Back to top

Sound Design and Science Fiction

Sound Design and Science Fiction

A contemporary study of the rise of sound design and its relationship to science fiction cinema.

February 2007
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
288 pages | 6 x 9 | 41 b&w illus. |

Sound is half the picture, and since the 1960s, film sound not only has rivaled the innovative imagery of contemporary Hollywood cinema, but in some ways has surpassed it in status and privilege because of the emergence of sound design.

This in-depth study by William Whittington considers the evolution of sound design not only through cultural and technological developments during the last four decades, but also through the attitudes and expectations of filmgoers. Fans of recent blockbuster films, in particular science fiction films, have come to expect a more advanced and refined degree of film sound use, which has changed the way they experience and understand spectacle and storytelling in contemporary cinema.

The book covers recent science fiction cinema in rich and compelling detail, providing a new sounding of familiar films, while offering insights into the constructed nature of cinematic sound design. This is accomplished by examining the formal elements and historical context of sound production in movies to better appreciate how a film sound track is conceived and presented.Whittington focuses on seminal science fiction films that have made specific advances in film sound, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX 1138, Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner (original version and director's cut), Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Matrix trilogy and games—milestones of the entertainment industry's technological and aesthetic advancements with sound.

Setting itself apart from other works, the book illustrates through accessible detail and compelling examples how swiftly such advancements in film sound aesthetics and technology have influenced recent science fiction cinema, and examines how these changes correlate to the history, theory, and practice of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I. The Dawn of Sound Design
    • Chapter 1. Sound Design: Origins and Influences
    • Chapter 2. Music and Speculation in 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Part II. Sound Montage
    • Chapter 3. The Convergence of Hollywood and New Wave Science Fiction
    • Chapter 4. Suggestive Fragments in THX 1138
  • Part III. Sound Designing
    • Chapter 5. From Sound Capture to Construction: Building the Lexicon of Sound Designs for Star Wars
    • Chapter 6. Surround Sound and Science Fiction
  • Part IV. Sound Effects
    • Chapter 7. Genre Splicing: Horror and Science Fiction
    • Chapter 8. Alien: Audio-biomechanics
  • Part V. Voice Design
    • Chapter 9. Blade Runners: A Crisis in Voicing Authority, Identity, and Spectacle
  • Part VI. Final Design
    • Chapter 10. Sound Mixing and Sound Design in Science Fiction Cinema: A Mixed Paradox
    • Chapter 11. Mixing Man and Machine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Part VII. Conclusion: A Sounding of the Future
    • Chapter 12. What is The Matrix? Sound Design in a Digital World
  • Appendix: Overview of the General Processes of Sound Design
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Filmography
  • Index

William Whittington is Assistant Chair of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.


In this age of visual culture, it is important to remember that "sound is half the picture." Since the 1960s, sound production, technology, and aesthetics have fundamentally changed contemporary Hollywood cinema and the filmgoing experience. In the field of audio technology, for instance, portable sound recorders have encouraged the collection of all types of "raw materials" used to produce innovative sound effects from dinosaur roars to the clash of light sabers; digital audio workstations have allowed for the creation of multilayered montages of dialogue, music, and effects without any loss of quality or buildup of noise; and new exhibition formats from Dolby Stereo to Dolby Digital have expanded the dynamic range of the film sound track and allowed for multichannel (or surround sound) deployment in the majority of motion picture theaters today. More important, though, a new attitude toward sound has arisen. In contrast to the classical period of Hollywood cinema, filmmakers and filmgoers today do not just hear movies in a new way; they listen to movies in a new way, and what they are listening to is sound design.

Over the past forty years, film sound has not only rivaled the innovative imagery of contemporary Hollywood cinema, which is replete with visual spectacles and special effects, but in some ways sound has surpassed it in status and privilege because of emergence of sound design. The concept of sound design has proven mutable, metaphoric, and, at times, elusive in terms of its analysis, having transformed from an experimental stylistic movement in film form to a unique model of production and critical evaluation. It has also quietly spread beyond the borders of cinema into home theaters and new media. In this book, I trace the rise and transformation of sound design by examining the intersection of cultural, technological, aesthetic, and genre-related factors that have reshaped not only the contemporary film sound track but also the attitudes and expectations of contemporary filmgoers with regard to sound.

In the process, I unpack four interconnected meanings by which sound design has been characterized and defined. First, sound design refers to the creation of specific sound effects. With new audio technology, sound designers such as Walter Murch (THX 1138, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now) and Ben Burtt (The Star Wars series) were able to collapse for the first time the duties of sound recordist, editor, and mixer to experiment with sound in unprecedented ways. As a result, these sound constructions became multilayered and multifaceted in their ability to convey meaning. These new designs often referenced classical Hollywood cinema in homage and acknowledgement of previous sound codes, but they also included new and innovative aesthetic elements, which showcased the unique metaphoric and psychological potential of sound. As a result, spaceships scream, androids speak in whistles and chirps, and laser blasts ricochet in the chaos of battle.

The second meaning associated with sound design relates to the conceptual design of the overall sound track. Sound designers often work in conjunction with a director or producer to establish an overall plan for an integrated sound track or design. This approach demands the strategic mapping of a film's sound needs as they relate to dialogue, music, and effects. Through this process, which is closely tied to sound editing and mixing, sound motifs are established and developed, and the interpenetration of elements such as music and sound effects is carefully considered in order to avoid duplication or conflict. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), this planning enabled the filmmakers to direct the audiences' attention to specific actions (the firing of a gun, for instance) through the use of sound, while building on thematic motifs related to the battle between man and machine.

The third application of sound design is hardwired to film sound exhibition. In fact, Walter Murch coined the phrase "sound design" to indicate his method of deployment of sound within the theatrical space. In this new era of multichannel sound formats, the film sound track can be channeled into different speakers within the theater environment. These channels typically include left, center, right, left surround, right surround, and subwoofer boom channels. This multidimensional aspect of sound deployment allows for the localized use of effects and music, avoids sound masking or sounds canceling each other out, and fosters a new sense of immersion for filmgoers. Sound design within the theater venue creates a new kind of space, which fosters new kinds of sound spectacle. More than any other development, multichannel sound shifted reading protocols and altered the expectation of filmgoers for contemporary Hollywood cinema, particularly in relation to the blockbuster. As a result, sound design has also become an industrial imperative and marketing tool for the entertainment industry, influencing not only theatrical film releases but also DVD and video game production.

The fourth and final meaning associated with sound design relates to its function as a model and method for critical analysis. In critical and cultural discourse, sound design is often used as a conceptual model that draws attention to image-sound relations, sound planning and construction, and multichannel deployment, among others. Sound design is evoked in this way in countless reviews, interviews, and marketing campaigns, and even in university classrooms. In this study, I adopt a model of sound design that incorporates the three previous meanings of the term. In short, sound design represents the planning and patterns of the film sound track and the meanings that result from its deployment within the exhibition space. This model activates a method of analysis, which includes a rigorous examination of ideology, production practices, and technology involved in the creation and exhibition of the film sound track. It is important to note that this approach can be applied to any genre or national cinema. My goal is to build a vocabulary that bridges the gap between sound theory and practice that is not solely dependent on the technical and scientific properties of sound. By establishing this model and method of analysis, I hope to establish a means by which to discuss sound in a way that counterbalances the abundance of discourse about visual culture. To quote the famous tagline from the advertisements for THX sound systems, "The audience is listening."

The Planning and Patterns of This Study

The aims of this study are threefold. First, I reexamine contemporary film history and technology by privileging sound rather than the image. Specifically, I address events such as the formation of the contemporary Hollywood film sound industry, the rise of sound-conscious filmmakers—a category that includes sound designers—and the introduction of portable recording technology, Dolby Stereo, and the DVD format. Cultural influences from music to the rise of film studies programs at universities are part of the historical context because they facilitated experimentation in film sound and shifts in production practices.

Second, I examine the formal elements of the sound track (dialogue, music, and effects), as well as various processes such as recording, editing, re-recording, and exhibition to expose the constructed nature of contemporary film sound. This detailed approach to the industrial strategies of production and sound style aims to reexamine the notion that film sound is simply a matter of capturing or copying—an idea pervasive in much of the early critical sound theory. Today, we understand that the sound track is one of the most aggressively manipulated areas of film art. There is, however, a tendency to naturalize film sound as continuous and unaltered. Our perceptions are partly to blame. When sounds are separated from their visual referents and inserted into a new context, we are often left wondering, What was that sound? These sonic illusions are what sound designers depend on in the fabrication of cinema sound. Teams of sound recordists, editors, and mixers contribute to the creation of the overall sound track for an individual film—they record, edit, smooth, re-record, and modify sound in innovative and ingenious ways, using everything from the latest computer software to cans of dog food. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom tells the story of using the sound of dog food slipping from an overturned tin can to create the sound effect for the T1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The choices that sound designers make are not simply a matter of industrial requirements. Rather, they are commingled with considerations of storytelling, genre, aesthetic impact, and personal sensibilities. At every step of the construction process, aesthetics is a consideration, and, for this reason, the term "sound designer" has taken hold. As I examine the complexity of film sound, I build a vocabulary of analysis that bridges the gap between theory and practice so that the choices that sound designers make can be understood more fully.

Finally, I am intrigued by how genre, particularly the science fiction genre, has fused with sound design to mediate changes in reading codes and meaning production, while also redefining audience expectations and subjectivity. Science fiction films are the primary objects of analysis for this study because the science fiction genre has historically been the site that has inspired developments in sound technology as well as innovations in sound signification (narratively, thematically, and aesthetically).

Science fiction has become one of the most important genres in media today. As an industrial category, science fiction has been used to classify novels, films, television programs, video games, and countless ancillary products from board games to action figures—and the revenues from these products have been in the billions. At the same time, science fiction content reaches across diverse populations and creates unique cultural communities in ways that politics and national identity cannot. William Sims Bainbridge broadly describes science fiction as "a popular cultural movement that develops and disseminates potentially influential ideologies." Science fiction, then, provides the vehicle to express and record ideas and changes related to technology, society, history, and even gender. Others argue that science fiction functions as "preparation" for the future, a future that is forever changing. Science fiction offers an artistic and intellectual space to speculate about what could be or what might potentially influence the "real world" of both the present and future. Samuel Delany offers yet another variation: "Science fiction is a tool to help you think." In all its various forms, science fiction is a powerful activator of ideas. Science fiction cinema allows filmmakers and filmgoers to challenge themselves in ways they never expected. The genre can be self-reflexive and self-conscious at times, but it is primarily a means of telling stories.

It is also important to keep in mind that science fiction exists as a point of intersection. It accesses a history of iconography (space craft, computers, robots, and cyborgs, among others), it links itself to a breadth of mythological and thematic concerns (utopia versus dystopia and man versus machine), and it encourages a unique reading pattern that shifts and accommodates multiple points of view. Critically, it can be examined in terms of structuralism, formalism, modernism, postmodernism, feminism, and queer theory. Above all, it is a metagenre that can assimilate anything that it samples. My goal here, though, is not to try to define science fiction. Rather, I am more interested in how sound design activates science fiction (and vice versa) to establish a distinctive mode of subjectivity and understanding. Cinema and sound have changed rapidly in the past four decades, and we have been remiss about reflecting on how it has changed us. I am therefore drawn to how science fiction can assist us in evaluating our contemporary condition. In 1993, Scott Bukatman forwarded the concept of the Terminal Identity, a shift in subjectivity established by the infusion of computers, cyberpunk, and science fiction into our lives. Now it is time to examine the sonic equivalent of this identification pattern. Consider this work on sound design and science fiction as a sonic ping that enables a critical navigation of science fiction cinema and offers a sounding of our relationship to it and the modern cinematic experience.

The Case Studies

To highlight the impact of science fiction on film sound, I closely examine a number of seminal science fiction films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), THX 1138 (1971), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner—The Director's Cut (1992), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and The Matrix series (1999-2003). These works are investigated in terms of specific audio elements and processes that produce a unique understanding of planning and patterns of the contemporary film sound track. These science fiction films have activated the creative spirit of numerous sound designers, whose lexicon of sounds has matched and challenged the innovative visuals from Hollywood's best special effects houses. This new generation of sound artists has designed sound effects that highlight themes of difference, alienation, estrangement and change. In addition, they have tinkered with the notions of anthropomorphism as well as machine-man constructs. Ultimately, sound design has revitalized and reshaped the aesthetics of science fiction cinema. The exchanges between science fiction and sound design are complex and open, so the readings of the films that I present are by no means definitive in terms of genre or film sound. One of the strengths of the science fiction genre is that it encourages a multiplicity of readings and reading strategies. Thus, where I concentrate on music, others may rather focus on the sound effects and the music together. My primary goal is to foster the discussion of all forms and uses of sound, a discussion that has been long in coming.

The Context for the Rise of Sound Design

The films mentioned above and the time period of this study from the late 1960s to the present are seminal to the rise and development of sound design. Following the breakup of the studio system in the 1950s, audio in media experienced a not-so-quiet revolution in terms of aesthetic experimentation and technological development. These factors have had a ripple effect on culture and society. The music industry engaged and inspired a new generation with the introduction of rock 'n' roll and the development of two-channel audio on long-playing records (LPs). As a result, youth culture was hearing music in an entirely new way. The stereo babies had arrived, and some of these audiophiles would go on to become film sound recordists, editors, mixers, and "Movie Brats"—or those "New Hollywood" filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, and John Carpenter, among others.5 In the years that followed, they would encourage and in some instances demand that film sound match the quality and technical refinement found in popular music. Film sound embraced the trend of technological advancements by bringing Dolby Noise Reduction out of the labs and into theaters, while film sound recording equipment became less expensive and highly portable (and thus more useful in terms of sound experimentation). With the availability of this new technology, audio artists and filmmakers took greater control over sound construction and design in cinema. This trend has continued today as techno music and digital technology have converged in the production of films such as The Matrix and its anime-related collection of shorts, The Animatrix.

Concurrently, genre cinema was reimagined by the "Movie Brats" who sought to differentiate themselves and their films from old Hollywood. Genre cinema became the arena for stylistic innovation, big box office receipts and image and sound spectacle, particularly following the release of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, which has consistently been cited by New Hollywood filmmakers as one of the most influential films of the period. Science fiction and sound design converged in a symbiotic relationship to push cinematic technologies and techniques to their limits. Genre considerations related to technology fostered an unprecedented interplay between style and content. This happened more recently with the introduction of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and fantasy films such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series. The films that are used for the case studies in this book then represent not just eloquent examples of new sound processes and practices, but key contributions in the development of sound design as a stylistic and technological movement.

In a broader sense, the "New Hollywood" cinema embraced genre as a means of creating new types of film experiences that redefined narrative storytelling through spectacle and stylistic play. Filmgoers changed in the process as well—they became increasingly demanding in terms of special effects and stylistic experimentation. They have also become hyperaware of the production process, informed by everything from DVD audio commentaries by directors and production personnel to Internet fan sites. This awareness taps partly into the intellectual pleasure of science fiction cinema, which encourages an analysis of thematic content as well as a mastery over the material means of its manufacture. Contemporary sound tracks have since exploded in their complexity and status, and, in this respect, it is an exciting time to be studying film sound.

Theories and Methods

In light of the technical and aesthetic complexities of film sound today, it is essential that new models of analysis use a variety of different methodologies to bridge the gaps between theory and practice. Subsequently, I offer a multidiscursive approach to the analysis of sound design, as I incorporate historical, theoretical, technological, and formal analysis. For the most part, traditional sound theory does not respond to the new needs of sound analysis, primarily because it does not envision the complex production capabilities of the modern dubbing stage, or the use of multichannel sound formats, but rather focuses on realism and all too often the "need" for sound. As Amy Lawrence and many others have noted, classical theory has facilitated a pattern of "attack and neglect," which overlooks or "naturalizes" issues of technology and the mode of sound production. Contemporary sound theory has proven far more useful, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. In two influential works, Yale French Studies, Cinema/Sound, volume 60 (1980) and Sound Theory Sound Practice (1992), sound theorist Rick Altman brings together various essays, which address sound history, sound theory, and music, and he opens up a significant dialogue in film sound discourse. In particular, Mary Anne Doane's article on "The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space," explores the deployment of sound in its relation to the diegesis (or story world), screen space, and the exhibition environment as it is unified by the conceptual body of the film and the body of the characters within. Her article greatly informed my analysis of surround sound and sound mixing. Altman himself deals with sound deployment but examines sound recording and exhibition not just in terms of "capture" but also as an "event." James Lastra discusses the authenticity of sound recording in "Reading, Writing and Representing Sound." These approaches seek to examine how sound is conceptualized, constructed, and deployed in specific ways, different from the visuals. In addition to these works, Amy Lawrence's Echo and Narcissus: Women's Voices in Classical Hollywood Cinema offers an excellent model of sound analysis, incorporating close textual analysis of dialogue and the voice according to a feminist perspective. Her arguments concerning the voice and textual authority particularly informed my analysis of the voice in relation to the two versions of Blade Runner.

The history of audio technology and production techniques are also integral to my argument. Recording technology and recording formats have contributed to establishing the mode of sound production and exhibition from the very beginning—and they in turn have influenced how we experience sound. John Belton's "1950s Magnetic Sound: The Frozen Revolution" historicizes multichannel formats and their construction of "artifice" in terms of sound and image. The magnetic recording and exhibition formats have led contemporary filmmakers to explore the nature of film sound placement within the exhibition environment and have led to the rise of blockbuster spectacles. But no work more fully examines sound technology and its relation to theory and practice than Tomlinson Holman's Sound for Film and Television. Of particular importance is the chapter on "psychoacoustics," which provides a scientific explanation for how we perceive (and misperceive) sound. In addition, within the field of production literature, Vincent LoBrutto's Sound-On-Film, a collection of interviews with sound personnel, provides an essential history of audio practices related to specific films, technology, and genres. This body of interviews stands in sharp contrast to the past studio publicity on Hollywood sound from Warner Bros. and others, which seemed aimed at mystifying the process of sound production as a means of hiding the "magic." Today, contemporary sound practitioners are much less constrained, as they raise the profile of sound as both an autonomous artistic endeavor and an attraction for filmgoers. Practitioners such as Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, and Dane Davis (The Matrix series) have been eloquent in describing sound theory and practice. Whenever possible, I have followed this ongoing dialogue as these sound designers have lectured and presented their work in Southern California.

Genre studies, specifically related to science fiction, provide the final theoretical framework used for this study. A crucial text has been Vivian Sobchack's Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film, which tracks the genre and its transformations across various time frames, including the blockbuster era. As with Tom Holman's book on sound, screening space is a necessary resource for all science fiction scholars and filmgoers. I found Sobchack's insights on "affect" through "special effects" particularly useful as I explored film sound as spectacle. Concurrently, I draw on works such as Scott Bukatman's Terminal Identity to explore sound and its relation to science fiction subjectivity; Donna Haraway's "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" and Linda Williams' "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess" for insights into the connection between sound, the body and technology; and Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic to explore how filmgoers deal with hesitations in belief (emotionally and intellectually), and how this might be applied to sound design. Case studies, in particular, Jerome Agel's The Making of Kubrick's 2001, and Paul M. Sammon's Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, have also proved essential in establishing understandings of the stylistic designs and construction methods of these films—understandings that I extend to their sound tracks.

From the diversity of this critical work, the adaptability of science fiction studies is evident, which is clearly one of its strengths. For this reason, a single unified plan for science fiction analysis is not my intent; rather, this book offers sonic speculations as they relate to the science fiction. In connecting sound and genre, I hope to illustrate that cinema has used its medium and materials as eloquently as science fiction literature has used words and sentences. It is also my hope that this book will be useful both to film scholars and filmmakers alike as they attempt to navigate the complexity of contemporary film sound today, perhaps even foster a new direction in sound and audio criticism that can be applied across media, genres, and national cinemas.

Summary of Chapters

The structure of the book is loosely chronological, with each section focusing on specific factors of design or technology. Where possible, each section contains both analysis and a case study, except for the sections on the voice and exhibition and the concluding chapter on the future of sound design and The Matrix series. The initial chapters of each section contain historical information and theoretical analysis, while compendium chapters offer case studies of specific films or technology. The case studies draw on culturally and technically important films, which at first glance may seem all too familiar. If we move beyond the visuals and familiar narratives, however, an entirely new perspective can be heard in terms of their sound design. This collection of films attests to the fluidity and diversity of the science fiction genre, which continually reinvents and revitalizes itself with the introduction of new technologies, new techniques, and new narrative strategies.

Each of the films is employed to examine a particular aspect of film sound, including music, editing, effects, Foley, ambiences (ambient noise), the voice, the mix process, and, finally, exhibition. The goal is to present a comprehensive analysis of an integrated sound design across a body of works. True to the mode of science fiction, I engage in a meta-analysis that cuts across decades of science fiction filmmaking and offers a pointed analysis of the film sound track.

The first section, "The Dawn of Sound Design," focuses on the origins and influences on sound design. In the same way that 2001: A Space Odyssey traces the development and evolution of mankind, the first chapter of this book unearths the industrial, cultural, and technological catalysts that triggered the new phase in film sound. In order to establish a discursive context, the chapter begins with an analysis of the evolution of the term "sound design," which was introduced by Walter Murch but has since transformed and expanded its meaning as it has been applied and appropriated in different contexts. The accompanying case study of 2001: A Space Odyssey addresses the specifics of film music. Music in all its cinematic forms (score, source, and found music) offers unique strategies of construction for sound design in terms of aesthetic approach, production, and overall image-sound relations. As 2001: A Space Odyssey presents Stanley Kubrick's images of the future (space craft, monoliths, and alien environments), it juxtaposes them with previously recorded classical and avant-garde music. As a result, the image-sound relations of this film became charged with speculative possibilities, not simply about the future of humanity but also the nature of film sound. This film and sound track inspired many contemporary Hollywood filmmakers, in particular George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, to question their attitudes about the application of traditional film music and sound.

The "Sound Montage" section examines the influences of the French New Wave on the formulation of the aesthetic sensibilities of New Hollywood filmmakers. As filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard (Alphaville), François Truffaut (Fahrenheit 451), and Chris Marker (La Jetée) experimented with idiosyncratic arrangements of images and sounds within a genre context, the filmmakers working in the New Hollywood took note, appropriating sound tactics, techniques, and themes. Through experiments in film form, New Hollywood filmmakers sought to revitalize and reinvent the "old Hollywood" system with a new approach to filmmaking that was vibrant and appealing to a younger generation of filmgoers. Essential to this process was the science fiction genre, which encouraged experimentation with film form and technology and was particularly adept at displacing social and political critiques of the period. For this reason, George Lucas' first feature film THX 1138 provides an excellent case study in which to examine the merging of "sound" and "montage." This often-overlooked film presents an insightful critique of the dangers represented by technology, consumerism, and the state, while at the same time the film provides one of the most complex tapestries of sound use in contemporary cinema.

The "Sound Designing" section continues with an exploration of the lexicon of sound effects created by Ben Burtt for Star Wars. In these two chapters, I focus on two of the meanings of sound design, specifically the design of individual effects and, alternatively, the design of sound for the theatrical exhibition space. In chapter 5, I challenge the notion of sound as simple "capture" by unmasking the strategies and techniques of sound design. The science fiction genre in turn raises questions as to image-sound credibility, anthropomorphism, and sound as language. In the accompanying case study, I deal with multichannel presentation, specifically the exhibition format of Dolby Stereo and its relation to reading codes, science fiction, and spectacle.

The "Sound Effects" section expands the reach of sound design with an examination of the elements of ambience, Foley and general sound effects in relation to the genre conventions of horror and science fiction. In the convergence of genres, an exchange of codes, strategies, and considerations occurs, one that realigns the importance and status of the traditionally mundane effects known as Foley and ambiances, charging them with a heightened sense of dread and anxiety about the future. In the accompanying case study, I deconstruct Ridley Scott's horror-science fiction hybrid Alien, specifically addressing the stylistic approach of the film (the merging of the organic and technological) and its interpenetration into the "realistic" effects of the sound design. In this new horror-science fiction context, reading protocols and audience expectations are revised, and ultimately the reach of sound design is expanded and transformed.

The "Voice Design" chapter continues with a meta-analysis of sound design by offering a close textual analysis of another Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner, released in 1982, and Blade Runner—The Director's Cut, released a decade later. Although the differences between the two versions have been debated in terms of the narrative, no study has specifically taken up the difference in terms of the sound tracks. These are two distinctly different films, because of various picture edits and a revision of the sound design. Through an extended comparison and contrast between the two versions of Blade Runner, the original 1982 theatrical release (with the voice-over) and the subsequent 1992 Director's Cut (without the voice-over), I address the issue of the voice and examine its connection to narrative authority, subjectivity and cinematic spectacle. Throughout this analysis, I investigate the highly constructed nature of the voice in cinema and expose its influential yet tenuous position in both this science fiction film and the model of sound design.

The subsequent section, "Final Design," offers a comprehensive analysis of the model of sound design as it relates to the processes of re-recording. In addressing the composite nature of the sound track, I deconstruct the "work" of the overall sound design in relation to sound mixing to unmask the forces that stabilize and balance the various formal elements and narrative intents. Countering this balance, however, are equally powerful forces that threaten to rupture and expose this work. It is within this tension that the paradox of the film sound mix emerges, and the usefulness of genre as mediator is explored. Chapter 11 offers a case study of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is considered by many to be one of the best-mixed films in contemporary Hollywood cinema. In this chapter, I draw together many of the issues of sound design previously explored from sound effects creation to issues of the voice, and I link them to the mutable and metaphoric genre of science fiction. This case study provides not only a unified analysis of the film's overall sound design but also a model and method of analysis that can be applied to any film or genre.

The concluding chapter, "A Sounding of the Future," specifically addresses how sound design has been deployed beyond the borders of the motion picture theater in the home, on DVD, and in computer games. Sound design and sound literacy have gained their greatest boost from the technology of home theaters in conjunction with new consumer release formats like DVD, which have the ability to present a variety of audio commentaries and documentaries. One of the most important Hollywood franchises to change how we listen to films (and games) in the home has been The Matrix series. The first Matrix film became the DVD that all home theater owners had to have. Through a host of documentaries and supplemental material, audiences quickly learned to master the matrix—its narrative content, means of construction and sound design. The Matrix narrative does not end with the films. Rather, it extends into the games, Enter the Matrix, The Matrix Online, and The Matrix: Path or Neo. In the context of games, sound design is once again being repurposed, reshaped, and redefined. It is fitting then that a film about choice—The Matrix—gives science fiction fans their greatest agency in terms of sound, technology, and subjectivity.

Welcome to sound design and science fiction.


Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse