Sonicsmiths take film music to a whole other level

Chances are you've never heard of Sonicsmiths, but you've heard them. Made up of Sam Estes and Michael Hobe, the duo are sound designers who have worked with some of film's biggest composers, including most recently with Michael Giacchino on the score for Disney/Pixar's "Inside Out." AXS spoke with Sonicsmiths via e-mail to discuss how they've helped shape film music.

What are musical sound designers? They're people who give the composer a variety of sounds to compose with, either through the use of digital instruments or long audio tracks. Essentially, anything that is not a regular recorded sound, but that has a tone, pitch or other rhythmic element and can be used as part of the soundtrack is considered part of the musical sound design.

In the case of "Inside Out," Giacchino had some very specific sounds that he wanted to add into his existing score, so it was up to Sonicsmiths to help him create them. Since the plot of the movie deals with the intangible world of human emotions, they went for an organic approach. "Most of the instruments and sounds we developed for him were from natural instrument sources - pianos, guitars, woodwinds, and eclectic percussion," they explained.

Those sounds were then highly processed, but developed to fit the nature of the existing orchestral material. And from there, they were incorporated into what you hear as the film's underscore.

Just like Giacchino was scoring for multiple characters meant to represent a range of feelings, Sonicsmiths had to come up with instruments that would express that variety as well. That meant creating elements that reflected each emotion, whether it was engineering sparkly and bubbly sounds for the Joy character or finding distortion and rolling gravel-like sounds for Anger.

They wanted each instrument to have a wide range of expression, since each emotion also had to develop along a character arc, and so that the composer would have a wider range with which to create the finished product.

Ultimately, they were able to give Giacchino additional tools to help him enhance and perfect the music you hear in the film and its accompanying album. "We really wanted to have a sonic scape that could bring the external (real life) to the internal (emotions) and vice versa," they said. "By giving Michael the ability to manipulate at-will sonic components within the instruments, he was able to further craft his score and add this extra sonic layer."

And that's the magic of sound design - the part of film music you didn't even know you were listening to.

You can listen to Giacchino's finished score for "Inside Out" on iTunes.

For more on Sonicsmiths, visit their official website.