Gary Rydstrom (an excerpt from Surround Sound, Second Edition):
Since we hear all around us, while seeing only to the front, sounds have long been used to alert us to danger. In Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, the battle scenes are shot from the shaky, glancing, and claustrophobic point of view of a soldier on the ground. There are no sweeping vistas, only the chaos of fighting as it is experienced. The sound for this movie, therefore, had to set the full stage of battle, while putting us squarely in the middle of it. I can honestly say that this film could not have been made in the same way if it were not for the possibilities of theatrical surround sound. If sound could not have expressed the scale, orientation, and emotion of a soldier's experience, the camera would have had to show more. Yet it is a point of the movie to show how disorienting the visual experience was. Sound becomes a key storyteller.
Saving Private Ryan - Music & Sound (part 2 - Sound)
The sound memories of veterans are very vivid. We started our work at Skywalker Sound on Saving Private Ryan by recording a vast array of World War II era weapons and vehicles. In order to honor the experiences of the men who fought at Omaha beach and beyond, we wanted to be as accurate as possible. I heard stories such as how the German MG42 machine gun was instantly identifiable by its rapid rate of fire (1,100 rounds a minute, compared to 500 for comparable Allied guns); the soldiers called the MG42 "Hitler's Zipper" in reference to the frightening sound it made as the shots blurred into a steady "zuzz". The American M1 rifle shot eight rounds and then made a unique "ping" as it ejected its empty clip. Bullets made a whiney buzz as they passed close by. The German tanks had no ball bearings and squealed like metal monsters. These and many other sound details make up the aural memories of the soldiers.
Our task was to build the isolated recordings of guns, bullets, artillery, boats, tanks, explosions, and debris into a full out war. Since it isn't handy or wise to record a real war from the center of it, the orchestrated cacophony of war had to be built piece by piece. But, of course, this is what gives us control of a sound track, the careful choosing of what sounds make up the whole. Even within the chaos of a war movie, I believe that articulating the sound effects is vital; too often loudness and density in a track obscure any concept of what is going on. We paid attention to the relative frequencies of effects, and their rhythmic, sequential placement, but also we planned how to use the 6 channels of our mix to spatially separate and further articulate our sounds.
There are many reasons why a sound is placed spatially. Obviously. if a sound source is on screen we pan it to the appropriate speaker, but the vast majority of the sounds in the Saving Private Ryan battles are unseen. This gave us a frightening freedom in building the war around us.
[read more: Sound and Music in 'Saving Private Ryan' - via USC Sound Conscious]
Related Post: An interview with Tomlinson Holman