Wilhelm Scream – Yay or Nay

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Over the past two days the Wilhelm Scream has come up in conversation multiple times on separate occasions. I was asked if I prefer Wilhelm or No Wilhelm by fellow sound designers and then a couple of days later, my audio colleague gets married and after the “I do’s” I hear the beloved Wilhelm scream uttered frantically three times. 😂

As seen by my real life experiences, the Wilhelm Scream can make its appearance in many different scenarios. For those of you reading who may not be familiar with what the Wilhelm Scream is, it “is a stock sound effect of a man screaming that has been used in at least 389 films and countless television series…beginning in 1951 for the film Distant Drums” that can be heard here,” according to Wikipedia.

In regards to the actual sound itself – I do think it’s commendable to have something so iconic sounding and yet fit appropriately in so many different scenes and situations. It’s what sound designers aim for – memorability and appropriateness. And the fact that a sound can create so much conversation is noteworthy as well. People usually don’t pay attention to the audio (unless something is broken or very poorly done) so getting people talking about it to begin with (in not a negative fashion) is a feat in itself.

I believe that the question of yay or nay for the Wilhelm Scream is actually asking something deeper of whether or not we are proponents of audio tropes. There are pros and cons to using tropes and knowing what these are enables us to know when it’s advantageous and when it’s not to use them.

c98e4-spot2bthe2btrope

Image Source: writingfollies.wordpress.com

Pros

Because tropes have established connotations, they are able to communicate an idea very quickly and straightforwardly to audiences. This works great for things like parodies or trailers where the goal is to cut straight to the punchline. Audiences know exactly what emotion you’re trying to convey and when the formula is used correctly, it can efficiently evoke the exact desired result, similar to a chord progression that knows precisely how to tug at heart strings or leave audiences wondering at its mysterious evolution.

chords-part-i

Image Source: http://blog.holistic-songwriting.com

Cons

That being said, there are definitely cons to using audio tropes. One of those being the fact that they are exactly that – overused audio themes that can turn audiences off because they’ve been done so many times. The element of surprise often plays a bigger role than we realize in the creation of “good” art and we see this not just in audio but in music, film, and many other mediums as well. The idea of a plot twist is defined by this exact element. When the audience thinks they’ve figured everything out and can predict your next move, the sparkle and interest is gone and you’ve just lost one happy customer. I can’t speak for everyone else but for me, the “sparkle” is an essential element in my craft. My ign for most games is “sparklystarburst” for this very reason. There needs to be something unique, different, and a bit unpredictable that keeps things fresh and makes your audience keep guessing as to what comes next, which is why unfortunately I am a nay when it comes to the Wilhelm Scream.

leave-a-little-sparkle-wherever-you-go

Image Source: http://mahnwachen-helfen.info

Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below on the Wilhelm Scream and if you’re a Yay or a Nay!

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