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Cinema Sounds: The Sound Of The Oscars

This week’s Cinema Sounds takes a look at those behind the sound and music of the dominator of the Oscars: ‘Gravity’

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We all know by now that Gravity completely dominated the Oscars, picking up a massive seven awards in total. Impressively, every single award in recognition of a film’s sound and music went to Gravity, illustrating that the sonic quality of the film is by far one of it’s strongest assets. Indeed it would have to be as almost the entire film is set in space which poses a problem: there can be no sound in space. The main problem with this is that jets aren’t exciting if they don’t make noise and collisions aren’t dramatic if things don’t bang and crash and screech. With many conventional sound cues no longer available, those involved in the sound of this film needed to be innovative and they really were.

There is no doubt that Stephen Price deserved his Oscar for best original score. Oddly it seems the score is so good not because of the things he did but for the things he left out. There are few melodies here in this score and very few themes. Instead repeated phrases and sounds are used throughout to create and release tension; an end which Price achieves sublimely. The use of rapid heartbeat thumping in addition to buzzing string noises create a perfectly uncomfortable experience and I feel uneasy listening to this score which is exactly the point.

The area in which Gravity really excels is the way sound and music merge as one. Stephen price used electronic bleeps and white noise usually associated with radios and tracking devices (the track ISS on the album of the original soundtrack is a great example of this). Also, loud dynamics in musical climaxes alongside abrasive electronic noises were used great to effect to replace the noise of smashing and collapsing structures, compensating for their lack of sound in space. In contrast to this, silence itself was also used as a dramatic tool to fantastic effect and in this respect I believe credit must go to sound editor Glenn Freemantle. His cutting of music and noise directly after an abrasive sonic and visual climax returns the film to an unnerving silence and is highly successful in emphasising the empty loneliness of outer space.

In his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Freemantle spoke of the strong bond between the teams working on this film and it shows in the finished product and in the results of the awards ceremony. The sound mixing team made up of Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro also picked up an Oscar for their exquisite work on the films sound and music. Special mention was of course given to director Alfonso Cuarón (who collected an award himself for best director) whom Stephen Price claimed inspired ‘every note’ of his score. Price also thanked all the musicians that worked with him and also thanked his wife and children. Stephen Price is a composer on the rise and, although having already one a BAFTA for his Gravity score, this was his first Oscar. Although he has already achieved much and is already currently in high demand, it seems certain his profile as an exceptional film composer will only grow further with time.

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