Unreal Nature

May 29, 2014

Phantom Sound

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… The pullulating and vibrating surface that we see produces something like a noise-of-the-image.

This is from Audio-Vision: Sound On Screen by Michel Chion (1994):

Tarkovsky, whom some call a painter of the earth — but an earth furrowed by streams and roads like the convolutions of a living brain — knew how to make magnificent use of sound in his films: sometimes muffled, diffuse, often bordering on silence, the oppressive horizon of our life; sometimes noises of presence,cracklings, plip-plops of water. Sound is also used in wide rhythms, in vast sheets. Swallows pass over the Swedish house of The Sacrifice every five or ten minutes; the image never shows them and no character speaks of them. Perhaps the person who hears these bird calls is the child in the film, a reclining convalescent — someone who has all the time in the world to wait for them, to watch for them, to come to know the rhythm of their returning.

… there are in the audiovisual contract certain relationships of absence and emptiness that set the audiovisual note to vibrating in a distinct and profound way.

… Suspension occurs when a sound naturally expected from a situation (which we usually hear at first) becomes suppressed, either insidiously or suddenly. This creates an impression of emptiness or mystery, most often without the spectator knowing it; the spectator feels its effect but does not consciously pinpoint its origin.

Now and then, as in the dream of the snowstorm in Kurosawa’s Dreams, suspension may be more overt. Over the closeup of an exhausted hiker who has lain down in the snow, the howling of the wind disappears but snowflakes continue to blow about silently in the image. We see a woman’s long black hair twisted about by the wind in a tempest that makes no sound, and all we hear now is a supernaturally beautiful voice singing.

Kurosawasdreams
[image from Wikipedia]

An effect of phantom sound is then created: our perception becomes filled with an overall massive sound, mentally associated with all the micromovements in the image. The pullulating and vibrating surface that we see produces something like a noise-of-the-image. We perceive large currents or waves in the swirling of the snowflakes on the screen surface. The fadeout of sound from the tempest has led us to invest the image differently. When there was sound it told us of the storm. When the sound is removed our beholding of the image is more interrogative, as it is for silent cinema. We explore its spatial dimension more easily and spontaneously; we tend to look more actively to the image to tell us what is going on.

… If there exists a dimension in vision that is specifically visual, and if hearing includes dimensions that are exclusively auditive… , these dimensions are in a minority, particularized, even as they are central.

When kinetic sensations organized into art are transmitted through a single sensory channel, through this single channel they can convey all the other senses at once. The silent cinema on one hand and concrete music on the other clearly illustrate this idea. Silent cinema, in the absence of synch sound, sometimes expressed sounds better than could sound itself, frequently relying on a fluid and rapid montage style to do so. Concrete music, in its conscious refusal of the visual, carries with it visions that are more beautiful than images could ever be.

My most recent previous post from Chion’s book is here.

-Julie

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