Case Study – Anomalisa

On Thursday I went to Dundee’s DCA to watch a stop motion film called Anomalisa, written and directed by surreal film legend Charlie Kaufman.  The film is about a man who gives speeches about Customer Service, Michael, dealing with his life through the monotony  he faces daily.  Michael has an issue in his life that every other person in his life has the same face, and same voice.  He has lost his ability to see people uniqueness and individual discrepancies that make them an individual.  This is not entirely clear until he arrives at his hotel in Ohio and calls his wife.  As his wife is finished speaking to him in a man’s voice, she passes the phone to Michael’s son who has the exact same voice.  The fact that his wife already had a man’s voice was unusual, and once we heard that the son had the same voice, it makes it clear that something is not quite right in Michael’s head.  Thankfully Tom Noonan has a pleasant voice, as it is heard constantly throughout the film, more helpful though is that his voice has a very distinct tone.  This makes it obvious the reason that Kaufman has created this world of uniformity.  Among all of this, at one point Michael hears another voice walking past his hotel room door, a woman’s voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  This is something that through the story we learn hasn’t been experienced my Michael in 11 years, so he follows the voice.  Michael finds Lisa, who he invites for a drink and then back to his hotel room.  Michael is drawn to Lisa because of her voice and different face to the rest of the world, and desires to run away with her for her uniqueness.  After the first night with Lisa Michael gives his speech in the hotel.  This is when it becomes clear the extremity of Michael’s mind, we see Lisa’s face clear in an army of clones in the audience.  This is when it all becomes clear as Michael has a breakdown on stage and begins getting heckled by many people, all identical to each other in face and voice.  Lisa manages to overlook this and then they go to Michaels room to eat lunch together.  Over lunch, Michael finds several things about Lisa annoying including the way she talks within her vocabulary and mannerisms and the way she eats.  Once Michael realises these things, Lisa’s voice begins slowly slipping into the voice that we hear for everyone else.  He also catches her face in a strong sunlight and it begins to merge into the one we saw for everyone else as well.

Overall this was not the most intricate display of sound within film, but I found it very interesting to carry a movies entire plot point just from the perspective of dialogue and voice acting.  It is something that I am not aware that I have seen before, and recommend anyone to watch it.

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Lit review first draft

The practice of sound design has always been imperative in making modern media more believable to the audience, the immersion brought about by modern sound designers in cinema brings the movies to life.  Many people have become passionate with the art of embellishing media pieces with their designed sounds, so it has become well documented over the years.  The first book to mention is Film Sound: Theory and Practice (1985), by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton.  This book is actually a collection of essays compiled in 1985 which deal with both the the theory and practical uses of sound within film.  Alberto Cavalcanti writes an essay called Sound in Films within this book and highlights the claim of the efficacy of sound within film.

while the picture is the medium of statement, the sound is the medium of suggestion.” (Cavalcanti, A. approx. 1910. Page 109)

At the time of Cavalacanti writing he was referring to specifically music, but the message is still relevant to sound design in films.  He is stating that with the visuals in a film, very little can be implied to the scene, the sound is needed to put everything into context on screen.  Bringing the argument for the need for sound within films to the forefront even 100 years in the past.

Another book which has documented sound over the years is Michel Chion’s Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (1994).  A book on the forefront of sound within film from 1994, highlighting new ideas and concepts coined by Chion himself in this very book.  Chion is the leading European writer for all things sound wise within the world of film, with this book regarded as the pinnacle of the field.  Acclaimed sound designer Walter Murch has revered Chion for this book stating “in the process Chion forges a number of original words that give him at least a fighting chance” (Murch, W. 1994).

Sound shows us differently than what the image shows alone, and the images likewise makes us hear sound differently than if the sound were ringing out in the dark.” (Chion, M. 1994. Page 21)

Chion is saying that both the audio and the visuals need each other to work efficiently, even though they need no accompaniment initially.  His whole book touches on this and other subjects similar such as synchresis and acousmêtre, explaining the relationship of audio and visuals.

David Sonnenschien has also written a great book on the subject; Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema (2001).  He goes into detailed explanation about certain sound techniques in film sound, such as concrete sound.  Concrete sounds are the ones which are directly associated with the on-screen visual accompaniment.  This is mainly how something or someone’s physical stature can alter a sound, such as their height, weight, movement, how they contact something else and their impact on it.  Through his book Sonnenschien creates a step-by-step guideline on creating sound design, including creative methods to really make your soundtrack unique in a personal artistic style.

Most people in the field of audio production will be aware of Stanley Alten and his book Audio in Media (edition 9, 2010).  It is the book everyone is told to read as they begin a course in sound production because it is a great introduction to techniques used in sound production in everyday media.  The book is currently in its 9th edition, being constantly updated to keep current, up to date and accurate.

Peter Larsen wrote the book simply entitled Film Music (2007).  It contains a brief history of how the composer goes into tackling creating a soundtrack for a film.  He comments on the most effective methods of composition techniques in relation to a films visual stimuli throughout.  Larsen also creates two very detailed case studies of his favourite films for soundtracks; Metropolis and The Graduate.  These case studies go into great detail on several individual sounds within the films, which was a great insight on how to critically analyse films for case studies.

Ric Viers wrote The Sound Effect Bible (2008).  What this book is known for mostly is that it gives a recipe list on creating sound effects in the chapter ‘The Sound Effects Encyclopedia’.  This chapter shows great ways to record ambience, animal sounds, cartoon sounds, crowd sounds, sirens, explosions, foley, horror sounds, household sounds, industrial sounds, sci-fi sounds, vehicle sounds, war sounds and weather sounds.  So there is a lot to read through.

David Lewis Yewdall’s book; Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound (2011) is a read comprised of real life data, based on experiences from the authors own work within the field of sound for movies.  A very interesting section in Yewdall’s book is how he goes into detail on how the Academy selects and votes movies for the Best Sound Editing Award at The Oscars.

A great book that opens your eyes to the work of Jack Foley is The Foley Grail (2009) by Vanessa Theme Ament.  As well as an insight into Foley’s work, the book has a rundown on Foley recording sessions from cue sheets to recording.  The best thing about this book though is that there are many different sound designers offering their own personal methods for particular sound techniques for this book.

Foley is more often required than optional.” (Ament, V. 2009. Page 69)

Electronic Music and Musique Concrète (1961) is a book by F.C. Judd (Frederick Charles Judd), which highlights the authors personal journeys in electronic music through the 50s and 60s.  Judd worked in the armed forces during World War 2 and became an engineer through working with radar technologies.  As the Amateur Tape Recording Magazine (ATR) was released in 1959; he was recruited as a technical editor before being promoted to chief editor in 1963.  Judd spent a lot of his time researching and promoting electronic music until this books release in 1961 which explained a lot of his passion for electronic music with practical circuit diagrams.

 

These works have all been excellent reads in contextualizing and helping with this project and dissertation.  Through this project, the dissertation can also hopefully be used as a reference in future for the subject of sound design.  In the future there should be more psychological context for the project, which is something which can be read further into.  There are always new books released around the subject of sound and music within movies which an all help back and contextualize work such as this exploration into emotion, which are always valuable resources.  The more books read, the better the understanding of the subject, but a point in which this literature review is lacking is academic papers.  A good idea would be to look into academic papers to see what other research could help justify the findings in this dissertation.

Absract and Introduction

Abstract – The aim of this project was to see if I could identify any inherent links between particular sound elements within a soundtrack, and the emotions that the audience members feel when hearing them.  The report contains a literature review, in depth description of the project, the results and findings of the project as well as the methodology used within the project.  I am hoping to find that the soundtrack alone can make audience members feel particular emotions without the same visual stimuli as is normally needed, by creating several soundtracks to the same piece of media, and figure out how this can be used effectively in the future for personal and professional development.

 

Introduction – According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the first film was the Roundhay Garden Scene, a 2.11 second motion picture created by Louis Le Prince in 1888. It was the first piece of media to show consecutive movement.  This phenomenon wowed audiences, and evolved into what we know as silent films, where audiences could gather and spectate whilst a musical accompaniment was played alongside a motion picture film.  This became the norm until the Alan Crosland’s film, Don Juan, was released in 1926, being the first to be released with a fully synchronised Vitaphone (sound-on-disc) soundtrack including sound effects.  One year later, Crosland released The Jazz Singer, the first movie that featured recorded dialogue.  Its opening line of dialogue; “Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet!” has been harked as one of the best movie lines in history, based on the context that no one in the audience had heard speech coming from a movie screen before.  Although only approximately two minutes featured synchronised speech, this was a breakthrough in film and made history.  In 1929, Jack Foley – a pioneer in film sound – did the first ever Foley recording session for the Harry Pollard film Showboat.  Foley recording sessions, named after the man himself, involve creating the sound effects for a film sequence in real time to sync up the audio and visuals perfectly in real time with the media.  It was this that brought the sound film into a whole new level in terms of immersion for the audience, and everything became a lot more real.  Suddenly when characters took a step we heard their footstep, when they turned around quickly we heard their jacket in the wind, when they closed a door we heard the wooden slam synchronised perfectly.  This level of detail kept evolving to include grandiose soundtracks of orchestral music, ambient sounds of minute detail and fantastical sound design.  Sound design, the art of identifying, acquiring and manipulating audio to fit its need is debatably one of the absolute most important important parts when creating a movie, an unsung hero of cinema.  Sound design and foley creates the synchresis necessary to keep the audience fully immersed in the movie.  This brings the visual pieces of art to an audio-visual experience instead.  This project aims to decipher if the sound designer can make the audience feel particular emotions without the usual visual stimuli that would normally be present.  A selection of soundtracks will be created alongside an animation to see if there is an inherent link between the emotional reactions and sounds that are heard.

The Animation

As I arrived back from my vacation, my friend from DJCAD had finally finished and sent me the animation that I needed for my honours project.  The animation is a character walking through a forest, as he is walking there is a triangle which begins bouncing alongside him, and then disappears.  This then happens again, but this time there are three triangles that bounce alongside till they also disappear.  This all happens as the one character continues to walk along the forest path.  As he is walking, there is also holes in the ground that he walks past slowly, and some which go by very quickly, some of them have horns coming out of them.  At the end of the video there is one hole with horns, which then follows the character as he reaches the end of his path.  As he is nearing the end we see a large pile of rocks which we can see is blocking the way, the end point of the animation.  As this is the first draft of the animation, he reaches the pile of rocks, has a small shaky moment a la pokemon battle, and then the animation ends.  The background of the animation also goes from day to night and then morning, which will be great to try and highlight using sound.  Overall the animation is currently 4.39 minutes, and is expected to have a few more seconds if the animator has time to make a final draft, which is currently not necessary.  I am a fan of the animation, it has enough things visually that I will be able to score soundtracks too, with a lot of open space to try out interesting sound designs.

 

Delivery

At present I have created a few basic soundtracks to no media, so all just formless soundscapes.  This is because I have not been given the animation that I was meant to have received by now from the animator from DJCAD.  Although I am aware that he has done it and it is to a level which I am happy with, it is just not currently in my possession.  At this point once I get the animation I will be able to take over certain soundtrack elements from the soundscapes I have created in Ableton and add them in to the video media on Logic Pro.  I have been doing more reading and case studies which are all in their own blog posts whilst away on holiday and without the animation.  So I will keep creating these soundscapes, until I get the piece, and then spend a lot of time stitching them altogether in a shorter period than is needed to do this successfully.

Discoveries from case studies – Pi

The scene from Pi which makes the audience members feel discomfort and disgust is the subway scene.  In the scene the lead character Max has a migraine in the subway station, which is so painful he goes into a dream state.  He then chases a man on the platform and follows a trail of blood to a brain on the subway steps which he then prods.

The original case study is here.

The first sound design choice is that there are many different zooms of Max’s face whilst he is having his migraine, once it zooms closer there is a very loud static noise with a squeaking noise underneath it too.  The noise is discomforting to listen to and makes us feel his pain, much like in 127 hours, and we empathise with Max.  This makes us feel uncomfortable as the sound we hear is very difficult to hear, the way that it is combined with the visuals of a zoomed in face makes us know how Max feels.

After Max decides to run across the bridge to the man on the opposite platform, we hear no movement sounds from him and his clothes.  The camera is a snorricam which is aimed directly at Max’s face and we can hear his voice and breathing, so we know that we are in a dream state in Max’s sore, migrained head.  This is an effective sound design in showing just how determined Max is to reach the other side by making us focus just on him visually rather than sonically.  This shows how effective not using a sound can be rather than adding to the soundtrack with sound effects.

The last effective bit of sound design in this scene is when Max begins prodding the brain on the steps with a ball point pen.  As soon as he does this he hears a train horn coming from behind him.  This shows that it is his own brain that he is touching.  The train horn is putting both into context that he is in a subway train station and that he is in a dream state.  The horn is loud and abrasive and very imposing on the ears.  Much like the static earlier in the scene it is very clear that we are hearing what Max is feeling, so we can relate to him more intensely.

So in conclusion, through this scene and the one from 127 hours an effective way to make your audience feel discomfort and disgust is loud and abrasive and exaggerated high pitched ringing noises.  This is because we almost feel these noises rather than hear them because of their pitch and register, like a ringing in our skulls.  This makes us uncomfortable as we can relate to the pain rather than just witness in visually, which is already an effective medium.

Discoveries from case studies – 127 hours

As a movie scene which accurately makes the audience members feel disgust, 127 Hours’ amputation scene is very effective.  It shows the main character Aron deciding after a long time to cut off his arm which has been stuck between a rock and a cliff.

The original case study is here.

The first sound that we hear which makes us disgusted is when Aron needs to snap the bone in his arm to cut through it.  At this point in the movie he has lost most of the feeling in his arm, as confirmed by the real life subject in an interview, he uses his body weight and torque to bend the centre of his forearm till the bones in it snap.  The sound we hear when he snaps the bone is that of a large branch snapping, like a tree log.  The sound we hear with the visuals we see doesn’t match in that regard.  Both what we see and hear though are snapping, just the sound is a lot more dramatic, this synchresis makes us feel that the arm snapping is a lot worse than it actually is.  Although it is completely horrific in the first place, the exaggerated snap makes it appear even worse.  So the reason that this is so effective is the exaggeration of the sounds makes the already hard to watch visuals even more difficult.

The next sounds which make us feel disgust is when Aron cuts the tendon in his forearm.  We hear a very loud high pitched ringing noise, which masks out the sounds of Aron’s screams.  This is done as an aural metaphor that the feeling of his pain masks out every other sense he has available to him.  The register of the pitch and tone we hear when Aron is cutting his tendon really rings in the front of your brain and makes you empathise with the pain that he is feeling, because it makes our ears uncomfortable.  While he is cutting we see frames of Aron completely still and braindead with blood on his hands and face.  This again shows that all he can think about is the pain he is feeling.  This shows that the discomfort and disgust that we feel as an audience participant by highlighting an overly exaggerated sound which makes us feel discomfort innately.  It is also effective when combined with visuals that we can match to the sounds.

In this scene there is also an underlying musical track of guitar and electronic drums, this increases in volume and intensity over the whole scene.  It builds and builds until the very end till Aron finally cuts the arm off and pulls away from the boulder, when it comes to a conclusion.  This is an effective way that shows the conclusion of the music matches the conclusion of Aron’s struggle away from the boulder, in a musical metaphor.  This does not affect our emotional response to the film, other than relief from Aron’s situation.