Listening to film?
Film soundtracks and cultural memory
In the field of film theory a significant amount of research has been devoted to the exploration of the nature and function of sound in film. Such work has included, for instance, the identification and classification of the various elements which make up the soundtrack, the study of the connection and interaction between sound and image, analysis of the narratological aspects, study of the dramatic function of sound, and analysis of the musical score. Over the past few years there have also been attempts to describe not only the epistemological environment but also attendant models of perception and memory involved in “listening” to film.
The advent of the “acoustic turn” which has been observed in several fields in the past couple of decades confirms a growing awareness of the specific influence of sound on spectator behaviour and, to lesser extent, on reception. This is evidenced, for example, by recent research in cognitive psychology, by studies on sound environments by Jean-François Augoyard and his team at the Centre de recherche sur l’espace sonore et l’environnement urbain (CRESSON), and by Barbara Flückiger’s work on “sound design”. However, the impact of film sound on spectator reception has not yet been fully accounted for.
This conference aims to provide an opportunity to approach the study of soundtrack from an anthropological perspective. It is generally accepted that soundtracks have a potentially strong suggestive influence which colours filmic representation with “added value”, to borrow Michel Chion’s terminology. The images and sounds which make up film may inform us about a specific moment in history, about geographical conditions, economic and social practices, but may also reveal the cultural representations associated with specific periods. Similarly, listening to film may also help build “sound memory”, through the reinvented sounds of cinema, since our perceptions of places, people and present or past events are also influenced by the films we have “heard”.
In order to study the links between soundtrack and cultural memory we would suggest, as a starting point, the precept that film sounds do not exist per se but are rather built up through one or several successive listenings. The sound “fabric” of a film is the product of film-makers’, composers’ and/or sound designers’ specific perceptions of the world around them. This “fabric” is subsequently transformed by the way in which each spectator listens to film, based on his/her capacity to isolate, analyse and identify the elements which go to make up that sound. Soundtracks do not recreate reality as such, but rather stylised representations of reality which need to be taken into account. Such representations may tell us less about the actual reality of a period than about the way in which that reality may be perceived at various moments in history.
The aim of this resolutely cross-disciplinary conference is therefore to bring together aesthetic and anthropological approaches in order to provide a new understanding of how we “listen” to film. Soundtracks will therefore be considered within the contemporaneous social, cultural and aesthetic contexts of their creation. We will focus on pinpointing the role played by sound effects, dialogue and music in the construction of fictitious filmic creations. We will examine the practices that underpin how films are created, and how they are received by spectators. We will seek to discover the practices and activities, the forms of imagination that these sound fictions retrace, and to what extent they may help describe a specific period in time.
Cinema specialists, musicologists, anthropologists, architects, urban designers and other creative specialists are invited to provide contributions from their respective disciplines, focussing on a number of specific questions:
• How is sound used in film to evoke place, time and events?
• What specific characteristics define how a sound is produced (acoustic distortion, musical form, relation to a point in space and time etc.)?
• What technological criteria and what ideological assumptions inform these aesthetic choices?
• What role is played by listening to film in the construction of cultural representations and memory?
• What critical tools and methodologies can film theory borrow from anthropologists, urban designers, architects and musicologists in order to describe and analyse the constituent parts of a sound track, the galaxy of feeling contained within the sound footprint of a place, a time, a character, an event?
• Cinema is a marriage of artistic activity, aesthetic experience and technical know how. To what extent may this unique combination provide us with a potentially promising field for research and experimentation, both for sound designers and Humanities scholars who are equally concerned with the role of sound in daily life and in artistic creation?
This conference aims to further the research project initiated by MIMMOC three years ago in the field of cultural forms and sound memory and will be co-organised with researchers from FoReLL (B1 & B3).
The conference will take place on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th November 2010.
Proposals from abroad are particularly welcome. The conference languages will be French and English and papers will be strictly limited to 30 minutes duration and must include at least one audio-visual sample. A selection of papers will be published following the conference.
Proposals should be submitted by E-mail to the conference organisers (below) before 1st June 2010.
University of Poitiers, France
Thursday 18th and Friday 19th November 2010
Organising research groups:
MIMMOC – EA 3812
FoReLL – EA 3916, B1 (Representational aesthetics) and B3 (Comparative aesthetics)
Dieter Merlin (University of Poitiers / DAAD)
Véronique Campan (University of Poitiers)
Andrew McKeown (University of Poitiers)
Martin Rass (University of Poitiers)
Jeremy Price (University of Poitiers)