Sound of Metal was released in 2019 on Amazon Prime, but it has not stopped making waves and invoking conversations, especially from DIY musicians and listeners.
Placed in the DIY music world, the film follows a metal duo that is forced to halt their tour because drummer Ruben Stone, played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed, suffers major hearing loss that quickly develops into deafness.
The film then shifts into an intimate character portrayal of a musician whose performing leads to his disability. Ruben then moves into a rural shelter for deaf, recovering addicts where he learns sign language and how to live in a soundless world.
Phenomenal direction from Darius Marder and a substantial performance from Ahmed push this movie into a league of its own, especially when considering other films depicting DIY musicians. But it’s most essential asset is its innovative sound design.
How do you depict someone’s deafness in a way that thrusts the audience into the protagonists shoes, or touring van? The designers used audio techniques to muffle Ruben’s crashing symbols and place a high pitched note into the mix, which portrays Ruben’s initial encounter with tinnitus.
Jaime Baksht, the film’s re-recording mixer, said the film’s task of portraying Ruben’s experience authentically was a challenge; however, it was achieved with a great team.
On the film, Baksht’s job was to take sounds that Darius Marder and Supervising Sound Editor Nicholas Becker developed after intense research, and combine them in ways to match the film’s direction.
Baksht’s favorite moments in the film are when Ruben is deaf and the audio is muffled, but some regular sounds creep into the mix. This, he said, represents Ruben’s consistent denial and rejection of the present and his memory of what the world used to sound like.
“I really loved that we did that,” he said.
It may surprise viewers that very few filters were used to create the muffled sound environment that Ruben enhabits. The muffle was created using microphones and low frequency audio in a cocktail of wide various audio sounds.
Throughout the film, character’s talk on screen — which can quickly cause listeners to forget that Ruben is deaf — but once the camera moves onto Ruben, silence fills the speakers and brings viewers into Ruben’s world.
The sound designers also had the difficult task of audio tracking what a cochlear implant, a device that provides a person with a sense of hearing through electrical signals, sounds like.
There is a particular scene where Ruben is listening to his former bandmate, Lou, play piano and sing at her father’s home. The room, filled with people listening to Lou’s beautiful song, quickly becomes terrifying once the camera focuses on Ruben and we hear what he hears through the implants — completely cold and synthesized sounds that make Lou’s piano shriek like the wheels of a breaking subway car.
Sound of Metal is receiving major Oscar buzz ahead of nomination announcements in two categories: Best Actor and Best Sound.
“I did not work on the film to get an Oscar or something,” Baksht said. “But if we get into the Academy Awards, I will be very proud.”
Nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards will be announced on March 15, and the ceremony is scheduled for April 25.