SAE London student Ben Heyderman creates auditory exploration of blindess for Multimedia Sound module

24 Oct 2019

SAE London Audio Production student Ben Heyderman has enjoyed the Multimedia Sound module. After being given a choice whether to create sound for a video game, a radio drama or an animation, he chose to create a soundtrack to an animated film called The Optimist. 

We caught up with him to hear more about his process on this project, and to see what his ambitions are after graduating. 

What have you been working on in class for the Multimedia Sound module?

We were given the option of doing the sound for a video game, a radio drama or the sound for an animation. I chose to do the animation and was given a further choice of 5 short animated films for which I would have to record and create the dialogue, music and sound effects.

The film I chose, The Optimist, is the story of a woman trying to find a copy of a book that everyone else has. By the end of the film – spoiler alert – she finally gets a copy of this book and opens it to reveal that the book is written in braille, at which point the audience realises that she is in fact blind, hence her difficulty in finding the book. The filmmaker describes this piece as a ‘visual poem’ and through an abstract art style I think that the book is a larger metaphor for the solitude a blind person could feel. The emotional depth of this piece made it a difficult but ultimately very enjoyable and interesting piece to work on.

How did you attempt to represent blindness in your work?

I guess the idea of creating a visual poem about blindness is inherently upside down. My understanding of the film is that the abstract and abstracted art style is the protagonist’s limited view of what is around her that she gains from her other senses. It was therefore important to make it clear how she knew what was going on around her (and hence what we were being shown) through the use of sound. To simulate the enhanced auditory sensitivity experienced by the blind, the soundscape I created I designed to be exaggerated hyper real. Using surround sound I was also able to echo the distress and disorientation she experiences in some scenes. By using erratic spatial movements, often seen as taboo in surround mixing, I intended to make the audience want to almost look from side to side in the same way the protagonist is.

How was music used in your piece?

Contrasting the black and white film, flashes of colour are used to signify significant triggers to the protagonist’s other senses. This is called synaesthesia, ‘idiosyncratic ectopic sensations which commonly take the form of coloured visual impressions evoked by touch or hearing’; basically, hearing colour. To create the music for my piece I used a technique called ‘mickey-mousing’ to musically represent the coloured flashes. Mickey-mousing is the technique of synchronising action on screen with musical notes and phrases, used throughout early cartoons and slapstick comedy - a great example of this is Road Runner. In my piece however I was not using it for comedic effect, so aimed to create musical lines that represented the protagonists mood.

For a non-audiophile, what does blurring the lines of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds mean, and how is this relevant to your project?

In film diegetic sound is sound heard in the world of the characters on screen whereas non-diegetic sound is only heard by the audience. For example, in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker duels Darth Vader, the hum and clashes of the lightsabers make up the diegetic sound of the scene whereas the dramatic musical score is non-diegetic as it is not part of their world but added for the audiences’ benefit.

Because the music in my piece was synchronised with and represented the synaesthesia experienced by the protagonist it is maybe not as easy to categorise as diegetic/non-diegetic as the previous example. In some parts of the piece I intended for the audience to believe that it was diegetic, where musical lines trigger her to become aware of certain things in the diegetic world; however, in other scenes it functioned in more of a traditionally non-diegetic way, to fortify the emotional meaning of a scene. To further blur the line between the two-in-one scene I made it seem like the protagonist was whistling the main melody of the score thus suggesting that she was able to hear the piano, rendering it diegetic.

What have you enjoyed about this module?

The whole thing really. From a starting point of not having much beyond a basic understanding of how the process of creating the sound for a film works, seeing the final project mixed in 5.1 surround was a massive achievement. I feel like each stage - planning, recording, editing, and mixing - posed a good balance between technical and creative skills.

What has been your favourite aspect of the Audio course at SAE so far?

Probably the rate at which my knowledge of the subject and the quality of my work has improved over the last 18 months. I feel like at the end of each term I produce a piece of work that I wouldn’t have been able to create at the start of that term. And that knowledge has accumulated throughout the course, so that if I look back at the work I was pulling my hair out over at the start of the course, it seems completely basic now.

Do you know what area of the Audio industry you are looking to go into after graduating yet?

Throughout the course, as I’ve been exposed to different aspects of the industry I’ve been conscious to keep an open mind as to where I could see myself starting a career as there are so many things that interest me. However in the back of my mind I think sound for film has always been my main interest and I’m currently looking for work experience in that field. I also have a background in computer programming and am considering a major project that explores the crossover between computing, film and audio.