Theory of film: Sound
Scientifically, sound is created when there is a mechanical disturbance from a state of equilibrium, which propagates through the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other mediums. Sound can also be seen subjectively as the human interpretation of these mechanical waves by the auditory sense.
However, Bela Balzs’s essay on sound in film shows how there are a lot of elements besides the scientific or subjective thinking of sounds, which make up sound, not only in films but also in our everyday life. Apart from the sounds heard, sounds that are seen also play an important role. Hearing and visuals have a strong connection and when integrated, help in the understanding and the generation of different sounds.
Sound in films, theatre, television, radio are a key in the understanding this connection and also understanding the role of sound in everyday life. Bela Balazs states in her essay ‘the sound film will teach us to analyze even chaotic noise with our ear and read the score of life’s symphony. Our ear will hear the different voices in the general babble and distinguish their character as manifestations of individual life. It is an old maxim that art saves us from chaos. The arts differ from each other in the specific kind of chaos which they fight against. The vocation of the sound film is to redeem us from the chaos of shapeless noise by accepting it as expression, as significance, as meaning.’
According to me sound plays the most important role for the creation of moods, settings, character sketches, expressions, reactions and the plot. This can be noticed largely in sound film. In everyday life, these can also be seen. For example, when a siren is heard on the road depending on the expression or movements of people does one realize it is for an emergency and/or death peril.
To further show the importance of sound I will be taking three different genres of films and showing the use of sound based on Bela Belazs’s essay.
An American epic romantic film, directed by James Cameron, Titanic, 1997 is one that has a strong visual and auditory connect. This movie’s elaborate costume and set designs, creates the setting of the film. However with the absence of sound, this movie would never have been able to stir the crowd that it has, and continues to for years. Christopher Boyles, Mark Ulano with the help of James Cameron have used sound to explain every scene in the movie.
Had it not been for the loud brawl of the steam from the chimneys, the Titanic would never have felt so grand and exotic in its demeanor. The clinks of the cutlery and authentic background music made during the scenes of the lunches and dinners of the upper class and revered ministers as opposed to the banging of pans and loud chanting of drunks in the service quarters could never have been signified had it not been for the dialogues, music, sound effects, costumes, and sets that were added to the scenes.
Here the sound editors and cinematographers have used sound to explain the picture scenes by showing the significance of some sound or noise. The effects of it are seen on the expressions of the characters. Therefore this doesn’t make the sound have a dramatic appeal unless it is required and is often not heard clearly by the viewer.
During the wreck of the steam engine, the only aspect of the movie, apart from the expressions and movements of the people, was the use of dramatic sound effects and music, which created the entire setting. Boyles and Ulano’s use of Asynchronous Sound, which is seen in a close-up in which the surroundings are not visible, or a sound that seeps into the shot sometimes impressing the viewer simply because the source cannot be seen, has been successful in showcasing a realistic approach of the sinking Titanic.
The raging water, the screaming passengers, the breaking and ripping of parts of the engine created an environment of terror and madness only because of the used of innumerable sounds. Had this movie been a silent film, there would be no feeling or realistic approach for the plight of the passengers that went through the horrid wreckage of the Titanic.
Another film genre, which is solely dependent on the use of sound and sound effects, are horror films. The basis of making the viewer scared and horrified is the use of loud, dramatic, and repeated music. If a horror film were watched in mute it would never create any fear. Another aspect used in this genre is the use of silence.
Silence is an acoustic effect, but only where sounds can be heard. The presentation of silence is one of the most specific dramatic effects of the sound film. These aspects can be seen in Bhool Bhulaiyaa (English: The Maze). A 2007 Indian psychological comedy horror film directed by Priyadarshan, which is the official remake of the 1993 Malayalam film, Manichitrathazhu.
This film revolves around the myth of a castle ghost causing one of the protagonists to get possessed. Whenever the scenes of the ghost would come there would be a repetition of the sound of ghunghroos (tiny bells) that was used. This created a symbol for the presence of the ghost and created a sense of fear in the viewers mind.
There was always an air of silence that pervaded during the horror sequences that was broken by one loud gash of dramatic sound. Here the visuals of the costume and make up of the ghost also played a big role. The use of intimacy of sounds played a big role in this movie. Intimacy of sounds is perceived sounds which are included in the accustomed noise of daytoday life, but which we never hear as individual sounds because they are drowned in the general din.
In this film the close-up picks up these sounds making them effective and has an influence on the sequence of actions. For example, the sound of footsteps, the creaking of the door, the sound of somebody’s voice are everyday noises. However the sound editor Pritam and cinematographer Tirru have heightened the everyday noises and given them a distinct role increasing the horror appeal of the film.
The last film that shows the importance of sound is Satyajit Ray’s 1960 Bengali film Devi. This film, which shows the obsession, herd mentality and blind faith that people have in God is fantastic in its cinematography and sound. Even though it is a Bengali film, a language unknown to me, I was able to grasp the story with ease only by observing and hearing every scene. The tone at which the actors spoke in, their reactions, the unique camera angles were all able to narrate the story even through the barrier of language.
This film that could be seen as a silent film for those unknown to the language, is yet successful in engaging the viewer and setting the plot. The remorse seen on the protagonists face when she was forced to sit on the pedestal of God can be clearly witnessed by the background music and the emotions she portrayed.
The scenes of the heightened belief of the crowds from every village in the protagonist are seen by the chants they sing and their looks of content. In this film education of the ear is required more than sight. It is through the sound played that the feeling and setting of each scene is projected.
Therefore through these three films, the importance of sound used by directors adds to their productions. Sounds heard in daily lifestyles are as important as sight. Sight is usually put on a higher pedestal and often largely dependent on. However, science tells us in fact that the ear can distinguish more delicate nuances than our eye. The number of sounds and noises a human ear can distinguish runs into many thousands far more than the shades of color and degrees of light we can distinguish.