What is Fidelity in Film Sound

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What is Fidelity in Film Sound?

Throughout filmmaking, the use of sound is incredibly important. We hear sounds that are incorporated into films in a variety of ways. Dialogue, narration, sound effects, and music all accompany a typical scene and can be used to form sound transitions that draw the audience from one scene to the next. Film sound can come from a variety of sources throughout production, and it can be perceived by the audience in various ways. While pure fidelity is the common expectation, it’s not always the case. But, what is fidelity in film sound and what does it mean?

What is Fidelity in Film Sound?

Fidelity is a reference to the use of film sound. Faithful to the source from which the audience logically conceives it. Notice, we said it’s faithful to the source that the audience conceives?

Thus, fidelity doesn’t mean that a sound has to come from the original source that produced it. But it must appear to come from the source the audience would expect.

Let’s examine some examples of how fidelity works:

Fidelity really doesn’t rely on the original source of the sound. In fact, where an actual sound came from relative to the original source could matter less. Fidelity is represented by the source the audience perceives the sound to have come from.

For example, if you have a dog barking on the screen, and you include the sound of a dog barking. Your audience will hear the barking noise, see the barking dog.

And most likely assume that the bark is from the dog. Which means that the sound is “faithful to the source” and therefore represents pure fidelity. However, the bark that you include in your audio file may be a bark that came from another dog.

In fact it most likely will come from another source. But as long as your audience perceives the sound as true, and faithful to the source from which they conceive the sound to be, then you’ve achieved fidelity.

Let’s examine another example:

Let’s say you’ve got a very large dog on the screen, barking. Perhaps it’s a bull mastiff, or some other very large animal. But the audio you play, of the dog barking, is a chihuahua – a very high pitched, small dog, kind of barking sound.

The audience is NOT going to believe that this sound is true or faithful to the source, they will not believe that this large dog has this high pitched squeaking sort of small dog bark.

Therefore, if the viewer does not take the sound to come from the dog, then you have not achieved fidelity.

In fact, you have produced a sound that is unfaithful to the source, and in the process, you’ve almost certainly created a comedic effect because the audience is sure to laugh at the squeaky bark coming from the big dog.

Unfaithful Sounds

That brings us to the next reference of fidelity in film sound which is unfaithful sounds which do not achieve fidelity.

Most of the time, when a sound is unfaithful to the source and the audience becomes aware of the situation, the filmmaker has purposely created the situation for comedic effect.

When the audience hears sounds that they do not believe are coming from the viewable source on the screen, like the squeaky bark of small dog coming from an incredibly large dog.

Even the twanging sound of a cello coming from the opening of a door. Such as can be heard in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. The sounds are unfaithful and we consider them to have not achieved fidelity.

In Summary

So, what is fidelity in film sound? It’s a matter of expectation, such that the sound that you play with the image the audience sees is what they expect, such that the audience believes the sound is faithful to the source and actually emitted from the viewable source in the diegetic world.

Fidelity is not about the true source of sound, but the audience’s perception of the source. Thus, if the audience believes the sound came from the source, it’s considered faithful and to have achieved fidelity.

Technology Connections discusses the concept of high fidelity, and how sound has changed over time: