Cinema and sound
Though we might think of film as an essentially visual experience, we cannot possibly underestimate the importance of sound in film. Sound, refers to anything that we hear. Sound is almost irreplaceable in any kind of film. Instead of being defined as having an independent, distinctive identity of its own, sound per se, has remained on the backburner. A soundtrack can be as complicated as the visual image on screen. Very often, the sound used in films express an emotion more significantly than a visual image on screen does. Hearing and visuals when integrated in a movie help in understanding the movie better.
Bela Balaz’s essay on sound and film makes us conscious of the sounds that are around us in our day-to-day life, that we usually choose to overlook. Instead of ignoring those sounds we learn to recognize their individuality and hear and see them as a form of expression, significance and great meaning. Learning to see sound the way we see visuals will make us realize its importance to film
Sound is used in every film to heighten a mood, set the atmosphere, tell us about the different characters and their background story and help in the advancement of the plot. For instance, in a horror film sound is used as a foreshadowing element to create the sense of suspense and anxiety. Similarly, low- pitched sounds can be used to create a sense of calm or loud dramatic sound is used in violent scenes.
To show the importance of sound in film, I’ll begin with sound in the Indian cinema, where filmmakers paid close attention to the sound design to combine aesthetics with realism in order to work out a smooth harmony between sound and other elements of film. Such an example has been seen in Ramesh Sippy’s “Sholay”, which was the first stereophonic sound mix, paving the way for an era of films that made use of analogue technology. Their films spill over with songs and dances and with a lot of music on the soundtrack, sound effects per se, are cleverly sidetracked without hampering the aesthetics of the film.
The beginning scene of two men riding on horseback to take us through the entire topography of the film, from isolated landscapes to the hustle – bustle of the daily life in a very indian village with its water tanks and temples. Had it not been for the type of music used the impression the clip-clopping of the horses hooves could come from an American western genre. Taking reference of Balaz’s essay of how there is no need to explain the sounds. There is also a transition in the way RD Burman uses sound effects in the film. Starting with guitar chords, French horsn and finally leading to the tabla.To set the mood for a typical Indian village of Ramgarh there is a taar shehnai coming into play when the riders reach the village.
The constant firing that took place at Thakurs house was complemented by a sudden silence. This sudden silence and use of no music acted as a way of conveying an emotion of grief, after the dramatic loud gunshots. Silence itself served as a best form of sound for that scene.
Moreover, the characteristic sound effects associated with each entry of the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay offers a model lesson on how sound can be used to signify the terror a character evokes.
Another film that resonates the importance of sound is an American satirical comedy film, Charlie Chaplin’s, The Great dictator. It was remarkable as it was the first film in which Charlie Chaplin spoke on screen, and thus dialogues were carefully heard. Without the sounds used during the marching of army one wouldn’t get an idea of its power. The constant change in scenes accompanied by an orchestral music enhances the pace of the scenes and portrays time passing by.
There are parts of the movie, which are spoken in German, however with the close-up of a listeners face as well as the speakers face one can understand the sound. Balaz says that, “we might perhaps not have noticed the significant of some sound or noise if we had not seen its effect in the mirror of a human face.” In the case of one of the speeches we saw the sounds and voices of Chaplin along with the physiognomy. It is the chaotic sounds used in the film that portray the chaos during the speeches.
The barber’s scene, which is repeatedly shown in the film, is a scene, which has no dialogues, only a soundtrack that plays and expressions and gestures that accompany it. It is the Hungarian dance soundtrack that enhances the barber’s actions. It is a rhythmic way in which he performs his job, very much like a dance in itself. If it weren’t for this soundtrack one wouldn’t understand the quickness and joyfulness of his job.
Lastly, a film where sound plays a major role to bring out a realistic feeling The Imitation Game (2014), Morten Tyldum is based on a true story. A key thing that Morten wanted to get right from the beginning was the sound of Christopher, the code-breaking machine. In this case the sound has a space coloruing, where every sound has a space-bound character. The sound made by Christopher would be different when working in one space than working at Alan’s house. The sound changes from space to space. Sound designer Andy Kennedy and sound effects editor Joe Beal tried recreating the sound of a machine, in order to give the audience an insight of the code-breaking device. Balaz’s understanding of sound that cannot be isolated is cyclically used in the film.
When codes are passed on from one person to another in the department or when they go to the bar at night. The chaotic sound played in the working department not cut out completely if the protagonist enters the scene. Similarly when important messages were being exchanged at the bar, there was a soft, calming music being played in the background. The close up of the characters would contain the whole acoustic atmosphere of the surrounding space. Thus we couldn’t only hear the people talking, we will also hear in what relation their talking is to the sounds around them.
Through these examples we have seen how sound not only refers to music, soundtracks or dialogues, it is imply anything we can hear and it times silence is a sound of communication. Sound effects have developed a more directional element, appearing to come from a specific place. This directional quality of sound enhances a three dimensional sense of space in the movie. As Balaz’s stated in his essay that just as film can show visual landscapes, so it can show acoustic landscapes, a tonal milieu. Sound is an irreplaceable element in film and is essential for filmmakers to use.
Any form of music has a rhythm to it, a beat to which one dances, sways, jumps or does some sort of action. There has been a great progression in music at the same time it is cyclical, where genres tend to revisit after decades or two.
Often we are unaware of the fact that Indian classical and traditional music was prevalent much before western music came into existence. Ever since, new genres of music have been emerging.
Goa, being the hub of music has not only seen the various changes taken place but has assisted and hosted the westernization of Indian classical music. It started with having ghumott in the primitive years to now having held an EDM music festival called sunburn in 2010.
While the rate at which music was flourishing, there was a sudden deviation from the mainstream music and there arose trance. In the 1990’s trance gained popularity in Goa, however the main reason behind its emergence was lost by then. Trance is that kind of music, which has no lyrics, loud, beats and is referred to a state of hypnotism and heightened consciousness. Moving on from trance music is Electronic Dance Music (EDM) , a sub genre of trance. It is what every teenage kid listens to and raves to. Being one of the most popular kind of music genre, there are bound to be many of these EDM concerts.
In the last few years, India has been on the top list of all the Djs and artist. There have been concerts after concerts. Initially I made it a point to go for every concert there was, be it Steve Aoki, Hardwell, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia or else the very famous Sunburn in Bombay. After a point who the artist was never made a difference. It was the atmosphere of the concert that attracted a large group of teenagers and young adults. The purpose of a music festival got lost as the number of concerts increased.
I went for Hardwell, a dj who was performing at the Mahalaxmi racecourse. It was one of the first EDM concerts to be held in Mumbai and hence the frenzied fans were waiting to enter the concert before the gates had opened. There was a chaos, I entered the arena, finding young boys drunk and puking on the side. Friends and the security trying to cope up with their uncontrollable behavior. To add to that was the air we all were breathing. Even if someone didn’t smoke, one would get intoxicated with the drugs in the air. Holding on tight to my friends we made our way till the box office. Enthusiastic fans rushing in to make it in time for the artist to arrive while the kids already in a state of high on alcohol and drugs weren’t bothered about the music. I then realized that it was these intoxicants that acted as a stimulus for the music and especially trance. To enjoy the concert to the fullest, to be free and in a state of trance teenagers prefer being tipsy or high on drugs. I too had drank before the concert, but I was in the right frame of mind and in control of my actions. The ground was packed with teenagers, pushing, swiping and jumping around. I finally made it to the front of the ground, just recognizing that I was in the midst of a stampede. People who consumed alcohol didn’t care who and what they i were stepping on.
I was enjoying the concert, jumping to the electronic beats and moving my hands up and down until I was unable to take the claustrophobic atmosphere and the weed and hash contaminated air. I almost felt like throwing up and what stirred it even more was the banging, electronic music. The beats just got worse as the songs progressed. It was a feeling I wished vanished and everything around me just silenced at that time. Although he played a few songs I knew, but all mixed with some sort of beats which made the songs I knew also almost unrecognizable.
This makes me question such music festivals. Why would people go for these concerts when one hardly knows a song or two by the artist playing? Maybe it is just to be in an environment free from restrictions and a place to get high. The more the concerts there are people find it an excuse to inhale drugs and consume alcohol.
After having said this, one would argue about the hippie movement that was worse and drastically more in terms of drugs. Although psychedelic drugs played a major role in catalyzing the hippie movement it lead to the rise of many different genres of music. The purpose of drugs was not the same as it is today. Today it is used as means to let one free, losing the essence of the original music.
I personally am not the biggest fan of trance music, but only now that its become so mainstream unwillingly hear it. EDM concerts are fun from a distance and especially not when 15-year-old kids are throwing up near you. It is the concert experience that attracts the young crowd, who can bear the blaring beats vibrating in their ears. I sometimes also feel it’s a phase to go for all the music festivals and eventually when you are sick of repeatedly attending the same type one gets bored of it. Trance/EDM has spread at a very fast pace and its time people of Mumbai adapt to newer genres of music which don’t require the drugs to give you the adrenaline rush.