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The significance of sound


Life in the womb
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Prior to being born, I lived in the womb as we all do and as we all do, I experienced the world through sound. The sense of sound turns on, they think, about four-and-a-half months into your journey through the womb. So halfway through gestation, you begin to hear the world. Necessarily, the other senses are either completely absent or in a very diminished form. You can’t really see anything. You can’t really taste anything, except a kind of… I don’t know. Maybe in some form, you can say, I think mum had some garlic. You couldn’t feel anything. A kind of slippery, mushy feel. Certainly nothing like the high texture of everything else once you’re born. So we live in a… we are pickles in a brine of sound during our last four months. And now that we can do sonograms in real time of developing foetuses, we can see absolutely that the kid in the womb is responding in an intelligent way to sound. They, we know the sound of our mother’s voice. We know the sound of our mother’s heart and the sound of her trumpeting intestines at times and the womb, the wall is only that thick. So that’s really no barrier to outside sounds. So it’s a very rich, 24-hour a day sonic environment. It never stops making sound and it was only recently, amazingly enough, that curious scientists figured out a way to measure how loud that is for the developing child. And it turns out to be 75 decibels which is approximately the sound that you would get if you were travelling in a car at 60 kilometres an hour and you lowered the window. So this loud rush of sound which has these interesting data points of heartbeat and breathing and intestines that make interesting bugle sounds and human voice and other things.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: womb, sound, senses, voice, heartbeat, intestines, baby, mother

Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017