Manipulating sound until
it seemed to be something that existed in real space. This refers
to playing back existing recordings through a speaker or speakers
in real-world acoustic situations, and recording that playback with
microphones so that the new recording takes on the acoustic characteristics
of the place it was "re-recorded."
Worldizing is a sound
design concept created by Walter
in 1973, Walter Murch was working on American Graffiti and trying
to create something new with the film's Wolfman Jack sound material
-- commercials, hit songs, DJ rants. His task was to turn the soundtrack
into a cohesive soundscape, to make every car cruising the city
of Modesto, California a player in a citywide radiophonic symphony.
The idea was that
every teenage car in this town was turned to the same station, and,
therefore, anywhere you went in the town, you heard this sound echoing
off the buildings and passing by in cars.
Murch: (in Sound
Doctrine: An Interview with Walter Murch)
George [Lucas] and I took the master track of the two-hour radio
show with Wolfman Jack as DJ and played it back on a Nagra in a
real space - a suburban backyard. I was fifty-or-so-feet away with
a microphone recording that sound onto another Nagra, keeping it
in sync and moving the microphone kind of at random, back and forth,
as George moved the speaker through 180 degrees. There were times
when microphone and speaker were pointed right at each other, and
there were other times when they were pointed in completely opposite
directions. So that was a separate track. Then, we did that whole
When I was mixing the
film, I had three tracks to draw from. One of them was what you
might call the "dry studio track" of the radio show, where the music
was very clear and sharp and everything was in audio focus. Then
there were the other two tracks which were staggered a couple of
frames to each other, and on which the axis of the microphone and
the speakers was never the same because we couldn't remember what
we had done intentionally.
Sometimes, Wolfman Jack
would be on axis on one track, but he would be off axis on the other
track. I was able to blend those three tracks to get the right amount
of atmosphere. I could make transitions from a live, very present
sound to something that sounded like it was very distant and bouncing
off many buildings. I could create a sense of movement too - hence,
the moving microphones.
is what I discovered Welles had done in a more primitive form
in Touch of Evil. What he had not done was combine the original
recording and the atmospheric recording. He simply positioned
a microphone, static in an alleyway outside Universal Sound Studios,
re-recording from a speaker to the microphone through the alleyway.
He didn't have control over the balance of dry sound versus reflected
sound, and he didn't have the sense of motion that we got from
moving the speaker and moving the microphone relative to one another.
This creates the sonic
equivalent of depth of field in photography. We can still have the
music in the background, but because it's so diffuse, you can't
find edges to focus on and, therefore, the dialogue which is in
the foreground and which is in focus is clearly what you're supposed
to be listening to. That was the defect of all previous systems,
except for Welles' system. In them the music was just filtered and
played low, but it still had its edges, and, therefore, it became
hard for the mind to separate out the edges of the music versus
the edges of the dialogue.
We came up with a way
of taking music that might, at one point, be fully in the foreground
- in focus and loud - and, then, during a scene transition, sent
way into the background and thrown out of focus so that people could
talk in the foreground in dialogue and not have you driven mad.
No other film before that one had had 42 songs back to back. They
would have maybe three or four, five or six at most, scattered throughout
only the most authentic reproduction will do, worldizing can get
Digital reverb units are stocked with enough horsepower and brilliant
programming to sound terrific, but to my ear, the digital version
never sounds quite like the real thing. The most convincing way
to make something sound like it was recorded in a room is to record
it in one - but sometimes thatís not possible. In addition, you
may have several sounds recorded under different circumstances that
you want to sound as though they belong together.
The solution to both
problems is to worldize the sounds, that is, to play them back in
an appropriate space and record the playback. That means lugging
around a high-quality sound-playback system along with your recording
rig. Place a speaker in a room or location with the desired aural
fingerprint and position a microphone some distance from the speaker.
Next, play back your
original sounds through the speaker and re-record them on another
tape recorder, capturing the sound with all the reverberant characteristics
of the space. That requires much time and effort, but when only
the most authentic reproduction will do, worldizing can get you
- take studio recordings to the field and make them sound organic
by Charles Maynes (The Editors Guild Magazine
Vol. 25, No.2 - March/April 2004)