Theatre of Sounds

Theatre of Sounds

People often say, a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes, a sound can be worth a thousand pictures.

One Sound is Worth a Thousand Pictures

With the simple addition of sounds, it is possible to suggest an entire scene, situation or environment.

Sound is everywhere in the media and in art. For example, there are:

  • Sound effects in the theatre – to establish the scene.
  • Sound design in film – to give a voice to new objects.
  • Soundscapes in museums – to reproduce the atmosphere of a historical location or event.

All of these use sounds creatively and the sounds are large contributors to the total experience (try to imagine a sci-fi film without any sound design – it just wouldn’t work!).

A real-world sound taken out of its context

When sounds are recorded, they are separated from the object or process that caused them. However, because of the contextual way in which people often listen to sounds (see Modes of Listening), it is possible to take a sound from one situation and place it into a completely different one, while still making people believe that it belongs there!

An example of this would be the sound of dinosaurs in films and museums.


What Do Dinosaurs Sound Like?

Dinosaurs died out a long time before there were any humans to listen to them. So no one knows what they actually sounded like. All of the sounds that we ‘know’ of dinosaurs were actually created by people working in sound design.

Film Link

Click here for a short film about the process of making dinosaur sounds.

Sounds Tell Us Where We Are

As we discovered in Space (Environment), we’re able to identify locations based upon the character of their sound. With this knowledge, we can begin to create the impression of different environments. For example: adding reverb to a sound to make it sound like it is in a large space.

We can think about sounds operating in layers, like a stage set in the theatre, with sounds in the foreground, midground and background.

If we add different soundscapes into the background, we can transform the apparent context of the scene. It is also possible to move objects around in the scene to bring them forwards and backwards and to change the relationship between the objects.

[Using unexpected sounds can make a soundscape seem alien or magical.]

Listen to this example.

Can you hear sounds moving forwards/backwards as the soundscape evolves?

Sound Setting the Scene

The sounds that we hear can tell us WHERE we are, WHAT is happening and WHEN the action is taking place (which historical era – past or present).

Listen to this example.

Can you identify: WHERE, WHAT and WHEN just from listening to the sounds?


Sounds can be used simply in a descriptive way, but can also be used to create a sense of atmosphere and lend to the world and story of the work. Sounds are not just used to provide a backdrop, a sense of place or represent specific objects within the scene, but to actively contribute to the drama and story.

Fact – Radiophonics

What is a Radiophonic Work? – A sound-based creative work made specifically for radio broadcast.

Radiophonic works do not simply present actors’ voices reading text with a few accompanying ‘realistic’ sound effects. They explore the inner emotions and tensions within the drama by using abstract sounds and textures, creating a deep and evocative soundscape, which carries the listener on an emotional journey in sound.They use creative sound practice to extend traditional radio drama and documentary forms, by making use of abstract sounds.

The term was first used by Pierre Schaeffer in his ‘Essai Radiophoniques’, and was later used by the by the BBC to describe their famous ‘BBC Radiophonic Workshop’ which created sound effects for ‘Dr Who’ and many other programmes.

Delia Derbyshire in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

The BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop was founded to create ‘special sounds’ for radio productions and television programmes. Some of the composers based in this studio took this one step further and created their own radiophonic pieces. They began to make use of a wide range of sounds to create dramatic tension and mood.

One of these composers was Delia Derbyshire (see photograph above).

Dreams (excerpt – Pt.4 Colours)

This is an example of a non-narrative radiophonic piece by Delia Derbyshire. The work is more about atmosphere and mood, rather than about telling a story.

[This piece is hosted externally via YouTube.]