Why study this theory and how does it relate to my project?
Although my project is categorically not a film, it sits in between two theoretical areas of sound for art and sound for film, as the piece is, at it’s heart, a storytelling project which employs an alternative approach to conveying an individual’s experiences of the effects of her Sleep Paralysis encounters through a physically and emotionally stimulating experience which is both visceral and intimate.
As a storytelling project, it is essential that I have a critical, thorough and extensive knowledge of how sound can be manipulated and used to tell stories in an effective, emotion driven and real way. This is because, like the camera, sound is used to shape our storytelling experience. This is crucial in terms of being able to apply this theoretical knowledge to my practical work; for instance, how sound is utilised in psychological films such as Hitchcock’s work to create a strong sense of foreboding. A key aspect of this is the way in which sound is not bought in at the point of action which will be advantageous in terms of my project development, transforming it from a piece that is typically of a show and tell style, to a track that cultivates an immersive experience. In this study, I will critically analyse specific films and accompanying theories, those that both successfully and unsuccessfully utilise sound to create specific effects, convey emotion and tell raw, authentic and powerful stories. This is because, like the camera, sound is used to shape our storytelling experience. Although these are films, the storytelling focal point remains the same and this exploration will enable me a greater insight into how to utilise sound to convey the story in a creative, emotive, evocative, experiential way.
Building blocks of sound for filmmaking:
In film, it is essential to be able to separate the three distinctive forms of sound that populate film; these are music, sound effects and dialogue.
- DIALOGUE: (Human voice)
This is the basis of the narrative and tells the story, expressing feeling and emotion. The very texture of the voice provides character. Narration (which is what I will be using in my installation) is non-diegetic as the sound is used without a corresponding visual reference as the dialogue doesn’t belong to any person in the frame. Dialogue authenticates the narrator as an individual, giving them a genuine, real, raw quality rather than that of a character, enabling an audience to identify and relate to them. Story wise, dialogue is expressive in terms of feeling and emotion, conveying human, candid, heartfelt character. This is extended beyond the words to the tone of the voice, developing texture, depth and character. When the elements of voice texture and character interact effectively, the result is a character the the audience relate to and engage with to the extent that they stop being a character and start being a human being. This is an interesting point that has definitely arisen throughout this project particularly in terms of Primary Research as during my interviewing process, it was important to consider the voice, tone and texture of the speaker and select one that individuals will engage with (central to my project aims) and that feels natural, genuine and relatable, accentuated by the intimacy, severity and rawness of the subject matter. For instance, during the initial stages of this research, one individual that I interviewed had a distinctly engaging, rich and detailed story which appealed to me in terms of it’s multi sensory potential in addition to her dedication to my project. However, one of the main critique that derived from the proposal presentation stage of the pre production phase was that her voice sounded am dram, constructed, artificial and was ultimately disengaging.
The human voice contains three primary sonic attributes that are essential to understand in order to maximise it’s effect particularly in terms of evoking emotional depth. These are:
- Volume – loud volume conveys emotional intensity – the connotations of a loud volume is an intense emotion – anger, pain, passion – quieter volumes are softer and symbolise more considered emotional responses – tenderness and fear are two examples
- Pitch – This relates to a sounds frequency – although this quality is mainly associated with music or sound effects, it has a huge impact in terms of dialogue and voice. For example, a deep voice implies authority and power.
- Vocal Characteristics – The voice is incredibly evocative – the way a person speakers is very telling in terms of their character – tone, class, cultur
2. SOUND EFFECTS
These characteristics can be applied to sound effects in the same way. For example, in terms of pitch, a low frequency sound that has a deep, rich tone has connotations of ambiguity and mystery. Whereas, high pitched sounds have the potential to signify anxiety and drama. Non-diegetic sounds, which are what I will be using in my piece, are central in conveying a certain mood and atmosphere. It is very common for films to utilise separately recorded sounds rather than the actual soundtrack that accompanies the visuals, as this can be more convincing, realistic and effective in shaping the narrative.
Background music is utilised for emotional and atmospheric purposes presenting an underlying tone and specific ambience to a scene or film. This type of music can also be used as a technique to foreshadow an upcoming event or development in the narrative.
Thematically (Using sound to create suspense):
In terms of psychological thrillers and horror films, aurally constructed elements are the main driving force for cultivating a suspenseful ambience due to it’s a ability to evoke emotion and richness compared to more traditional film sound tracks. This is predominantly due to the fact that acousmatic sound is used to enhance suspense, tension and ambiguity in the viewer by foreboding particular emotions, effects and events.
‘If you watch a horror film with the sound turned off, it isn’t scary’
The reason that sound is so crucial to the horror genre specifically is that ‘scary movies trigger more of a visceral, automatic, bodily reaction‘. This resonates so strongly with my installation, proving that the decision, to make it a purely sound and vibration driven piece instead of fusing these components with visual elements such as light and video which has been negated to serve the intention, was such a wise one. My project seeks to evoke both a physical and emotional engagement with the experience that at the heart of the piece. Therefore, this validates the importance of sound as the basis of the media used for this project.
Non-Diegetic Sound is the type of audio that is utilised in film to evoke suspense, tension, unease, anxiety and anticipation in it’s audience. This is because unlike diegetic sound, this type of audio is added in post production, and therefore manipulated with the specific intention of evoking and cultivating suspense and tension. For example, various tools and techniques are applied, by Post Editors, such as experimenting with volume automation, filters, reversing and stretching of sound in addition to layering effects. These devices are utilised to maximise effect with the intention of drawing the audience into the scene, using typical film techniques to build a gradual crescendo, immersing them in to the story as if they are participants as opposed to viewers. In a nutshell, non-diegetic sounds are described as ‘messages from the filmmaker directly to their audience’, manifested in the form of symbolism.
Examples of these non-diegetic sounds that are used to great effect in Horror Films specifically include eerie footsteps, tense piano/orchestra music, big bangs, slamming of doors, water running and a telephone ringing. These are effective and powerful in this context due to the fact that they are atmospheric and evoke emotion and feeling, particularly in terms of tension, suspense and anxiety and fear; the key staples in Horror Cinema. These sounds play on ideas of gradual crescendos, or alternatively, a sharp sound that is utilised as a way to shock, instilling fear and anxiety in the audience. These sounds serve to evoke an emotional, physical reaction from the audience and are therefore identified as atmospheric sound. This represents the reason why these powerful sounds are the crux of my installation as they are evocative and experiential which is the essence of the project. Furthermore, in order for sound to produce a physical experience, audio needs to be manipulated and symbolic as opposed to literal as the focus is on feeling rather than understanding. It is all about connotation, not denotation, when it comes to experience and emotion – utilising sound in a way that heightens the senses, eliciting both a physical and emotional reaction. This is an idea which is extensively illustrated in the Horror genre as the very essence of it’s film’s is ‘eliciting a negative reaction from viewers by playing on their fears‘. Practically exemplified, rain isn’t utilised to make the audience think about rain, but it is applied to a particular scene or moment in the film to act as a symbol for feelings such as anxiety or melancholy. In this way, sound is used as a metaphor to evoke and simulate emotion. Extending this example further, the slow and gradual build of intensity of the rain signifies an escalating sense of tension, suspense, uncertainty and pressure. Although my work isn’t solely intended to simulate a negative emotional response from the audience, it is inherent in terms of my subject matter as nightmares and terrors feature largely within this genre as by their very nature, they elicit such emotions that are intrinsic to Horror.
Analysis of Example of atmospheric sound used in film to evoke emotion:
Contextual Reference: Referred to as ‘The Master of Suspense’, Hitchcock is one of the most famous and acclaimed directors and filmmakers in cinematically producing films that impact minds, memories and emotions of the audience particularly in terms of cultivating an atmosphere of incredulous suspense. His incredible skill lies in having the ability to draw the audience in to an experience that is populated with tension, suspense, fear and anxiety right, keeping them engaged right until the last scene. In this study, I will critically examine the clever way in which Hitchcock crafts sound and silence to cultivate suspense. Although my work isn’t cinematic, it is a storytelling piece and my intention is for an audience to physically and emotionally engage with this particular story/experience, and therefore drawing each individual in and keeping them sustained, on edge and totally immersed in the experience to the end, through clever manipulation of sound, is vital.
Analysis of how Sound is used in Psycho:
This film illustrates the way Sound Design staples such as creaking floorboards, the gradual opening of doors and the stabbing of knives are utilised to achieve sensations of anxiety, fear, tension and alarm. Sound is crucial in this genre as it serves to represent and embody the subjective qualities of state of mind as well as the emotional aspects which are more prevalent in Horror. Thus, sound is typically used to embody a characters subconscious state. This reflects the relationship between Sound and emotion, highlighting it’s importance in terms of my project. This is because the narrative of the installation itself is based on the story of an individual’s subconscious state, i.e. her Sleep encounters/Night demons, therefore validating the decision to pursue this work as a Sound piece. This is the case in Psycho where most of the unease and tension that the audience feel is as a result of the sonic disconnect in which the sound that they hear doesn’t have a visual correspondence. In terms of pacing, Psycho utilises a soundtrack that gradually builds throughout the course of the film, slowly progressing to evoke a raw sense of anxiety and fear in the audience, signifying the way Hitchcock famously uses Sound design and editing to play with the viewers emotions. According to Hitchcock, his objective was to use these experiential techniques with the intention of making the audience feel that they were part of the film. This idea directly links in with my installation in the sense that my aim is to create an emotionally and physically engaging experience of this particular account of an individual’s Sleep Paralysis encounters.
Psycho was a key film in terms of revolutionising the process and effect of Sound editing and mixing. One of the most famous and illustrative examples of this is the shower scene in which we, as the audience, never visually see the knife make contact with the woman, but merely through the power of sound, we are convinced we have seen it. In order to heighten the anticipation, emotion and suspense of the scene, non-diegetic sound in the form of an eerie, spine-chilling music track is used at the beginning to forebode what is to come. The rhythm and pacing of this music track is crucial to recognise and examine as it gradually builds in a subtle, natural yet incredibly compelling way. The music, however, ceases when the shower is turned on; the effect of this is that the sound of the shower dripping is emphasised. As soon as the shower curtain is pulled, the music comes back on and it is a high pitched sound that, as discussed before, is indicative of anxiety, tension and a strong sense of unease. This high pitched, almost shrill and sharp sound is significantly louder and faster, reflecting changes in pace, rhythm and tempo. This acts as a method to foreshadow that something sinister is going to happen, thus representing how Hitchcock is utilising sound as a symbol. Symbolism in this scene extends further as the sound of the shower, similar to rain, is suggestive of danger, thus heightening the drama involved in the scene. The music is then layered on top of this sound effect with the intention of cultivating a piercing, strong and penetrative audio mix that evokes suspense and fear in it’s audience.
From this point, the shower sound is continuous which serves to remind the audience that this murder is taking place in an intimate, personal and everyday location that is very relatable, heightening the fear. At the end of the scene, the music gradually gets quieter to reflect the fact that the woman is dying and the way in which this fades out to a silence. In this way, sound is continually used as a method to evoke emotion in it’s audience as the dying down of the music can be construed as a symbol for her death.
There is a distinctive shift in the pace and tempo of the sound where at the beginning of scene the sound is gentle in rhythm and tone which lulls the audience into a false sense of security. Examples of this include the stepping into the shower and the water running as although these cultivate tension and uncertainty, they are also everyday sounds that tell a story of a straightforward shower process. However, as the scene builds towards a dramatic climax in the narrative, the sound reflects this as the volume increases, breaking the suspense that has been cultivated and instilling light and shade. The intense rhythmic quality and the high pitched sounds evokes discomfort in the audience; this is an element that I can consider emulating in my Sound Mix in the sense that different types of sound and audio can be layered and presented throughout the mix to convey a story which has a progression including moments of stillness juxtaposed with intense, climactic sensations.
In the broader context of the film as a whole, Hitchcock also withheld sound information as a device to heighten ambiguity, uncertainty, hence suspense and tension for the audience, enhancing their engagement with the story. In a similar way, Hitchcock withheld visual information to accentuate the sonic components, where an off screen sound effect is applied. This is an idea that resonates strongly with my project in the sense that my installation is a sound piece without any visual elements in order to cultivate an ubiquitous, all consuming, immersive experience of a Sleep Paralysis encounter. This is a very interesting concept that I will most definitely experiment with and incorporate into my next testing period in terms of withholding sound at particular points that the audience will expect sound to further draw them into the experience and accentuate the sense of uncertainty and tension. However, in doing so, I will ensure that I am careful in terms of making sure that withholding sound in this way doesn’t disengage the audience; this is a fine line that I need to tread carefully and skilfully. As an initial idea, one possible avenue to explore would be to include very evocative, powerful sound effects but have a void or potential delay in the corresponding piece of narrative.
This was inspired by the scene in Hitchcock’s Blackmail (pictured above), where audio information in the form of a telephone conversation is concealed from the audience, instilling a strong sense of curiosity, ambiguity and suspense. For example, in Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, whispering is used with the intention of intriguing and captivating the audience into the story. This is a technique that could be applied to my installation as whispering adds texture, tone and depth which would offer me creative potential in terms of creating a personal relationship between participants and the narrator whose story it is.
Linking it back to Hitchcock’s aim, he wanted his films to impact an audience’s emotional and psychological state, with the intention of evoking an active reading where they are questioning, confronting and challenging in terms of both themselves and the narrative. This responds conceptually to one of the primary aims of my work in the sense that I want individuals to engage with the experience that they are being immersed in, but on a deeper level, I also aim for the installation to simulate feeling, sensations and emotions in them that they can relate to their own night demons as they are such a universal, identifiable, rich subject matter. In this way, I intend for individuals within an audience to engage, question, challenge and confront both Carla MacKinnon’s Sleep Paralysis experiences, but also their own night terrors. For example, how do these experiences relate to what they encounter? I am enamoured and inspired by the way in which Hitchcock utilises sound to tap into the audiences subconscious, psychological state in order to effect it.
Summary of how Hitchcock uses sound to evoke emotion (with critically evaluative annotations of how these techniques can develop and shape my work):
Example of atmospheric sound used in INSTALLATION EXPERINETIAL ART for emotion
this is because my work sits between the two
Contextual Example – Analysis: