Sound Design: Before Technology Took Over

For the last few weeks we have started a backstage type series to give our readers a look at what goes on behind the curtain and how things have developed over the years. We explored the elements and process of lighting design and now we are going to take a look at how sound design has been an intricate part of the theatrical process long before the invention of the technologies we have today.

We will look at the use of sound and music in the Midevil and Shakespearean times, and then follow along as we get into more modern times. For now, lets take a trip back in time and see how early sound design was made possible.

Sound design can be divided into three main parts. Prehistoric music, the era of recorded music and modern sound. Each era saw its own growth and expansion. In the pre-historic and early times when there were no means of recording sounds, they were often used to express emotions, feelings and in most cases found use in religious or cultural ceremonies. The first big use of instruments came in the Middle Ages when flutes, mandolins, and other string instruments were created to lend background music to performances, even at village events and festivals. Since a majority of the performances were performed outdoors the design of the sound was not something that could be too controlled. As time went on and people began to experiment with different venue styles that allowed for the manipulation and control over the sounds produced. This didn’t happen until long after the Middle Ages ended, but its beginnings allowed for a more customized musical experience. Another way they were able to bring more elements of sounds into performances was through the use of sound effects. Drums, buckets sticks and other objects were used to create sounds that otherwise would not have been possible.

These small steps began the evolution of sound design in theatrical performances. In the next part of our series we will explore some of the more modern day techniques and how digital sound design has become the go to source for theaters, musicians and musical composers. Sound design has also changed over the years and become its own profession, where gifted individuals created soundtracks, scores and mix all of the elements together to help further the production of TV, movies or any other form of media. We have only covered a very basic understanding of what is possible with sound.

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