Walter Murch - 'Touch of Evil': Orson Welles's 'worldizing' of the sound (185/320)

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Shared September 8, 2017

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Walter Scott Murch (b. 1943) is widely recognised as one of the leading authorities in the field of film editing, as well as one of the few film editors equally active in both picture and sound. [Listener: Christopher Sykes]

TRANSCRIPT: And there was also a very clear description in the memo, in that section that we got from Ernie Nims, of something that I had earlier called 'worldizing', which was a way of taking sound, principally music, and giving it an atmospheric colouration, according to the space in which it was supposedly being performed or played. So the sound of a band in a gymnasium has a particular kind of sound to it, a gymnasium sound, a high school auditorium sound. As different from a concert hall, different from a living room. And I figured out something. This is on my own. Very simple, which is well, let's just take the music, record it in a studio, good recording. And then, take that recording to a gymnasium. Have another recorder, play the music through speaker in the gymnasium. Record that sound on the second recorder. And now, take that sound and line it up in sync with the original sound. And now, we have two controls. We have the original, good studio sound. And we have this kind of echo-y gymnasium sound. Just add as much of this as you need to be convincing. Too much, and it sounds too rackety. Too little and it sounds too much like it's in a studio. Okay, that's just about right, there.

It's roughly the equivalent in audio of depth of field in photography. It allows a sound to be thrown out of focus. And as a result, it can sit in the background more happily. And I use this a lot in American Graffiti, and other films all during this period. What I discovered in this memo is that Welles was doing the same thing. He was doing it slightly differently, in that he did not also... He did not have two tracks that he could balance against each other. He simply took the music and played it through a speaker, what he said, in the alleyway behind the sound department to louse up the sound. That is what he said. And so he would record this loused-up sound, and that's what he wanted in the film, to give this atmospheric quality to it. The difference, which is significant, is that he then did not have control of how much to louse it up, by feeding in a little bit of the original sound, and getting a balance to it. Anyway, I retrospectively owe that discovery to Orson Welles. I may have put a little spin on in myself. I mean, I certainly saw 'Touch of Evil' when I was at school, in film school. And I probably absorbed this idea without knowing what I was absorbing. So I bow before Orson's intelligence and genius. He had done a lot of this in radio because he had all throughout the '30s done a lot of radio drama. And had developed this technique of reverberating voices to make them slightly off axis. He's over there. And he imported this technique into film. And really made lots of use of it in 'Touch of Evil'. And it was a fantastic thing to re-examine all of this.