of sitting outside the testing rooms listening to experiment subjects scream in agony as they endured listening to a series of ear-splitting beeps through heavy-duty headphones. Ah, memories. Anyway, I looked over the diagrams of sound waves in the lecture notes and realized I understood what they meant. Score one nerd point!

The instructor then went on to talk a little about polar patterns and frequency response curves of microphones, followed by a few examples of ambient sound. We went through a brief case study analyzing the use of sound effects and music in a clip from the movie Behind Enemy Lines, which made me listen much more carefully than I normally do while watching a film, and concluded that the audio component really does drive the emotion in a scene far more than the visual component. If you don’t believe me, try watching some heart-wrenching movie scene with the sound muted. Then watch it again with sound. In terms of emotional impact, the version with sound will win hands-down, and the effect is even more pronounced if the scene is scored. Think of any scene with a swelling choral chant at the dramatic turning point, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The instructor summed up the use of music in film in a thought-provoking way. He said that the film-maker uses music to cue the audience to the appropriate emotional response. As an audience member, I was initially bothered by the idea that I was being cued to feel anything. Where do filmmakers get the right to manipulate me emotionally? But then he pointed out that aim of art is to put the audience into a state of suspended disbelief. Once in that state, we are able to go on a journey with the artist and see the world through that artist’s unique lens.

I can see the merit in his argument, but so much of today’s media is designed to manipulate consumers for commercial purposes that it still makes me uncomfortable to realize how much of that manipulation has been honed to an art. As it’s largely unavoidable in this technology-saturated environment in which we live, I suppose I’m better off being able to recognize the techniques. And perhaps, after mastering them myself, take over the world? *Dr. Evil pinkie smile*

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Filed under: Education, Film, , , ,

The Saga Begins

I double-checked the time and location for my Sound Design course the night before the first session, wrote down the address on a slip of paper to carry in my pocket on the walk over to the building, made sure I had my registration form and student ID card in my bag, and left myself 15 minutes extra time to find Room B-3 before class started. I double-checked my e-mail before leaving for class, in case school administration sent any last-minute messages, and saw that my inbox was free and clear. Brimming with excitement, I skipped down the street, singing “B-3! B-3! B-3!” But when I arrived at the building in midtown, the nice guard at the front desk informed me that my class was not on his list and that there was no Room B-3, there never had been any Room B-3, and that according to his records, I should not even exist. I thought about this for a moment, then decided that I had imagined the last part of his response in a hallucinogenic panic reaction when I realized that despite my careful preparations, I would probably be late for class.

Next, I wondered whether I had fallen for an elaborate phishing scam in which I had thought I was registering for film classes on a legitimate NYU website but in reality had wired money to Nigeria. With only ten minutes left before class started, there was nothing else to do but check with the registration desk on the fourth floor, where another person had to call a central admin office to sort out the confusion. Sure enough, my class had been moved to another location downtown. I crammed into a cattle car – excuse me, 6 local train – and burst out, stressed and sweaty, at Astor Place. A hurried walk through my old neighborhood, which thankfully I knew like the back of my hand, and I finally arrived at the elusive Room B-3, which turned out to be a basement classroom in a building just east of Washington Square Park.

It turned out that NYU had been just as good about notifying the other students about the location switch as it had been to me, so I was not the only person late for the first class, and I don’t think I missed much more than introductions. Unfortunately, that means I still have no idea who anyone is, what they do, or why they are taking the course, and I usually find that sort of information interesting. The instructor did mention, however, that we will be working in groups on projects, so hopefully I will get better acquainted with my classmates over the span of the semester.

Filed under: Education, Film,

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