Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Martin Scorsese - The Art of Silence

From the same guy who did the Visual Comedy post that prompted a lot of dialogue.  I think there are some really interesting nuggets in this, particularly the part about writing intentionally to allow sound designers to utilize silence.

Any thoughts?

Martin Scorsese - The Art of Silence from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.


  1. 10 years ago when the music industry began its slow steady decline I attended a workshop on the future of digital recording. This guy said "Today we have one thing that we have never had before and that is pure silence, with digital you can ignore the medium its on unlike tapes or LPs. Pure silence, it is jarring, it becomes it's own instrument."

    Interesting to see that today it is being overlooked. In this guys example he sights saving private ryan but in the example there is the whine you get when your ear drums are overloaded. That ain't silence. In many cases I think he actually means a lack of music and thats something I can agree with. There is wall to wall music in most things today. I can completely admit I do it too. When I did sound for Stalled was the first intentional break from music I ever did. Ever.

    David Lynch is a favorite example when it comes to stripping away familiar elements in order to draw the viewer in. He often start with a normal hollywood-esq set of film elements and then will strip away music, dialog, even visual for lengthy periods of time to lull the audience into his worlds.

    My Dad, a choral director had a very translatable piece of advice when it comes to dynamics. He would say "Your audience expects to be blown back by your sound, but a masterfully controlled and intense quiet sound makes everyone lean forward to hear it." Some of my favorite parts of movies or games is when sneaking around and being quiet is involved. It ratchets tension quickly and effectively. Horror does this well also.

    Good find and great topic.

  2. You know who's also a fan for adding silence… Helge from United Rentals. :)


    2 minutes in...

    1. Usually there is muzak on a call hold. Not sure of the purpose of that one

  3. It is a fact that Americans hate silence - Helge "The Dane" J.

    I think what Tony does is great; I wish I had the time and talent to put everything out on Front St. like he does and just talk about movies.

    With that in mind, I can't say that I agree with everything he says. Like the previous post, the Edgar Wright episode, I feel like there was a little apples to oranges comparison going on.

    After 3:30, there's a bit of a departure from Scorsese and we start talking about other films/filmmakers. I agree with Dave, the scene from Saving Private Ryan isn't completely silent. It's a sort of assumed or hyperbolic silence. There are even still a few distant but audible sounds during that scene.

    As far as the Superman vs. Man of Steel example is concerned, I feel like the beginning of the comparison included all the action scenes from Man of Steel; scenes where you'd expect a sort of wall-to-wall sound approach (just as a side note, after hearing the sound designer from Captain America: Winter Soldier speak at NAB this year, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the craft that goes into wall-to-wall sound).

    Specifically relating to the side by side comparison of Superman screaming, I think Man of Steel pulled it off pretty well (I could not hear the low music bed Tony refers to in this scene either nor do I think it's rewarding Superman for committing murder). While in the 1978 version, the silence is relatively brief and is immediately followed by a funky "woosh" and horn section.

    Lastly, in reference to the motivation is for what little silence exists in Man of Steel and the loads of hugs that Superman is given, I can't really say that Man of Steel sought out to push the boundaries of sound design. Clearly there are some thing that just simply "work" and the silent hug is one of them.

    All in all, I think calculated pauses are a great device. They has a unique way of amplifying scenes where music and sound cannot (I like Tony's example of Infernal Affairs and The Departed). I just don't know if Man of Steel (something I'm willing to admit I have not seen yet) would have been my first choice.