[-empyre-] sound / desire

Gabriel Menotti gabriel.menotti at gmail.com
Sun Sep 27 19:39:26 EST 2009

Now, on with the 'offtopics':

>Sound recording is fraught, often forgotten – and we have become very
>much accustomed to images, they seem easy (sure, they are not,
>but…), well, sound is not of equal import in the discourse on film, and
>that’s just the problem. [John Hutnyk]

I still think it is a matter of perspective. Maybe the theatre
audience doesn’t pay attention to the importance of sound, but isn’t
that expected? Ever since earlier forms of spectacle, the role of
sound is not to be /noticed/, but to be (for the lack of a better
term) incorporated. If you are listening to the score, that means it
is not working as it should. The soundtrack should not be perceived as
a detached thing, but (on the contrary) collaborate to congruity of
the whole audiovisual piece and its correspondence to the mediatic
experience, creating mood, presence – producing visuality, in a way. A
good deal of the gruesomeness of movies such as Texas Chainsaw
Massacre and Audition is pure sound design! Sound produces stabs that
never happened (and sometimes compensate bad montage - e.g.

It really is a shame that critics followed the same lines of the
spectators and “became deaf” even when they are out of the theatre.
However, as you have pointed out, the /moviemakers/ are always very
critical about sound. Sound may not have that much importance on the
discourse /on/ film, but it is preponderant to the discourse /of/
film. First and foremost, voice is, both in the form of dramatic
dialogue and of the disembodied voice over narration - which even
before the sonorization of film was used to give meaning (order) to
silent images.

Moreover, sound is used to foster the illusion of correspondence
between image and abstracted space, cheating the process of
abstraction (that is why I personally think it is complicated to bring
sound to the discussion, when trying to understand similarities
between different process of spatial abstraction). For instance, you
said that the movies you made “could have been a whole lot better” if
you had good sound recording equipment, but why is that so? Because
they would have sounded better? Isn’t it that just a technical
judgment, following the ideal of representational aesthetics? =)

>Without mediation between the image and the production apparatus,
>there are only reified fixations – on the image, on the auteur, on the
>screen mechanics, even on the circuit. I like to call this trinketization –
>a limiting fascination with abstracted and isolated components of a
>system that cannot be grasped without a theory of mediation. [JH]

Ha, indeed! But I wonder if cinema (and media in general) has ever
being treated as anything but a trinket (posing a problem to
constitute a theory of mediation in the first place).

>It appears that not much has been said about movement and sound,
>but I felt immediately, John, when you started writing, that hearing has
>something to do with breathing, and moving listening  (we are not
>static, we are not still […] [Johannes Birringer]

Yes, good point. However, we can perceive in cinema precisely the
effort to fixate bodies to a certain extent. This process is necessary
to the representational logic – to put the audience where its gaze can
correspond to (and henceforth be substituted by) what Anne Friedberg
calls the machine’s “mobile virtual gaze”. But I wonder if technical
audio (in correspondence to technical images) really escapes this
logic. Isn’t there anything like a “mobile virtual ear” always at

In cinema, at least, sound comes from a set of speakers strategically
positioned, and the soundtrack has to be mixed and equalized
beforehand in relation to this system, in order to reproduce the
diegetic spatiality of sound. What I mean is that the actual
soundtrack (the information) is different depending if you have a
stereo or dolby system, even though they are intended to produce the
same aural perception in the audience.

Therefore, I’d say that cinema, as a system of spatial disposition,
process image and sound in very similar ways. Of course, when you
consider dancing for example, you have a very different situation –
but dance music is different of soundtracks in the same way vj gigs
are different of feature premieres.

>It seems that an important element to consider in Denied Distances is
>the activity of desire, what is denied and what is let in, how does the
>denial amplify our wanting, and how does the rhetoric of the removal of
>distance from everything in the contemporary world actually add
>distance, when that which seems to be closest to our skin is farthest
>away. (Micha)

Definitely, if on the one hand the public is positioned to identify
with the machine and let it fulfil its perception, it is in a place
where it’s kept excited. Thinking through this tension using Metz’s
idea of the double voyeurism, we might find that this excitation comes
from the identification with the image / diegesis. So the public
chooses to be safe within the mechanism to feel the thrills of the
story – and that’s where the distances are denied? Is mediation always
this double-sided process?


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