Recreating the soundscape from one of the most brutal wars in the twentieth century involved a great deal of sound design. In order to accomplish this difficult task, legendary sound designer, Walter Murch, focused on using sounds of the Vietnam war that were prominent in the television broadcasts of the 1960s/1970s in order to create the sonic atmosphere of the cinematic master piece, Apocalypse Now. One such sound which was used as the basis for the sound design of was the American military helicopter. The helicopter was emblematic of the militaries modern version of Calvary. In an interview, Walter Murch discusses the importance of the sound of these helicopters in the film:
“what made Vietnam different and unique was that it was the helicopter war. Helicopters occupied the same place in this war that the cavalry used to. The last time the cavalry was used was in World War I, which demonstrated that it didn’t work anymore. In World War II there was no cavalry. Then we got the cavalry back, with helicopters, to a certain extent in the Korean War, and really got it back in the Vietnam War.” (Miguel Isaza).
The helicopter was a key feature of the Vietnam war that was distinct to the era and the war. It is only natural then that these mechanic sounds be used to help place the viewer into the world of the film. The design of the helicopters also involved a great deal of sound design and mixing. Each rotor of the helicopter was mixed separately and mixed spatially in order to accurately create the illusion of motion through sound. “sometimes you’ll hear just the rotor, then you’ll hear just the turbine, then you’ll hear just the tail rotor, then you’ll hear some clanking piece of machinery, then you’ll hear low thuds.” (Miguel Isaza). This level of detail is one of the reasons that the sound design of the film is as convincing to the audience.
The music of the film derived inspiration from musique concrete, or the idea of creating music from sound. This soundtrack was also interesting because the sound would switch from mono to stereo. Walter Murch believed that this technique would add variation to the soundtrack that would help keep the viewer from listening to a stagnant soundtrack:
“I thought, instead, what you had to do was shrink the film down to mono at times, and let it be there quite a while. People without knowing it would think, ‘This is mono.’ And then, at that moment, you could make it a stereo film, and that would be impressive because now it was different.” (Miguel Isaza).
Switching from mono to stereo helps create a juxtaposition which emphasizes the surround sound when the sound format changes. The amount of thought and focus on detail truly makes this soundtrack a masterpiece and notable within Cinematic history.