Walter Murch on Dense Clarity - Clear Density

In conversation with Andy Kirshner, friend and U of M Professor, and his wife, the topic of mixing came up, and how modern films have hundreds, sometimes literally 1000+ tracks available, and how these colossal projects get mixed, and this article from Walter Murch at came up, which I had never read. I'm so glad I have, now. I'm going to quote a rather large section from the article, which I hope will lead you to click through and read more. It's certainly worth it:

The general level of complexity, though, has been steadily increasing over the eight decades since film sound was invented. And starting with Dolby Stereo in the 1970’s, continuing with computerized mixing in the 1980’s and various digital formats in the 1990’s, that increase has accelerated even further. Seventy years ago, for instance, it would not be unusual for an entire film to need only fifteen to twenty sound effects. Today that number could be hundreds to thousands of times greater.

Well, the film business is not unique: compare the single-take, single-track 78rpm discs of the 1930’s to the multiple-take, multi-track surround-sound CDs of today. Or look at what has happened with visual effects: compare King Kong of the 1930’s to the Jurassic dinosaurs of the 1990’s. The general level of detail, fidelity, and what might be called the “hormonal level” of sound and image has been vastly increased, but at the price of much greater complexity in preparation.

The consequence of this, for sound, is that during the final recording of almost every film there are moments when the balance of dialogue, music, and sound effects will suddenly (and sometimes unpredictably) turn into a logjam so extreme that even the most experienced of directors, editors, and mixers can be overwhelmed by the choices they have to make.

So what I’d like to focus on are these ‘logjam’ moments: how they come about, and how to deal with them when they do. How to choose which sounds should predominate when they can’t all be included? Which sounds should play second fiddle? And which sounds – if any – should be eliminated? As difficult as these questions are, and as vulnerable as such choices are to the politics of the filmmaking process, I’d like to suggest some conceptual and practical guidelines for threading your way through, and perhaps even disentangling these logjams.

Or– better yet — not permitting them to occur in the first place.

Oh, and by the way, in this one instance, READ THE COMMENTS. Murch himself engages the readers and goes into more detail about many points. Who knew a comments section could be not only readable, but informative and enjoyable!

*article thumbnail photo of Walter Murch mixing Apocalypse Now from