The Brilliant Sound Design of ‘Sound of Metal’

From the dropped frequencies to the powerful contrast, here's how the film uses sound to convey its protagonist's subjective experience with hearing loss.
Sound Of Metal Sound Design

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the narrative power of sound design in The Sound of Metal.

Beginning with this year’s Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will no longer adjudicate sound mixing and sound editing as two separate categories. For the folks who found the split confusing, this is a win. But “Achievement in Sound” definitely undersells how complex and interdisciplinary crafting a film’s “sound” can be.

Personally, I’m a little sad about the category’s reduction to a single statue. But what would make me more than a little sad would be if the Academy failed to nominate — and rightly award — the sound design of Sound of Metal. I can’t think of another example, from this year or any other time, where sound design has been so central to film.

Sound of Metal follows a drummer and recovering addict named Ruben (Riz Ahmed), who suddenly, without much warning, loses his hearing. The film conveys Ruben’s subjective experience with losing his hearing through, what else, sound — from the dull muffling of the outside world to the internal vibrations of his own voice, popping jaw, and heartbeat. Silence, it turns out, is much louder than you’d expect.

This is one of the few films I’ve seen — and heard — that’s given me a real glimpse of the world experienced by a specific community. Namely, the deaf community. And that is, ultimately, one of the greater objectives of art: to see the world from someone else’s point of view. The video essay below unpacks how the film designed and dramatized its sound, aiming not just for accuracy but for subjective perception and meaningful and at times devastating contrast.

Watch “Sound of Metal’s Brilliant Sound Design Explained“:

Who made this?

Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight created this video. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here. And you can find the YouTube account of sound designer Alex Knickerbocker, who consulted on the above essay here.

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Meg Shields: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.