Unreal Nature

June 19, 2014

Sound and Image

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… For a few seconds, then, we become conscious of the fundamental strangeness of the audiovisual relationship …

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

… In order to observe and analyze the sound-image structure of a film we may draw upon a procedure I call the masking method. Screen a given sequence several times, sometimes watching sound and image together, sometimes masking the image, sometimes cutting out the sound. This gives you the opportunity to hear the sound as it is, and not as the image transforms and disguises it; it also lets you see the image as it is, and not as sound recreates it. In order to do this, of course, you must train yourself to really see and really hear, without projecting what you already know onto these perceptions. It requires discipline as well as humility. For we have become so used to “talking about” and “writing on” things without any resistance on their part, that we are greatly vexed to see this stupid visual material and this vile sonic matter defy our lazy efforts at description, and we are tempted to give in and conclude that in the last analysis, images and especially sound are “subjective.” Having reached this conclusion we can move on to serious matters like theory … .

[ … ]

… One very striking experiment, which I can never recommend highly enough for studying an audiovisual sequence, is what I can forced marriage between sound and image. Take a sequence of film and also gather together a selection of diverse kinds of music that will serve as accompaniment. Taking care to cut out the original sound (which your participants must not hear at first or know from prior experience), show them the sequence several times, accompanied by these various musical pieces played over the images in an aleatory manner. Success is assured: in ten or so versions there will always be a few that create amazing points of synchronization and moving or comical juxtapositions, which always come as a surprise.

Changing music over the same image dramatically illustrates the phenomena of added value, synchresis, sound-image association, and so forth. By observing the kinds of music the image “resists” and the kinds of music cues it yields to, we begin to see the image in all its potential signification and expression.

Only afterward should you reveal the film’s “original” sound, its noises, its words, its music, if any. The effect at that point never fails to be staggering. Whatever it is, no one would ever have imagined it that way beforehand; we conceived of it differently, and we always discover some sound element that never would have occurred to us. For a few seconds, then, we become conscious of the fundamental strangeness of the audiovisual relationship: we become aware of the incompatible character of these elements called sound and image.

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

-Julie

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