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A study of sound as an inf luence in the perception of the semiotics of the costume in film.

Boris Cabrera Cab11347116 Concept Development BA(Hons.) Fashion Media 3903 Words

A B STR AC T This report endeavours to find a semantic relation between fashion and sound in film, sound as an inf luence in the perception of semiotics of the costume. The interest in this relationship was born from the observation of the current fashion promotional tools, heavily based in audiovisual media i.e. fashion film; also, the fact that I am a musician has always determined my interest in fashion and in this case been conclusive to choose the path for my concept development. Through the analysis of perception theories, this paper, firstly studies sound ontologically, discussing different interpretations of its nature, role in culture, and its significance at the sensory level. Secondly it analyses costume within the frame of audiovisual theories, studying the nature of sound in film and its semantic relation with the visual elements on-screen. This allows understanding of both sound and costume as meaningful elements of the film experience that, when paired on-screen, generate complex messages. Sound is then identified as a powerful tool for the fashion industry to support its audiovisual marketing strategies. This set out the context for my Final Major Project proposal; a fashion film that will explore the perception of fashion through the use of sound.

TABLE OF CONTENTS 11 1.Introduction 17 2.Rationale 19 2.1.Sound 24 2.2Aural Perception 29 2.3 Costume and Sound 38 2.4. Sound, the link 41 3.Summary of Findings 43 4.Project Proposal 46 5.Project Timeline 49 Bibliography 60 Image List


“The unity of the object does not lie behind its qualities, but is reaffirmed by each of them: each of its qualities is the whole�(Merleau-Ponty, 2004. p.46).




I N T R O D U C T I ON Cinematography, sound and costume are some of the elements amongst many others that make each film a unique experience; our personal aural and visual conscious and unconscious memories are called upon to form a new synaesthetic experience. The audience is bombarded with sound and visual stimuli, designed, curated and synchronized to trigger specific sensations. Merleau-Ponty studies about perception contend that the sum of all sensorial qualities of an object inform each other, defining the object itself. (Merleau-Ponty,2004) Film is ultimately a commodity, a cultural artefact; each one a unique creation. Every aural and visual element that compose a specific film, condition our perception of all the others, defining this way the final product. Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore in their 1967 essay The Medium Is the Massage analyse the role of the media in electronically advanced societies highlighting ‘that media by altering the environment, evoke in us a unique ratio of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters


the way we think and act–The way we perceive the world’ They argue media is an extension of our nervous system that enable human societies and their knowledge interconnect and evolve from a rigid undemocratic cultural past. (Fiore & McLuhan, 2008. p.41) (Fig.1). The sensorial extension Fiore & McLuhan present allows us to understand the action in a film and read meaning underneath the surface when we are exposed to image and sound. This is product of collective media exposure. It has created a common

Fig.1.Pages from The Medium is the Massage.


ground of media knowledge, letting us expand our sensorial knowledge. Costume and sound are two very different elements that are used amongst many others by filmmakers in order to support the construction of the narrative. ‘Costume design involves creating garments that portray the personalities of fictional characters, intended to embody the psychological, social and emotional conditions of the character at a particular moment in the screenplay.’(Anderson, 2014p.103) Sound on the other hand helps to make cinema a three-dimensional experience creating spatial perception. ‘Seeing is mono directional whereas hearing is always a three-dimensional spatial experience, it creates an acoustic space’. (Elsaesser & Hagener, 2010 pp.129,130) Costume is an element of the visual space on a film and sound defines the spatial perception of it. This indicates the significance of the relationship between the two elements. The proliferation of mobile technology and the internet have facilitated many different industries in reaching their customers in new more engaging ways. Sound since the invention of the Walkman has scored our everyday life


generating a parallel musical reality and new sensibility as to what surrounds us. It is important to understand the way sound works and its new plasticity. Now, technology is able to make audiovisual content portable, giving sound a new context to generate new sensorial experiences. 73% of the consumers own a smart phone showing a growing trend since 2012 when just 53% of consumers possessed one (Mintel Oxygen, 2014). This depicts a scenario where audiovisual content is widely available and accessible for consumers showing constant interaction with this media. The fashion industry has recognized these new developments increasing the use of the audiovisual tools available to target their audiences. Fashion Film has seen its popularity increase during the last decade thanks to accessibility of media through the internet. From a promotion point of view, it is important to understand how the elements composing these media pieces interact with the semiotics of fashion in order to make the experience as engaging and immersive as possible. ‘It is crucial for marketers to engage customers in many different stages from online to the retail experience using music as a important tool to drive an array of feelings in the customer. Fashion brands need to carefully consider their audio-identity.’ (WGSM, 2013)


This paper endeavours through four chapters to analyse in what extent sound in film can inf luence the perception of semiotics on costume rather than just being an accessory of the image. The first chapter explores the value of aural experience in society. The following chapter analyses sound as a sensorial tool to understand our environment. The third chapter explores the different forms of sound in film and its effects on the perception of the semiotics of the costume in different case studies. Finalizing with a fourth chapter that discusses the factors that may make possible to sound to interact with the costume meanings in the context of the moving image. The study main objective is to provide a theoretic framework for the production of fashion film, understanding sound as a tool of sensorial stimuli conditioning.







SOUND Foetus reacts to some sounds from as early as 14 weeks – distinguishing between male and female voices and from within a group of people can recognize its mothers speaking. Therefore we start gathering aural experience earlier than we are able to see. Sound is from the womb an intangible phenomenon surrounding us constantly, we can’t stop hearing, even if we cover our ears with our hands or even if we try to use ear plugs, we will regardless be able to hear the sound of our heart beating or the sound of our breathing. We can’t escape from it. Hearing is a constant in human experience, giving us information of our immediate reality enabling us to understand it. However since the invention of the written alphabet, civilization, has given more credit to the visual experience leaving hearing in a less trustworthy position. Seeing is believing; what you see is what you get; read my lips. These tarns-sensory metaphors widely use in conversation confirms the cultural tendency to find vision a more reliable sense that hearing. John Berger in it’s 1972 essay The Ways


Of Seeing situates visual stimuli on top of the hierarchy of senses defending that seeing happens before words are learnt, that a child can look and recognize before it can speak and establishes that is seeing what anchors our place in the world. In the other hand Marshal McLuhan and Quentin Fiore discuss the importance of new technology that couples sound and visual stimuli, emphasizing the significance of the aural dimension. They understand new media creates a new perceptional scenario mirroring the true nature of knowledge and experience. They think this was corrupted after the invention of the alphabet and contending that ‘before writing men lived in an acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horinzontless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion. Our contemporary scenario of democratic, instant and borderless information media involves all of us, all at once; forming a new scenario that vanishes time and space’ (Fiore and McLuhan, 2008, p.48) This theory present a parallelism between the technological era and the human knowledge pre-alphabet based on experience and fact. Plato in his dialog Phaedrus written approximately in 370 B.C. also criticizes the knowledge only achieve only by the written word:


‘The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories: they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of them-selves... You give your disciplines not the truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be many heroes of many things, and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.’(Plato and Rowe, 2005) These theories acknowledge the importance of the aural dimension in the understanding of our environment. David Toop’s study of sound explores its intangible nature and highlights the role of subjects at extracting information from it.


‘The intangibility of sound is uncanny –a phenomenal presence both in the head, at its point of source and all around us– so never entirely distinct from auditory hallucinations.’ He defines ‘the close listener as a medium who draws out substance from witch is not entirely there’ (Toop, 2010)




A RUA L PERCEPTION As we have explained in the previous chapter since we are in the womb our brains start to make cognitive links between what sounds represent in the sensorial context of our mother’s body. Anne Karpf in her 2006 book The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent highlights the relation between touching, hearing and maternal voice in the psychological formation of the idea of secure attachment. Therefore our brain starts to operate in a synaesthetic level in very early stages of development. This capacity to pair different senses as a tool to understand our surroundings is widen through all our life. Synaesthetic perception will vary in every individual depending on cultural background and sensorial previous experiences. The sound of a ball being kicked in a non-threatening situation might evoke a feeling of enjoyment, nostalgia or success in some individuals. Nonetheless in others it could awake feelings of boredom or alertness. Our ear will receive the sound of the kick, picturing the idea of the ball


in our mind, is our synaesthetic memory built through our life, which allows interpreting it. “Sound may not be connected to the consciousness formation of a thought, yet may ref lect feelings that are hidden from self awareness, and do so in an instant transmission of their secrets� (Toop,2010, p.36) In film, sound and image are paired to generate in us feelings and sensations that we can recognize, understand and assimilate. Stimuli we receive from the action on screen are interpreted by our senses, creating meaning through our cultural context, sensorial experiences and audiovisual literacy. For instance a young person that lives in an isolated area in the country side that has never been in a metropolis might find an image of one on screen exciting or maybe intimidating; very different would be the interpretation of person of the same age that lives in a house f looded with traffic noise in an urban area. Even though this could be found as a basic explanation, it intends to illustrate how cinema utilizes sensorial stimuli based on cultural conventions, taking us to a new reality created by the filmmaker.


“With film we can also say that the image is projected and the sound is a projector, in the sense that the latter projects meanings and values onto the image� (Chion, 1994, p.144)


Speaker / Sound

New message= Image+Sound

Screen / Image



Speaker / Sound


COSTUME AND SOUND Sound in film can be divided in two categories depending on its cause and role on screen; these categories are diegetic and non-diegetic . Sound, which origin is perceptible by the actors on screen and its cause is evident for the viewer, is defined as diegetic sound, i.e footsteps or dialogues. On the other hand non-diegetic sound groups the sounds which source is not on-screen nor has been implied to be present in the action i.e., a narrator’s commentary, sound effects that are added to accentuate drama or mood music. Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from outside the story frame. In the famous scene of Billy Wilder’s 1955 The Seven Years Itch starring Marilyn Monroe. The characters played by Marilyn Monroe (a professional actress) and Richard Sherman (a married man) walk around New York after having a date in the cinema. They are talking about the film they watched when they are suddenly interrupted by a violent sound coming out of the underground’s tunnel ventilation grille on the sidewalk (diegetic sound).


Monroe’s character, wearing a white dress that accentuates her figure, rapidly reacts to the sound of the subway quickly stepping on the ventilation grille. The strong breeze produced by the train blows the actress’s dress exposing her legs. At the same time the character expresses how much she loves the feeling. Richard Sherman’s character stands in the background enjoying the scene. The combination of the semiotics behind the elements in this scene depicts a highly sexualized message. Marilyn’s dress perfectly embodies the personality built around the actress. Accentuating her figure Monroe is presented in a highly sensual way, showing relaxed mores for the social context of the time, the playfulness shown by the actress also helps to underpin this side of her character. This is juxtaposed with a naive side that seems to be oblivious to the other sensualised side of the character also underlined by the costume colour choice–white, this colour being culturally linked to values like innocence and purity i.e. the traditional Christian wedding dress (Fig.2). Apart from the dress, the hairstyle choice and colour, short curly and blonde also supports the innocent side of the character’s personality resembling the pictorial representation of the religious figure of the Putto (commonly mistaken with the


Fig.2. Screenshot from The Sevn Year Itch.

Fig.3. An image of an American train.


Cherub) a winged chubby male child representing an angel, extensively used in the Baroque period. The semiotics that can be read from the dress are overlaid with the strong sound of the subway (Fig.3) that is also represented visually as the breeze blowing the dress. Combining the symbolism of these elements, clothes and sound, the scene constructs a complex layer of meaning that conveys a subliminal message. It depicts what was supposed to be desirable and appropriated genre attributes in the society of the time(Fig.4.). The violent sound of the train symbolizes the conventions of virility; strong like steel, sneaks under in Monroe’s skirt in the form of a blowing breeze. On the other hand the female character represents a stereotypical femininity portrait, submissive and naive towards the male figure, in fact is depicted as something the character enjoys being. Diegetic sound in this scene actively contributes to the perception of the character and the costume. Through infiltrating subliminal meaning on these elements, the sound, creates a complex picture that let us see further than what’s


Fig.4. Representation of a family home scene.


superficial on-screen. When the elements meanings are juxtaposed we get to understand elements of the social context of the film. Music is widely used form of non-diegetic sound in film. Michel Chion in his book Audio-vision divides music in film into two categories, empathetic and anempathetic music. The first consists of music that participates in the feeling, rhythm, tone or phrasing on screen. Anempathetic music on the other hand exhibits a deliberate indifference to the action, intensifying its dramatic impact. Chion makes a strict distinction between these two categories however there are exceptions where music can act in an empathetic and anempathetic level at the same time. In that way an array of symbolism is projected onto the costume twisting and manipulating its meaning. This ambivalent function of the music can be recognized in the masquerade ball scene in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette ( Fig.5). scored with 1978’s Post-punk hit Hong-Kong Garden by Siouxie and the Banshees. The upbeat song participates in the festive mood reinforced by the costumes and the dances, becoming empathetic mu-


sic. However it is in the anempathetic level of the score where the symbolism of the action and the costumes shifts in meaning from their literal historical reading, allowing a parallelism with the film’s contemporary fashion and cultural context. I will brief ly outline some of the characteristics of this cultural context and zeitgeist in youth culture in order to fully understand how the music affects the perception of the scene and the costume. During the beginning of the 00’s there was a boom in retro inf luenced bands in the music scene. This happened in conjunction with the expansion of high speed internet that allowed the rediscovery to youngsters old bands in line with the hype of the time. That time also saw the birth of the first wave of social media celebrities. Cory Kennedy, Paris Hilton or Peaches Geldof ( Fig.6) are some of the names that gained popularity through partying and sharing their life in the social media. The period between the beginnings of the 00’s till the end of the decade credit crunch was characterized by its decadence, indulgence and excessive behaviours of its contemporaries. In this context Coppola’s historic film achieves to make a parallelism between the Louis XVI court and the early 00’s


young scene. Through the used of music linked to the cultural context of the viewer, the lavish and indulgent S.XVII dresses become a symbolic correspondence to the contemporary cultural zeitgeist of the film’s time.


Fig.5. Photoshot of Marie Antoinette

Fig.6. Paris Hilton and Peaches Geldof in a social event.



S OUND , T H E LI NK As we have seen in the previous chapters sound can inf luence the meaning of the costume. However, the analysis of this relationship would have been impossible to understand without framing it within the social and cultural context of the time the film was produced. As cinema is a commodity, assembled to be consumed by audiences the elements that composes it give clues about their cultural context. The semiotics of these components, then, can be isolated and dissected individually in order to understand their relation to each other. However this does not explain how the bound between the sound and the elements on screen, in this case the costume, can happened. When watching a film we associate instinctively the sounds coming from the speaker to be happening within the image projected onscreen. Michel Chion in his 1990 essay Audio-Vision describes this phenomenon with the term synchresis, a hybrid word created by the author combining the words synchronism and synthesis; ‘Is the spontaneous and irresistible weld produce between a particular audito-


ry phenomenon when they occur at the same time. This join results independently of any rational logic’ (Chion, 1994,p.63) ( Fig.7) He presents experimental film as an example of how this phenomenon works in an arbitrary manner. In many films of this genre, sound and image are synchronised without apparent logical reason, however the association is successful in a perceptive level generating meaning. ‘Synchresis is Pavlovian. But it is not totally automatic. It is also a function of meaning, and is organized according to gestaltist laws and contextual determinations’ (Chion,1994,p.63).


Is this spontaneous weld that allow sound to inf luence the semiotics of the film costume. Sound assists us as a tool to understand our surroundings; this principal allows film sound to ‘stabilize the spectators’ body (and self-perception as a perceiving subject) in space’. (Elsaesser, Hagener, 2010.p131) As experienced perceiving subjects we all understand instinctively the physical nature of the sound i.e. it comes form every direction, it can travel the space, it can bounce on surfaces, it can move objects or even alternate their physical state. This knowledge allows us to understand how sound is behaving in the space presented on screen, filling it and linking the sensorial and cultural meaning of the elements on it creating and homogenized immersive experience. The meanings behind every element on the scene, that way, inform each other assisted by our aural perception.



SUMMARY OF FINDINGS Sound is an intangible and omnipresent phenomenon. It is a constant in our sensorial relation to the world surrounding us. Regardless of its lack of visual presence we manage to draw out information about our environment and cultural context. The role of sound was primordial at a human sensorial level before the written alphabet was invented. In the audiovisual world we live in, the barriers of the written media have disappeared allowing sound to retake its significance. The ability of film sound to inf luence the perception of semiotics from the film costume becomes evident when their meanings are analysed within their context on-screen. Diegetic and non-diegetic sound in film assist to generate three-dimensional perception of the moving image relaying on its varied cultural and sensorial meanings. These messages are projected on screen interacting with the character’s costume, participating in the perception of the attributes it portrays. However it is important to highlight the role of sound as a medium through, the meanings of


all the elements on-screen inform each other creating a cohesive synaesthetic message. In this way sound can be recognized as a tool to inf luence the semiotics of costume supporting the narrative of film.



PROJECT PROPOSAL As a result of my findings presented in this report I find it appropriate to propose an experimental fashion film that will explore the inf luence of sound in the perception of the semiotic of fashion. Through the use of different audio-visual technological tools i.e. Adobe After Effects ( Fig.9), video and audio synthesisers ( Fig.8) the project will endeavour to create a synaesthetic experience in which the perception of fashion is strongly inf luenced by sound. These tools will allow through chosen input of data parameters to use the physical properties of sound to modify the nature of the image exploring the meanings of both sound and image. In order to achieve these results I will be conducting further research in the audio-visual field that will allow me to construct a theoretical frame for my work. Understanding the conventions of how sound and image interact together as a generator of meaning will allow me to produce moving images that experiment with perception and meaning. I will aim to expand my knowledge of the technological


Fig.8. A video synthesiser and image output.

Fig.9.Adobe After Effects beat detection proccess.


tools available to produce the film as well as researching audio-visual artists and fashion film. This project aims to expand and improve skills in the field of film making and art direction focusing on personal strengths, like music production and graphic design. The final product will present an array of creative outputs apart from the film; this includes graphic design elements, like a catalogue; and a musical output probably a limited edition of 7’’vinyl record with the score of the film. The final objective is to develop a significant amount of work strengthening an Art Direction portfolio with enough level to pursue a professional career in the field.



PROJECT TIMELINE December - Further research. Undertake audiovisual studies. In order to establish a theoretical framework for the composition of a storyboard that connects with the concept of the film. It will be important to investigate the different structures use in cinema to deliver narrative. This will be use as a background for experimentation. Fashion film, film and audiovisual art research and visualization, in order to establish relevant references (aesthetic, technical and narrative). The focus will be audiovisual media in which sound has been given a prominent role. January - Audiovisual experimentation within a framework built around the findings of the research. Through the practice on different software I will determine the technical aspects needed to deliver the aesthetics and the concept of the film. Storyboarding.


February - Pre-Production and production. Post-production will start as soon as the filming is complete. March-April-May - Post-production. Design of catalogue, Work Book and rest of graphic elements. Hand In.


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