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AS Film Studies Unit FM1: Exploring Film Form High Pavement 6th Form College Stuart Grenville-Price

Diegetic Sound and Non- diegetic Sound Sound originating from within the film is known as ‘diegetic’. Typically this consists of dialogue and sounds emanating from action within the shot, including background or ambient noise. Non-diegetic sound has a source outside the film’s narrative. Most obviously this includes incidental music but it also refers to voice-overs. Non-diegetic sound is added during the editing process and can hold great importance for the edited images. However, diegetic sound may also be modified or added during editing, for instance, the sound of a car crash. Two films whose narratives revolve around suspect manipulation of sound are The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) and Blow Out (Brian DePalma, 1981)

The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) Blow Out (Brian DePalma, 1981) Sound can also be used to help hold together edited shots, which are rarely continuous, they often hide an ellipsis, a period of time omitted from the film. It is, for instance, unlikely that a film would cover in real time someone leaving a house to get into a car. Parts of this action would be excluded, and continuous sound can help provide a smooth join between the discontinuous shots. (see sound bridge)

Sound Effects The use of sound effects is common in films; such effects function as diegetic sound in that they appear to originate from elements within the film, even though such sound is often added in post-production. Sound can be regarded as signs that create meanings, just as visual elements are signs. The sound of a creaking door or the gradual approach of footsteps can create suspense and fear of the unknown just as can low key lighting. We wonder what is opening the door and fear its entry into the space of the film. We wonder whose footsteps we hear and what their arrival will bring.

Ambient Sound Ambient sound is also recorded at the end of filming in a location; it is what is heard when there is no dialogue or movement. This background sound can be added at the editing stage if it is judged that there is too much silence. A lack of sound can be just as noticeable as the presence of sound, and it is rare that we experience complete silence in a film.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and the other Spaghetti Westerns made by Sergio Leone used ambient sound added in post-production – this included wind noise and animal sounds sampled from other locations to create a soundtrack that was desolate and wild

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Music A soundtrack is usually essential for a film; it creates mood and strengthens meaning. A classic example of incidental music supplementing visual content while also creating meaning is the series of short, sharp, high pitched screeching sounds produced from a violin in Psycho. It is not an easy sound to listen to. It is of high volume and high frequency, and it is dischordant: it puts us on edge and makes us feel uncomfortable. When the film begins with this sound, accompanying the title sequence of light and dark lines slicing the screen horizontally, expectations are immediately set up. Famously the music returns during the shower scene when Marion Crane is repeatedly stabbed. The music itself is sharp and stabbing and provides at least as much meaning as the shots it accompanies. To grasp the importance of music, one may try imagining the Psycho music being replaced with the theme tune from Star Wars. What effect would it have upon the visual content? It would seem inappropriate and would undermine the importance of what we see on screen.

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) The soundtrack for Trainspotting is atypical. A film’s music is usually not noticed; it is incidental, and supports the narrative by reinforcing the intended meaning. We are not often conscious of its presence. Trainspotting places the music up front alongside the visual content. The soundtrack consists of popular contemporary tracks form the mid-1990s and is in no doubt as much to do with targeting an audience as with supporting the narrative. Not all music in Trainspotting is non-diegetic, however. There are a couple of scenes set in clubs and all the accompanying music is diegetic because it originates from the club locations.

Clever marketing – The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, 1999)

However, not all films have an accompanying soundtrack. The Blair Witch Project contains no music to supplement its narrative and for good reason. The film is supposed to be documentary footage, roughly edited together having been found several years later, which records ‘real’ events. The addition of music, even if appropriate to the building of suspense, would have ruined the basis of the narrative, that the events witnessed really happened. We become so accustomed to the lack of non-diegetic music that the addition of abstract sounds during the end credits may seem odd.


Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998)

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

Voice-overs (sometimes referred to as interior monologues) are added at the postproduction stage and are typically used to anchor the meanings in the film and give guidance to the audience. Trainspotting and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels both use voice-overs at the beginning, the former to set the scene and raise issues for the film to deal with, the latter to introduce characters and indicate their possible (and functions, Propp) in the film. Films such as Blade Runner and Double Indemnity (1944) use voice-overs throughout as a way of supplementing what we learn from the images and dialogue while also providing insights into the main characters. Parallel and Contrapuntal Sound Usually the sound we hear in a film directly accompanies what we see on the screen; it is appropriate sound, it is the sound we expect. The music in Trainspotting matches what we see in the film and seems relevant to the characters, their lifestyles, and the pace of the film. In other words, the music works in parallel with the visual content of the film.

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

However, this is not always the case. In both A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Goodfellas,

horrific acts of violence are accompanied by bright, happy, energetic music rather than the sinister, threatening incidental music we may expect. This is an example of contrapuntal sound. The sound works against what we see on the screen. In these particular cases the effect is to emphasise the character’s casual, sometimes gleeful attitude to violence while also shocking the viewer. Sound Bridges The editing of a film normally ensures that sounds coincide with the shots they relate to. However, post-production audio mixing can place sound earlier or later than the image to which it relates. This device is used fairly often for linking two scenes together. We may be watching the end of one scene when we hear dialogue from the scene which we cut to a moment later. Similarly, we may cut to a shot from the next scene whiles still hearing dialogue from the preceding scene (remember Goodfellas after the steadi-cam sequence it cuts to the airport whilst still playing sound of the comedian on stage). In both cases we are prepared for the scene to follow. This technique, often used as a variation on the convention of a fade to indicate the ending or beginning of a scne, is known as a sound bridge. It can help smooth over the edit point between two shots.

Are you happy identifying and defining the following sound terms? : Non-Diegetic Sound Asynchronous Sound Synchronous Sound Contrapuntal Sound Sound Bridge Actual or Direct Sound

Sound (adapted from Lacey, 1998) As cinema is obviously primarily a visual medium, sound is often forgotten as it usually ‘naturally’ accompanies the visuals or seems to merely be offering a musical accompaniment. However, try watching sequence without sound, and it is like having a shower with a coat on. There are four dimensions of sound that need to be analysed: 1. dialogue (or monologue): the most obvious dimension – what characters are saying in the narrative world; 2. sound effects: non-verbal sounds, created within the filmic space, the source of which is clear to the audience (this could include music playing on radios, etc.); 3. ambient sounds: background sounds which add to the atmosphere of the scene; 4) non-diegetic sounds: not originating from onscreen space; for example, a voice-over or soundtrack music. Dialogue Dialogue on the soundtrack is usually carefully mixed to make it very clear. It is either recorded the same time as the scene was filmed or may be added later (post-dubbed). A more unconventional use of speech in audio-visual texts is overlapping dialogue where characters ‘talk over’ each other usually to give a ‘realist’ effect. Sound effects A sound effect is anything that is not spoken, has a clear source within the world represented and is often, but not always, observable within the frame. This includes the opening and shutting of doors, characters moving around the scene and so on; an offscreen knock at a door would also be considered as a sound effect. These sounds can be postdubbed. For example, the sound of fistfights is usually added later. A sound effect is meant to be heard distinctly. Music performance in a scene could be considered a special kind of sound effect or it could be given a separate category. (See section on music below.) Ambient sounds Ambient sounds form a background to a scene and, while they do originate in the narrative space, need not necessarily be specifically identified. For example, a country scene would probably include the ambient sounds of insects and birds. These are called ‘spot effects’. ‘Spot effects’ of traffic will probably accompany a scene on a city street, although you will not necessarily see the traffic. If this scene is followed by one inside a building on this city street, then the ambient sounds will probably continue but at a lower volume; this helps to indicate the setting of the scene (notice how often car horns are heard in this particular effect). Non- diegetic sounds The most potent non-diegetic sound is music. There are few films that wholly dispense with the expressive qualities of music. Music is often used to cue drama and evoke emotion. The approach of danger in a thriller is usually signalled by ‘sinister’ music; a romantic moment will often be accompanied by a lush orchestration of strings. So music not only adds to meanings generated by the image, it also creates meanings. In action movies of the last few years techno has become the staple music genre to signify energy and excitement. Action adventure films are more likely to use a symphonic orchestra to evoke an exotic location or period atmosphere.

Music is not always non-diegetic, in films like Bird (US 1988) – Clint Eastwood’s film about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker – the performance of music is onscreen and therefore must be considered a ‘sound effect’. An institutional dimension of music is its use in generating publicity for movies when a popular artist performs the theme song; each time the song is performed, or the accompanying pop video broadcast, the movie is also being promoted. Studying film music Music is often neglected in film studies, mainly because most film studies teachers don’t have a suitable language and conceptual framework to deal with it. In a very useful article in Media Education Journal No 40, Mark Brownrigg suggested a number of basic concepts that could introduce analysis of film music: . . . film students can use these categories to focus their work on music and embark upon the process of rendering their response to the stimuli of the soundtrack more precise, effectively breaking down their listening experience into manageable categories. (Brownrigg 2006)

These include: Instrumentation – which particular instruments are used, which sections of the orchestra (strings, brass, woodwind and percussion). The density of instrumentation (full orchestra, chamber group, solo) can also be discerned. Tempo – the speed at which music moves. Volume – the loudness and softness of music, like tempo can have an immediate impact on the emotional response of the audience. Melodic music – traditional mainstream film scores have often had strong melodies (sometimes as ‘themes’). Motifs – the repetition of short ‘musical blocks’ usually associated with particular characters or with emotional responses to fears etc. as in the music for Jaws. Rhythm – Brownrigg refers to music in which rhythm can supersede melody and in which all the orchestral parts can be used to emphasise action, such as the raptor attack in Jurassic Park. Diatonic music – music that is written with a firm sense of major or minor key (in very broad terms, major key = happy, minor key = sad) Chromatic music – the use of the full range of notes and harmonies allows for more complex and nuanced music. (This may effect what some commentators term the ‘colour’ or ‘texture’ of the music.) Dissonant music – the deliberate attempt to use chords and melodic ideas that grate on the ear. Atonal music – deliberate disruption of musical order, whether melodic, diatonic, chromatic or dissonant. Often used in genres like horror or science fiction to suggest ‘otherness’. Some of the ways in music is used are related to general issues of sound design outlined

above. Brownrigg suggests some additional ways of thinking about how music can create meanings. He refers to: Geographical location – music that enhances the sense of place (for example the mix of Aboriginal music and sampled sounds in Peter Gabriel’s score for Rabbit-Proof Fence). Historical location – the use of musical styles and specific instruments to suggest an historical period. Generic location – the ways in which certain types of music have become associated with specific genres. Finally, we can suggest ways in which the timing of music is associated with the editing of action. Often, music is used as a way of ‘smoothing’ or ‘bridging’ edits between shots, enabling the ‘invisible editing’ common in classical Hollywood. The films of Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s used music to do the opposite with music starting and stopping abruptly in the middle of scenes, thereby foregrounding the constructedness of the sequence. Brownrigg also points to the way that music can support actions directly, although sometimes this can be excessive as in the use of Mickey-mousing – the technique borrowed from cartoons in which the music mirrors the action so that it runs up the scale as the character runs up the stairs etc. Using this basic vocabulary of musical concepts, students should be able to say something about how the music in a sequence is used. The best way to start may simply be to analyse your own emotional response to a sequence and to investigate how music has helped to achieve this.

Definitive Guide to Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sound  
Definitive Guide to Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sound  

Micro Element Name: Group: AS Film Studies Unit FM1: Exploring Film Form High Pavement 6 th Form College Stuart Grenville-Price