The master sound designer and film editor Walter Murch reveals the secrets of good sound.

Walter Murch

The Mantis Shrimp is perhaps one image that Campus participants did not expect to see when learning about sound and storytelling from Walter Murch. However, it is this luminous crustacean’s superior vision that illustrates Murch’s essential consideration: the paradox of film sound. Human vision has a limited octave range of between 400 and 800nm, yet human hearing ranges massively from 25 to 25600Hz. Although sound is often the forgotten element in filmmaking, it is in fact the most powerful.

To coincide with the unveiling of the new Sound Studio at the Berlin Talent Campus, Murch exposed and accentuated the role of sound to the new generation of filmmakers. Taking the audience through his work, which included defining the mind set of Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER, rendering jungle warfare with 5.1 surround sound in APOCALYPSE NOW and telling the story of a professional sound recordist in THE CONVERSATION, Murch described the necessity of working “sound into the fabric of the film.”

The essential element that Murch highlighted was sound’s reliance on causality. Yet, causality should be interpreted in multiple ways. Firstly there is the literal idea of causality, which involves using audio to accompany what we see. The second relates to Murch’s idea that “cinema is a theatre of thought.” Using the example of APOCALYPSE NOW, he showed how Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) wanted to escape his Saigon hotel room to the Vietnamese jungle with the contrapuntal sound of helicopters, animals and insects.

And yet for all his expertise in sound, Murch also expressed his true love of silence in cinema referencing Fritz Lang’s M and Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL. Suggesting that a fear of silence comes from being separated from our mothers (as we gain our hearing while still in the womb), he highlighted the strong dramatic potential of depriving our strong sense of hearing.

Murch proved to the Talents what a pleasure he is to listen to. His keen interest in the science of sound, aptitude for metaphors (film sound without dialogue is “like a moonless night” which lets you focus on the stars) and humour made for a presentation that was as insightful as it was entertaining.