Nicolas Titeux

Sound designer | Sound mixer
Composer

The sound of light

by | 5 May 2020

In movies and video games, sound designers often have to invent sounds to evoke creatures and phenomena that do not exist: magic, ghosts, monsters, aliens, etc.

We also need to invent sounds to accentuate certain phenomena that are silent in reality, such as light.
 

light sound design

A view of the mind

 
The reflection of the sun in a mirror, a laser beam or a shining star is often underlined by sound effects in movies. From a scientific point of view, light is an electromagnetic wave and cannot make any sound. But by a view of the mind, the audience willingly accepts the opposite. The sound can then attract attention or make a visual effect extraordinary.

Creating this type of sound is a challenge for sound designers because there is no real reference for it. The only examples we know of come from fiction and the collective imagination. Only one imperative: that the spectator believes in it. The emotion linked to the interaction between auditory and visual perception guides sound creation.
 

Sound design example

 
The perception of sound is subjective. This is why we sometimes use abstract adjectives to describe sounds. These words can belong to the lexical field of vision: brilliant, blurred, colored, crystalline, shinning. The idea of ​​light is associated with something quite pure, therefore rather high-pitched. Light also means not heavy. Low frequencies generally lead to a heavy, earthly or lack of light sensation.

To illustrate light with sounds, we can take inspiration from what causes it. For example, the idea of ​​reflection is associated with the mirror, and mirrors are usually made of glass. Which works pretty well because the sound of the glass is rather pure and sharp.

Here is a quite simple sound design example. First I record the ringing of a glass . Then I extract timbre of the sound and I shape it with a soft envelope. By removing the impact, the sound seems more abstract and lighter. I then tune the sound effect in a brighter tone.
 

The sound of metal can also be used to evoke light. When we think of metal, we can also think of silver, platinum, gold, chrome steel, red iron, etc. Besides there are many metal objects whose sound is described as bright: bells, blades, chimes.

When I worked on the video game Ghost of a Tale , I created a sound effect for the presence and disappearance of a spectrum. This sound is composite. It is made of many elements like whispered voices that give life to the ghost, and sounds of light, mainly created with glass and metal.

Here is an example of “light sound” that I find particularly well made. The game Ori and the Blind Forest (and more recently Ori and the Will of the Wisps ), produced by Microsoft studios, contains a rich and beautifully produced soundtrack by Andrew Lackey and his team of sound designers. In the trailer, we see a mysterious phenomenon, both bright and magical. Behind the apparent simplicity of this sound hides important work. It is a fairly rich sound that is composed of several layers, including metallic tones and glass-based sound effect. Listen carefully how sound evolves and how it goes along with movement.