A Sonic Arts Approach to Sound Design Practice

  • Carl Boland

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This practice-as-research study documents the development of a sonic arts approach to film sound design. An interdisciplinary conceptual framework that combines selected theories of electroacoustic music and apposite perspectives from film soundtrack studies informs the approach. Over the course of the research, a broadening practical knowledge of theoretical applications influenced the development of the sound design approach and its conceptual framework.

    The term 'sonic arts' characterises the compositional tenets of the sound design approach, which takes the form of an inter-modal strategy based on the interdependence of two compositional modes. The intersonic compositional mode corresponds to sound-object design and to the forming of meaningful structural relationships between soundtrack elements. The audiovisual compositional mode corresponds to forming meaningful relationships between soundtrack elements and film images. The overall approach also reflects Walter Murch's concept of sound design as a multifaceted practice endeavour, which includes taking creative responsibility for the soundtrack in post-production (Murch 1995).

    The presentation of research in this thesis comprises two distinct parts. The first part outlines the sonic arts approach, defines the theoretical basis of its conceptual framework, and identifies potential practice applications. The second part presents three case studies of sound design practice for independent film projects. The case studies document applications of the conceptual framework and critically reflect on acquired practical knowledge of the sonic arts approach.

    The study concludes that the electroacoustic music theories of spectromorphology and indicative fields (Smalley 1986; 1992; 1997) have useful applications in sound design practice as a perception-based system of analysis. The research also illustrates that sonic landscape theory (Wishart 1986; 1996) constitutes a creatively enabling conceptual framework for sound design when it is applied to the inter-modal compositional strategy.
    Date of AwardJul 2012
    Original languageEnglish


    • Sound in motion pictures

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