Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Sound Affects: Post-production Sound, Soundscapes and Sound Design in Hollywood's Studio Era

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2007), 1, (1), 27–49.

Abstract

Film studies criticism is no longer silent on the subject of sound. Critical and historical debates about cinema sound have developed into a rich, exciting and fertile field, covering a range of theoretical and historical areas.

However, it is true to say that despite the productivity of this new field, discussions of the production and meaning of sound effects, and the creative roles of sound personnel in producing them has remained relatively neglected, particularly in Hollywood's studio era.

This article addresses post-production sound in this era, and aims to bring inventive sound work to light by examining historically specific discourses on sound technologies and practices written by sound personnel in the studio era. These discourses are drawn primarily from professional journals such as the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers and American Cinematographer, and the article reveals that sound personnel had a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the uses of sound from the early 1930s onwards. The article draws on illustrative examples from films produced by Universal Studios in the 1930s, and from the Val Lewton 'horror unit' at RKO-Radio Pictures in the 1940s, to demonstrate the ways in which early 'sound design' was used to fabricate textures of the horror and thriller film, and to construct soundscapes rich in suspenseful affects.

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Author details

Hanson, Helen