Sound Off! // Comment Klatsch #6: Sound and Cinema/Television

Sounding Off2klatsch \KLAHCH\ , noun: A casual gathering of people, esp. for refreshments and informal conversation  [German Klatsch, from klatschento gossip, make a sharp noiseof imitative origin.] (

Dear Readers:  Today’s Sound Off!//Comment Klatsch question comes to you from Dr. Regina Bradley, SO! regular, as a lead in to her upcoming post on sound and The Great Gatsby.

— J. Stoever-Ackerman, Editor-in-Chief

P.S. Don’t forget, we are giving away a  Sounding Out! sticker to today’s Klatsch participants. After you’ve commented, simply email your snail mail address to

What use of sound in film or television stands out in your memory and why?

Comment Klatsch logo courtesy of The Infatuated on Flickr.


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About Regina N. Bradley

Dr. Regina N. Bradley is a writer, scholar, and researcher of African American Life and Culture. She is a recipient of the Nasir Jones HipHop Fellowship at Harvard University (Spring 2016) and an Assistant Professor of African American Literature at Armstrong State University. Dr. Bradley's expertise and research interests include hip hop culture, race and the contemporary U.S. South, and sound studies. Dr. Bradley's current book project, Chronicling Stankonia: Recognizing America's Hip Hop South (under contract, UNC Press), explores how hip hop (with emphasis on the southern hip hop duo Outkast) and popular culture update conversations about the American South to include the post-Civil Rights era. Also known as Red Clay Scholar, a nod to her Georgia upbringing, Regina maintains a critically acclaimed blog and personal website –

35 responses to “Sound Off! // Comment Klatsch #6: Sound and Cinema/Television”

  1. Alexander says :

    Yes, the ‘mythic circularity’ comment about this piece strikes a chord with me, too.

  2. Justin D Burton says :

    Llewelyn waiting for Anton in No Country for Old Men. This was when it dawned on me that there was no traditional music soundtrack for the film. The general silence became LOUD, and each movement was expertly sound edited, so that the scuffling of boots on floor or the oh-so-nerve-wracking click of the gun filled the theater and brought me into the space of the film.

  3. rnbradley says :

    I swear, this is the main reason I wanted to go to college, and an HBCU. THIS version, not the Boyz II Men joint.

  4. rnbradley says :

    So….since we’re talking television theme songs, my favorite one is the original Unsolved Mysteries theme song: it just creeps me the hell out. I’m listening to it now and the synthesizer, the xylophone and the wail in it just….yeah. Hands down best theme song to make your hair stand on end LOL

  5. debraraecohen says :

    Battlestar Galactica is a show that has often been parsed in terms of its subtle and effective use of music (both diagetic and extradiagetic). But, strangely, the sound that I most associate with the series, that serves as my own Pavlovian trigger in the way that JSA describes it, isn’t the eerily-emergent “All Along the Watchtower,” or even the credits music, with the Gayatri Mantra lyrics–it’s the Universal Studios fanfare.

    Even now, when I hear this I expect what comes next to be the insistent piano of the Battlestar prologue–flash here to the fabulous Portlandia parody, in which that served as the soundtrack of addiction–and feel rattled and jarred when what follows is, well, anything else.

    • Aaron Trammell says :


      I’ve always been puzzled by the All Around The Watchtower motif in BSG. It’s always seemed so weird and out of place. And of all songs, why that one? Why Bob and Jimi?

      What do you think?

      • debraraecohen says :

        For me it’s always seemed entwined with the portentous religiosity of the last seasons–the Biblical echoes of the song, and its mythic circularity (and perhaps even its implication of dark twinship), are echoed in turn in the series.

  6. mseth2 says :

    …the discussion of TV theme songs makes me think of a later-era song by The Who (or, given the state of the band at that point, “The Who”) called “Mike Post Theme.”

    a pretty familiar Townsend song where he uses a mundane activity to reflect on his own aging masculinity. thinking of TV theme songs written by Mike Post, he wonders when he’ll grow up and start showing the women in his life the attention they deserve.

    The final version, spoken rather than sung, is the most revealing:

    There comes a time in every little punk’s life
    When he has to write a song for his common-law wife
    We make our women wait ’til they wanna scream
    But we can always whistle that Mike Post Theme

    Townsend sees himself seating in a chair at night in front of the TV, humming along to some TV theme, while he neglects his “common-law wife.” What i think is interesting is the way that he genders these TV theme songs, and even genders the act of remembering them…

  7. Matt Sumera says :

    My dissertation is a critical analysis of the use of music in representations of war. In particular, I analyze music in war films, video games, and soldier and civilian-made war music videos: think combat footage set to some form of popular music and posted to YouTube.

    The Apocalypse Now helicopter scene really signals a turn in the use of music in such representations. It’s the moment when music becomes war and war becomes music, defining a particularly affective form of aesthetic ferocity. The film also marked the rise of modern 5.1 surround sound, and the “musicality” of violence is built directly into the entire audiovisual experience. As sound designer Walter Murch notes,

    The Coast Guard was very cooperative. We went up with a list of what we needed, and they had all the different kinds of helicopters. The LOACHes, some acronym for these buzzy little helicopters, and the HUEYs, another acronym . . . and a third one, with the double rotors on it, which makes a thuddier sound. A great thing about helicopters is that their variety has a musical element to it. So the LOACHes were the high strings, and the HUEYs occupy the middle range, and then these helicopters with two blades, fore and aft, have a huge thwud-thwud-thwud sound to them.

    It’s a moment, I found, with particular resonance among soldiers as well, defining what Jarhead author Anthony Swofford calls the “magic brutality” of war films.

    • j. stoever-ackerman says :

      Do you look at the movie “JarHead” at all? I once went to a presentation by a sound editor at USC and she described the horse scene as some of the finest sound editing work in her estimation RE: capturing war. I’d be curious about your thoughts.

      • Matt Sumera says :

        I didn’t address the film in my diss, but am looking at it as I work to turn it into a book. The incorporation of the AN chopper scene in Jarhead, in particular, basically makes my larger argument.

        • Matt Sumera says :

          Trying the video again:

        • rnbradley says :

          Your work is DOPE. I look forward to reading it at length. Wow, war time and sound just go together…which is why, for example, Red Tails’ sonic inclinations irked me. But one of the earliest songs I connect to war time is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” (dang you, Forrest Gump LOL)

          • j. stoever-ackerman says :

            I agree–it sounds *very* interesting! I also wanted to mention that one of the earliest “sound studies” pieces I found when I started researching the field was Philip K. Jason’s “‘The Noise is Always in My Head’: Auditory Images in the Literature of the Vietnam War.” Midwest Quarterly 37:3 (Spring 1996): 243-255, which may be helpful to you!

  8. j. stoever-ackerman says :

    oh and dear god yes! The _Law and Order_ sound–a metonym for the entire multi-bajillion dollar, decades-spanning franchise! I have to say that it is both fitting and disturbing that the sound of a cell door slamming (on a show tracking the police/prosecution double punch out) symbolizes the “comfort food” of American TV. But dear god, when I hear it, like Pavlov’s dog, I want to plop down on the couch and escape into its gratifyingly self-contained episode world (in which the case will always, always be solved. . .preferably by Brisco and Greene for my money) like it is my first year of grad school and I have “writer’s block.”

    • mseth2 says :

      Jennifer, to be honest, i’ve always thought that, and some research i’ve done suggests this, the “Law and Order” sound is a gavel being banged. its pace, duplication, and spatializing i think support this hearing of the sound. also, its place in the narrative of any episode, heard at each moment of change or advancement in the case at hand, or after a commercial break.

      I think you’re right, its role as “comforting” to the viewer of the machinery of the apparatus of law and justice operating cleaning and effectively is made by it being a gavel. but i think its always meant to suggets an on-going functioning of this apparatus; despite mistakes, missteps, poor choices, and the generally faulty humanity of the cops, crooks, DAs and judges, the apparatus remains strong and effective. no matter how much Olivia Benson might feel morally compromised by the cases at hand, the ultimate functioning of the justice system as moral center remains undeniable. Or at least, as Law and Order would like us to believe.

      • j. stoever-ackerman says :

        According to IMDB and the New York Times Magazine–we are both right: “The distinctive thunk-thunk sound effect used in between scenes was created by combining close to a dozen sounds, including that of a group of monks stamping on a floor. The sound is intended to be reminiscent of both a jurist’s gavel and a jail-cell door slamming.”

        This only makes the sound more disturbing for pondering the connection the show makes between law and order.

        See also:

        • rnbradley says :

          Jen when I hear that slamming cell door now I think about Dave Chappelle and his spoof and how “justice” is hilariously aloof when it comes to blind justice and black men. But I’m with you. I hear it and I’m ready for TV jury duty.

          Do you think it signifies something different for the the different variations of the Law and Order show (i.e. “regular” L&O, L&O: SVU, etc)?

  9. j. stoever-ackerman says :

    One of the most powerful cinema sounds in my recent memory occurs at the (SPOILER ALERT!) ending of Children of Men (2006), which relies on the re-emergence of a sound though to be lost forever, sealing the fate of the human race along with it——the cry of a child (in the movie, a work of speculative fiction, the entire human race has become infertile). Until this moment–which for me set off a rush of emotion–the soundscape of the film has been dull, mechanical, empty. . .all set up to amplify the breaking through of the cry of the world’s last (first?) baby. Through the course of the film, this sound–which in every day life is often characterized as one of its greatest annoyances (see all of the rants about children on planes, for example)–becomes something you yearn for, crave, and sit on the edge of your seat waiting to hear. It also, for a moment, silences the rumble of war, as both sides listen to the strangeness of this sound and fight/give in to their visceral emotional reactions.

    • Justin D Burton says :

      Oh, that’s a great one. The way in which the sound of this baby (of color) allows the man who looks like the traditional movie hero to move through the world with a freedom he couldn’t achieve on his own is profoundly powerful stuff. The entire sequence (which also involves jarring and impressive visuals) has to be close to the pinnacle of cinematic achievement.

      …Now I have to go watch Children of Men and sob.

  10. djhender says :

    The first sound that popped into my head was the “Sanford and Son” theme song. It probably sticks with me because my father used to go around the house calling me “You big dummy.”
    Plus, the show was great.

  11. J. Spagna says :

    When thinking of a TV-sound environment that set the stage for the show, the first thing that comes to mind is the noodly, farty slap-bass fills between scenes on Seinfeld. Famous for being the the “show about nothing,” Seinfeld’s, brief musical interludes (often just one bar- dun-da-dun-dun-DUNNNN!), seem to reflect and underline the nothing- they were self-consciously goofy, as if to say, “Well, that scene’s over, it was sure dumb, but hopefully funny, on to the next!” The timing and bassiness of the fills are also reminiscent of old-timey standup, where a comedians’ punchlines and breaks were often punctuated by Vaudeville-style band hiccups from the rhythm section- like rim shots and sad trombone slides. Even if you’re about nothing, I suppose you have to come from something, or out of some tradition. I would love to know whether that was deliberate or unconscious on the part of Jerry et al.,, or purely a figment of my imagination, making a connection where there is none.

    • rnbradley says :

      Wow, I never thought about Seinfeld from this perspective. I always thought about the show as off-color and awkward, and the sound bytes in the same way. Very, uh, Kramer-esque.

    • Robin James (@doctaj) says :

      I totally agree with your read here, that the effect of the bass sounds reflects and amplifies the overall tone of the show. I never liked either, honestly, but if they’re connected in this way then it makes sense why I disliked that sound so much.

  12. Robin James (@doctaj) says :

    Great, great prompt! Two sounds immediately come to mind:

    First, being born in the late 70s, I grew up with Star Wars and have been a huge fan my entire life. However, my experience of the SW films (by which I mean, only the original trilogy) is just as much about the soundtrack as it is about the films. At some point in the early/mid 90s they released a boxed set of the Williams score/soundtrack for the original trilogy, and I scooped that up as soon as it was released. I listened to those CDs probably more frequently than I rewatched the films. So for me the Star Wars universe is primarily a sonic and musical one. I LOVE to hear how the original trilogy sounds are used, for example, in The Clone Wars, to reinforce the sense of a consistent “universe.”

    That said, I think this is my FAVORITE sound in the Star Wars universe: the ‘vocalization’ of the imperial probe droid on Hoth at the beginning of ESB:

    Another really memorable use of sound on TV was the recent inclusion of The Cult’s “Fire Woman” in last season’s “Dr Who”. You don’t often hear a lot of goth used in contemporary film and tv, so it was a pleasant surprise (and, it had me go to Wikipedia to check to see that The Cult was indeed a British band…).

    • rnbradley says :

      Okay I can’t lie I wasn’t put on to Star Wars until much later in life but I’ve always remembered the score. It’s beautiful. John Williams did his thing. And I love the the shoutout on the Family Guy farce of Star Wars when they point out how after John Williams the music sucked.

    • j. stoever-ackerman says :

      Robin–have you read Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco’s _Analog Days_? There is a great section in there on the synthesizer and space–and how the synth helped shape our understanding of what space “sounds like” (beyond the 1950s theramin soundscape) Star Wars was a special highlight–and your comment made me think of that.

      It is also cool to think about how the music has traveled and become iconic in its own right–from John Williams’s live performances at the Hollywood Bowl (I have always wanted to go) to Binghamton’s graduation (where the theme song is the triumphant recessional) to people’s own private listening. I had a friend in high school who drove a super shitty oxidized red mitsubishi or mazda or something like that, with the tailpipe tied up with a shoestring, and every time he took off, he played the “Empire Theme”–very endearing, I must say.

      I’d be hard pressed to pick my favorite sound in the Star Wars Galaxy. . . a toss up between Chewbacca’s Howl, the Cantina Music,
      the Tie-fighters wake, the light saber cutting through the air, and and RDD2’s sounds of contrition.

      • Robin James (@doctaj) says :

        Cool, I’ll check that section of Analog Days out. Thanks for the reference! I think it’s interesting that there are so many iconic sounds from Star Wars…Vader’s breathing, the lightsaber initializing (as you mentioned)…One thing I really hated about the re-issues was the fact that the musical performance in Jabba’s Palace got changed.

  13. rnbradley says :

    So I know I’m writing on Gatsby but I have a list of my most memorable sounds from cinema and tv that I’ll post throughout the day. No particular order. My first sound is from the Jurassic Park film. I was ten going on grown and begged my folks to let me go see the film because my older stepbrother was going to see the film. Just like everyone else, I was ready to see the T-rex. You HEAR the T-Rex before you see him. The sound of the storm, the pounding of his walk towards the stranded folks…the breaking of the bands on the electric fence, and THE ROAR!!!! You know it was about to go down!

    • mseth2 says :

      …R.N., i completely agree with you about “Jurassic Park.” i remember seeing it when i was 16, after a long childhood of dinosaur appreciation. those “roars” were so distinctive. in the years that have passed, i’ve learned that those dinosaur sounds are not only carefully produced, by likely fictional. there is research that suggest that dinosaurs didn’t have any need to roar. far more likely is that they squawked and called like birds.

      Jurassic Park’s roaring dinosaurs are embedded into a specific cinematic context for me; i think its one way that “dinosaurs” become gendered, aimed at young boys with the fierce sonic dominance of space.

      • rnbradley says :

        Yeah, but how scary is a chirping T-Rex? Not much. LOL

        W.O.W. Re: gendering dinosaurs via sound. That’s intriguing. I had tons of dinosaurs – T-Rex was my favorite and it was probably because of his commanding roar than his size. Wow. You know what else? I was part of the first generation power rangers craze and eased on by the Pink Ranger because she made the Pterodactyl overly girly. I was much cooler with the red ranger or even the blue ranger as a triceratops. As a tomboy I wasn’t having that. My sister on the other hand, the ultimate girly girl, LOVED dinosaurs because of Kimberly the Pink Ranger. Booooooooo.

        Speaking of Power Rangers, I can’t lie. I had it on tape as a kid. And I was a boss.

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