Adapting Peircean semiotics to sound theory and practice


  • Leo Murray Murdoch University



sound design, film sound, theory and practice, semiotics, Peirce


This paper argues that the semiotic model proposed by C.S. Peirce (1839-1914) has the potential to be adapted to sound in order to provide a comprehensive conceptual framework and meta- language for describing sound both as product and as practice. The flexibility of the Peircean model means that it is ideally suited to the analysis of sound and sound/image combinations and to the analysis of audio-visual media.

The starting point of the decision-making process for sound producers and designers can be framed by some fundamental questions: (a) What does the audience need to know? (b) How should the audience feel? And (c) what should they think? With the overall goal of the soundtrack being to ‘serve the needs of the story’, the choices in the soundtrack are geared around creating these understandings or emotional responses. The opening sequence from The Conversation (Coppola, 1974) is examined to illustrate the Peircean model as it is applied to sound in the audio-visual soundtrack. Viewed in this way the soundtrack can be thought of as a kind of trail of breadcrumbs, a part of the narrative which allows the audience to search for cause and consequence for themselves. A Peircean semiotic approach can then be used to inform the process of designing the soundtrack as well as aid in the analysis of the finished work. 

Author Biography

Leo Murray, Murdoch University

Dr. Leo Murray

Lecturer in Sound

School of Arts

Murdoch University





How to Cite

Murray, L. (2016). Adapting Peircean semiotics to sound theory and practice. SoundEffects - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 5(1), 55–72.