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The sound design of cinematic voices

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JournalThe New Soundtrack
DatePublished - 2012
Issue number2
Volume2
Pages (from-to)127-142
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In films, the voice is the principal audio channel carrying both a character's expressivity and storytelling information. It is also a unique sound as it carries language and explicit meaning. The voices we hear in the cinema usually emanate flawlessly and sound natural, as if the characters on screen were really speaking to us. In actual fact these voices have undergone a large number of processes: some to increase intelligibility, and others, more interestingly, to enhance voice performances. In short, the voice, the most natural perceived sound coming at us from the screen, is one of the most designed sounds of the entire soundtrack.
The expression ‘sound design’ is not often used in relation to voice. This article introduces and discusses a general definition of sound design, the act of processing a sound in order for it to be functional as well as appropriate for the object/person it represents, which is most helpful when analysing film sound and the processes involved in it.
The sound design techniques applied to cinematic voices are then unravelled and discussed. A number of examples will be considered including some drawn by the author as a result of observing the mixing process of Michael Caine's dialogue in the film Harry Brown (Barber 2009) as well as those discussed during interviews with industry professionals.

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