‘Sound of Metal’ sound designer Nicolas Becker on using mics ‘more sensitive than the human ear’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Finetuning the sound of “Sound of Metal” was one of the most crucial elements of the film. This is where sound editor Nicolas Becker came into play, carefully crafting the auditory perception Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is having throughout the film as he loses his hearing. For Becker, “Sound of Metal” was a unique experience having previously worked as a foley artist on louder blockbusters like “Gravity” and “Arrival.” “It’s not a film with a lot of crazy explosions,” says Becker in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “It’s something really deep and simple and it’s about silence, it’s about respecting the audience.” Watch the video interview above.

To prep for the film, Becker brought director Darius Marder to an anechoic chamber, an echo-free room where you are able to hear the sounds of your own body such as your heartbeat, tendons and blood pressure. These types of natural sounds are subtly heard in the film to represent the experience of those who have lost their hearing. Becker used microphones “100 times more sensitive than the human ear” to pick up such sounds on Ahmed’s body, even as tiny as his eyelids closing. He likens the muffled sounds we hear from Ruben’s perspective to being underwater. As he explains, “It’s actually your bones and your tissue which resonate and bring this vibration to your cochlea.”

One of the biggest showcases of sound in the film is when Ruben is wearing cochlear implants and we hear the grating metallic vibrations. What the audience hears is “digital information going directly in the nerve” states Becker. To realistically portray this very specific sound, Becker separated out “every single sound into these three categories and reconstructed them,” including harmonics and noise. It was important to not make the voices Ruben hears through these implants too synthetic, for risk of entering the “uncanny valley.”

Becker is now earning award nominations for his sound work from the Cinema Audio Society and the Motion Picture Sound Editors and is one of the frontrunners to earn an Oscar nomination in Best Sound. While Becker has been previously nominated by MPSE for other films before, his thorough contributions to “Sound of Metal” and his love of the film itself make this feel like a special honor. “This is, for me, such an important film.”

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