Where does the "space sound" come from?

In most science fiction movies, there’s a sound in space besides that of roaring engines, lasers visible from the side, etc. There’s a sort of hollow-sounding space, kind of like the sound you hear in an airplane when it’s in the air. Where did it originate?

Err…make that “hollow-sounding sound”, even though that looks silly.

From the imagination of the filmmaker. There is no human-audible sound in space.

Given the style of the OP (in particular the mention of lasers visible from the side), it seemed clear that this was known. I think what is being asked is what typically is recorded to create this sound in the studio. It is quite distinctive, and I’m curious too :slight_smile:

Could it be just white noise? That’s the noise heard in alot of 2001: A Space Odysee

Do you mean the desolate “we’re floating in the middle of nowhere” sound? I think it’s the same sound you hear when you put a seashell up to your ear. White noise modified by an imperfect resonant chamber. Or maybe some of it is the sound our own bodies are generating?

Sorry, I was feeling entirely too literal last night. :smack:

Could you name a movie (and perhaps a scene in the movie) you’ve heard this in?

Not sure where it originated, but my guess would be that it’s put in because dead silence is a bad thing in films. Audiences have come to expect sound of some sort nearly all the time in movies. This goes all the way back to the silent film era when theatres would hire pianists or orchestras to play during the film.

I’m sure you can name a few scenes in various movies where there was dead silence. I’m also sure that you remember these scenes as very tense–and very seldom.

Nearly any Star Trek movie.

I think Gene Roddenberry was once asked why there was sound in his version of space, and he remarked that complete silence, while technically correct, was bad film making.

I haven’t watched it in a while, but IIRC the exterior space shots in 2001: A Space Odyssey were silent except for Bowman’s breathing.

In the Trek movies it’s not plain vanilla white noise. It sounds like white noise with some mid pass filtering.

Oh, I forgot to answer the OP. I think that what you’re hearing is the filmmaker’s interpretation of the space ship’s engine(s). As TDN said, silence in a film is a ‘bad thing’. It isn’t, really; it can be used very effectively. But for most things, audiences expect to hear something. In 2001 the silent shots were fairly short (and effective). The exteriors still used the breathing sound though. I’m sure part of it was to heighten the drama of a single man alone in space, but certainly it was also there to give the audience something to listen to. Sound in films heighten the drama. Could you imagine the Death Star scene in Star Wars without the engine and blaster sounds, or without the orchestra; and only having ambient sounds on the interior space ship shots? Wouldn’t have worked.

The low rumble as a ship passes by on the screen lets you know that the engines are running, that the ship is powerful, etc. (Which is something that strikes me: Unless you’re in ‘warp drive’ or whatever, why do you need to have thrust? It’s not as if ‘letting off the gas’ will cause you to slow down.) Basically, most audiences don’t know what can and can’t be done in real life. How many times have you seen an airplane go out of control because it’s engine quits, or a special helicopter that can do Mach 1, or a machine gun that never needs reloading (until it’s critical that the hero be caught empty)? Most people don’t care about the details, and they expect to hear things even when IRL they would not hear them.

Similarly, the movies that show WWII battleships firing salvos have sounds dubbed in, either because a) it was silent to begin with, or b) even if it did have sound, there’d be a delay, given the distance. Also, old boxing movies, which were silent, have “crowd noises” dubbed in, and many have a dubbed-in narrator trying to do his best Don Dunphee, often telling you what’s going to happen.

Yes, the cameras were silent. If you check out the footage, you’ll often see cameramen using Bell & Howel wind-up Filmo (or Eyemo) cameras.

As for delay, there’s a scene in Red Dawn where there is an explosion a mile or two down the road and the sound is delayed. Say what you will about the film, but I was impressed that they left the delay in rather than putting the sound right over the image.

As I said, this is a tradition that goes back to the silent film days. But I wonder if there are few silences simply to keep audiences from wondering if there’s a problem in the projection booth. Certainly this would distract them from the intent of the film.

I will say that that film sucked. :wink: But yeah, that’s impressive.

When was the last time you saw a film where you heard thunder several seconds after you saw the lightning? Similarly, what was the last film you saw that portrayed nighttime in the country as dark as it really should be?

Sometimes reality just doesn’t “read” in film format.

I watched The Aviator last week. Just after they made a big deal about Howard Hughes’s hearing difficulties, they cut to a scene in a hangar where he was feeling the side of his airplane and the film went silent. I thought this was a plot point, indicating his loss of hearing. After a minute though, I realised it was the rental DVD that had a problem. (Skip back, click Language button, problem solved.)

For the sound of space, I agree that the OP is referring to something a bit like the sound of holding a shell up to the ear, modified a little bit. It’s not supposed to be engine noise, because I’ve heard it used even when there aren’t any ships around. The only example I can think of is from, of all things, Sesame Street: there’s a V (I think) flying around in space. It eventually crash lands on a planet with a metallic clanging sound.

Re: silence in films -

I thought the use of silence in Firefly worked very well. It gave a sense of “the black” being a hostile, foreign environment. Might not read so well if this were a standard thing, though.

I also think the death star battle might have worked very nicely if all you heard was John Williams’ score. The same idea worked very well (IMHO) in Ran, where a battle with flaming arrows was fought, but the only sound was the score.