How Can Sound Be Used in Multimedia?

Below are several examples of ways that music and sound can be used to alter, enhance, and further connect an audience to a lasting multimedia experience.


Place Judgement

Music and sound can place a commentary on a moment, scene, character, object, or idea in which pushes the audience to perceive the moment favorably in one direction or another.  

Motifs

Musical and sonic motifs are small bits of sound (melodic and harmonic material in music) to make us feel connected to something specific. By attaching motifs to characters, or objects, we are giving a precise hint of the significance of the character or object to the storyline. It also is a way to remind or foreshadow of events without seeing the character on the screen.

Atmosphere

Music can set the scene of a movie, literally. It also allows the viewers to be able to know what genre the film is in, and the depth of it’s intentions. 

Evoke Emotions

If the sun were the visuals then the music and soundscape would be the magnifying glass. Music can serve the audience by helping push the emotional feeling of a moment over the edge. Take a moment where an actor has a relatively relaxed face, but with sad music, we are pushed strongly into that emotion. 

Emotional and Intellectual Manipulations

Music can be used in a very sophisticated way to manipulate, trick, confuse, or bribe an audience on certain story points. There are numerous times in films where music portrait a character as trustworthy only to find out they were the bad guy all along. Music can help pull us closer and/or push us further away from any character all throughout a film. 

Change Time

Music can alter time physically by changing the speed of the beats, but the perception of this can make us feel a rushing or dragging. This rushing or dragging gives an intensity that augments or truncates the perceived effect of a scene. Music slowing down in an already stagnant scene will make it feel extremely long. 

Design Unreal Environments

Music and sound have the ability to create what otherwise would be surreal, impossible, shocking moments such as nightmares or dreams feel relatable and more immersive. 

Location

Music helps clarifying a location, time period, culture, and overall heritage of the characters in a movie. We see this in many movies in ethnomusicological approaches such as Memoirs of a Geisha by John Williams where it’s stylistically very intelligent to other movies that have a cultural sound, but aren’t fully authentic. Either way, the effect is strong in establishing this location. 

Montages and Transitions

Music is the glue between scenes, and often we hear tails of sound that fade out longer to overlap with the next scene. Other times we hear music intentionally transition between scenes that can prepare us for what would otherwise be a very abrupt change. 

Physical Preparation

Music and sound can stimulate and condition us physiologically. Remember the racing heart, sweaty hands, or watering mouth as seen from movies and commercials? That’s it at work. 

Group-Level Emotions

Music and sound can bring us together to think as a whole. Often documentaries are great at capturing an audience to all agree on one common thread that the story is discussing. This is often part of the “feel good” moment at the end of a film.

Development

Characters are able to express parts of themselves in song that you didn’t know about them previously. Can you imagine seeing any animated movie musical without hearing a song from a character that develops their personality more?  

Size from Small to Large

Music and sound can make us feel that the grandeur of outer space is larger than life, or they can make us feel like quiet and alone. The physical orchestration of a piece, and the loudness, mix, etc all control how we perceive musical and sonic size. 

Contradictions

Music and sound can make you hear something as happy or childlike but perceive it as scary. This contradiction in writing is one of the more subtle ways to influence the audience. 

Comedy and Parody

Music and sound can push us to find a scene or moment funnier. We all know moments where we hear silly punching sound effects, horns, etc that make us laugh. This same idea goes for music where it can be so over-the-top that we have to laugh. 

Mickey-Mousing

This is a sonic technique that comes from the original Mickey Mouse cartoons where each musical note reflects a physical movement on the screen. Each footstep is the pluck of a string, etc. This is a very comical effect and often feels out of date unless adapted.

Contrasting Relationships

Music and sound can take several elements of these ideas and combine them. If there’s a small bee flying through a forest and it’s at night, perhaps we hear a light melody over a dark background. Alternatively, the bee could be an underdog superhero bee coming to save all nests. In this case we would hear the foreground being huge and rich, energetic, etc while the background was more subdued. 

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