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Unit 1: Practical 2: Film


Is sound important?
 Sound is often thought of as a secondary factor in film. However
most filmmakers consider sound to be equally as important to the
overall effect of watching a film.
 Sound after our sense of smell is our strongest sense. Sounds
can easily take us back to past memories evoking particular
moods, images, and a sense of place or time. Its use in film,
therefore is extremely important to create a realistic sense of
place or atmosphere.
 Cinema being a technological artform, often uses advancements
in sound technology to market films. Developments in sonic
technology such as Dolby noise reduction, THX , Surround
sound, are seen as adding to the whole cinematic experience or
home cinema experience.
Sound Editing

 Sound in the cinema does not necessarily match the image, nor
does it have to be continuous. The sound bridge is used to ease
the transition between shots in the continuity style. Sound can also
be used to reintroduce events from earlier in the diegesis.
Especially since the introduction of magnetic tape recording after
WWII, the possibilities of sound manipulation and layering have
increased tremendously. Directors such as Robert Altman are
famous for their complex use of the soundtrack, layering multiple
voices and sound effects in a sort of "sonic deep focus." In this clip
from Nashville (1975), we simultaneously hear a conversation
between an English reporter and her guide, a gospel choir singing,
and the sound engineers' chatter.

 1895 – 1926 – Silent films accompanied by Orchestra, Organ or Piano

 1926 Don Juan Music no dialogue using the Vitaphone process
 1927 Warner Bros release The Jazz Singer with dialogue (Clip)
 1929 – Over half of the approximately 20, 500 American cinemas had
already switched over to sound
 Delay was due to expense and the need to refit cinemas and studios
with sound equipment. Many Silent movie stars did not survive the
move to sound.
 The decline of cinematic art as developed in Silent film (Purely visual
 Sound equipment created limitations for film again. The camera returns
to a fixed position.
 Film moves closer to reality and further from art – Rudolf Arnheim
suggests ‘the strangulation of a beautiful, hope-filled art form’.
Hollywood –‘the dream
 Beginning of Hollywood’s most successful period. – creation of new sound
centered genres.
 The sound film brought the musical genre to the forefront. Escapism from
everyday life. In 1930 no fewer than 70 musicals were filmed. Busby Berkeley
choreographed some of the most expensive 42nd Street (1933)
 As the studio system develops, many studios become associated with particular
genres, musicals are often associated with MGM studios for example.
 Crime Genre- The classical gangster film (Often associated with Warner Bros)
unimaginable without screeching brakes, rattling pistols and the pithy slang
typical of the underworld. The gritty genre also reflected the times, the
Newspaper headlines regarding crime and the growth of the Mafia.
 Actors such as Humphry Bogart and James Cagney are associated with this
genre. The Roaring Twenties (1939) epitomized the genre.
 Horror Films- also blossomed during the early 1930’s enlivened by the use of
sound. Dracula (1930)Frankenstein (1931)
 The Screwball comedy – Bringing up Baby by Howard Hawks
Thinking about sound
 The contemplation of sound can be split into distinct areas involving
volume, pitch, timbre and its position within space and time. All of
these variables effect the way in which we respond and interact with
the film.
 Stop for a moment and consider the sounds that you are hearing.
 We filter out most background sounds to focus on the sound
that is most important.
 Film works in a similar way. Sounds are layered and enhanced to
draw your attention to specific sounds and create particular
 If you simply record with a microphone and the camera you will
record everything. Perhaps you want this ambience, but you can
also be more selective by using stock sounds, music. Samples
Analysing Sound
 SOUND CUE - Like Framing, focus, colour, lighting etc sound can direct our focus within
the frame or create an overall ambience or mood. Sound cues can anticipate visual events
e.g. footsteps.
 OFF SCREEN Sound – Convey information beyond the on screen image
 Simultaneous sound from a source assumed to be in the space of the scene but
outside what is visible onscreen. In Life on Earth (La Vie sur Terre, Abderrahmane
Sissako, 1998) a telephone operator tries to help a woman getting a call trough.
While he tries to establish a connection, the camera examines the office and the
other people present in the scene. Yet, even if the operator and the woman are now
offscreen, their centrality to the scene is alway tangible through sounds (dialing,
talking, etc).
 Of course, a film may use offscreen sound to play with our assumptions. In this clip
from Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un
Ataque de Nervios, Pedro Almodóvar, 1988), we hear a woman and a man's voices in
conversation, in what it looks like a film production studio. Even if we do not see the
speakers, we instantly believe they must be around. Gradually, the camera shows us
that we are in a dubbing studio, and only the woman is present, the man's voice
being previously recorded. Moreover, theirs is not a real conversation but lines from
a movie dialogue.
Analysing sound - Quality
 LOUDNESS – Loudness is also related to perceived distance; often the louder the sound,
the closer we take it to be.
 PITCH – Pitch plays a useful role in picking out distinct sounds in a film. It helps distinguish
music and speech from noises.
 TIMBRE –The harmonic components of sound give it a certain colour, or tone quality –
what musicians call timbre.
 In creating a soundtrack a filmmaker must select sounds that will fulfill a particular function.
The sound world on film is usually a little clearer/simpler than reality, however sounds
maybe more exaggerated.
 Much like quality of the image, the aural properties of a sound -- its timbre, volume, reverb,
sustain, etc. -- have a major effect on a film's aesthetic. A film can register the space in
which a sound is produced (its sound signature) or it can be otherwise manipulated for
dramatic purposes. The recording of Orson Welles' voice at the end of Touch of Evil
(1958) adds a menacing reverb to his confession.
 The mediation of Abbas Kiarostami's voice through the walkie-talkie and the video quality
of the image in the coda of Taste of Cherry (Ta'm e Guilass, Iran, 1997) underscore the
reflexivity that is characteristic of his films.
 Music – can obviously be used to enhance mood and to create
motifs for individual characters.
 Rhythm - Sound occupies a duration and has a rhythm For
example footsteps, train movement. Speech also has a distinct
 Volume . Editing and length of shots also creates a rhythm.
 Images can be in sync with music ‘mickey mousing’
 In speech you can edit against the rhythm of the speech.
Dialogue overlap – in conversations often the film will cut away
from the speaker to see the individuals response and vice versa
 Contrast rhythm of image and sound – In Chris Markers La Jetee
the contrast between image and sound rhythms dominates the
 Rhythm usually varies within a film.
Fidelity (Fidelity denotes how accurate a copy is to its source. For example, a worn
gramophone record will have a lower fidelity than one in good condition, and a recording made by a low budget
record company in the early 20th century is likely to have significantly less audio fidelity than a good modern

 the extent to which the sound is faithful to the

source. Jaques Tati experimented with the fidelity of
sounds for humorous effect. Mr Hulots Holiday
 Daffy Duck – Duck run amuck (Mickey
 Changes in fidelity can occur through volume e.g.
Curtis Bernhardt Posessed.
Diegetic and non-diegetic
 Sound has a spatial dimension because it comes from a source
 Diegetic – sounds that take place in the story world –words spoken by
characters, sounds made by objects and music coming from objects in
the story.
 Non-diegetic sound – sounds that come from outside the film world.
Musical soundtrack. The omniscient narrator.
 Diegertic sound can come from on – or off-screen as in a
conversation. A lot can be explained about a location . where in the
world it is, what time of day. How big the room is through the sound.
 Internal and external Diegetic – Subjective sound can also be used to
reveal what a person is thinking.. We can hear the characters voice
without seeing their lips move.
 Experimentation in diegetic sound – Directors can create uncertainty
between the borders of diegetic and non-diegetic sound e.g. Magnolia
Characters sing along to Save Me by Aimee Mann.
 Any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating froma source within the
film's world is diegetic. If it originates outside the film (as most background music) then it is non-
 A further distinction can be made between external and internal diegetic sound. In the first clip
from Almodóvar's Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un
Ataque de Nervios, 1988) we hear Iván speaking into the microphone as he works on the
Spanish dubbing of Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954). Since he is speaking out loud and any
other character could hear him, this is an example of external diegetic sound. This clip has no
non-diegetic sounds other than the brief keyboard chord that introduces the scene.
 Sound and diegesis gets more complicated in the next clip, from Dario Argento's The Stendhal
Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy, 1996). As Anna looks at Paolo Uccello's famous
painting of the Battle of San Romano (c1435), we begin to hear the sounds of the battle: horses
whimpering, weapons clashing, etc. These sounds exist only in Anna's troubled mind, which is
highly sensitive to works of art. These are internal diegetic sounds (inside of a character's mind)
that no one else in the gallery can hear.
 On the other hand, the Ennio Morricone eerie score that sets up the scene and mixes with the
battle sounds, is a common example of non-diegetic sound, sounds that only the spectators can
hear. (Obviously, no boom-box blasting tourist is allowed into the Uffizi's gallery!)
Sound and Perspective-
 Volume and positioning of sound in the stereo
spectrum can suggest off-screen space and the
movement of sound into or away from Frame. In
Apocalypse Now Ben Willard is lying in bed and the
sound oscillates between internal and external status
as he remembers and we see superimposed the
battle scenes and helicopters over the ceiling fan.
Sound moves from multiple channels to mono to
suggest the movement from a hyper aural space to a
normal one.
Temporal dimension
 Synchronous sounds are those sounds which are synchronized or matched with
what is viewed. For example: Dialogue
If the film portrays a character playing the piano, the sounds of the piano are
 Asynchronous sound effects are not matched with a visible source of the sound on
screen. Such sounds are included so as to provide an appropriate emotional nuance,
and they may also add to the realism of the film. For example:
A film maker might opt to include the background sound of an ambulance's siren
while the foreground sound and image portrays an arguing couple. The asynchronous
ambulance siren underscores the psychic injury incurred in the argument; at the
same time the noise of the siren adds to the realism of the film.
 Experimentation with asynchronous sound
 Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lilly Asian spy film with a new dubbed sound track.
 Simultaneous sound- in the same time frame of the film
 Nonsimultaneous sound – e.g. a sonic flashback as in apocalypse Now . by means
of nonsimultaneous sound we can discover more about a character or the story.
Experimenting with Sound
 Sound is conventionally used in commercial cinema to underline
the emotional impact of the narrative, playing a supporting role to
the image.
 In artists' film, filmmakers have freed up sound from this
traditional use and have questioned how sound works: how
sound can be an end in itself.
 The idea of synchronised sound was only made technically
possible after three decades of silent filmmaking. A visual
language had already evolved which didn't require sound
interpretation for audiences to understand narrative. Artists have
continued to evolve this visual narrative [it's worth considering
the value of silence as an alternative to sound] as well as explore
the possibilities of sound as an autonomous element.
 From unsynchronised incongruity to harmony, sound is a
medium of experimentation.
Voice Over
 Voice over is a method of narrative storytelling which suggests
that an authority, usually reliable, is overseeing the film from an
external position, as privileged to the action, if not more so, than
the audience.
 It is used conventionally as a controlling device, offering a
shorthand to meaning that images alone cannot suggest e.g.
voice over can be used to describe something that has
happened off screen or a reading of the image that is not
apparent. Voice over requires a passivity in the viewer's
response: to trust the word.
 Artists have responded to this by calling into question and often
challenging the authority of the voice over. One aspect of the
conventional voice over is its supposed neutrality. Filmmakers
have disrupted this, for instance, by sharing intimacies through
voice over and by making obvious the prejudice of the speaker.
THE GIRL CHEWING GUM John Smith 1976 12mins Black & White


 'In The Girl Chewing Gum an authoritative voice-over pre-empts the

events occurring in the image, seeming to order not only the people,
cars and moving objects within the screen but also the actual camera
movements operated on the street in view. In relinquishing the more
subtle use of voice-over in television documentary, the film draws
attention to the control and directional function of that practice:
imposing, judging, creating an imaginary scene from a visual trace. This
'Big Brother' is not only looking at you but ordering you about as the
viewer's identification shifts from the people in the street to the camera
eye overlooking the scene. The resultant voyeurism takes on an
uncanny aspect as the blandness of the scene (shot in black and white
on a grey day in Hackney) contrasts with the near 'magical' control
identified with the voice. The most surprising effect is the ease with
which representation and description turn into phantasm through the
determining power of language.' - Michael Maziere, John Smith's Films:
Reading the Visible'

WALKING OFF COURT George Barber 2003 10 mins Colour


 The story of James Goodman

 "WALKING OFF COURT" concerns a story I saw in
the Times about a tennis coach called James
Goodman who had a nervous breakdown around
about the time that a motorway was built right
outside his house. He spent a lot of time aimlessly
walking in circles around new roads and road works.
I contacted him and even ended up playing tennis
with him. The video is loosely the story around his
experience and his changing relationship to his
normal circumstances."
MOUTH WORKS Stuart Marshall 1975-77 20 mins B & W

Sound Video

 An extreme close-up of a mouth is used to

examine speech patterning, perception of
mime, vocal cavity resonation and the
electronic fracturing of speech.
 The idea of collaboration is one that rarely diverts a conventional film
from its construction.
 In artists' film, collaboration is usually much more self-conscious and
some of the best sound work had been produced in conjunction with a
filmmaker where the musician and the filmmaker's approaches can
coalesce in an intelligent and sympathetic exchange.
 Where convention suggests that music is illustrative of action and is
secondary to image, the best artists' film goes beyond this idea and the
process behind the filmmaking is mirrored in the musical landscape.
 This idea of musical exchange has had great seminal impact beyond
artists' film. Music promos now often borrow a lot from this type of
partnership so that films are made to sympathetically express music
rather than simplistically illustrate their content. A new form of
collaboration has evolved where literal artistic exchanges have been
replaced by exchanges in ideas between different mediums.
Malcolm Le Grice – Berlin
 Malcolm Le Grice's Berlin Horse /
Sound by Brian Eno
" Multi-projection film Berlin Horse (1970) was
based entirely on a novel but simple idea of a
repeating, subtly changing film loop. The
soundtrack created by Brian Eno was also
implemented using a tape loop. According to the
director, Berlin Horse examines how the eye works
and how the minds builds up a perceptual rhythmic
STABAT MATERNina Danino 1990 8mins colour

 The songs at the beginning and end are the
two pillars of the film - the voice of my mother
singing two laments - a saeta - a type of song
sung during holy week to the Mater Dolorosa.
It attempts to locate that which is lost,
contained by the body but outside of
objectification, absent and unnameable.
Found Sound
 The idea of perfectly orchestrated synchronised scores is debunked by the
notion of found sound. Found sound is pre- or previously recorded music or
sound that is rediscovered and used in a new context.
 The effect of using found sound is to make self-conscious the use of illustrative
sound. An old song or incongruous piece of sound design points up the
unsynched nature of sound and image. Juxtaposition generates an awareness
in the audience response of how sound is employed. For instance, if the
recording quality of a 78 record is placed alongside an image filmed on the latest
sharpest digibeta recorder an audience is made aware of the texture of different
recording processes they might otherwise take for granted. The application of
found sound asks for a larger cultural understanding of the immediacy of the
emotional moment in the film.
 Using found sound also has a commemorative effect. For instance, John Smith
literally commemorates where sound is found in Lost Sound, a real adventure in
the art of sound curation. And Cordelia Swann exploits to perfection the
evocative nature of popular music in Desert Rose. She presents the nuclear
poisoning of desert round Las Vegas in a cunning interweaving of image, voice
over and the twangy musical sounds of the mid 20th century desert city to
ghostly effect.
LOST SOUND John Smith 1998-2001 28mins Colour Video

Collaboration with Graeme Miller.

 'The theme of fragmentation and decay is taken up by my favorite work here, the video Lost
Sound (2001), made in collaboration with sound artist Graeme Miller. Divided into short
sections titled by location, Lost Sound shows discarded audiotapes around London - strands
clinging to a fence, trapped in the crevices of a tree trunk, intertwined with weeds. The sound
track combines the voices and songs on the found audiotapes with ambient sounds recorded
on location. Visually the audiotapes tell us almost nothing; they must be 'decoded' by the
equipment that put them on the sound track. But we come to see that the signs, cars, and
pedestrians in the videotape pose similar 'decoding' problems: what do they mean, where do
they come from, who are they? A city that at first seems comprehensible is revealed as a
layering of mysteries; we know no more about the passing humans from their images than we
do about what's on the crumpled tapes... Each section charts a different relationship between
tape and urban scene, taking the viewer on a little unpredictable journey. Finally, as happens
so often in Smith's work, the representational structure itself seems to break down. Titles and
images are flipped left to right, undermining the readability of words, and men loading boxes
onto a truck are seen in a repeated loop, foregrounding the arbitrariness of cinematic time as
well as commenting on the repetitiousness of manual labor. Lost in an indecipherable maze
whose rules change constantly, we see the city as a network of unpredictably shifting
relationships and come to doubt even the sounds encoded in the tape fragments.' Fred
Camper, from 'Pushed to the Limit - Films and Videos by John Smith', "Chicago Reader"
magazine, 2001.


 Another approach to creating sound with film

is to negotiate directly with the material of
 A film's soundtrack is read optically as it
plays through a projector and translated into
sound. The film carries a soundtrack which
can be physically exploited to generate
Vowels and Consonants – Guy
 six 16mm film projection. live
performance. filmmakers Lynn Loo, Guy
Sherwin and sound artists Sarah
Washington, Knut Aufermann. performed
at Bullion Theatre 16th July 2005 for Spice
Sound Properties
 suggest a mood, evoke a feeling
 set a pace
 indicate a geographical locale
 indicate a historical period
 clarify the plot
 define a character
 connect otherwise unconnected ideas, characters, places, images, or
 heighten realism or diminish it
 heighten ambiguity or diminish it
 draw attention to a detail, or away from it
 indicate changes in time
 smooth otherwise abrupt changes between shots or scenes
 emphasize a transition for dramatic effect
 describe an acoustic space
 startle or soothe
exaggerate action or mediate it