I’m not interested in sound design any more.
That is to say, sound design for its own sake, edification, gratification or aggrandizement, the single dimensional approach, to the exclusion of all else. I am interested in design as a whole. How all the elements, the craft, the process of how a soundtrack can become an un-subtractable piece of the total design. I’m extremely and endlessly fascinated by this wider design discipline, in presentation, in timing, in how the game, cut-scene or game-play is perceived, as a whole, by a player. For many years, perhaps understandably as disenfranchised members of production teams, we sound folks have elevated ourselves and our teams under the banner of ‘50% of the experience is sound’, and while this elevation has served its purpose in revealing the importance of sound to an experience, it is merely didactic…
100% of the experience is the experience.
Sound is nothing without collaborators, nothing without an artistic direction, without a narrative, without contexts and structures that run far deeper than the sonic, we need something for our echo to bounce back from. Likewise, a narrative is nothing without voice performance, weighted gameplay nothing without a musical heartbeat, a visceral jaw-dropping moment nothing without purposefully tuned, and timed sound effects. Sound can help solve problems, fix holes, mend and bend intentions, but only when it is fully involved.
We are heading into the post-sound design era. This is an era no longer obsessed with the ‘neglected’ art of a film or game soundtrack. An era in which sound designers are comfortable, confident and fulfill their role as co-designers on a product team. The focus of any sound designers work, should be as a principle collaborator to not just the overall project, but artistically, technically, socially and politically in the development of company culture. We should expect and ask nothing less than the full unequivocal involvement and respect afforded to art directors, design directors or technical directors. We need to move beyond, in our thinking, and in our daily transactions, the disciplinary segregation of end-of-the-production-line thinking, and push confidently into the open role of collaborator, be that with clients, departments, or our audiences.
This move has been made possible in both film and games production by a shift in attitude towards collaboration with sound, and of the necessity towards improving the the overall design of audio-visual productions. Neglecting sound in almost any (major) discussion is a neglecting of the fundamentals of good design, and is not only a neglect of design, but also of good business.
This era is also as much about moving away from the self-imposed limits of technology, and towards a more balanced approach, where technology (or, the skills necessary to produce the work required) plays equal to aesthetic concerns and social skills. These three parts (art, tech, social) form the key skills required by a designer of any discipline working in any media today. Young sound designers today need to learn quickly to move and think beyond the latest technology, as every day there will be something new to distract you from the actual work of ‘designing’ sound to solve the specific design problems on your productions.
In the end, the work is about people, relationships, teams, networks, communities, and mutual accountability.
I fully anticipate this post-sound design era to be exemplified by the upward movement of ‘sound designers’ into much broader creative roles on teams, becoming creative directors, producers and directors themselves. This feels like the natural next-step for the evolution of fully-integrated design and practice. In the past, wherever there has been lack of understanding, missed opportunities, lack of innovation, there have always been those who stepped up to fill the void and lead by example. This may not be everyone’s journey or destiny, but I hope it is the destiny for the art forms we love, and many of us will play, or are already unwittingly playing, a key role through the games we help design.