Whether it changes the picture, or the picture changes it – sound matters. That was the topic for discussion this week. How the right sound can transform the way we perceive the clip.

Sound has been used in film to convey a message, add tone and create an atmosphere. Sound holds a powerful relationship with visuals.

Sound can convey a message by becoming a signal. Brands and companies often have signature sounds that we associate with them. The “tudum” of Netflix, makes you feel cosy, intrigued and ready to be wowed. The “padapa pa pa” whistle for McDonalds brings childlike excitement for the food to come. One of the most recognisable audiologos is the fanfare that begins all 20th Century Fox films “tun tunuhnuh” bringing you the nostalgic feeling of sitting around with family about to watch a great movie.

The physical sounds of the items we possess also convey messages. The click of a USB drive was intentionally added to signify security, or the click of a lipstick cover tells us this lipstick is made from high-quality materials, signifying luxury. On a larger scale the sturdy thud of a Volkswagon lets you know it is reliable, strong and withstand anything you throw at it.

For a similar message Volkswagon used the drivers confusion at the small squeaking noise of the passengers earing against the quiet of the car to signify their manufacturing reliability and sturdiness, no noise you hear could possibly be coming from inside their cars.

An interesting relationship between audio and visual is demonstrated with The McGurk Effect. It is the illusion you perceive when a word changes based on the movement a person’s lips are saying. The difference between us hearing buck or f*ck changes with the slight overbite of the bottom lip, even if the audio is still saying buck the whole time. What we see completely overtakes and influences what we hear. 

On the reverse, sound can change what you see. Imagine the music is eerie and you see a clip of a dark, foggy, grey-scale mountainous landscape and a small black blur flickers across the screen. Now imagine it with the added sound of flapping wings and you will realise it’s a crow that’s just flown between the fog. You may even notice its wings actually flap.

Sound can also be used metaphorically especially in advertising to let the viewer relate the clip on the screen to something else for a more significant impact. Heartbeat replacing the sound of a clock ticking to give us a sense of time and death, or the Audi ad that used the imagery of a wet car being pushed slowly through manufacturing machines paired with the sound of a baby screaming at birth to signify the magnificence and birth of their latest edition.

Sound is a powerful tool. Just remember – you can close your eyes but you can’t close your ears, they’re always listening.


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