I hear what I want to hear
If cinemas is divided and described in form of visual anatomy, then does portraying the sound as the ear offer it a fair vindication? How do we go about explaining this in a visual context? How about identifying sound in cinema as a spine that provides posture – while allowing for movement and flexibility in form of visual narrative through character and camera movement. Music would be the type of posture that would add psychological depth and insight to the visual story.
The human mind translate sound and noise as a way of communication, which we heavily rely on regular basis to understand our surroundings. We also interpret sound in cinema based on our previous experience that may result in provoking emotions.
In 1887, Edison wrote , “the idea occurred to me that it would be possible to devise an instrument which should do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, and that by a combination of the two all sound and motion could be recorded and reproduced simultaneously”.
With that methodology I believe that in cinema sound and image are no longer separate mediums, but they work together collaboratively to form a perspective. What started as a simple and soundless visible enactment for entertainment purposes, has evolved to a hybrid of complex technologies (graphic elements, sound effects, animation, digital effects) where visual communication provide a sensory contact with the audiences.
In the early days of cinema the need for sound and music was a striving element to achieve. Directors were aware that to gain response from their spectators sound would have to be present in their visual storytelling. By 1930s optical sound track was developed where notes were strategically and manually put on to the 35 mm film. This method changed cinema.
However, music has been around much longer than cinema. I believe that cinema is a technique of visualising our emotions; something that classical music has done for years. Composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) to name a few, have come to revolutionise the way we emphasize, interpret, and convey music.
In ”King Kong” (1933), one of Hollywoods best known composer Max Steiner developed a music language that allowed the audience to connect with a fictional character, which in this film was with a large plastic creature. Steiner’s way of conducting music was evident in every genre that he worked with. He paid careful attention to physical movements in cinema and pioneered the click track where he could compose music that carefully applied to each movement. Throughout the film he allowed the audience to empathise with each character with a full emotional embrace by creating music that brought mystery and panic.
Another example that caught my attention while researching sound history in cinema was “Vertigo” (1958) an American psychological thriller directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock. A movie that has been described as “greatest American picture ever made” where music played a vital role. Bernard Herrmann was the composer of choice for “Vertigo” where in one sequence he projects a suspense and intensity followed by an unexpected confusion. This is the scene where Kim Novak’s character suddenly jumps in the water and shifts the story into a emotional tension . The music did not warn the audience of what was expected ahead which resulted in shocking scene where John Steward transfers his character from a spying detector to a compassionate man falling in love.
The way I would describe cinema as ear would be in this manner; when art is produced in form of a moving image the communication is extremely important through the sound of music. The sound should emit and reflect experience that raises the film to new heights. It should also work as a tool that scores a notion that provides grace to the story lines.