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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Thomas Sied. Michel Chion Audio Vision In Audio-Vision, the French composer-filmmaker-critic Michel Chion presents a reassessment of the audiovisual media since sound's revolutionary debut in and sheds light on the mutual influ- ences of sound and image in audiovisual perception.

Chion e x p a n d s on the arguments from his influential trilogy on sound in cinema—La Voix au cinema, Le Son au cinema, and La Toile trouee—while providing an overview of the functions and aesthetics of sound in film and television. He considers the effects of evolving audiovisual technologies such as widescreen, multi- track s o u n d , a n d Dolby stereo on a u d i o - v i s i o n , influences of sound on the perception of space and time, a n d contemporary forms of audio-vision embodied in music videos, video art, and commercial television.

His final chapter presents a model for audiovisual analysis of film. Walter Murch, w h o contributes the f o r e w o r d , has been hon- ored by both the British and American Motion Picture Academies for his sound design a n d picture editing. I know of no writer in a n y language to have published as much in this area, and of such uniformly high quality, a , h e. He has pub- lished books on screenwriting, Jacques Tati, David Lynch, and Charlie Chaplin, in addition to his four books on film sound.

Jacket illustration: Eratorhmad by David Lynch, Jacket design: John Costa Printed in U. Sound motion pictures. Motion pictures—Sound effects. Gorbman, Claudia. Murch, Walter, C We begin to hear before we are born, four and a half months after conception. From then on, we develop in a continu- ous and luxurious bath of sounds: the song of our mother's voice, the swash of her breathing, the trumpeting of her intestines, the timpani of her heart.

Throughout the second four-and-a-half months, Sound rules as solitary Queen of our senses: the close and liquid world of uterine darkness makes Sight and Smell impossible, Taste monochromatic, and Touch a dim and general- ized hint of what is to come.

The most notable pretender is the this alchemy also lies at the heart of his three earlier, as-yet- darting and insistent Sight, who dubs himself King as if the untranslated works on film sound: Le Son au cinema, La Voix au throne had been standing vacant, waiting for him.

It gives me great pleasure to be able to Ever discreet, Sound pulls a veil of oblivion across her reign introduce this author to the American public, and I hope it will not and withdraws into the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on the be long before his other works are also translated and published. If she gives up her throne, it is doubtful that she It is symptomatic of the elusive and shadowy nature of film gives up her crown.

For it is also part of Sound's voiceless images, a thirty-five year bachelorhood over which effacement that she respectfully declines to be interviewed, and Sight ruled as self-satisfied, solipsistic King—never suspecting previous writers on film have with uncharacteristic circumspec- that destiny was preparing an arranged marriage with the Queen tion largely respected her wishes.

This cinematic inversion of the natural order may be one of the It is also characteristic that this silence has been broken by a reasons that the analysis of sound in films has always been pecu- European rather than an American—even though sound for films liarly elusive and problematical, if it was attempted at all.

In fact, was an American invention, and nearly all of the subsequent despite her dramatic entrance in , Queen Sound has glided developments including the most recent Dolby SR-D digital around the hall mostly ignored even as she has served us up her soundtrack have been American or Anglo-American.

As fish are delights, while we continue to applaud King sight on his throne. But such was—and is—not the problem or defect. A further examination of the source of this power, however, reveals it to come in large part from the very There are several reasons for Europe's ambivalent reaction to handmaidenly quality of self-effacement itself: by means of some film sound, but the heart of the problem was foreshadowed by mysterious perceptual alchemy, whatever virtues sound brings to Faust in , when Goethe had him proclaim: the film are largely perceived and appreciated by the audience in It is written that in the Beginning was the Word!

The Hmm In their needs. Not to mention different dialects and Wars, seemed to be especially served by many of the films of the accents within each language and a number of countries such as period, which—in their creative struggle to overcome the disabil- Switzerland and Belgium that are multilingual. Some optimists even dared speak to Europe as a whole. It is true that most of these films had to think of film as a providential tool delivered in the nick of time intertitle cards, but these were easily and routinely switched to help unite humanity in peace: a new, less material tower erect- according to the language of the country in which the film was ed by a modern Babel.

The main studios of Ufa in Germany were being shown. As it acquired a voice, the It is also worth recalling that at that time the largest studio in Tool for Peace began more to resemble the Gravedigger's Spade Europe was Nordisk Films in Denmark, a country whose popula- that had helped to dig the trenches of nationalist strife.

And Asta Nielsen, the Danish star who made many films for rise of the Great Dictators in the twenties and thirties, and it is Ufa Studios in Germany, was beloved equally by French and Ger- true that the silent film had sometimes been used to rally people man soldiers during the war—her picture decorated the around the flag, but it is nonetheless chilling to recall that Hitler's trenches on both sides.

It is doubtful that the French poet Apolli- ascension to power marched in lockstep with the successful naire, if he had heard her speaking in German, would have writ- development of the talking film. And, of course, precisely ten his ode to her— because it did emphasize language, the sound film dovetailed with the divisive nationalist agendas of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, She is all!

Franco, and others. Hitler's first public act after his victory in She is the vision of the drinker and the dream of the lonely man! Neubabelsberg the French word for sound effect, for instance, is bruit—which suffered the same fate as its Biblical namesake.

To further sour the translates as "noise," with all of the same pejorative overtones marriage, the first efforts at sound itself were technically poor, that the word has in English and to persuade them to forgive unimaginative, and expensive—the result of American patents that Sound the guilt by association of having been present at the burst- had to be purchased.

Early sound recording apparatus also strait- ing of the silent film's illusory bubble of peace. American readers jacketed the camera and consequently impoverished the visual of this book should therefore be aware that they are—in part— richness and fluidity that had been attained in the mature films of eavesdropping on the latest stage of a family discussion that has the silent era.

Nordisk Films collapsed. The studios that were left been simmering in Europe, with various degrees of acrimony, standing, facing rising production costs and no longer able to count since the marriage of Sight and Sound was consummated in Studios in the United States, on the other hand, hensive theory of film sound—rather than polemicize it—are were insulated by an eager domestic audience three times the size largely unprecedented even in Europe.

There is another aspect to of the largest single European market, all conveniently speaking all this, which the following story might illuminate. As the United States was spared the bloodshed on its soil in both world wars, it was spared the conflict of the In the early s, when I was around-ten years old, and inex- sound wars and, in fact, managed to profit by them. Over the next few months, I made a pest of unsettled critical attitude toward film sound—and a multitude of myself at that household, showing up with a variety of excuses aesthetic approaches—that have no equivalent in the United just to be allowed to play with that miraculous machine: hanging States: compare Chion's description of the French passion for the microphone out the window and capturing the back-alley "location" sound at all costs Eric Rohmer with the Italian reluc- reverberations of Manhattan, Scotchtaping it to the shaft of a tance to use it under any circumstances Fellini.

Later on, I managed to convince my parents of all the money I mention this fragment of autobiography because apparently our family would save on records if we bought our own tape Michel Chion came to his interest in film sound through a similar recorder and used it to "pirate" music off the radio. I now doubt sequence of events. Such a "biological" approach—sound first, that they believed this made any economic sense, but they could image later—stands in contrast not only to the way most people hear the passion in my voice, and a Revere recorder became that approach film—image first, sound later—but, as we have seen, to year's family Christmas present.

As it turns out, Chion is a brother not I swiftly appropriated the machine into my room and started only in this but also in having Schaeffer and Henry as mentors banging on lamps again and resplicing my recordings in differ- although he has the privilege, which I lack, of a long-standing ent, more exotic combinations.

I was in heaven, but since no one personal contact with those composers , and I was happy to see else I knew shared this vision of paradise, a secret doubt about Schaeffer's name and some of his theories woven into the fabric myself began to worm its way into my preadolescent thoughts. At any rate, I suspect that a primary emphasis on One evening, though, I returned home from school, turned on sound for its own sake—combined in Chion's case with a Euro- the radio in the middle of a program, and couldn't believe my pean perspective—must have provided the right mixture of ele- ears: sounds were being broadcast the likes of which I had only ments to inspire him to knock on reclusive Sound's door, and to heard in the secrecy of my own little laboratory.

As quickly as see his suitor's determination rewarded with armfuls of intimate possible, I connected the recorder to the radio and sat there lis- details. What had conquered me in , what had conquered Schaeffer It turned out to be the Premier Panorama de Musique Concrete, and Henry some years earlier, and what was to conquer Chion in a record by the French composers Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre turn was not just the considerable power of magnetic tape to cap- Henry, and the incomplete tape of it became a sort of Bible of ture ordinary sounds and reorganize them—optical film and Sound for me.

Or rather a Rosetta stone, because the vibrations discs had already had something of this -ability for decades—but chiseled into its iron oxide were the mysteriously significant the fact that the tape recorder combined these qualities with full and powerful hieroglyphs of a language that I did not yet audio fidelity, low surface noise, unrivaled accessibility, and understand but whose voice nonetheless spoke to me com- operational simplicity.

The earlier forms of sound recording had pellingly. And above all told me that I was not alone in my been expensive, available to only a few people outside the labo- endeavors. The tape jar of sound, listening and recording and splicing without refer- recorder, on the other hand, encouraged play and experimenta- ence to any image, allowed me—when I eventually came to tion, and that was—and remains—its preeminent virtue.

XVI FOREWORD FOREWORD XVI'I For as far back in human history, as you would care to go, "auditive" one, had never developed the concepts or language to sounds had seemed to be the inevitable and "accidental" and adequately describe or cope with such an unlikely challenge from therefore mostly ignored accompaniment of the visual—stuck such a mercurial force—as Chion points out: "There is always like a shadow to the object that caused them.

And, like a shadow, something about sound that bypasses and surprises us, no matter they appeared to be completely explained by reference to the what we do. The essential first step that Chion takes is to assume that there Recording magically lifted the shadow away from the object is no "natural and preexisting harmony between image and and stood it on its own, giving it a miraculous and sometimes sound"—that the shadow is in fact dancing free.

In his usual suc- frightening substantiality. King Ndombe of the Congo consented cinct manner, Robert Bresson captured the same idea: "Images to have his voice recorded in , but immediately regretted it and sounds, like strangers who make acquaintance on a journey when the cylinder was played back and the "shadow" danced, and afterwards cannot separate. The "journey" is the film, Furthermore, it was now not only possible but easy to change the and the particular "acquaintance" lasts within the context of that original sequence of the recorded sounds, speed them up, slow film: it did not preexist and is perfectly free to be reformed differ- them down, play them backward.

Once the shadow of sound had ently on subsequent trips. This those sounds with images of objects or situations that were dif- challenge Chion takes up in the first six chapters of Audio-Vision in ferent, sometimes astonishingly different, than the objects or situ- the form of an "Audiovisual Contract"—a synthesis and further ations that gave birth to the sounds in the first place.

I should mention that as a result this section been ignored or consigned to follow along submissively behind has a structural and conceptual density that may require closer the image was suddenly running free, or attaching itself mischie- attention than the second part chapters "Beyond Sounds vously to the unlikeliest things. And our culture, which is not an and Images" , which is more freely discursive. This is to be expected, given the same time.

Some of these terms represent concepts that will be familiar to This reassociation is done for many reasons: sometimes in the those of us who work in film sound, but which we have either interests of making a sound appear more "real" than reality what never had to articulate or for which we have developed our own Chion calls rendered sound —walking on cornstarch, for instance, individual shorthand—or for which we resort to grunts and ges- records as a better footstep in snow than snow itself; sometimes it tures.

It was a pleasure to see these old friends dressed up in new is done simply for convenience cornstarch, again or necessity— clothes, so to speak, and to have the opportunity to reevaluate the window that Gary Cooper broke in High Noon was not made them free of old or unstated assumptions.

By the same token, of real glass, the boulder that chased Indiana Jones was not made other of Chion's ideas are, for me, completely new and original of real stone, or morality—the sound of a watermelon being ways of thinking about the subject—in that regard I was particu- crushed instead of a human head.

In each case, our species' mul- larly impressed by the concept of the "Acousmetre. The sound of an ax chopping in the mind of the audience—what Chion calls sound en creux wood, for instance, played exactly in sync with a bat hitting a sound "in the gap".

The danger of present-day cinema is that it baseball, will "read" as a particularly forceful hit rather than a can crush its subjects by its very ability to represent them; it mistake by the filmmakers. In other words, the brain resolves the differ- pleteness—an incompleteness that engages the imagination of ences between the two images by imagining a dimensionality that the viewer as compensation for what is only evoked by the artist.

As before, to be , and thus the responsibility of filmmakers is to find ways the greater the differences, the greater the depth.

Again, within within that completeness to refrain from achieving it. To that end, certain limits: cross your eyes—exaggerating the differences— the metaphoric use of sound is one of the most fruitful, flexible, and you will deliver images to the brain that are beyond its power and inexpensive means: by choosing carefully what to eliminate, to resolve, and so it passes on to you, by default, a confusing dou- and then reassociating different sounds that seem at first hearing ble image.

Close one eye—eliminate the differences—and the to be somewhat at odds with the accompanying image, the film- brain will give you a flat image with no confusion, but also with maker can open up a perceptual vacuum into which the mind of no value added. There really is of course some kind of depth out there in the It is this movement "into the vacuum" or "into the gap," to world: the dimensionality we perceive is not a hallucination. But use Chion's phrase that is in all probability the source of the the way we perceive it—its particular flavor—is uniquely our added value mentioned earlier.

Every successful metaphor— own, unique not only to us as a species but to each of us individ- what Aristotle called "naming a thing with that which is not its ually. And in that sense it is a kind of hallucination, because the name"—is seen initially and briefly as a mistake, but then sud- brain does not alert us to the process: it does not announce, "And denly as a deeper truth about the thing named and our relation- now I am going to add a helpful dimensionality to synthesize ship to it.

And the greater the metaphoric distance, or gap, these two flat images. Don't be alarmed. The slippery thing in all this is that ing from out there rather than "in here. In much the same way, the mental effort of fusing image and sound in a film produces a "dimensionality" that the mind pro- The tension produced by the metaphoric distance between jects back onto the image as if it had come from the image in the sound and image serves somewhat the same purpose, creatively, first place. The result is that we see something on the screen that as the perceptual tension produced by the physical distance exists only in our minds, and is in its finer details unique to each between our two eyes—a three-inch gap that yields two similar member of the audience.

It reminds me of John Huston's obser- but slightly different images: one produced by the left eye and the vation that "the real projectors are the eyes and ears of the audi- other by the right.


Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen

Add to Cart. In Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen , French critic and composer Michel Chion reassesses audiovisual media since the revolutionary debut of recorded sound in cinema, shedding crucial light on the mutual relationship between sound and image in audiovisual perception. Chion argues that sound film qualitatively produces a new form of perception: we don't see images and hear sounds as separate channels, we audio-view a trans-sensory whole. Expanding on arguments made in his influential books The Voice in Cinema and Sound in Cinema , Chion provides lapidary insight into the functions and aesthetics of sound in film and television. He considers the effects of such evolving technologies as widescreen, multitrack, and Dolby; the influences of sound on the perception of space and time; and the impact of such contemporary forms of audio-vision as music videos, video art, and commercial television.



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Michel Chion. Foreword by Walter Murch. Edited and translated by Claudia Gorbman. Add to Cart. Chion argues that sound film qualitatively produces a new form of perception. Sound in audiovisual media does not merely complement images. Instead, the two channels together engage audio-vision, a special mode of perception that transforms both seeing and hearing.

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