The New Soundtrack



The New Soundtrack is now available online. Print versions will be available from 14 September.

This will be the final issue of the journal.


EDITORIAL from Volume 8 Issue 2

Whenever you come to a fork in the road, take it. (Yogi Berra)

This is the last issue of The New Soundtrack.

Larry Sider, Dominic Power and I have been editing this journal for eleven years, and have together produced twenty-four issues[1]. We have decided that this is to be our last issue, We would like to take this opportunity to thank the board of The New Soundtrack, Diane Sider for her vital role in each issue, Edinburgh University Press for their support, our many contributors and our readers.
      Throughout this time, we have kept the notion of the fusion of practice and theory at the centre of our philosophy, which can be summarised as the theory of practice (to borrow from Noël Burch). We have published many fine articles, from both practitioners and academics, which have helped in promoting this aim.
      Yet the gulf between practice and theory maintains itself, rather stubbornly. In some instances, this gulf has become wider. Part of the problem arises, in our view, from the proliferation of academic courses and departments which focus on film sound and music. With some notable exceptions, such as the National Film and Television School and Bournemouth University, most practice-based courses taught in colleges and universities in the UK have had to deal with what seem insurmountable problems. Firstly, Higher Education resources are constantly being squeezed. This results in less time spent in a tutorial environment, less time to test new ideas and to reflect on them, and crucially, less time to learn by failing. Equipment issues seem less problematical, owing to their comparatively low cost, and students are capable of doing much of their work on lap-tops and headphones. However, access to dubbing facilities is rather limited, and the time allocated puts pressure on students to make easy choices. Some would argue that such is the way the industry itself works. Perhaps one might counter by saying that education and training are not always congruent.
      Increasingly, the types of articles sent to us for publication (and usually rejected) are laden with jargon and buzz-words, a currency exchanged by academic colleagues that often excludes the non-academic reader. Such articles are often resplendent with high calibre words, which disguise or conceal useful insights. Sometimes, when really frustrated by the opacity we are sent, we send authors the link to George Orwell’s 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’, which deflates such verbiage wonderfully. Readers are reluctant to engage in a thicket to extract a gem.
      Another issue has to do with the audience for this journal; all fine people, as we agree. However, in the main, such wisdom as is imparted here is intended not only for sound designers and composers, but essentially for directors, who are generally (and often happily) ignorant of sound and are content so to remain. And sadly, it is unlikely that a director will read a journal such as this one.
      A useful anecdote might illuminate this situation: A film school director and sound designer are discussing the film they are making. They decide, wisely, in our view, to bring a composer on board at the earliest stage of production. But as is often the case, they have no idea how to approach a composer directly, so they trawl composers’ websites. All they know about the composer they choose is the music portfolio on their website. Crucially, they have no clue as what the music they were commissioning is ‘for’ in the film (what role it would assume), or how to engage with the composer. They know not what the composer actually does, or the role of music in film, or whether or not they actually needed music at all. They are surrendering all responsibility for the score to the composer. This is not an unusual situation, especially in film schools, but also, alas, in the industry. Similar anecdotes concern the engagement of a sound designer. In many cases, the director cedes control, saying. ‘it’s up to them’. Both instances show how the soundtrack, even within an educational environment, is often considered as somehow separate from the rest of the film and out of the control of the director.
      All too often students who are learning the practice of film[2] see the study of its history as an obligation rather than a source of delight and stimulation. Conversely, those who study film theory rarely have to make an artefact, a process which can reveal the creative thinking which informs practice. There is an unfortunate separation between those who teach history and those that teach practice. In our opinion, this separation represents a missed opportunity.
      Francois Truffaut wrote more than fifty years ago that he believed that film critics would soon be plying their trade without ever having seen a film by Murnau. Before he died he could have observed that many critics would have to admit they didn’t even know who Murnau was. Yet Sunrise (Murnau 1928) came from a man and his collaborators who were inspired by more than the technique or craft of other movies. It is one thing to regret that our students don’t know their screen history, quite another that their general grasp of culture is sadly lacking.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Similarly, there is an expanding number of musicologists who have neither performed in public (outside of the educational environment) or have composed music for actual audiences. Their ability to analyse a composer’s output is attenuated in the same way that a film critic, watching a film, doing research, etc., cannot really understand the nature of the choices available to a director; how the editor sometimes assembles the ‘least worst’ cut, or how certain actors’ poor performance might have changed the post-production process.
      The other evening, in order not to disturb others sleeping, I watched Die Hard 4.0 (Wiseman 2007) with subtitles and the sound muted. It was fascinating. The film made even less sense when you weren’t bombarded with hyperactive sounds and thumpy music. The thought occurred that this hadn’t always been the case, even in Hollywood. For example, and by contrast, Bullitt (Yates 1968), and The French Connection (Friedkin 1971) are both high-octane movies, but compared to today, rather restrained sonically. How did this change take place? Why?

We propose a theory, and it has to do with food.
      A table of the world’s Body Mass Index (BMI) index, listed by country, offers some interesting insights. Both the USA and the UK are near the top of the chart. The UK is now the fattest nation in Europe. Lower down the table stands Spain and Italy, still further is Finland, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Denmark, with China, Japan and India at the bottom of the list.
      Might there be some correlation between a country’s average BMI and the noisiness and freneticism of their film output?
     The British fondness for American blockbusters has also to do with our fairly common use of English, especially as we do not habitually dub movies into our own language, and many people prefer not to read while watching a film. But perhaps another clue can be found in the cinema foyer. Available in ever larger quantities are nachos, hot-dogs in buns, large packs of chocolate, and very large sizes of sugary carbonated drinks. It’s a sugar rush from the moment you arrive. And sugar, which is quite dangerous for health (the rate of type 2 diabetes is climbing steadily and worryingly for stretched NHS budgets), and also produces a ‘high’ which needs to be replenished with another hit soon after. So an ‘action packed’, noisy, quick-cuts pile of worthless cinematic calories needs to be topped constantly.
      Just sayin’.
      Perhaps someone someday will do a study on this correlation.


[1] The journal’s first manifestation was as The Soundtrack, published by Intellect Press and continued under our editorship for three years. Thereafter we have been made to feel at home at Edinburgh University Press.

[2] As usual, the word ‘film’ can stand in for all sound/moving image productions, especially now, since very few productions are actually made using celluloid.


In Issue 8.2:

Symphonies of Noise: The Urban Soundscape in Rouben Mamoulian’s Applause, City Lights, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Love Me Tonight

Music as an Element of Narration in Poetic Documentaries

Embodied Resonances: The Sonic Pathways in Jean-Marc Vallée’s film Wild

Shepard tones and production of meaning in recent films: Lucrecia Martel’s Zama and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

From ‘Screenwriting for Sound’ to Film Sound Maps: The Evolution of Live Tone’s Creative Alliance with Bong Joon-ho

Some Notes on the Use of Voice-Over

Approaches to Sound Design: Murch and Burtt

Presentation to the School of Sound