The Conversation – The world of Sound

wed. 2/8/2017 12:55am

The most impressive thing about film, for me, is not what happens as a result of production or pre-production (although both are obviously remarkable already), but post-production. During my time as a student in the Editing for Film and Video course last semester, I read all of Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye. At that point in time, I hadn’t watched any of the films Murch worked on as an editor or sound designer – two excerpts of The Conversation (1974) were the first experience I had of his genius. Now, having watched the whole film, I have an entirely renewed appreciation for the art of sound design.

As a musician first and foremost (the violin is my main instrument), I have always found myself drawn immediately to the relationship between sound and image. This film was no different; the most magical part about The Conversation was that the transitions between present and future were not only connected by images (as is “standard”), but also by sound. Take, for example, the very first time Harrison Ford’s character and Gene Hackman’s character meet. This scene is overall a fantastic example of the possibilities of sound design. From the start, the spectators are made aware of every little movement (every arm that moves so we hear the clothes rustle, every paper that’s turned over, every chair that’s sat on, etc.) because it is all amplified in the quiet office ambience. As he recognizes the couple from his surveillance, the whirring of the elevator is brought to the foreground (there is barely any dialogue), and frightening soundtrack with synthetic sounds is brought into the mix. Finally, we hear the tapes begin to spin – but while in the elevator, it is hard to think of the spinning tapes as anything but another fictional sound meant to represent Caul’s anxiety. After a chaotic mix of layers and close-ups, the scene cuts but we continue to hear the spinning tape as we finally see an image of it.

The world of sound has such immense possibility, and this scene is just one perfect example of many (perhaps due to the fact that Murch was the mastermind behind it). It gives the smoothest possible transition to show that a character has jumped time and space (without the spectator realizing it, or it being jarring to the spectator), and it allows us to not only see, but hear and feel what the character on the screen does.

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