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Sound Design In The Film Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3587 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In 1911, Riccitto Canudo, Italian poet and film pioneer, published the famous “The seventh art declaration”. In this declaration, the film was officially established as an independent art, apart from the architecture, music, poetry, painting, dance and sculpture. So far, the film development is only about a hundred years of history, but it is undeniable that it has become the most popular, influential and dynamic art.

In the development process of the film art, the emergence and the application of every element, such as lens movement, montage, sound, colour etc, have injected new vitality. Among these, the join of the film sound is undoubtedly of great significance.

Sound, the material of which composes the hearing art, is the substance of the media that has artistic vitality and artistic influence.

The sound of the film is one of the basic elements of the film medium. It makes the film from a purely visual media into a combination of vision and audition. As the sound is an effective method to form a space image in human’s brain¼Œwe can use it to express and reveal the theme of the film. If we consider that the silent film is 2D space, then the sound film is 3D space.

Today, the sound has become an important performance element in the film art, and because the improvement of the technology as well as exploration of the art, the film sound, from appearance to a means of artistic which has an independent aesthetic pursuit, has an inextricable, interactive relationship with the cinematographic art ontology.

一、The emergence of the film sound

The invention of the film was originally started in the entertainment pursuit of the “moving image”, so for a long time after 1896, the birth of the film, films are limited to a simple record of actual life, and most of the content is trivial fragments of the scenes of life.

At first, People were all surprised and impressed from this new “active photography”. However, this plain unaesthetic record soon lost its appeal to the , the film gradually went toward to the trough. “If the film art wants to break away from this condition, it must be applied with a similar alternative art, the theater art, to narrate stories.” At that time, some early filmmakers, Georges Melies, as a representative, apparently took note of this, so they began to introduce the theater performance into the film and explore the multiple narrative ways of the film.

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However, the increasingly rich subject matter and content was really a challenge to the expression of the film art. At that time, as the film was just moving pictures without any sound, like a mute, the artists had to try to use a variety of possible indirect methods to express more and more complex plots and inner feelings of the characters. During this period, many scenes which required the sound, usually expressed through the actors’ exaggerated facial expressions and body movements, or even the subtitles.

These really played a great promotion on the development of the montage language and the improvement of the actors’ acting in the silent film, and, also produced a number of silent film maestros as well as some classic works with very high artistic value. Nevertheless, these expressions were tortuous and indirect, but did not meet the objective laws which human use to understand the world by visual and auditory perception. So gradually, the voiceless characters and plots made the audience feel boring and inauthentic. Therefore, no matter whether the film were “recording the reality” or trying to “tell a story”, the situation that only with pictures but soundless clearly shown defective in artistic expressions, and even some of these, such as frequent emergence subtitles, would interrupt the rhythm, affect the normal expression of the film. Thus, on the perspective of the film development, the filmmakers strongly desired the sound.

二、The development of the film sound

Throughout the history of the film, there is an interesting phenomenon. People are once strongly against the sound film, but now, people pay a great attention on the use of the sound in the film.

The motion picture was almost 30 years of age before it started to talk. The world welcomed talking pictures with open arms. The prophets of doom predicted that the motion picture would lose its aesthetical values. The opposite happened new genres were created and the motion picture developed aesthetically.

“Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You aren’t heard nothing yet.”

These were the first three sentences ever said in a motion picture. Nothing earthshaking in itself but definitely words that started a small revolution in a thirty-year old industry.

Although not everybody concerned believed in the new development or supported it and even believed that it would lower the standards of the motion picture, the past 70 years of sound have proved that the medium was enriched and stimulated to grow at astonishing pace.

As a matter of fact, it is hard to believe that it took so long for the motion picture to start talking. The Edison phonograph (1875) preceded the first motion picture camera, the Kinetograph, and various efforts were made at the beginning to bring sound to the motion picture. The truth is that motion pictures never were without sound: commentators, pianists, accordion players and even orchestras accompanied the moving images from the very start.

The introduction of sound technology came about because of certain Hollywood studio owners who wanted to expand their powers. In the late Twenties the Warner Brothers were spending big money on the expansion of facilities and properties. One of this was to invest in sound for motion pictures. They tried to synchronize gramophone records with motion picture images.

In 1926 the Warner Brothers succeeded to practically put sound and motion picture together. They used a process that they called Vitaphone and that was in fact sound on discs. The motion picture Don Juan was released with orchestral accompaniment and sound effects on the discs. After this a series of short vaudeville films with singing and dialogue were released. The idea of sound films started to grow strongly.

In 1927 the first words were spoken on film. The speaker was the well-known entertainment star, Al Jolson. The motion picture was The Jazz Singer – later produced again with Neil Diamond in the title role. The Jazz Singer was only partly a talk film or “talkie”, as it was called. Parts of the film were accompanied by music only.

The applause from the spectators was deafening and for Warner Brothers a valuable return for their investment in sound. The Jazz Singer brought an end to the existence of the silent movie and started a new era for sound.

The development from the silent picture to the sound picture was so quick that many a film planned and started as a silent film in 1928 and 1929 was produced and issued as a sound film. The producers were forced to add sound to these pictures as a result of the demand from the side of the public.

Theatre owners had to modify their theatres and fit it with sound equipment. Vitaphone did not survive very long. In 1931 it was obsolete and replaced by the Movietone system that was less clumsy and had more flexibility. Movietone was the brainchild of the American inventor Lee De Forrest and contributed to the fact that the sound film became an international phenomenon overnight.

At the beginning of the Thirties film producers quickly moved away from the monotonous talking in sound films by producing more imaginative movies. Music and dialogue were manipulated in a more subtle way with the use of post-synchronization.

Motion picture producers also learned that music coming from an unseen source can have a special effect. A clock ticking, a knock on a door, running water and animal sounds were utilized effectively.

Dialogue was uninspiring but fortunately a new generation of scriptwriters emerged and they knew how to put words in the mouths of film actors. Scriptwriters such as Ben Hecht, Dudley Nichols and Robert Risken made use of crafty dialogue that helped to tell the story and not to smother it.

The magnetic recording technology emerged in 1940’s, it brought the film sound up to a broad prospect. The quality and expressiveness of the film sound were greatly improved, Visual and auditory were balanced. In the arts, the film artists had begun to face the role of sound in the film, and use of sound was in-depth thinking.

三、The construct of sound in movie

The construct of audio part are referring to the three basic elements: human voice, music and acoustic. The differences and different arrangements between the three, showed us another magnificent world.

Human voice, which pronounced by the combination of variety of tune, strength and rhythm, had always been playing the most important role in the movie history. It has a vital importance and replaceable effect in story-telling, emotion-expressing, debating and talking, creating characteristics and conflicting between characters.

Sound, as an art form, which can exist on its own, have a lot of performing usefulness in silver-screen art. It has multiple ways to express its unique effect on demonstrating, implyingand supplementing the movie scene

Hegel had once mentioned that temperament is the true center of the art. This sentence concluded the most basic form of all art, to express the emotion of the writer. In movie art, music also has the effect of increasing temperament. Although music has lesser effect than visual image and speech in creating character and expressing certain mental activities, but its expressing ability is almost infinite. It can express one’s emotional activities and intention, and also create certain scene. In other words, via the hearing and thoughts of human, music can turn the invisible music into visual image, to aid the video and speech into a multi-layer way to express the emotional outburst. In many occasions, music and video and speech created a multi-layer space of senses, can make the movie create more impact to the audience.

Acoustic means the other sound than human voice and music, which created by the nature world and human activities. We lives in an environment filled with all kind and forms of sound, acoustic is the material properties of our living environment, and also the the most important aspect of identifying and recognizing our living space. Acoustic is a type of sound have more describing ability than music. It has multiple effects on creating space and atmosphere and also visualizes actor’s mental activities. It also has a lot of usage on symbolization and metaphors, which also made soundless another environment.

四、 The art value of movie sound

Change the habit of appreciation of the audience.

Movies had been seen as a pure visual art while it was just appears, the sound had brought the most direct effect on combining and hearing and vision, which complied with the requirements of people’s rule of perceiving and sense the world. The sound had enhanced the abilities of audience to appreciate and apprehend of movie via more than just visual image, which had brought a wider experience of esthetic.

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But due to the acception to the silent movie, the audience of that time had got used to understand the movie by reading the screen and actions of the actor. So at the first appearances of the sound, it created a disturbance to the audience and most people found it was hard to adapt to the new way. With additional advertising effect in the movie of that time, people could not coordinate of the new relationship between the visual and the sound. But as the time goes by, people start to accept this form of art because it is way more like the true perceiving way in real life.

By the exploration and practices of the sound in movie, the sound itself created more function of story-telling and emotion-expressing, it had become more than replication of the real acoustic environment and addition to visual image. Changing method of using the sound can also create symbolization and metaphors to enhance the performing. The artful desire and practices had brought changes to the way of audience perceiving their own appreciation, and also increased the ability of the audience to apprehend the movie.

Extend the space in movie

As a comprehensive story telling art, the reality feeling of the movie decided the influence of the movie. So, in the development in movie art, to enhance the spatial feeling and gain the experience of standing next to the character would the ultimate purpose of the creators of movies. But in many years, people had been exploring on the image itself, only tried to change the way of filming, the light/shadow ratio, construction of the picture, trying to get the spatial feeling in a 2D construct. In actuality, this type of implementation has limited effect and spatial feeling does not impact on the audience. The sound of movie created a new height for movie history, it helped to break the limitation of the 2D picture, and extend the feeling outside the silver screen. This type of breakthrough mostly appeared in two different ways, one is the addition to scene based on the external source of sound, etc. environmental sound and speech outside the picture, could help the audience to understand the whole set-up, create the expectation and suspense; the second way is the application of surrounding sound could utilize the multi-channel sound to create a sound field, which surround the audience and create really powerful sense of hearing and vision. This type of utilization could let the audience to join in the movie and influence by it. Change the story-telling way of the movie

3、Change the story-telling way of the movie

While the movies are still silent, all the content are performed through the image, as it was said, ” Silent movie is a world without sound, so a lot of symbols are appeared to cover this flaw” and the appearance of sound deemed to covered this flaw and break the “set of symbols”。

First, sound took some of the role in story-telling, etc. using dialogue to explain the conflicts between characters, develop the story; using music to express feelings and and create certain euphemistical scene.

Secondly, sound had become a powerful way to describe one’s character. French philosopher Moris once said, “Speak more or speak less, speech full or hollow, words specific or with emotion, reflect more people’s true nature.” So in the movies, role’s voice and characteristics of speech are the most direct reflection. For example, the sicken Dr. Hannibal in “silent lamb” uses a deep and calm with a bit harsh voice has a highly attacking tendency, as if each syllable penetrates in the deepest corner of the audience, “creepy” had become the most successful characteristic of the role.

Except for the above, because sound has a specific rhythm and style, so it can be used to keep a track on the movie’s rhythm and form a specific expressive style. Take an example from the movies, “Singing In the Rain”, “The Sound of Music” and other musical drama collaborate the dancing rhythm and music rhythm together to create the movie rhythm, the director uses the music rhythm to control the speed of the music to construct the whole movie. There are more examples of movies edited by using different shot in different space connected by music.

4、New development in different types of movie

The appearances of movie sound affected the overall development of the movie art history and also enriched the expression of the movies, new form of movies like musical movies and dancing movies had been born and also increased the popularity of mystery and horror movies.

Musical and dancing movies are the great influence brought by movie sound, and also a classical media for Hollywood dreams. Although before the appearances of movie sound, silent movies also accompany with the music or recordings in gramophone, but only when the music and dance works for the story of the movie and used as a way to express the content, then can be seen as a standalone movie type.

As to the detective and horror movies, they had been seen when the silent movie appears.

Detective films have no less history than any of the important movie type. At least when the “Holmes’s Fracture” appears, the existence of this type of film had been on the silver screen. But they did not receive much attention. The reason to that is because the detective works with their magnificent logical analytical skills cannot be fully presented in silent movies. So until 30s, after the sound had conquered the Hollywood, detective films could use the speech to express the character’s special observation and logical analytical abilities, then detective films are shown with their full bright on silver screen.

In the early time of silent films, the first generation of movie creator leading by Edison had been trying to take horror stories from fiction or sci-fi novels on to films. But they are limited by the contemporary technologies and only able to create atmosphere by makeup, light, design of character and special effect. Even the story was well-written; the real horror effect was limited. After the sound joined the horror movies, sound had become a very effective way to build atmosphere. Creepy music, the “cluck” sound of high heels in a quiet corridor, indescribable deep breath and so on. In a psychological way, everything that is invisible or unknown situation could cause the instinct fear of human, so the unknown sound element from outside of the screen could cause depressing feeling and generate fear. Of course, there are certain techniques to build horror atmosphere, which had brought the horror film into a new generation, and a lot of good productions had made this type of film has a special trait, which attracted massive amount of audience.

五、The sound design of the film

As the technology of the sound recording, reproduction, editor continued to evolve, and the film creation continued to innovate, sound production became increasingly popular. The concept of sound design began to appear, and it aroused more and more art creators and researchers’ attention.

“The sound is the appropriate sound art that obtained at the appropriate time and location.”

The appropriate time, which means during the sound editing, sound designers choose the fit sound clipping point by a corporate impact of the sound and picture.

The appropriate location, which means sound designers should balance the workload of every step -cutting, premixing and final mixing, ensure that each step not only has completed the audio processing which required technical standards (loudness, dynamic, etc.) in that moment, and are well prepared for the next step, but also has a relative independence in audio processing, so that it will be easy for the further modification in the next step.

The appropriate sound, means that the sound designers make the right aesthetic choice to a certain scene.

This shows that the sound design is an important task that covers both aesthetic and technical details factors. It is a process which needs to make full use of modeling capabilities of sound to shape the image and style of sound and create audio-visual art works. It involves two aspects- technology and art, not only to design the process and the methods but also the blueprint for sound, including the artistic effect of the whole and the specific paragraphs or scenes.

Sound design include: the recording process design, language design, music design, sound effect design, style design, the hardware system design, project planning and management.

六、The function of the sound design

1、Highlight the status of the film theme

In the past, the picture was given more attention than the sound, because the picture greeted the audience first. With innovation and updating of the technology, the standards of the film production are increasing as well, then the picture, no matter how perfect it is, needs the sound to set off against its wonderful. So, audio is more closely linked to sound, the sound makes a unique assist to the film with vivid descriptions. Although it is complementary, the sound design can not be sloppy. It can highlight the content, present the themes, with its cooperation, the film can show extraordinary talents.

2、Enhance the interest of enjoying the film

There is a special sensitive area to music, art, language in human’s brain. The harmony of sound and picture can relax the brain and bring a better experience. No matter how perfect the picture is, it can not take the lead. Only when the audio and the visual achieve unity, the film can let the audience enjoy themselves so much as to forget to leave.


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