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The role of sound designer


Sound design: Tapestry of mono and stereo
Walter Murch Film-maker
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A good example of that in the film is leading up to the Playboy Bunny concert. And for a number of minutes you have been with Willard in the cabin of the boat, looking at a dossier and everything is mono; narration and sound effects. And then people become aware that there's something up ahead in the river; some lights. And when they start to become aware, then the film starts to become stereo so there's this kind of opening up of the soundtrack from the confined cabin to what's up ahead.

And then as the boat comes in to the compound it expands further but not yet in the backs. And then when the Playboy helicopter arrives and two helicopters fly over the camera in to the back, we pan the sound of those helicopters in to the speakers in the back, as if the helicopters were flying over the theatre. And now the roar of the audience is also back there and the rest of the concert proceeds with this full six track, 5.1, six track. And it's only after everything has... the evening has ended and it's now the next morning, now the soundtrack collapses back to mono again.

So you, in that whatever that is, probably eight minutes, ten minutes, you have this arc... But that was all worked out in advance. I had a map of the film that I drew with each scene somewhere on the map and then correspondingly at this moment is the music in quadraphonic or quintaphonic or six track and is the, are the sound effects also. And sometimes they would be, sometimes they would be in sync, sometimes they wouldn't be in sync and sometimes both would be in mono, sometimes the sound effects would be in mono but the music would be in stereo. And then the sound effects would be...

So it was a tapestry that I was weaving theoretically before ever starting the mix, thinking, where are the best places to have this dynamic shift in the environment of the sound of the film?

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Apocalypse Now

Duration: 2 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017