Sound Design

2 Precursors in Early Sound Film — Sound Design as an Overall Concept of Sound Esthetics

Particularly interesting with respect to creative work with sounds are the early sound films, such as Blackmail (GB, 1929, directed by Alfred Hitchcock), M (DE, 1931, directed by Fritz Lang), Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Westfront 1918 (The Western Front 1918; DE, 1930) and Kameradschaft (Comradeship; DE/FR, 1931), and Applause (US, 1929, directed by Rouben Mamoulian), especially because the limited technical possibilities necessitated pronounced economizing on the soundtrack. In Hollywood, increasing standardization was accompanied by the principle of division of labor, which as a rule was only coordinated by the head of the studio’s sound department. The sound editors primarily availed themselves of material from the studio’s own sound archives. In contrast to this system, as early as 1933, Murray Spivack was responsible for the overall concept for King Kong (US, 1933, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack) and, in particular, created the sounds that characterized the fantastic figure of Kong. These included the giant gorilla’s roar, which Spivack produced by blowing into a megaphone and combining the rumbling sound it created with a lion’s roar that he had slowed down and thus transposed into a bass tone. A further important tradition that paved the way for sound design can be found in the environment of the animated film, which from the very beginning had its own unique and very artificial repertoire of sounds. Seminal figures in this tradition were Tregoweth Brown, who added sound to the Warner cartoons, and Jimmy MacDonald, who worked for Disney. Overall, a very radical stylization and standardization within sound design can be discerned in the period between ca. 1933 and 1950, which can be directly traced back to work with sound objects from the archives.