Is there a way to separate music from sound effects and dialogue in a film, starting with a DVD?
July 17, 2004 8:58 PM   Subscribe

I watched Donnie Darko again recently and I thought it was a damn shame that Tortoise didn't do the soundtrack. I became ever-so-briefly obsessed with the idea of replacing some of the musical sequences with Tortoise music, but I wouldn't know how to do this without completely removing any sound effects and dialogue from those scenes. Is there a way for a non-audio-geek to separate these audio elements? Assume I'm starting with a DVD.
posted by scarabic to Technology (17 answers total)
What an awesome movie...I hope the new director's cut comes out on DVD as well, and soon.

(I think you're SOL on your idea, though--by the time you're listening to a DVD, the SFX, dialog and music are all mixed down into the same set of tracks. At that point, there's no longer any separate "music" tracks, so you'd have to try and subtract the soundtrack waves back out from the composite signal.)
posted by LairBob at 9:33 PM on July 17, 2004

Well, it may be possible.

Usually, on a 5-channel mix, music/sfx are put on the 4 "surround" channels, with almost all the dialogue going on the center channel. Assuming this is the case with the scenes in question, it's a matter of extracting the audio and replacing the correct channels.

But yeah, you would have to be an audio geek.
posted by neckro23 at 9:41 PM on July 17, 2004

Definitely not for the novice audio tweaker.

Derail Anyone know where I can get a Frank the Bunny mask for Halloween?
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2004

I guess I would be willing to try some mixing/limiting of some kind, but I am a beginner. Any suggestions?
posted by scarabic at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2004

A while back I heard an internet meme about other possible casting choices for "The Matrix", namely replacing Keanu with Will Smith and Lawrence Fishburne with Sean Connery. If you really flesh it out in your head, it could have been a hilarious movie: Will Smith spontaneously breaking out into "urban" song and dance numbers, Sean Connery's SNL Celebrity Jeopardy voice. Think about some of the situations you could put the charachters in with new dialouge (taking pills from leather-clad strangers you met on the internet, and then melting).

Myself and a few friends thought about re-dubbing the movie with new voices and a new script, but we never got around to doing it. There is an audio track on the DVD that is just the music soundtrack, so we could make our own SFX soundtrack to go with it.

I'll get around to doing it eventually...
posted by blasdelf at 10:12 PM on July 17, 2004

If you have the exact same mixes for all the music (unlikely, perhaps off the soundtrack album?), it should be at least theoretically possible. It might require some coding though if you don't have the proper fade-in and fade-out timings and volumes.

A different approach would be finding foreign language dubs of the film that only change the voices, not the music timings and extracting the voice data from that. A drawback would be that this would lose the sound effect data too.
posted by fvw at 10:23 PM on July 17, 2004

scarabic: do you know if tortoise have done any soundtrack music? i've always thought they'd be ideal for that but i've never heard of any... a search turned up this, but it's just one track on a more generally thrill jockey and specifically john mcentire soundtrack.

anyway, great idea.
posted by louigi at 10:24 PM on July 17, 2004

I got some Tortoise music a week or so ago, and have to say I've been pretty impressed. I don't get the Donnie Darko connection though (it didn't seem 80s, or dark enough for that matter), it seems as arbitrary as putting some Philip Glass music as the score.
posted by wackybrit at 10:55 PM on July 17, 2004

Donnie Darko isn't 80s, nor are Tortoise, particularly. It's just what came to mind. I think I had the psuedo math-science flavors of both in mind at the time, plus healthy doses of half-dark vertigo trippyness in each. I guess this kind of connection is highly subjective. Perhaps there are some drugs I could be doing that would make Phillip Glass seem the right choice, but... based on that side-effect, I'm not sure I want to try them ;)

Part of my thinking came from the general impression that the soundtrack sucked. With the exception of the last song in the movie, the soundtrack is tinny, poppy, and shitty, a bruise on, otherwise, a peach of a movie.

I don't know if Tortoise has done any soundtrack work, louiqi. The only exposure I've really seen them get was a quick musical interlude on All Things Considered.

I guess when I get around to it I'll work on separating out the 5.1 channel sound, and then on to some filtering/mixing. Expect more questions at that time!
posted by scarabic at 12:58 AM on July 18, 2004

Donnie Darko isn't 80s

I think it probably is, you know. But I originally had the same thought as FVW. Maybe synchronize the tracks and use some kind of subtract filter. I've tried it myself briefly but never had much success; should be possible though.
posted by ed\26h at 5:26 AM on July 18, 2004

You'll lose sound effect and the like, mostly because it's mixed to two (to six) channels on the DVD.

It's like photoshop files being flattened.

How tough is sound? When shooting film, if there is background noise, they don't try and fix it (because it would sound bad.) Instead, they just re-record it back in the studio and make it sound like it was that place.
posted by filmgeek at 6:28 AM on July 18, 2004

(Other than McEntire's Reach the Rock score, he and Tortoise also contributed a track to How's Your News)
posted by dhoyt at 9:29 AM on July 18, 2004

I guess the film is set in 1988, with the Dukakis/Bush election about to happen. The parents play tennis and think taxes are too high. But the sensibility of it reflects more of 2001, when it was made.
posted by scarabic at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2004

scarabic: I think that's a bit of the point, since the film deals with time-travel-while-standing-still issues
posted by nprigoda at 12:15 PM on July 18, 2004

Part of my thinking came from the general impression that the soundtrack sucked.

Oh. My. God. If this were a Victorian period drama, I would now be the lady who faints when she hears the utterance of a distasteful word.
posted by wackybrit at 1:23 PM on July 18, 2004

wackybrit: my feelings exactly!!
posted by nprigoda at 6:53 PM on July 18, 2004

Wasn't the 80s? The soundtrack sucked? Did we watch the same movie, here? To go off on a two-minute tangent:
Political discussion, the clothing, the feel-good-new-age-crap-as-pseudo-religiosity, the use of Patrick Swayze (to great effect as a villain), the homage to E.T. (among other big 80s films), and above all, the soundtrack (which is supposed to be expanded in the director's cut, licensing issues held the original back). Creepy suburban WASP-iness that was really the setting for so many films of that time.

But I digress, I've seen a lot of re-soundtracking work pretty well, especially with live bands playing along to movies. I would bet the rerelease will have a soundtrack-only track on the dvd, just because director's editions often do... if so, you might be able to use an audio app to get the difference between that track and the main movie audio, giving you just the dialog and sound effects. I think.
posted by mikeh at 7:31 AM on July 19, 2004

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