What’s It Mean? Distortion?

Let’s go through a few terms that everybody uses but which have a specific meaning if you need to get an idea across easily to the Tech Team to get a problem solved.

Distortion – Distortion is a term used to describe an imperfect reproduction of the original sound or picture.

Since we in the cinema were not there for the recording or post production mix, we really don’t have a way to know if something is being played back correctly. We can presume that grossly cracking and ugly sounds are not right. But if the sound seems “dark” or “jagged”, maybe that was what the director wanted.

But we can assume a few things and be right most of the time.

If you ask any sound mixer, they will say something like, “We mix the dialog so that it sounds like the natural level for the person speaking in the scene. Then we mix the music and sound effects around that so that everything can be heard.”

Statistically, something like 80 or 85% of the dialog comes from the center speaker. The rest is mixed in the center and left or the center and right speakers.

So, we know that if the dialog doesn’t sound natural and if it is coming from one of the side surround channels, that something is probably wrong – and should be reported.

What does it mean, ‘natural’?

That is a great question and the answer is amazingly simple and amazingly complex.

Human languages are incredibly complex. There are some parts of words that you can throw away and no one notices.

but there are some sounds that, if they go missing, the word doesn’t sound like a word – or maybe it could be one of 20 words.

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