Monday, May 10, 2010

The lost art of the sound cue

by Nathan Stout and Miguel Cruz

Just a quick warning that this article will get a little 'racy' so those who don't want to hear about the adult movie industry should just move along...

The sound cue in movies is a lost art. Sound cues add something to a scene. It will give a scene that extra shot of emotion-producing ability that makes scenes memorable.

The sound cue is still used today but not in the way it was used in the past.

Let's stop for a moment so I can explain a bit. Sound cues are not to be confused with a musical cue. A musical cue is simply a spot in a scene where the composer decides music should start. Miguel helped me out and informed me that it's called non-diegetic sound. He wrote:

"Its close cousin is called non-diegetic music. The term basically means that the sound/music exists outside the story space and is there to comment or enhance what is is happening within the story space. Some time ago I watched Alien as part of my trying to figure out how (effective) horror films work. The dinner scene where Ash's chest burst opens is accompanied by a heartbeat that runs throughout. Now it's arguable that the sound is supposed to exist within the story space in that it could be the sound of some mechanism aboard the spaceship. That it is coincidentally similar to a heartbeat is very helpful to the mood of the film in much the same way that the rhythmic whistling wind noises in the infirmary is also a happy coincidence. The heartbeat/engine noise just so happens to make another appearance when Harry Dean Stockwell gets kilt. (I just found out that Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell were in a movie together where they played brothers. That must have been real confusing call sheet.)"

Don't get me wrong soud cues are still used (a little). Let me give you some examples or cues:

This is a more modern type of musical cue. Or I should say a proper musical cue. Basically the starting or changing or swelling of music to emphasise a scene.

The kind of cue I am talking about is the 'value added' cue. Maybe in the end it's not properly called a sound cue but more of a 'enhancement' or 'embellishment'.

This is what I am talking about. At 7:25 of the scene the 'bug noise' that starts as Freddy's hands come out of the bed. This is a great example of a sound that has has nothing to do with what's going on other than it happens right when something horrific or frightening happens. It adds value to the shock with a sound.

This type of effect was used alot several years ago but I have not seen it used so much recently. Nowadays you will get a musical cue instead of a sound added to a scene. Watch any of the Saw movies and you will see what I mean. They insert loud orchestra note when something gruesome happens. I think the sound cue has become a lost art.

Another good example of the sound cue is in most seventies and early eighties porn movies. In the movie Deep Throat every time some guys shoots his load there is a bubble type sound going on. I am not sure what it 'represents' but it adds to the scene (what it adds, I can't tell you) but it is effective. Many porns of that day used similar sounds when the man ejaculates. Check out Stiff Competition or any other porn of that time.

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