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Sound on Screen
Transcript of Sound on Screen
“We gestate in Sound, and are born into Sight. Cinema gestated in Sight, and was born into Sound...
…In a mechanistic reversal of this biological sequence, Cinema spent its youth (1892—1927) wandering in a mirrored hall of voiceless images, a thirty-five year bachelorhood over which Sight ruled as self-satisfied, solipsistic King—never suspecting that destiny was preparing an arranged marriage with the Queen he thought he had deposed at birth” (Murch 1994).
Sound and Space
Sound has a spatial dimension because it comes from a source. Our beliefs about that source have a powerful effect on how we understand the sound...
For purposes of analyzing narrative form, events that occur within the story world are known as
. In the same sense,
is sound that has a source within the story world. Words spoken by characters, sounds made by objects in the storyworld, and music depicted as coming from the story space are all instances of diegetic sound.
Diegetic sound can be either
, depending on whether its source is inside the frame or outside the frame.
Michael Corleone, technically still a ‘civilian,’ assasinates a rival gangster and a New York Police Chief. In doing so he saves the 'family,' thus sealing his fate as the successor of the Corleone crime empire - with just a few bullets.
“When you're presented with something that doesn't quite resolve on a normal level, that's what makes the audience go deeper…that train screech in
is a good example. It doesn't make any sense from what you're looking at. You haven't been shown a train anywhere in the neighborhood. The loudness with which you hear it is too loud. Even if you were in a restaurant right under an elevated train, it wouldn't be quite that loud.
So the audience is presented with a discontinuity. They're looking at very still images, close-ups of people talking in a foreign language, and yet they're hearing something completely different. That forces them to say, "What is that? What could that be?" Again, not consciously but subconsciously. And, as a result, they come up with a feeling about Michael's state of mind, and then they re-project that feeling onto his face” (Murch 2000).
comes from a source outside the story world, the most common being a film’s music score, For Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns', composer Ennio Morricone uses a particular sound or instrument as a recurring motif for each protagonist. In
A Fistful of Dollars
(1964), ‘The Man with No Name’, played by Clint Eastwood, is often accompanied by a whistle on the soundtrack. Nondiegetic sound effects are also possible.
The Introduction of Sound (synchronised recording)
In America, “The spread of sound in the cinema coincided with the early years of the Great Depression. Warner Bros. had successfully added music and sound effects to some of its films in 1926 and 1927. By 1929, sound had been adopted throughout the American studios, and theaters were quickly being converted. During that same year, early American sound films were enjoying long runs in European capitals…
The Jazz Singer
The first "talkie," a film containing sychronised dialogue.
…Inventors in several countries had been working simultaneously on sound systems, and sound was introduced in various ways around the world. Crude sound equipment initially rendered many films static and talky…Microphones were insensitive and hard to move; it was difficult to mix sound tracks; and scenes frequently had to be shot by multiple cameras in soundproof booths” (Bordwell & Thompson 2002).
New Hollywood Cinema
“As a form of experimentation for late 1960s filmmakers, film sound offered an untheorized and relatively unchanged set of practices that were inherited artifacts from the studio system of production. The fact that filmmakers chose to manipulate, abstract, and reconfigure practices of sound recording and mixing during this period shows not only a willingness to break free from the restrictions of the studio system but also a drive to change audience perception. During the late 1960s and early 197Os, sound aestheticians explored new methods of constructing film soundtracks in an attempt to rethink regimes of seeing and hearing in narrative cinema.
Formal alterations appeared in multilevel mixing, various miking strategies, location sound in lieu of looped dialogue, the reintroduction of stereo, and the dismantling of hierarchically structured systems of film sound editing and mixing. Filmmakers resisted models that dictated certain accepted structural aspects of how to correctly make a film and proceeded to challenge audiences with films that required spectator/auditors to engage the cinematic action on new, visceral levels” (Beck 2002).
Robert Altman, director of
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
(1975), revitalized the “overlapping dialogue” technique, “by multiplying the number of speaking voices and divorcing them from their spatial relation to the frame. A byproduct of the lavalier microphone’s position close to the speaker’s mouth, voices in Altman films are heard “directly,” without reverberation, regardless of their proximity to the camera or their location within the frame…This odd “equality” of voices meant that spectator/auditors were able to follow competing conversations occurring in a single scene. This freedom of interpretation opened Altman’s films to a new level of narrative complexity that was hitherto unheard in Hollywood filmmaking” (Beck 2002).
Walter Murch is an American sound designer and film editor. His sound design on
(1979) earned him his first Oscar, and he won an unprecedented double Oscar for both Sound and Film editing for his work on
The English Patient
“Murch stands as an important figure in cinema because he and a handful of peers realized possibilities offered by multi-track recording. (Or in materialist terms, the development of multi-track recording technology significantly broadened options available during postproduction, creating a niche for Murch and his peers to fill. It was thus crucial to the outpouring of independent films in the late 60s and 70s.) For while the possibilities of editing and mixing sounds had been glimpsed early on - long before the arrival of the talkies - they remained largely inaudible until magnetic tape emerged as an economically viable and practical recording medium. Tape made sound malleable, much like celluloid made visual images malleable” (Jarrett 2000).
Murch expressed his enthusiasm for manipulating sound by citing the radio work of Orson Welles (before Welles made Citizen Kane in 1941, which is generally regarded as ‘the greatest film ever made’),
“Never before in history, before the invention of recorded sound, had people possessed the ability to manipulate sound the way they'd manipulated color or shapes. We were limited to manipulating sound in music, which is a highly abstract medium. But with recorded material you can manipulate sound effects - the sound of the world - to great effect. In the same way that painting, or looking at paintings, makes you see the world in a different way, listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently” (Murch 2000).
”You provoke the audience to complete a circle of which you've only drawn a part. Each person being unique, they will complete that in their own way. When they have done that, the wonderful part of it is that they re-project that completion onto the film. They actually are seeing a film that they are, in part, creating - both in terms of juxtaposition of images and, then, juxtaposition of sound versus image and, then, image following sound, and all kinds of those variations” (Murch 2000).
(1979) by Francis Ford Coppola
Walter Murch explains the use of the helicopter sound in the opening scenes and throughout the film, “The beginning of the film was a trigger for the psychic dimension of the helicopters. Later on, when you get into the attack on the village…it’s dramatic and it’s fantastic, but it is fairly much “what you see is what you hear.” Whereas at the beginning of the film it’s some drunken reverie of this displaced person, Willard, who is trying to bring himself back into focus. There are fragmentary images of helicopters, then he comes more and more back into his abysmal reality — this stinky hotel room in Saigon — and we get the fan…we establish right from the start that the helicopter sound is part of what makes you identify with Willard — it subjectivizes your experience” (Sragow 2000).
Realistic sounds were deconstructed on synthesizers, thus artificial sounds were created to mimic the real sound. “We formed what became known as “the ghost helicopter” out of this, which was sort of an aural Lego kit. You could put the helicopters all together and they’d sound very realistic. But then you could take them apart and play any one of them individually, a single helicopter on multiple tracks, and that’s what the film begins with. That sound — that whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop sound — is the synthesized blade sound. And in isolation it had this dream-like quality.”
We used lots of isolated sounds in various places, wherever we felt we needed to color the realistic sound and make it hyper-real. Throughout the movie, the helicopter is positioned between realism and hyper-realism and surrealism. It can slide anywhere on the spectrum. In musical terms, we thought of the helicopters as our string section” (Sragow 2000).
“A phenomenon that subsequently emerged in the 1960’s was the conception of music as a “sound,” an idea for which Ennio Morricone is largely responsible…his stripped-down use of instruments or grouping of instruments (player pianos in Leone films, harmonica, electric guitar, piano, string sections), and his way of exploiting distinctive details of resonance, timbre, and other material properties to achieve a “sound.”
These qualities all highlighted music in film, like a film’s other ingredients, as something concrete, solid and incarnate. In other words, music is something that exists for itself, not just for rhetorical purposes or expressive function, and ultimately, lies beyond the classical notion of music as a written discourse” (Chion 2009).
Ennio Morricone has scored more than 400 films since 1959. He is most famous for his music from collaborations with director Sergio Leone, particulary the Dollars trilogy. Leone and Morricone subscribed to the Italian tradition of postsynchronisation, where the entire film’s soundtrack is re-created in the studio and then overdubbed. In other words, the soundtrack is
‘designed’ from scratch.
“One of Mr. Morricone's coloristic trademarks is the harmonica, which he first used in "Once Upon a Time in the West." He takes no credit for the original idea, noting that the script called for the instrument to be played on screen by Charles Bronson. But it was his own idea to leave the first 11 minutes of the film completely unscored, instead filling the soundtrack with amplified natural sounds -- the buzzing of a fly, the squeak of a rusty windmill, the blowing of the hot desert wind. It is only when Bronson appears in the distance that we finally hear the reedy wheeze of a chromatic harmonica, which plays a stark three-note motif that Mr. Morricone will later use as the basis for the film's most memorable music cue, an edgy, spiraling, near-tuneless tune called "Man With a Harmonica" (Teachout 2007).
by Steven Soderbergh
(1999), Terence Stamp's Wilson "appears" for the first time as a disembodied voice, set against a black screen, demanding, "Tell me. Tell me. Tell me about Jenny." Behind Stamp's rough, cockney-accented voice-over, we hear the sound of waves crashing against a shore, giving the dialogue an atmospheric, spatial quality despite the absence of any image.
Both earthy and peaceful, the sound of the waves contradicts the angry intensity of Stamp's dialogue, instantly alluding to a more emotive, multidimensional character. Indeed, as the film progresses, both sounds and images of the beach serve as representations of Wilson's lost daughter and signal the presence of Wilson's memories. Furthermore, …the contrast between the angry vocal performance and the calming sound effects in this opening…also piques curiosity about the character we are waiting to meet…
Following the brief opening-credit sequence, during which Wilson travels from Los Angeles International Airport to his motel room, Soderbergh begins fragmenting the chronological, visual progression of the film. With the next twenty shots, Soderbergh introduces a stylistic pattern he will repeat throughout the film: with each shot, he visually jumps backwards and forwards in time, while aurally maintaining a straightforward, linear progression.
Gradually, as Soderbergh moves from shots of Wilson to shots of his daughter, he also introduces extradiegetic sound effects, including wind chimes and the humming of a song. Like the crashing waves at the start of the film, these aural components deepen the audience's perception of Wilson's character. The sound effects give shape to Stamp's psychological state, infusing the brutish quality of Stamp's vocal performance with an ephemeral, retrospective sentiment.
Soderbergh claims ... his intention in slicing up the visual narrative of the film was, in part, to find "a new way to give the audience information about a character... releasing information in a way that is less traditional."
Thus, following the credit sequence, we cut from Wilson sitting inside his hotel room, to him sitting in the airplane, to him sitting in a car looking at a photo of his daughter, Jenny, then to him visiting Eduardo Roel. Soderbergh intersperses these shots of Wilson with several images of Jenny-as a child on the beach, as a child at home, and as an adult, sitting in the passenger seat of a car. Throughout this montage, however, we hear only the diegetic sounds that "belong" to the first shot of Wilson in the motel room; in addition to room tone, we hear the noise of the shower running and the occasional dim rush of an airplane lifting off from the nearby airport (Marcello 2006).
"Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual” David Lynch
"He [Lynch] has realized a series of cinesonic moments which open up the complexity of his cinema far more effectively than his visual symbolism alone has allowed." (Brophy n.d)
(1972) by Francis Ford Coppola
A Foley Artist 'recreates' sound effects for film, television and radio productions on a Foley Stage in a Post Production Studio. Using many different kinds of shoes and lots of props - the Foley Artist can replace original sound completely or augment existing sounds to create a richer track.
Foley is the director’s friend. Often more than 80 per cent of film dialogue isn’t recorded “clean”. Maybe there was noise in the distance — a car, for instance. Foley can cover that up. It can fill in blanks, too.
Foley can also be used to rectify a continuity problem. If an actor is holding a file, but then forgets to bring it back into shot, a Foley artist can insert the sound of the file being put away off camera.
Noises on location often mask the dialogue which must be replaced in a recording studio later - an actor may have to replace an entire scene or just one word! This process is called Looping or Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR.) The Dialogue Editor then conforms the 'Production Audio' (the live sound) and the ADR into a complete track.
However, the ADR segments are clean and free of noise - it doesn't sound natural when combined with Production. And the footsteps are missing, as well as any other action on screen. Foley fills in the gaps between the live recording and studio ADR, smoothing out the sound and creating new sounds where they are missing.
The process of filming also creates dips in the sound since each scene is filmed from different angles over several takes for the best look and performance. Once cut together, the picture flows from shot to shot in a fluid motion but the sound can become choppy and overlapped. Once again, Foley provides a foundation that bridges these gaps.
Foley does not cover sounds like car engines, explosions or other mechanical stuff. These are the domain of the Sound FX Editor who draws upon a sampled Sound FX library and computer technology. Everything from helicopters to thunder can be layered and mixed in to an SFX track.
While a Sound Editor can do very precise and repeatable effects, they have a harder time when it comes to footsteps for example, since every step is different and unique, the pace changes and the mood of the step is always different. With a good pair of shoes and years of practice, a Foley Artist can perform an actors walk perfectly on the first take while making it sound natural! (marblehead.net).
“The truth is, for me, it’s obvious that 70, 80 percent of a movie is sound,” he says. “You don’t realize it because you can’t see it.” Danny Boyle
"In the same way that painting, or looking at paintings, makes you see the world in a different way, listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently." Walter Murch
Dialogue overlap in
This following scene is edited in a typical shot/reverse shot pattern. The conversation between Jim (Matthew Broderick) and Dave (Mark Harelick) is not synchronized with the cuts, however. Instead, a bit of dialogue is carried over the cut, which helps to make the cuts less noticeable.
The dialogue overlapping in this scene also plays a narrative role. If you look and listen closely, you will notice a pattern. Dave's lines are consistently overlapped when his back is to the camera. The result is a subtle emphasis on Jim's position in the scene, which underscores how he is occupying the moral/ethical high ground (the cut to a closer framing of Jim also contributes to this effect). criticalcommons.org
One sad morning, sitting in the cafe, drinking coffee, Julie sees a street musician playing on a recorder. The simple melody seems to bring a kind of secularity into her withdrawn life, and becomes a hardly noticeable beginning of her opening up and coming out of the dark.
The third and final encounter with the music of the busker is a definite proof of the opening up of the young woman. Julie is once again in the cafe and here she is found by Olivier. It is not by accident that the encounter with the old friend, in love with her into the bargain, takes place at the time when the busker comes onto the street and starts a new tune on his recorder. Nor would it appear to be accidental that the melody is a variation of Julie's theme ... she recalls the uncompleted melodies that will later lead her to start composing again.
The role of the busker and his three different melodies is clear: they (the character and the music) are here to bring a beam of light into the darkness and to rescue the unhappy Julie from the blackness (Paulus & McMaster 1999).
Three Colours Blue
is an unorthodox rendition of the old idea, the French Revolutionary ideal, of liberty, or freedom: as freedom “from” memory, grief, people and society – as opposed to freedom “within” memory, grief, people and society.
A woman's husband and child are killed in a car accident. Suddenly set free from her familial bonds, she attempts to cut herself off from everything and live in isolation from her former ties, but finds that she cannot free herself from human connections.
Music has a very important role. Composer Zbignew Preisner defined Blue as a musical, not, of course, in the Hollywood sense. Preisner composed the music on the basis of the film script before the film was shot. So the film narration was not only scripted, but scored in advance. Composer and director found common language in shaping film and music.
Three Colours Blue
Room Tone & Ambience
Internal diegetic sound in
The scene demonstrates aural subjective narration. As the tank shell hits the apartment building close to where Wladyslaw is hiding, the soundtrack simulates the momentary loss of hearing that he experiences. Visually, we are still in the mode of objective narration, but the soundtrack places us within the character's body.
Transitions to flashback sequences are often accompanied by an oneiric sound treatment like in
The Silence of the Lambs
(USA 1991) directed by Jonathan Demme. Young detective, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), while attending the funeral service for the police officer killed in the line of duty is having a flashback. As Clarice walks through the door the sound effects and diegetic music give a way to a non-diegetic musical score (Howard Shore) and set up an oneiric mood. A man playing a soundless organ can be seen as Clarice completely drifts away from reality and walks towards the coffin. She is seen in subtle slow motion going into a flashback of her fathers funeral, who was, also, a police officer killed in the line of duty. Clarice's altered state of consciousness is interrupted by the voice of Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) who abruptly brakes off the oneiric mood saying: "Starling, we are back here!" Milicevic 2002.
Sound alteration is characteristic of a bathroom sequence from
(USA 1992) directed by Quentin Tarantino. When Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) loaded with drugs in his bag walks in the bathroom with three cops, he deliberately uses the hand dryer in order to show them he is causal and non suspicious. When Mr. Orange presses the hand dryers button we hear the sound of an airplane jet which totally obstructs the cops conversation. This is visually shown in an oneiric slow motion and all the sound effects are dropped giving way to the blasts of the dryer-jet. Over that noise police officers cannot talk so they look at Mr. Orange while their dog barks soundlessly. When the dryer sharply cuts off, we are back in reality
(USA 1979) directed by Francis Ford Coppola should be definitely mentioned in relation to meta-diegetic use of sound in film. Listening to Radio Saigon Chef starts dancing to the rock tune
by The Rolling Stones. At first, the sound perspective seems accurate for the small radio transistor and outdoors ambiance; later, as the rest of the crew ... get excited and start singing along, the sound quality becomes non-diegetic.
bolstered by full hi-fi quality stereo sound may be interpreted as subjective sound perception by the crew members who are, at least for the moment of listening to the music, brought back home to the USA. Then the camera closes on Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) who is looking at the classified documents. At that point,
is abruptly swapped with the non-diegetic musical score ... and all the ambient sound effects are suddenly dropped. Willard is in an oneiric mood while being completely absorbed in his reading shutting off sounds of reality. Through internal monologue we hear him reading meta-diegetically: "At first I thought they handed me a wrong dossier..." Milicevic 2002.
You have more freedom with sound than you do with picture. There are, consequently, fewer rules. But the big three things—which are emotion, story, and rhythm—apply to sound just as much as they apply to picture. You are always primarily looking for something that will underline or emphasize or counterpoint the emotion that you want to elicit from the audience. You can do that through sound just as well as through editing, if not more so. Rhythm is obviously important; sound is a temporal medium. And then story. You choose sounds that help people to feel the story of what you’re doing.
Walter Murch on Sound Design
It starts oneirically from the very beginning with the song
by The Doors . We see the explosions but dont hear them, the helicopters are flying by, but we hear acoustically altered helicopter sounds which dont match the visuals in perspective or the rhythm. Then, we see Captain Willard laying on his bed and we discover the opening images are visuals from a nightmare he has been having. While looking at the ceiling fan he hears meta-diegetically transformed helicopter sounds.
This mood is invaded by the sound of a real helicopter which comes through Willards window, and he is prompted to wake up from this oneiric state while the music slowly fades out into a distant reverberation creating a hypnapompic transition to reality. He gets up and looks through the window talking to himself in an internal monologue: Saigon, shit... This monologue continues and as he talks about jungle, even though we see him in a hotel room, jungle ambiance sounds are introduced, subjectively portraying Willards drunken aural imagination.
In film, the sounds and the patterns they form are elusive. This elusiveness
accounts for part of the power of this technique: sound can achieve very strong effects and yet remain quite unnoticeable. To study sound, we must learn to listen to
The engagement of hearing opens the possibility of what the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein called "synchronization of senses"- making a single rhythm or expressive quality unify both image and sound (Bordwell & Thompson 2005).
'Looking' at Sound
The distinction between diegetic and nondiegetic sound doesn't depend on the real source of the sound in the filmmaking process. Rather, it depends
on our understanding of the conventions of film viewing. We know that certain sounds are represented as coming from the story world, while others are represented as coming from outside the space of the story events. Such viewing conventtons are so common that we usually do not have to think about which type of sound we are hearing at any moment.
At many times, however, a film's narration deliberately blurs boundaries between different spatial categories. Such a play with convention can be used to puzzle or surprise the audience, to create humor or ambiguity, or to achieve other purposes.
Often a filmmaker uses sound to represent what a character is thinking. We hear the character's voice speaking his or her thoughts even though that character's lips do not move; presumably, other characters cannot hear these thoughts. Here the narration uses sound to achieve subjectivity, giving us information about the mental state of the character... A character may also remember words, snatches of music, or events as represented by sound effects...
The use of sound to enter a character's mind is so common that we need to distinguish
diegetic sound. External diegetic sound is
that which we as spectators take to have a physical source in the scene. Internal
diegetic sound is that which comes from inside the mind of a character; it is subjective (Bordwell & Thompson 2005).
Other theorists use different terminology to describe the use of sound to express a characters subjectivity.
sound is sound related to a character’s internal world (Gabriel 2013). According to Milicevic (1995) there are five ways in which the metadiegetic impression is attained:
1. Usual filmic noises are omitted, composed music appearing instead.
2. In places where the visions of the past arevery short, no more than flashes, the sound is made dreamlike by transformed noise
3. Non-diegetic music can beconsidered metadiegetic when from the view-point of the protagonist it is played very expressively, nourishing his subjectivity.
4. A metadiegetic sound is obtainedby an increase of the volume of the sound and
5. by the conflict of two different kinds of sound (through, for example, a combination of diegetic and non-diegetic music).
A professional thief commits corporate espionage by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. He is offered a chance of redemption as payment for a task considered to be impossible: "inception", the implantation of another person's idea into a target's subconscious.
(2010) by Christopher Nolan.
As part of the soundtrack, the Édith Piaf song “
Non, je ne Regrette Rien
” is a musical cue in the film of its characters’ moving from one level of dreaming (or reality) into another. "Just for the game of it, all the music in the score is subdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Edith Piaf track. So I could slip into half-time; I could slip into a third of a time. Anything could go anywhere. At any moment I could drop into a different level of time." Hans Zimmer
(USA 1983) directed by Brian De Palma, oneiric mood is achieved by using the juxtaposition of diegetic disco club music with non-diegetic musical score (Giorgio Moroder). In the sequence when Tony Montana and his buddy Manny Ray walk in a disco, they see Tonys sister Gina dancing at the dance floor with some guy. This upsets Tony a lot and while camera closes up on his eyes, the non-diegetic musical score is being introduced to parallel Tonys altered state of consciousness-two different kind of music are heard simultaneously creating a rather abrasive combination.
A few moments later, Tonys business conversation is interrupted as he pays attention to Gina again. Now, she appears to be in a cozy relationship with her dancing partner as they walk together towards the bathroom--this makes Tony absolutely furious. Here again, camera subjectively closes on Tonys face, and this time the non-diegetic score completely overwhelms the diegetic disco music. The loudness of the non-diegetic musical score parallels the degree of Tonys anger. As Tony suddenly gets up and runs to the bathroom to attack Ginas partner, the non-diegetic music is abruptly dropped and we are back in the reality of disco dancing.