Highlighting the Aural Experience in Stories

When discussing the early Israelite and Christian communities, I often pause to reflect on how they likely experienced the stories now canonized as sacred text. Initially, there were no images, let alone a text or book. Initially these stories were heard, experienced aurally. I think stories told with such an aural intention allow the listener to use their own imagination to “fill in the blanks,” if you will. Consider the following video from StoryCenter.org

For nearly 30 seconds, the creator allows no images to accompany the voiceover. In addition to this, there is no sound design or score. There is only a voice. What effect does this have on a listener? It forces them to listen while allowing their own subjective imaginations to take over. I think this is compelling story telling. Just like the ancients, the aural element is highlighted. But that leads me to my next question:

If the absence of image and sound design highlights the aural element, is the converse true? Can the inclusion of sound effects, music, and voiceover also highlight the aural nature of storytelling?

I’m inspired by the modern landscape of storytelling particularly on YouTube. Because of the increased accessibility, modern attention spans, and sheer quality of technology, stories are now more immersive than ever (and I’m not even considering VR and augmented reality). Modern digital storytelling on YouTube is deliberately crafted and designed to elicit specific effects. Consider one of my favorite editors, Sam Kolder.

Did you noticed the inclusion of highly stylized sound design, music score, and voiceover? Notice the EQ of sound and music anytime Sam cuts to an underwater shot. Or how the music crescendos during transitions to a new scene. Or did you notice the self-reflexivity at 7:19 where Sam demonstrates his editing method? Do all of these elements make your experience better, worse, or somewhere in between?

Regardless of the types of stories told in stylized videos such as these, the traits that I am highlighting are the special attention to aural design. How does sound affect the manner in which you perceive the story? As technology further increases, I am willing to bet that digital stories will become even more stylized, more self-referential, and hopefully, more visceral.