The role of sound in Cinema – 04 What is sound design?

What is sound design? and why this term start being used?

The term Sound design nowadays refers to many fields of sound creativity ranging from media sonification to sound art. However, the term originally referred to the film-making practice. That said, it is important to bear in mind that this practice actually started since films started being sonified. What has changed over the years is the approach with which all the professionals involved with sound production and post production for film decided to follow. The term actually started being used as a synonym of superintendent to sound editing, who is the professional usually awarded in film festivals like the academy awards. However, Sound Designer is a term that has actually become popular since 1978 after Ben Burtt won his special award for sound and after Walter Murch asked to be recognized as such in the film credits for Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979).

The problem is that even in the film domain it refers to a wide range of design tasks which are usually taken care of by many people who then ask the last word to the superintendent.  The reason why people started using this term giving it a more artistic connotation is because he/she should be involved in pre-production to be actively involved in the directing choices, above all, when sound is a critical aspect for the film’s artistic success. However, this term also became necessary when sound technologies started to become quite advanced and required deep expertise to be used creatively. The last obvious aspect is that sound can’t be dealt with only by one person and so it is necessary to have someone who has an overall understanding of what ought to be done throughout pre-production, production and post-production. A consequent issue is communication, because the sound designer should be able to communicate at a detailed level both with his technicians and with all the other film makers who might have some issues when working close to a sound team.

All this complexity started building up due to the fact that sound was gaining more importance and the reason is that film makers started noticing that sounds could be used very cleverly in the same way speech and music could and that all these needed to be supervised by the same figure to have a coherent aesthetic. Then, this increase in interest is also definitely due to the boost in production of certain film genres, such as science-fiction ,which usually require the creation of unrealistic or unusual or unworldly soundscapes.

To read the previous post on Film Sound Aesthetics go to:

To read the following post on Major Sound Designers go to :


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