Sound and Silence

It’s hard to qualify what makes good music. It’s even harder to anticipate what it will sound like.

Many people say that good music blends into the background so seamlessly that you don’t even notice it’s there.

But in film, music is just one of three layers of sound that need to be braided together to create that perfect blend. There’s the score itself, the music that weaves through the background or even sometimes takes the foreground of a piece; there’s the dialogue, the narrative that strings the story together; and then there’s the sound design, the natural, acquired or manipulated audio that’s used to punctuate a segment and highlight its emotion.

While each sound can sometimes be heard separately, they are eventually mixed together to create a perfect audible cocktail that can either make or break a film.

I’ll admit, the first composer that I hired to score The Podkamieners broke the film. After 8 months of work, I was left with a wall-to-wall score that was overpowering, outpacing, and overall unmemorable.

In filmmaking just as in anything in life, sometimes the only way to find out what’s good is to weed out what’s bad. It was at that moment that I realized that good music just didn’t sound that bad.

One year and tons of talent later by composer Tom Phillips and sound designer Chris Anderson, and the score for The Podkamieners is nearly complete.

One of the most important things that I learned during this process is that often times what sounds best is no sound at all. Sometimes that means letting the narrative speak for itself and sometimes that means letting a few beats stand in silence.

I found this particularly integral in the two Hebrew films, where leaving room to hear the intonation of the words spoken was just as important as reading them. Just like when Benny carefully unravels the chilling aftermath of being separated from his mother and sister after an attack.

The other instance that exemplified the importance of silence was in allowing certain moments for sound design to take center stage. This included the haunting ambient tones, the gunshots, the footsteps — all sounds that turned the animation into the utmost visceral experience when working in tandem with a delicate yet powerful score. Just like when Josh describes how he and his sister were forced to stay still in an attic while the Germans stormed and searched their hiding spot.

Above all, I learned that when it came to The Podkamieners, what qualified as good music was a balance between sound and silence.

And good music sounds great.