2018: The Year Sound Design Found Its Voice

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INFLUENCER: Screen Scene’s Will Farrell on stand out projects from last year and what 2019 has in store for the audio landscape
2018: The Year Sound Design Found Its Voice

Innovative sound design and use of audio really came to the fore in 2018, and the awards season cemented that. There's no more a self-serving place to start than with JFK Unsilenced - the brainchild of Alan Kelly, ECD at Rothco and CD Stephen Rogers, who really pushed the project further than we thought achievable [Will was the sound designer on the project]. This piece is anchored around the clever creative and its poignancy. 


Chris Pidcock from Cereproc was responsible for the data collection - a mammoth part of the project that secured it a Cannes Grand Prix in Creative Data. Cereproc collected speech samples from JFK that varied in quality, location, pace and projection. After the data was collected, filed, sorted and transcribed into audio, our job at Screen Scene was to make it into a coherent speech and place it all in the same space, same quality and from the same point in time. Record bumps, static and scratches were used to cover up any blemishes (with thanks to my dad's dusty old Bee Gee's vinyl!)

JFK Unsilenced picked up multiple awards at Cannes, Clios, Eurobest, DADI and Epica to name a few. It marked a standout year for Rothco and for sound design as a talking point in the awards festival circuit.

Another prominent project using audio for change was 'Project Revoice', for the ALS association. This project set out to reunite ALS sufferers with their own voice, after losing the ability to speak. Like JFK Unsilenced, voice data was collected from Pat Quinn, co-founder of the ALS 'Ice-Bucket Challenge', and then filed and sampled into a speech synthesis programme. When Pat would form a sentence on his computer, it would be delivered in his voice, giving him that part of his life back.

'Uncensored Playlist' for Reporters without Borders was a project which outsmarted the blocking of social media by authoritarian regimes - like in China and Egypt - and placed protest messages in songs available on music streaming sites like Spotify, which are still available in those countries. This is an incredibly smart use of audio to empower and inform people who have been silenced and oppressed.

Burger King also used audio in an original way to get free air time... kinda. In a 15-second commercial, the actor on screen asks Google Home what the Whopper Burger is. What followed was a voice-activated Google device in a listener's home reading out a wiki description of the whopper – very cheeky.


So what’s next for audio technology when it comes to advertising and creativity? Well, voice data collection and sampling were huge for 2018, which will go from strength to strength as the likes of Adobe aim to produce apps like 'Voco' for the pro market - 'hopefully' soon. However, a lot of this technology has existed for several years, if not decades - it's just getting better. The likes of sound domes, directional speakers, wave field synthesis and contact mic/loudspeakers have been around, but it's their application that will be the innovation. Like with JFK Unsilenced, sampling had already existed, but the advancement in the technology from Cereproc and the creative way it's been applied by Rothco was what grabbed our attention and gave some closure to one of the most defining moments in modern history and that's what made it so powerful.  

We also can't forget that sound design, in general, is continuously advancing in tech, skills and methods. The past 5-6 years there's been more emphasis on creating cohesion between itself and music, tuning the sound design to the music to create one big flexing muscle - it's just getting slicker and making brands look like they're on steroids compared to the average Joe at the commercials gun show. This can be seen in a lot of Gavin Little of Echolab's sound design and music work. On 'Blackened' the line is blurred between music and sound design. “It was very strange but exciting to get a music brief from the band Metallica! Luckily they were looking for a cinematic soundtrack for the film to launch their new whiskey BLACKENED”.

'Shell Helix Ultra', by 750mph’s Sam Ashwell, which won at the Music+Sound Awards, is also a great example. The sound design does all of the talking here as you feel your teeth rattle on those tight shots. There’s a tangible energy and realism crafted here.


Hornbach ‘Sweat It Out’ was a personal favourite for creating a world not too often visited in advertising. Its surreal flavour is as lopsided as the creative concept - David Arnold and Adrian Aurelius credited on sound.

So, while there are advancements in both technology and skills, it's the creative application that will turn heads and hopefully stimulate change. Is there an audio app that'll make me eat my words? Let's see what 2019 has in store.



Will Farrell is sound designer at Screen Scene


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Screen Scene, 1 year ago