CDP – Importance of Sound

Today we began further our production plans and finalise details, we also looked at the importance of sound and how it can greatly alter the images we see on screen and how we perceive them.

In film, sound is generally broken up into 2 types… Diegetic (Source visible on screen) and Non-Diegetic (Source not visible on screen, layered over the top of the footage). Sound is a fundamental element of film and production and it is important that it is highly thought through. We also briefly looked into the technique of layering sounds and the foley technique to sound production. The Foley technique involved creating and layering sounds over the top of live images to substitute and create different sound effects…

“Foleying is an excellent means of supplying the subtle sounds that production mikes often miss. The rustling of clothing and a queak of a saddle when a rider mounts his horse give a scene a touch of realism that is difficult to provide using other effects methods. A steamy sex scene was probably created by a foley artist making dispassionate love to his or her own wrist.” (Carson, S. 2007. “Film Sound.org”) For example a foley artist will be constructing sounds over the top of the film itself as it is happening for example… snapping and breaking up lettuce with a shammy leather to mimic the sound of breaking bones and flesh. For our practical work we are considering using similar techniques to that of the foley technique to isolate and enhance particular sounds.

We analysed an extract from “You Must Never Listen to This”: Lessons on Sound, Cinema, and Mortality from Herzog’s Grizzy Man” by David T. Johnson. The text analyses the importance of sound and the impact of sound and its importance by looking at a documentary (Grizzly Man 2005). The text discusses sound and mortality as the documentary is based around a film maker who gets killed tragically by a bear attack, the attack was captured although the lens cap wasn’t removed so the audio of the attack was only taped. This is a brilliant example that demonstrates how important and fundamental sound is because “much of the power of the film rests on our knowledge that its main character is dead.” (Johnson, DT. 2008).                                 There is two fundamental elements that contribute to the powerful effect this piece has on the audience, as outlined by (Johnson, DT. 2002)

“1) our perception that Herzog is listening to – and what Palovak must not listen to – is real; and 2) our knowledge that Herzog is listening not looking and listening, to a piece of video footage. These two aspects might simply be defined as the commingling of two theoretical veins, one archaic and the other still very young. They are the realist-theory tradition and sound-theory tradition (though one hesitates to use the word “tradition” with the latter). Both meet here in this scene, and part of why the scene fascinates is because of the complex interactions between these two modes of discourse (and perhaps even a third related discourse form psychoanalysis).” (p70).                                                           The extract then continues to discuss realism and mortality and how that is altered by sound, realism and mortality are linked closely, if used correctly both spacial and temporal continuity is achieved; narratives are particularly effective for such reasons because it creates an awareness of a real and potential danger within a film, especially if the threat of death is perceived as real. This was particularly importance in the “Grizzly Man” documentary because although we don’t directly see the portrayal of death or danger through direct imagery, it is underpinned by narrative progression and Herzog’s reaction to the audio recording of the death. “… a cinema of such realism that the screen merely functions as a “window open to the world” – but, rather, that the ultimate Bazinian moment is one that both encourages transparency while revealing its limits, a moment of “I know (that the image is not real) but all the same…” (Johnson. DT. 2008. p72)  another important point made is that “…this cinema of transparency only desires whatever limits it.” (Johnson. DT. 2008. p72) this is making reference to the link between mortality as what acts as a limitation is the possibility of death itself;  “…the mortal danger of the filmmaker heightens the tension between these polarities by raising the stakes of creating one’s cinema to risking life itself”. (Johnson, DT. 2008 p72). One of the most crucial points that make this piece so effective is that although the audio footage of the deaths exist, the viewers cannot experience it in the same way Herzog has which reinforces the importance of sound; “what better metaphor might there be for it than the denial of access to the footage itself ” (Johnson, 2008. p76). This essay, clearly outlines the importance of sound stating that “even sound itself in not dependent on the image” and rather that it exists “only in relation to the image, if it is acknowledged consciously at all” (Johnson, 2008. p77).

By analysing just the audio of various different clips we were able to fully understand the impact sound has on an a video. Sound is such a crucial element of a video, the sound and audio we hear (when separated from the images on screen) can tell a completely different story. The first clip we analysed was an extract from the movie “The Birds” (1963) by Alfred Hitchcock:

We began this exercise listening to the clip and listing every sound we heard and then trying to distinguish what the sound was and what affect it had on our perception of the scene, form the changes in soundscape I was able to get a perception of what was happening, where the scene took place and as well as some spacial awareness.  In particular, at the beginning of the scene the sound of footsteps, dialogue and children’s voices, (classroom setting; indoor space, an adult was instructing children) this has the effect of establishing the scene and creating a sense of anticipation among audience members. Then followed a segment of “white noise’ or ‘film silence’ (no scene in a film is every completely silent, a particular soundscape and ambience is created to mask complete silence) again this was used to sustain the sense of anticipation but also to build a prolonged sense of suspense. This is then followed by a sound of wings flapping (sounding similar to a helicopter) the audio becomes more distinct, harsher and loud this again acts in many ways, firstly it informs the audience of a change of space (from inside to outside) but also builds tension and fear.

Another example we analysed is “The Conversation” (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola.

The scene begins with instruments playing then followed by talking/singing performed by a couple. Next we hear wind which again is used to indicate the actors are present in an outdoor space, which is then followed by a conversation; present with robotic interference (louder) this is used to indicate a sense of possible danger and create an unsettling atmosphere as well as building anticipation. These clips enabled me to create a more comprehensive understanding of sound and how sound dynamics can greatly influence or enhance the individuals viewing experience.

In a workshop we looked at a more practical application of sound and building a soundscape, We were provided with a clip extract with no sound, we were then able to completely reconstruct the sound of the video completely from scratch using layering techniques in Premier Pro. I began this process by finding various different YouTube clips and extracting their MP3 files, I firstly layered the sound of drum music with a tribal feel, then layering over the sound of a busy street with cars. I then also found a small extract of a fire breather to add to the clip, this was followed by the layering of a dog barking in the background. Throughout the editing process I was constantly layering and adjusting sound levels. The extract of the fire breather was especially quite so I had to make all of the other audio extracts considerably quieter and enhance that of the fire breather. I made the music and car extracts loudest because I wanted to create a realistic depiction of the scene as well as spacial and temporal continuity and an accurate portrayal of distance between the camera and the on screen “source”. Lastly I added the extract of the dog barking to again create a more diverse depiction of a busy, carnival like setting in a neighbourhood, I made the deliberate decision to make this extract quieter and more subtle to give the portrayal that a dog was present in a near by area of the setting; again this was to create a more believable and realistic scene as well as considering the effects sound levels can have our perception of distances. I believe overall my edit of the clip was successful as I feel it created a believable soundscape full of different dynamics and I also felt that I have reflected and considered what I have learned from the above examples and texts.

References:

Johnson, DT (2008) You Must Never Listen to This: Lessons on Sound, Cinema, and Mortality from Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”’, Film Criticism, 32, 3, pp. 68-82

 (Carson, S. 2007. “Film Sound.org”) Available from: http://www.filmsound.org/terminology/foley.htm [Accessed 30 October 2015]

The Birds. (1963) [Online] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hplpQt424Ls&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 26th October 2015]

The Conversation. (1974) [Online] Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. UK: American Zoerrope; The Directors Company; The Coppola Company Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEiUFVyyAAE&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 26th October 2015]

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