Sound and Film
The night after reading Theory of the Film: Sound by Bela Balazs, I realised how dependent I was to the sound of the air conditioner to sleep. As I walked towards my car the next morning, I noticed how accustomed I was to the sound of the car cleaners splashing water on the cars every day. As my day passed on, I tried to pin point every sound that I was so used to hearing, but didn’t take notice of.
The sense of sound is one of the most underrated yet powerful tools, especially in the art of film making. The detailed sounds, background noises and even the silences all sum up to invoke different types of feelings and emotions in the viewer. There are a lot of everyday sounds we ignore, yet a movie has the privilege of heightening these sounds to create suspense, or make the viewer anxious. When these simple ignored sounds are heard distinctly, it gives a sense of space and the extent of silence in the film.It is also amusing how just being observant of these sounds can almost make us nervous, which tells that how less attention we pay to our sense of sound.
A good example of intimate sounds is the kitchen scene in the movie Jurrassic Park. Here the scene starts off with no background sound, yet highlighting ordinary, overlooked sounds. The clanking of the metal door, switching off of the lights, footsteps echoing in the empty room; all act like precursors for the final grunt of a dinosaur, which is not even that loud without the build up created. All these prominent sounds make the viewer more aware of the situation and their sensitivity to the sounds also increases. If at such a moment, suddenly a loud sound is played, the viewer would be frightened and probably even scream as a reaction to the auditory jerk they receive. Even while watching the movie if the viewer is eating pop corn, they would consciously become more aware of even the biting noise of the pop corn in their mouth in this scene of the film. It almost makes one feel as if they are in the space itself, making the scene more realistic.
While sounds are specifically heightened in a movie with detail and intimacy, they aren’t completely isolated. In any scene, background noise constantly plays, making the scene more realistic. These sounds fill in the space or the environment tried to be created, and set a mood for the viewer.
Like in the movie Final Destination 2, a scene of a death in an apartment is constructed with the help of the background sounds. A loud music starts off in the background, which binds all the activities happening. The sound of the gas being turned on, the simmering of the food on the pan; all happening simultaneously with the loud, rock music playing. Things get more chaotic when the microwave starts crackling and creating sounds, along with the smoke alarm’s constant beeping. The ringing of the phone at the same time adds another layer to these overlapping sounds. The audibility of each sound is so clear, and none of them have been drowned out, making the viewer feel confused as to where to focus, just like the protagonist in the film. So the emotions of the subjects have almost been transferred to the audience through the discord of sounds created.
The scene wouldn’t have been as effective if any of the sounds were to be isolated or eliminated. Taking the same popcorn example here too, the chewing sound would not bother the viewer at all, as a loud, noisy mood has been established.
Another way of designing sound, is by tapping memories of the viewer. Some sounds are recognised by the ear, reason being as to whether we’ve heard them all our lives, or we relate to them with specific things. However most of the times these sounds re accompanied by visuals, so we don’t realise our familiarity with them. But what if the visual were to be removed and one was to only rely on the sense of sound? It would be more difficult as the ear is not used to it, yet it is not impossible.
In the raid scene of the movie Zero Dark Thirty, the visuals are very unclear and in some parts almost pitch black. Yet the sound of the helicopter, and that of the commandos preparing their ammunition, with an engine sound in the back, constantly keeps shifting. Repetition is used to make the viewer be able to recognise the two different activities happening in the same scene. So even when one can’t see a thing, the helicopter wings helps to distinguish the change of space. There is also a constant sound of the cricket, which one relates to as night time. Even though it is not a literal reference, the basic conditioning of the ear is used to make these connections. Also the sounds of bullets being shot, doesn’t have a visual along with it, but you can make out that it’s hitting a metal surface. Here sound helps us identify different materials too without seeing or feeling them. The moment the beeping tone starts playing, there is a sense that something has gone wrong, as we relate to this sound as being an emergency or alerting sound.This scene is a good example of how we use memory to track the sounds we hear.
Good sound designing of a film forms the backbone of making the viewer experience every action happening throughout the movie. It is one of the most crucial parts, yet not much credit is given to it in the overall putting together of the film. It also has a lot to do the human psychology, of how different sounds affect a person’s emotions. They weave the entire film together, leaving you with an intimate connection with it.
trance: [trans, trahns]
a half-conscious state, seemingly between sleeping and waking, in which ability to function voluntarily may be suspended.
A deviation from mainstream music in the 1990s, trance music emerged as the new cult in the history of music. Using fast beats, repetition and the absence of lyrics, music aficionados believe that trance music transports the listener into a completely different dimension. Today every club, party or concert is all about trance music, and people swear by the effect of this genre of music.
Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is a sub genre of trance, which became more popular with the abundance of djs now creating this kind of music from their homes as well. The popularity of this genre has led to the explosive growth of production applications that has made the creation of this genre of music easy and on a wider scale that it has been in the past.
In 2014, I had the experience of an EDM concert when I went for the Swedish House Mafia concert in Mumbai, a trio of djs from Sweden, world renown for their EDM music. The concert was held at Mahalaxmi racecourse, a huge open ground that could easily accommodate thousands of frenzied fans of the new emerging music genre. Before the concert, I had had a few drinks, and was nothing more than just tipsy. The trio arrived and the concert was in full force with people were dancing and cheering to trance-infused beats of the Swedish sensations. In the beginning I too was dancing to the music, but soon my high had drained out and I was left in a melee of people inebriated by the music. It was after the loss of my high, when I actually noticed how bad the concert was!
The place was over-crowded and everyone was on top of each other with people jumping, stepping on each other, and not caring enough about whom they were hurting. Standing in that crowd, you were touched by everyone around you, yet none cared. It was a crowd of youngsters aged 15 and over, high on alcohol and drugs, enjoying the space as if they were alone. They seemed to be out of control of what they were doing. However fun this thought may sound, the idea of feeling like you’re in another world, I realized it wasn’t the music which made one go into the sense if ‘trance’, but it was the concoction all the other external factors where music just acted as a catalyst. The atmosphere made me feel claustrophobic and disgusted and the music didn’t even help me feel elevated. Probably the heat and the crowd surpassed the power of my high and the impact of the music on me, but does that really mean you can enjoy trance music only in a state of intoxication?
I personally feel that if the atmosphere hadn’t been as claustrophobic and dusty as it was, and probably if the location was different, maybe I would have enjoyed the music better. Maybe I would have felt the music alone. Or perhaps if I was in a weed infused half-conscious state, I wouldn’t have been affected by these external factors.
The same year, I went for a Sufi concert in Turkey. The ambience was completely different; with people seated on diwans in an open auditorium at night. The music was slow, played by a Ney, a flute. The visuals were just of people in white taking circles, and simply spinning in a very stable fashion. This music made me feel as though I were in a state of trance as I watched the Sufi dervishes spinning in their long robes. I was not under the influence of any kind of drug or alcohol, but still felt hypnotised by the atmosphere and the music environment. It felt as though nothing else mattered, the feeling of letting go is what took over me, and when the music stopped, I was dazed. It was a spiritual kind of upliftment.
In this case the spinning of the dervishes helped create the illusion of being in a state of hypnosis, and I found this experience better than the previous one. Maybe that has to do something with the kind of person that I am. I’m not the type to lose complete control of myself which is why I did not like my experience at the concert at racecourse which created a disgusting and overcrowded atmosphere of frenzy. For me the atmosphere created by the performance is completely responsible for the response you have to music and the Sufi concert appealed to me because of the calm and soothing, but yet a dreamy state that it put me in.
Interestingly in both the genres of music, no lyrics were used. This makes me question the relation of wordless music to the state of trance. Probably the blankness and emptiness of the music allows people to render it in with their own thoughts and emotions, making the music a piece of their own. It may also help in taking the music within themselves which causes the new dimension of trance.
If I would sit in my room and just play some EDM, it would be like noise to me. I would personally get irritated with the fast beats. Here again the question that arises is that does it mean that one has to be in a state of intoxication of either drugs or alcohol to feel the essence of the beats? Today, in our generation everyone is open to everything, and they don’t hesitate to try something new just for the “kick” of it. But can trance be translated as meditation as well keeping in mind the example of Sufi music, instead of being something reckless, loud, can it also be something calming and soothing?