Synchronous sound effects
are those sounds which are synchronized or matched with what is viewed. For example, if the film portrays a character playing the piano, the sounds of the piano are projected. Synchronous sounds contribute to the realism of film and also help to create a particular atmosphere. For example, the “click” of a door being opened may simply serve to convince the audience that the image portrayed is real, and the audience-may only subconsciously note the expected sound. However, if the “click” of an opening door is part of an ominous action such as a burglary, the sound mixer may call attention to the “click” with an increase in volume; this helps to engage the audience in a moment of suspense.
Asynchronous sound effects
not matched with a visible source of the sound on screen. Such sounds are included so as to provide an appropriate emotional nuance, and they may also add to the realism of the film. For example, a film maker might opt to include the background sound of an ambulance’s siren while the foreground sound and image portrays an arguing couple. The asynchronous ambulance siren underscores the psychic injury incurred in the argument; at the same time the noise of the siren adds to the realism of the film by acknowledging the film’s (avowed) city setting.
is used to add emotion and rhythm to a film. Usually not meant to be noticeable, it often provides a tone or an emotional attitude toward the story and/or the characters depicted. In addition, background music often foreshadows a change in mood. For example, dissonant music may be used in film to indicate an approaching (but not yet visible) menace or disaster. Background music may aid viewer understanding by linking scenes. For example, a particular musical theme associated with an individual character or situation may be repeated at various points in a film in order to remind the audience of salient motifs or ideas.
Film sound is comprised of conventions and innovations. We have come to expect an acceleration of music during car chases and creaky doors in horror films. Yet, it is important to note as well that sound is often brilliantly conceived. The effects of sound are often largely subtle and often are noted by only our subconscious minds. Yet, it behooves us to foster an awareness of film sound as well as film space so as to truly appreciate a twentieth century art form, the modern film.
Ideas for Student Activities:
Elements of Film
1. A. Re-read a short story which has been previously discussed in class. (Thus students will be familiar with the story’s plot and theme. We will be using “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence. See 1985 curriculum unit: “A Study of Twentieth Century British Culture Through Art and Literature.”
B. Provide a brief summary of the plot.
C. Articulate the theme.
lighting, movement, background music
to support the theme? You may choose any of the film elements for discussion.
D. Translate the story to film. Choose three film elements to discuss. For example, how would you use
Scene: climax of story (“The Rocking-Horse Winner”) Paul rides his rocking-horse furiously, envisions the next winner of the Derby, dies.
Lighting: Harsh? Soft? Use of shadows? Subject (Paul) back-lit? Pin points of light used? etc. Explain choices.
Composition: Balanced? Unbalanced? Close-ups? Long-shots?
Would you make use of foreground, middle-ground, background space? Explain.
Movement: How would you underscore the relationship between Paul and his mother through subject movement?
Camera movement: Would you use a pan shot? Slow motion? Explain.
2. A. View a television drama of one hour’s duration.
B. Take notes of the use of
C. Write a summary based on your notes. D. Discuss how uses of film sound supported the work.
synchronous sound effects
used to create suspense? Were
asynchronous sound effects
used to emphasize a mood or an idea? Explain. Was the
varied? Why?/Why not?)
D. Discuss ways in which film sound worked to aid viewer understanding of the material at hand. (Were