π (Pi) – Case Study

The scene from π which I have chosen to create a case study for is the subway scene, which portrays disgust.  It starts with our main character Max in the subway taking pills for his migraines, which uses Aronofsky’s iconic hip-hop montage.  This is when we see a series of quick actions and sounds in quick succession, to highlight a series of events in a short period of time.  In this instance we see Max open the pill bottle, pour a couple in his hands, eat them and then close the bottle, in under two seconds.  We then see Max sitting in the subway, and begin to get a migraine, which is shown only through sound.  We see Max toss and turn during his migraine until it succeeds a little and he looks across the platform.  On the platform opposite he sees a jewish man holding a briefcase in one hand a blood dripping off his other hand.  Max stands up from the bench and shouts at the man in anger, and then runs across the bridge being filmed on a snorricam to the other side.  When he reaches the other side the man is gone, but the pool of blood he created is still there, this confuses our protagonist.  He follows a trail of blood droplets slowly to the stairs of the station.  He sees a brain sitting on the steps, and takes out a pen.  He goes slowly to prod the brain, but when he does his migraine returns loudly and he spins around to look as the sound we hear is like a train, to highlight where he is, as in other points of the film his migraine does not make these train noises.  He does this again.  The third time he does it he pushes the pen in further, and the noise is even louder.  This time when he turns around there is a train headed right for him and the lights engulf him into whiteness.  I will include a youtube link for reference.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aulRoQTK5HY

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The scene starts with a hip-hop montage of Max opening pills, pouring pills on his hand, eating pills, then closing the box. The audio syncs up to the visuals well and we hear an electronic squelchy bassline underlay it quietly. This cinematic style of quick actions in succession was created by Aronofsky during this film.
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We see Max sitting and as he looks at his hands we hear a very quiet, light static. This is when we see from his point of view so it shows the static is inside his head.
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This is when the migraine hits him, we first hear a loud ringing and the sound of something squeaking. The sound of a loud train is also introduced underneath this to signify his location. During this we do hear Max moaning as he pulls his hair, covers his head and punches his own head in discomfort. When we get a close up of Max’s eyes the loudest sound we hear is the static noise. When we see him punch his head we hear a muffled (Low pass filter) groan of pain. There is also the noise of a muffled (LPF) knocking on wood as he punches his head. The noises get increasingly louder and finish on a sound of a wave overcoming all of the sounds as Max sees the man.
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Max sees this man on the platform opposite his as his migraine dissipates. When he sees this man there is a high pitched ambient, metallic noise underlaying the frame. We then hear the very reverberant low frequency droplets.
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The camera pans down to see the man’s hand dripping with blood onto the platform. The drips are very reverberant and hollow sounding against the concrete. We hear a light sound of liquid dripping into liquid.
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Max gets up angrily from his bench and shouts across the platform to the man across the platform. The ambient metallic sound rings through these frames as well.
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Max begins to run over the bridge to the other side of the platform to confront the man. An interesting sound choice here is that we do not hear the movement sounds of Max, this is done to show that Max is in his head, as he is so focused on where he is going and his head is so sore. As he reaches the top of the bridge we hear the dripping again until he turns to go back down the stairs.
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As he reaches the bottom of the stairs he sees that the man he see from the opposite platform has disappeared. Max looks around and the man is nowhere to be seen.
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He sees the pool of blood and walks towards it, still without movement sounds. Max sees that the pool of blood he saw dripping from the mans hand is still present even though the man is gone. He then sees that the blood creates a trail towards the exit stairs.
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Max walks slowly across the platform to the exit, following the trail of blood. There is a string section introduced as there is only the ambient noise we can hear at that point and this gives another depth of audio. When we see this shot in particular there is another electronic piano instrument added playing staccato notes, as well as an airy ambience which swooshes round every now and again, it sounds like someone whispering in Max’s ear, probably just another manifestation of his migraine in his head.
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As Max reaches the stairs he kneels down to see that there is a brain on the steps. He sees blood running out from underneath it and seems very uneasy, obviously.
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Max takes out a ball point pen and prods the brain. As he does this we hear a ringing sound come in subtly as well as the sound of a train horn plowing towards him.
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As he prods the brain he hears the sound of a train from behind him, and he spins around scared to look for it. The sound I believe represents his brain and he feels his migraine return. As he turns around though he removes the pen and the sounds disappear, showing that he can only hear the train when touching the brain. He does this one more time, exactly the same.
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The third time he prods the brain with his pen he pushes it deep into the brain and the sond of the train continues until he turns and sees a train coming for him. The ringing sound is introduced as normal this time but the train horn takes a lot longer from start to finish to reach him.
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The train speeds towards him and engulf him in white light. The sounds are all extinguished by the light.

127 Hours – Case Study

The scene which I have decided to study to highlight the feeling of disgust is the amputation scene from 127 Hours.  The scene has a guitar track underlaying the whole thing.  The scene begins with James Franco’s character Aron figuring out what he must do to get out of where he is.  He has been trapped in a ravine with his arm trapped between the side and a large boulder which he cannot move.  He first of all realises he needs to break his own arm.  So we see him begin to push on his arm the opposite direction that his elbow for a while, we see his face wince in pain as he is doing this, he is moaning and breathing heavily.  The moment we see his arm break he throws his head back in pain and we hear a loud snap, which sounds like a large tree branch snapping.  He moans in pain but does not scream when this happens and starts laughing angrily.  He then slowly takes out a small knife from his leatherman with his free hand whilst looking at it.  He then begins to cut into his forearm, and as he starts he moans a little in pain but also a distorted snare sound is heard when he makes the first incision.  As he opens up the cut there is then a distorted drum track added to the guitar very subtlety.  We then hear Aron breathing heavily as he wraps his arm with a climbing strap and carabiner to tighten it into a tourniquet.  He cuts more and more into his arm whilst breathing heavily.  Once he has cut a lot of the way into his arm we then see he has exposed a nerve that he has to cut through.  He grabs a plier from his leatherman and pinches it and we hear a very loud, intense, metallic, distorted, static ringing and see him in very intense pain.  The sound represents the pain he is feeling in his head as he grates his teeth and throws his head back.  He then touches his nerve with his finger for longer and the sound is reintroduced for longer and he screams.  There is then a tremolo of strings to match the shaking movement of the camera that is introduced as he is pushing his finger underneath the nerve, he is clenching his teeth and breathing very heavily through them.  He stops for a second to compose and realises what he has to do and pulls the knife out.  He places the sharp side on the knife under the nerve and begins pulling on it, and the noise is back and louder than before and continues the whole time.  There is a cut to a shot of Aron’s face looking completely brain dead to highlight just how sore this actually is.  The sound gets quieter and quieter the harder he pulls on the nerve until he snaps it.  When he does finally snap it all the sound dissipates except from a very airy ambient sound.  The reason I think this is so effective is because it coincides with what Aron must be feeling at that point, of complete nothingness due to the immense pain he is feeling.  There is then tribal drumming introduced as he comes back to reality and breathes heavily and intensely through his teeth.  There is flashes between him looking braindead and him screaming to show the difference between what he is feeling physically and mentally.  Aron then starts hallucinating and begins to chop off the rest of his forearm, this is accompanied by music rather than sound effects although he is breathing heavily throughout.  As Aron breaks loose from the rock and staggers backwards the music stops, it was a representation of the struggle he was in, from which he is now free.  There is then very airy ambience as Aron looks down at his arm to finally realise what he has just done.  He then staggers up to the boulder shakily in complete silence and proceeds to wrap up his stump of an arm to keep it clean.  As he walks away he turns around and takes a photo of the boulder. I will include a youtube clip of the scene for reference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chMGsi2QY68

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Aron has been trapped in this ravine with his arm stuck under this boulder.  A guitar plays lightly underneath the sound effects of Aron breathing as he realises what he has to do.
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Aron breaks the bones in his arms in order to cut through his forearm.  The issue he had amputing before was that he knew he couldn’t cut through his bones with the pen knife.  He uses his body weight and torque off of the boulder to snap the bones in his forearm.  When the bones the crack we hear sounds like a large tree branch snapping.  Aron throws his head back in pain breathing quickly.
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Aron takes out the larger size knife in his pocket knife slowly.  The only sounds we hear are the music and his movement from opening this knife.
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Aron begins cutting through his forearm, we hear the distorted drums get introduced here.  He puts the pen knife in his mouth and opens the wound with his fingers.  He is breathing heavily through the knife.  He then attaches the tourniquet to his arm, tightening it with the carabiner.  Then is when he begins cutting through the arteries and we see a lot of blood coming out of his arm and he says to himself “Don’t mess up” through his teeth.
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Aron places the pliers underneath the nerve in his arm.  This is when we first hear the loud electric static noise.  It is loud, metallic and uncomfortable to listen to, ringing through the front of your skull intensely.  You can see instantly that this is very intensely painful by Aron’s face grating his teeth.  He pokes it again with his finger and moans in pain.  At this point the camera begins shaking, and there are high pitched strings introduced softly to match this camera movement.  
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After a small moment of realisation that this is the only thing he can do to escape., Aron uses the small blade to cut through the nerve in his arm.  The noise is reintroduced but instead of a short burst of sound it continues as the knife continues to pull on the nerve.
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The camera flashes between what is happening physically and emotionally for Aron as we see from this braindead looking shot of him.  The sound continues throughout all of these shots, and he yells as he cuts the nerve finally.
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Aron manages to cut through the nerve and we hear silence but we see him screaming.  There is a ringing noise here but we do not hear the yells fully he is producing by the visuals.  We do hear him screaming but it sounds as though he is very very far away in a very reverberant area, almost as if we are hearing him from way up on the surface.  Once he has cut through the nerve he begins cutting through the rest of his arm.  We again see shots of him looking completely brain dead as well as shots of him hacking away in rage at his arm.  These to represent both how he is feeling emotionally and physically, in my opinion.
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Aron finally breaks free from the boulder by amputating his arm. He staggers back and the music that had been crescendoing disappears.  He breathes hard in disbelief that he has actually managed to break away from the boulder.
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Aron walks back over to the boulder in complete silence to wrap his arm.  He breathes less intensely and looks down at his arm to comprehend what it is he has just done.  He fashions a sling out of a plastic bag, climbing rope and a camera case wrapped around his neck.  We hear him moaning in pain underneath the rustle of the bag as he is strapping himself up.
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As Aron is leaving he turns and takes a photograph of the boulder.  We hear the noise that the camera makes every time that it is turned on and the shutter sound of the camera.

The Babadook – Case Study

The scene from The Babadook which I have chosen to do my case study on is called the first encounter scene.  The scene begins on a shot of a tree outside the window in the evening light, and we hear the mother reading to the son from a storybook.  It then cuts to the two of them as the book is finished and the son is asleep.  The light then starts to flicker next to the bed as the mother closes the book.  There is then some passing of time as we see different shots of the house and it cuts to the mother in bed unable to sleep, rolling around.  She then hears scratching at the door followed by silence, and then a  dog barking showing that the scratching was the dog trying to enter the room, so she gets up and lets it in.  She then gets back into bed and almost immediately the exact same scratching noise is heard at the door, which then opens by itself.  We then see something enter and the ‘Babadook sound’ is introduced, which sounds like a swarm of bugs.  The mother then hides under the covers and we hear a scurrying and the Babadook begins to talk to her.  We then hear no sound so she uncovers her face and looks at the ceiling.  The Babadook scurries into sight and we hear a ‘Ching’ noise almost like someone unsheathing a dagger.  The Babadook noise then gets louder and we see it jump into the womans mouth to possess her with an increasing volume as this happens.  A youtube clip of the video will be linked for reference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ9PwIkrf-M

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The tree outside the house in the moonlight.  We hear the mother reading a book in hushed tones to her son.
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The child falls asleep as the mother reads him a story.  As we cut into the room the mother stops reading and we can hear the son breathing heavily to show he is asleep.  The mother then closes the book preparing for bed.
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The lamp by the side of the bed begins flickering hard which is the only light in the room.  The sound is very loud and exaggerated more than it would be in real life, to highlight that this is something out of the ordinary.  We hear a static electricity noise as well as a scratchy sound when this happens.  After this we see a few shots of around the house which are all silent, of the mother looking in the mirror, the bedroom window, the stairway and the bedroom door from the outside.
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The mother and son are both in bed but she cannot sleep.  We hear wind from outside of her window, and she is rustling about in bed creating noise.  She then looks at the ceiling and we see a shot which is called back to later in the scene of the ornate light fixture on the roof.
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The mother hears a scratching at the door of the bedroom.  The scratching is long and deep in sound, it could almost be mistaken for a large animal growling due to its tone.  She sits upright in fear and silence until we hear the dog bark, and she breathes a sigh of relief.
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The mother gets up to let the dog into the room.  The floorboards are creaky and the door is very squeaky as she opens it.  The dog has lots of claws so we hear them running across the floor as the woman closes the door again.  She then seems a lot more relaxed as she gets back into bed.
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This is soon over ridden by the fact that we hear the exact same scratches at the door.  This time though we are aware that the dog is in the room and that no one else is in the house so we do not know who it is.  The door opens itself the second time we hear scratching at the door, and we see something enter the room.  As we see the Babadook enter the room, the sound which we associate with it is introduced, the sound is almost like a swarm of bugs such as cockroaches and when we hear it it makes your skin crawl.  We hear a groaning noise also coming from the corner of the room.
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The mother hides under the covers to hide from what has entered the room.  We then hear the sound of scurrying onto the roof with a swoosh noise to indicate a jump from the Babadook.  We then hear it say its name “Baba-badook-dookdook” in its low and groaning voice, it sounds almost as if it is inhaling when it talks.  The voice gets louder as it is saying its name and makes you feel more and more uneasy as it sounds angrier too.  Once we hear it say its name, all sounds stop completely and we hear just the mother breathing heavily.  She then uncovers her face from the sheets to look at the ceiling.
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The mother looks up at the ceiling and we see the Babadook scurry into sight.  This is the same position in which we see her looking at the roof as before, but this time we see the Babadook run into sight.  We hear the bug like cricket sounds to represent the Babadook get reintroduced as we see this.  There are so many layers of sound here, there is also a high ringing noise as we see the Babadook much like in many horror films.  There is also a very obvious scuttling sound as it the Babadook also has claws on its hands and feet when it is crawling around very fast.  We then hear the sound of the Babadook unsheathing a weapon and see it appear to be a shiny chrome then we hear it.
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The sound that represents the Babadook of the swarm of bugs increases in volume as he faces the mother and we see the weapon we heard was claws from his hands.  The Babadook jumps from the roof into the mothers mouth, making a high pitched gutteral scream as he falls which also increases in volume, as the bug sound also is.
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As the Babadook is falling we see the woman sitting face up with her mouth open and it is clear that the Babadook has jumped into her.  The mother becomes possessed by the Babadook and all of the layers of disturbing sounds that we were hearing disappear, and instead we now hear her breathing very heavily at what has just happened.

The Blair Witch Project – Case Study

The scene in which I will be analysing from The Blair Witch Project is the scene in which the tent is attacked by the ‘children’.  This happens about halfway through the movie, the situation is that the three teens are setting up tent for the night and decide not to light a fire as they have been followed/attacked every time they do; they also turn off the lights.  In the darkness there is a passing of time as when the lights are turned back on all three of them are in the tent.  When they turn the light back on they are in panic as they hear something and after a short moment we then hear the cries of children in the distance.  Their tent then gets shaken from the outside and they run away in terror.  As they are running Heather begins screaming as she has seen something but obviously all we see is the shaky camera of someone running.  After running some distance they hide behind a bush of some sorts with their lights off, and begin whispering about what just happened.  I will include a youtube clip of the scene for reference.

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Deciding to turn off lights and light no fire.  At this point we hear the dialogue between the three with ambient sound in the background of crickets.  There is the sound of some breathing from behind the microphone as these three have been hiking for the past 3 days so they are a bit out of breath.
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Waking up to sounds in the night.  There is a cut in pitch darkness until this point.  We first hear Heather breathing heavily as she wakes to the noises she is hearing.  The camera is on the floor at this point so we hear a lot of rustling from the three characters waking up.  There are hushed whispers as the characters are waking up, as they are trying to keep quiet as there is something definitely outside.  After a moment there is then the sounds of children crying coming from outside the tent.
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Tent starts getting shook from the outside.  Outside the tent it is clear that whatever had made the initial noise that woke the three characters up is now shaking it to scare them.  We hear obviously the sounds of rustling canvas as the tent is being handled by what appears to be people on each side.  As this happens, one of the three in the tent shushes the other two from screaming and they pick up the cameras.  They then open up the tent as we hear the zip undo very quickly and hear one of the guys shout “Go, Fucking Go.”
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Running through the forest.  As soon as they are out of the tent all three of them begin screaming as they run, and begin exclaiming things in fear such as “my boots are unlaced” and “what the fuck is that” as Heather sees whatever it was that caused the children to cry.  There is then a lot more screams of terror as it is realised.  During this whole time, there is the sounds of footsteps running as well as rustling clothes and camera movement sounds.  Unlike earlier when we could hear the cricket noises, which is the norm in a forest at night, we do not hear them hear.  I think that the noises of the bugs were taken out to highlight the fear that is heard through the screams of the characters.
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Hiding in a bush.  At this point the characters have all stopped screaming and they are now hiding, the breathe of Heather behind one of the cameras is increased drastically, as would happen after running that quickly, and also because she is behind the camera.  As they are behind these bushes they speak again in hushed tones and Mike asks “Did you hear that baby screaming”, which clarifies the sounds you hear earlier, and also throws-back to another point in the movie near the start when we hear the fables of the Blair Witch from the local people of Burkitsville.

Literature Review

Here is the list of books again for the literature review but this time with a short description by each to explain the books a little better.

  • Film Sound: Theory and Practice – Elisabeth Weis and John Belton (1985): A collection of essays about both the theory and practical uses of sound within film, ranging from why to use particular microphones to sound art within cinema.
  • Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen – Michel Chion (1994): The excellent book in which Chion assesses the audiovisual relationship between sound and visuals in modern cinema using new concepts and ideas coined by Chion himself.
  • Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, voice and Sound Effects in Cinema – David Sonnenschien (2001): A more exercise based take on sound design, offering starting points to help beginning sound designers on a particular sound design topic.
  • Audio in Media – Stanley R. Alten (2007): Stanley Alten delivers a range of necessary audio techniques and principles to get people started in todays’ production based media industry.
  • Film Music – Peter Larsen (2007): Larsen dissects many aspects of the film soundtrack, with specific focus on two film case studies; Metropolis and The Graduate.
  • Sound Effects Bible – Ric Viers (2008): A comprehensive guide for recording and editing particular sound effects.
  • Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound – David Lewis Lewdall (2011): A collection of real-life data, based on experience from the author, which embrace the topic of sound for movies.
  • Electronic Music and Musique Concrète – F.C. Judd (2013): A book highlighting the author’s personal journeys and experiences through electronic music throughout the 50s and 60s.

Hopefully this extra knowledge will inform my dissertation more, and contribute towards the success of my honours project.

Concept Development Document

The next port of call after handing in the project proposal document is to start finishing the work of the concept development document.  The concept development document is my own personal analysis of existing works, relating to my project proposal.  It will feature the main milestones of sound design over the years, which have led up to my project now.  I will exhibit my case studies and why I chose them for my project, which aims to exploit the emotions that your sound design can create.  At the time of writing this blog post I am currently looking to discuss the ways to evoke 4 emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Fear and Discomfort.  I feel like these are the 4 emotions that I have been trying to narrow in on subconsciously when watching films for case studies.

Project Proposal

Our first hand in for this year was on 23rd November, and this was for our project proposal.  In this document we had to outline a lot of things about our dissertation and project.  The main aim was to successfully vocalise the reason that we want to do the project that we are proposing.  If we can easily explain the reason why we desire to do the project, and the reason why the project is necessary, then we have done a successful proposal.  The contents we needed to include within the proposal are the the project aim, the timeline, the actual project details, the references we have done in preparation for the project, the methodology and processes of the project we will take.  We also had to do a literature review, and a contextual review for the document.  We also had to create a conclusion to make sure that we are aware of the viability and necessity of doing this project.  And obviously just like every other document we create for university we had to include a full bibliography for each document.  I started this document slightly later than I would have liked to so I feel like if I had a longer time to finish it I could have produced a better document, nevertheless I am happy with the final outcome.

The full essay is attached below.

1403877 – Danny Smith – Creative Sound Production – Research Proposal