The Messy Sounds of Zola
by Phil Bailey
Musical scores have always been employed to mark shifts in tone and to manipulate the audience, but increasingly non-musical sounds are being employed as audiences are growing too sophisticated for a sudden shriek of strings to feel cliche. Directors and sound designers are coming up with innovative techniques to elicit emotion from the audience.
Christopher Nolan has has used a number of different audio devices in his films to subliminally heighten tension most notably with Dunkirk (2017) where he built the entire film on the Shepard Tone which is an auditory illusion that make it seem as if there is a continuous rising of pitch within a single octave. He coupled this technique with the sound of a ticking clock to keep audiences on edge throughout the tense and dangerous story unfolding on the screen. Other directors, especially in horror, have used similar techniques of adding sounds into the audio mix to heighten tension or increase dread or other-worldliness.
In the recently released Zola, director Janicza Bravo also uses sound effects to signal danger and increase tension in scenes, but with an interesting twist, she employs diegetic sounds, that is sounds that are coming from within the world of the movie, sounds the characters would be able to hear. The sounds of car doors locking, the rhythm of car tires on the highway, kids bouncing a basketball and the cacophony of social media app notifications are all employed not only as part of the messy reality of Zola and Stefani’s world, but as directional signals for the audience’s emotions.