Despite the important role sound plays within any film’s formal system, it is extremely difficult to analyse (sound cannot be ‘frozen’ in time, as the image can; oftentimes, individual elements of sound cannot be distinguished one from the other).
Films typically make use of three types of sound: speech, music and noise (or sound effects) and may employ any one type exclusively or in combination with others.
As is the case with the image track, sound is not simply reproduced but represented—even the simplest sound may be a result of extensive blending of different sounds, subject to mechanical alteration.
Because sound is often mixed, volume, pitch and timbre can all be modified within the mix.
Dimensions of Film Sound
Rhythm contributes to the pace and accenting of sound; sound’s rhythm can interact with the rhythm produced by the other aspects of style.
Fidelity relates to the faithfulness of a sound to its perceived source; it is assumed that the sound heard originates from its purported (depicted) source.
There are three types of spatially determined sound-image relationships:
i) diegetic/non-diegetic (does the sound originate from the created story space or not?)
ii) onscreen/offscreen (does the sound originate from a depicted source or not?)
iii) external/internal (is the sound produced physically by elements from within the story space or does it originate from withing a character’s consciousness?)
Any sound can be defined according to each of these sound-image relationships (e.g. when you see and hear a door slamming on screen, it is diegetic, onscreen and external).
Temporally determined sound-image relationships need to be understood in terms of viewing time (screen duration) and/or story time and plot time:
simultaneous / non-simultaneous (does the sound issue from the same temporal moment as the image, in terms of story and plot, or does the sound occur within a different timeframe?)
With non-simultaneous sound, the sound may be occurring at a time earlier in the story than the image onscreen or later.
The frequently employed sound bridge is a device which relies on non-simultaneous sound to link two successive actions by bleeding over the sound from one timeframe onto the imagery of another.
The fluidity of sound as a component of film style means that its use may often challenge categorical distinctions.
Titles of films excerpted for this lecture (in order of use):
Citizen Kane (1941) x 2