Do we know what we hear when we see?

I screened a work the other night at a local video slam (excellent venue) and got very good feedback from the audience many of whom were video and film artists. The work is Putting By an improvisatory piece I taped while doing some canning in my kitchen. The late afternoon light through the southwest facing window was especially compelling and the sounds and sites of the kitchen became my material. I preserved the chronological order of takes and edited from 60 minutes to 15 minutes of tape. I was particularly interested in the sync sound as there was much to hear including background conversations that ended up providing a kind of subtext to the piece.

I spent a good deal of time working on sweetening the sound while maintaining its original character. There was a prominent 60-cycle hum that proved difficult to mask. While working in my studio, I took a break and went into the house to make some tea. While I was busy with the range, the refrigerator kicked in and I noticed the familiar 60-cycle hum (which I had thought was the video camera). I decided the hum was as much a part of the video as the steam from the cookers was. I left it in the mix. When I completed the audio mix I was quite satisfied with the resulting balance between video and audio, an opportunity to see and hear on a deeper level.

At the screening, I brought the sound up to a comfortable but emphasized level. Afterward, during the question and answer period, there was no mention of the sound. Many astute observations regarding the visual but not a single mention of the sound. I was quite surprised. The situation led me to wonder about an audience’s ability to hear without hearing. Perhaps, with Hollywood-styled sound design, audiences are conditioned to not hear what they are hearing. Just recently Kelley Baker spokeĀ  in Eugene about sound design and repeated the industry maxim that “if the audience notices the soundtrack it is no good, if they don’t, it has done its job.” I wonder about that statement. Kind of related to the confounding statement “you really can’t teach composition” that I got from my composition teachers in academia. “Um, so why are we here?”




About DHeila

I am a copy editor at Best Ever Edit (please visit my page at and a songwriter/composer. My creative efforts are chronicled (sporadically) at
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